Sandy’s Garden ... Showmen and Showwomen

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Are there really two ‘w’s in ‘showwomen?

Two ‘w’s together look very strange.

Whatever, the older I get, the more I tend to reminisce, often … thankfully for my friends … within my own head. And events of the past weekend recalled to mind what were called ‘the shows’ in the days of my childhood and adolescence. I remembered the excitement when word spread that the shows were setting up on the South Inch in my home town of Perth, alongside the long-demolished Pavilion. These were the days before social media, before mobile telephones, before most homes boasted a phone of any kind and before the days of cheap posters, when news of the arrival of the shows was spread by word of mouth. The shows arrived loaded on to brightly-painted old lorries … elderly ERFs and Fodens mostly … accompanied by caravan-dwelling showmen and showwomen who were the proprietors and operators of the Dodgems and Waltzers, the hoopla stalls and shooting galleries, the candy floss booths and Try-your-Strength tests which made up their vibrant world. How exciting it all seemed to us youngsters, some of whom dared to dream of joining families like the Codonas but would never have dared mention such a thing at home. Ah, how we enjoyed these delights before a reduction in the number of available sites for fairgrounds, growing red tape and the growth of new technology offered alternative forms of entertainment.

Yet at the weekend I was part of another declining group of showmen and showwomen, the enthusiasts who organise, manage, set up and dismantle the ever-declining number of horticultural society shows in central Scotland. Again delving into my past … my more-recent past this time … I recall the shows staged by the Falkirk Horticultural Society, the Denny Horticultural Society, the Bo’ness Horticultural Society and Bainsford Church, to name just four of these now-defunct organisations; and I am thankful that Grangemouth Horticultural Society and Polmont Horticultural Society are still very active, the former at the age of 60 and the latter now aged 176. The Polmont Show was on Saturday past … so, gentle reader, you have missed it … and I am sure it will be comprehensively reported in the pages of the Falkirk Herald dated Thursday, 12 September 2019. Yet there are aspects of shows such as this which are not recorded by the media, the most important of which is the hard work and dedication of the men and women … the showmen and showwomen of today … who are responsible for staging them and for producing the range of top-quality exhibits which grace the show benches and display tables. Why do these people labour in gardens and greenhouses, work in kitchens and knitting groups, create craft items and collages for a single day’s exposure to judges’ critical eyes and to public gaze? And I have no easy answer to that question. I credit a love for what they do … and are very good at … and sheer enthusiasm for their dedication, for exhibitors surely do not spend such long hours creating their exhibits for the small financial prizes which are offered to the most successful any more than they are desperate to display the often rather large trophies on their mantelpieces. No, love of an interest and dedication in its pursuit probably explain their motivation.

And what about the organisers of the shows, the showmen and showwomen who labour to set up and dismantle show venues, some of whom must be at the venue until near midnight on show eve while colleagues must be there from six in the morning on show day, the men and women who prepare show schedules, who promote the shows, encourage exhibitors, deal with problems, cope with the finances and administration and all the myriad tasks which come their way? Why do they do it? And I think the same stimuli apply to them as to the exhibitors; they do it for love and for sheer enthusiasm. Well done - and thank you!