As a victim of ixophobia, I am terrified of dead fish. Give me a salmon fillet or tuna steak any day but the sight of a glassy eyed dead fish makes my skin crawl. I think my fear stems from a dark moment aged six, when I found my goldfish hanging over the edge of the bowl. It had bled to death. Needless to say preparing to eat a cooked fish – ‘pingling around with bones’ as my father calls it – fills me with dread. But the night before the Royal Show, I was caught off-guard while having dinner for one in Tetbury.
There I was, on my own in the middle of Gloucestershire, and the trout I had ordered just happened to come whole. I looked down at it in dismay, and it smiled at me in the inverted way that only fish can. In a procedure not dissimilar to pulling out a splinter, I grimaced and got on with it as quickly as I could. Soon, the head, tail and skin (and anything surrounding them) were in a bowl and before I lost my appetite completely, I concealed them with my napkin. I was just beginning to feel rather proud of myself when I noticed a stray fin on the plate – and nearly choked.
When I’d finished (the fish was delicious- wood fire roasted and organic), I felt truly ashamed – no wonder supermarket chains can sell us reconstituted meat and fish pumped full of colourings and water if we’re not interested in seeing the original article.
Even at the Royal the rural producers were reluctant to get too gory. After admiring a sensitively presented hog roast, I breakfasted on a delicious bacon sandwich from the Kenniford Farm Shop (www.kennifordfarm.com). A plate of Jacob lamb was being handed round in the Lincolnshire tent (www.visitlincolnshire.com) and when I passed again later I was offered some delicious beef sausage. I tried some great venison (www.fayrewoodgame.com) and met a very nice man called Tim selling Poacher cheese (www.lincolnshirepoachercheese.com). I came away with a bag full of vintage cheese and two large packets of Burts Crisps (I recommend their new Chorizo and Chimichurri flavour www.burtschips.com).
But what made my morning was the crowd of people standing around the carcass display – proof that people do actually want to see what they are eating – in its true glory.
While at the show, I made it one of my priorities to visit the people selling the ‘Bollocks to Blair’ t shirts. They were fined £80 each at the Royal Norfolk Show for causing offence and I wanted to see the garments myself.
By the time I found the Splash clothing tent (www.splashclothing.com), I’d already encountered about 20 ‘Bollocks to Blair’ wearers, and needless to say the t-shirts had almost sold out. Toby, co-director of the company was showing me the penalty charge notice when we were interrupted by an elderly couple. ‘We read the article in the Times and had to come and find you,’ the woman said to Toby. ‘It’s so ridiculous.’ She then turned to her husband, ‘Do you think James would wear one?”He probably would,’ I thought to myself, given their general ubiquity.
And as I left the couple to their deliberations, I joined the procession of Royal show visitors wearing waterproof ponchos emblazoned with Mitsubishi, Kodak etc. Why, I asked myself, is it alright to encourage people to advertise foreign companies but not let them voice their opinions about matters closer to home? And covering my hair with my shawl I walked off into the rain.