Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
See a Sheep get a Brazilian
I used to think that our annual Country Show that arrives each May Bank Holiday weekend was exclusive to Morden Hall Park, but it turns out that Oakleigh Fairs puts on events throughout the year across the South East. Run by Emma and Charlie Owen, the couple took over the business in 2005, and since then have provided food, crafts, and entertainment for visitors looking for a fun weekend.
Unfortunately, every year the entry price seems to go up; it was £7 for adults this year, compared to £6 last time I went. You can get concessions for £6, and children are more reasonable at £3. I always have to contend whether the price is worth it, and it usually depends on the weather. If it is cold and wet, then going out is not the enjoyable. This May Bank Holiday, however, was bright and sunny, so it was definitely worth going.
The very first stall I went to had a hidden treat inside. The front invited passersby to stop and look at their rainbow of fruit scented bouncy balls on string; awaiting inspection behind them were animal bean bag toys at an excellent value of £1.50-£3.50.
Down the centre table you could find children's picture books, and the side table was a sewers paradise with buttons, fabric, wool, etc.
All these were nice to look at, but didn't tempt me into buying. At the back of the stall, however, what was there, but rows and rows of Charlie Bears. There were new bears from the latest season, as well as bears that have been retired for years. Usually retired bears double in value, but the one I cast my eyes on was £3 cheaper than the original RRP. Then there were three other bears that my mum and I have been considering for some time now, so I got all four. An average person might think I was insane for buying so many, but a fellow collector would call me insane not to. Either way, the stockist must have thought she hit the jackpot.
There were several single stalls dotted around the area, but the main trading went on inside three big tents. The first one I walked into, I was greeted by Bill the Flowerpot Man (not sure what happened to his brother). He was the big fella of Little Fellas, a garden ornament business owned by Dave Milgate, who carves quirky wooden men for the garden.
At the opposite end of the tent was another man skilled with wood, only he makes beautiful fruit bowls and dishes. Some had smooth finishes, while others were left in a more rustic state.
Anyone who likes a good beer should follow through to the next tent, where you can buy beer, cider, and ale brewing kits They also sold refills of bottle caps, and yeast.
Passing by jewellery, art, and clothes stalls, I came across Victory Soaps. A business based in West Sussex, these soaps use olive and coconut oil to create a silky soft lather, and are scented with essential oils. New to the range are her body care products that are free from palm oil, perfume, and synthetics. She has has a specially range particularly for problem skin. I particularly like the way Victory Soaps are packaged, with 1940s style illustrations.
You'll never go hungry at a fair, that's for sure. From left to right there were street food stalls, bakery stands, and sweet shops, everywhere. Your difficulty will not be finding food, but deciding what to get. If you don't like walking, then you'll probably end up with with a bratwurst in your hand, because the German sausage grill is right by the entrance.
Not far off is a pizza place, fish & chips stall, and paella fry up. Escaping the fat attack and moving the equally unhealthy sweetie corner, grab a pick-n'-mix bag, and start shovelling penny sweets, and a glorious array of flavoured fudge.
Need to wet your whistle? Have a pint of Somerset cider, French lemonade, or a non-denominated milkshake.
Saints & Sinners Preserves
Eyes bigger than your stomach? No problem. Simply buy something you can take home with you. My first temptation was aptly named Saints & Sinners Preserves. From classic flavours, to more unique combinations, they had things like raspberry and lime marmalade, gooseberry and elderflower jam, and pear and walnut chutney.
The Earth's Crust came all the way from Market Square Cambridge to show off their bread and pastries. From a dark rye to a jam doughnut, you can't go wrong here. Everything is very good value. I bought a large Bath bread bun for £1.50 (he made sure that he picked out the biggest for me).
You know, that bread would go awfully well cut up into croutons, mixed into salad, and drizzled with a dressing. Oil & Vinegar make the most beautiful fruit vinegars I've tasted. They had a selection to sample, including strawberry, raspberry, passionfruit, and fig. My favourites were the pomegranate and the mango pulp.
Pigs were one of the few farm animals not at the Country Show, and I think I know why. They were being turned into sausages and cooked on the barbie. The Giggly Pig is an award winning company from Essex with other a hundred flavours. Available to sample on the day was the Wow Wow (chilli), Hop (hop grains), and faggot.
Moving onto dessert, a good Old Fashioned Pudding cannot be beaten. Although they are something you would usually steer towards in winter, a suet steamed pudding is delicious any day of the year. I bought a golden syrup pudding and lemon sponge, but there was also ginger & syrup, toffee fudge, chocolate fudge, and spotted dick. Alternatively you could go for a savoury steak pie.
When I arrived home with four heavy bags of shopping, I was asked how I managed to say how I carried it all home. I can honestly say, I don't know.
The main feature of the Country Show I would say, is the animals. Lots of farmers, trainers, and animal welfare groups come to give demonstrations, talks, advice, and other forms of entertainment.
When I entered the grounds, immediately opposite were a row of chickens. There were a variety of species, all of which had a fact sheet explaining their history, gestation period, lifespan, etc. As well as providing information for the general public, it clearly had the second aim to encourage people to keep chickens. Out of the ones on show, my favourite was the Silkie, which originates from India, and came to Europe two hundred years ago. They were sold as a curiosity pet, being described as something 'in between a rabbit and a chicken'.
Get in early to cuddle a bunny.
If you want to get closer to the animals, then the best thing you can do is visit the small creatures petting corner - 'small' being the operative word. Or maybe I should just say young. Five week old guinea pigs and eight week old rabbits excelled the cuteness factor. Anyone is allowed to go inside, pick one up, and give it a cuddle. I cuddled a baby rabbit for ages the last time I came, but I had the benefit of arriving first thing. I didn't get to the petting corner until about four o'clock, by which point it was very busy with children. I did get to give a bunny a cuddle, but only for about thirty seconds before it decided it had had enough. After being picked up and handled all day, it must have been a bit fed up with all the attention. I know I would be.
Hey ho, away we go, riding on a donkey.
If you like bigger animals, there are goats, shetland ponies, and an area where children can have donkey rides.
Don't like seeing animals cooped up in pens, want to see them roaming free? The main arena had lots of demonstrations that got the animals flapping, running, and yes, indeed, even dancing. The first demonstration I saw was by far the best. The Sheep Show is a humorous and educational presentation by a Kiwi who has the gift of the gab. He brought nine breeds of sheep onto the stage, and talked about their origins, how to care for them, and gave a sheering demonstration. After that, he turned on the music, and they began to dance (some of them anyway).
As well as being highly entertaining, I learnt a lot as well. For example, I didn't realise that sheep used to be a lot like goats, but through selective breeding, humans gave them a big fleece that they are unable to malt. A sheep's fleece is its second biggest killer because of flies nesting, and laying their eggs inside. In the UK, farmers are legally bound to sheer their sheep, even though it costs more to do so than it does for selling the fleece.
After the sheep had left the stage, it was the ferret's time to shine. Long colourful tubes were set up, all intertwining for a twisty race course. Place your bets, double your money. The race itself was really just to get people to attract people in, and did not last more than a minute. The main point of the event was to raise awareness for ferret welfare, as all those at the show were rescue animals.
The presenter said that ferrets have an unwarranted bad reputation for being vicious and smelly, but explained that it was the way humans treated them that caused this. Ferrets are carnivores, but decades ago, someone decided to feed them on milk and bread. People got the notion that this was the appropriate diet, but it was in fact starvation, which caused the ferrets to become aggressive. Ferrets are in fact very friendly animals that form true loving bonds with their owners. As for being smelly, they do have a strong odour because of their glands, but it is not as bad as people think as long as you have male ferrets neutered.
If you are curious about the results, the winner was Romulus, an albino that was abandoned after his owner went to university.
Once the ferrets had gone back to their tent for a well deserved snooze, a group of terrier breeds entered the arena. They also took part in some racing, but rather than going through tubes, they were after a ball. The ball was connected to a string, the string was connected to bicycle exercise machine, the bicycle was connected to a pair of feet that were pedalling full throttle, and sending that ball backwards and forwards like clothes being pulled along a washing line. After a lot of mad dashing about, the ball finally connected with the dogs' mouths.
Children were brought on to take part.
While the terriers were having fun, the collies had work to do. The sheep may have left the stage, but there were some ducks that still needed wrangling. Shepherd, Stuart Barnes travels the country with his Dog and Duck Show. He presents both seasoned dogs, and pups in training to show how the dogs' abilities improve over time. Just like with sheep, they are trained to herd the ducks through obstacles and into pens. At one point the ducks wandered away from the arena into the park grounds (not part of the show), and a real test of the dog's training was put into action, as he brought them back.
Echo the Owl.
Last but not least, a birds of prey demonstration. First up was echo, a female barn owl. She was still fairly new, so tethered to a string as a precaution. The trainer told us that a while Echo was gaining weight, and they could figure out why. Turned out she had a wild owl for a boyfriend who snuck into her cage at night and brought food. They made the cage more difficult to get into, so the owl lost interest, but it took a long time to get Echo back to her flying weight.
Next was the biggest species of owl, the eagle owl. This one was very stubborn, ad often refused to fly over to the food. Although it made him look thick, the trainer explained that he was actually very smart, because he was waiting for the trainer to come closer, so that he wouldn't have to fly as far.
There was an impressive free flight (no tether) display from some hawks, one of which flew into a tree and upset the crows, while the other showed of its diving skills.
When I was little, the children's entertainment at Morden Hall Park County Fair included a Punch & Judy show, merry-go-round, prize stalls, archery, Viking Long ship, and throwing wet sponges at your mates. Things have changed a lot since then.
While the sponges, Vikings, and puppets are missing, they still have archery, prize stalls, and a merry-go-round. But those things that are absent are made up for with a large fun fair full of rides and games.
Driving a tractor without a license. Honestly, his parents should be ashamed.
For the young children you have mini tractors that they can drive, inflatable slides, a bouncy castle, ball pit, round-a-bout. and a very gentle alligator roller coaster.
For those looking for more of a thrill, there is a Waltzer, rifle range, dodgems, or you can get a view of the park from the top of the ferris wheel.
One thing I really wanted to try was the Zorb Balls, which are giant inflatable balls that you step inside, and run around in like a hamster. You had a choice of ground Zorb balls or water Zorb balls. Unfortunately, I had loads of bags of shopping, and with no one to look after them for me, I was unable to leave them to the side, while I had a go. My recommendation is if you want to go on rides do that before you browse the stalls, or make sure you have
someone with you who can look after your stuff.
The wonders of Meccano.
Outside the main fun fair area, there were other attractions too. such as a trampoline, bungee trampoline, crazy golf, and a Meccano amusement park that was for sale.