Little red rosette
Not daring to risk the wrath of local showgoers, Editor Jonathan Young steers clear of the veg and baking classes at an agricultural show but chances his luck in the dog ring
A GLITTERING shower of CVS cascaded into my inbox, each tracing our guests’ success in business, the military and the arts. As the luncheon’s host, I was spared providing one, which was probably just as well as I’m not sure the taking of a Macnab, neat setting of a rabbit wire and the ability to dress a pigeon in under a minute compare strongly with a plethora of honours and non-executive directorships.
Yet there is consolation. These men may have conquered their worlds but have they won first prize for sloe gin at the village fête? Doubtful. And I’m certain none has climbed that rural Everest of taking a red rosette at an agricultural show.
For knighthoods, though jolly, butter no parsnips when you’re facing iron opposition in Class 16, Vegetables, Six Runner Beans or daring your luck against the matrons in Class 20, Baking, Three Cheese Oven Scones at the Mull & Morvern Agricultural Society’s annual Salen Show (founded 1832).
In fact, it’s wise to keep your head down at these local shindigs unless you’re from the parish. You may arrive all smiles and tweed cap but it’s best not to present scrupulously fair judges with an awkwardness. Your Article in Crochet may win the laurels but snatching victory from the grandma who runs the nursery won’t win friends. And as for taking the silver for Best Victoria Sponge? Well, I’d make sure the getaway Volvo has the engine running.
But while the Produce and Animal classes, with their assorted cups, are best left to others no one really minds if you bag a rosette and woofer treats at the dog show. And as I was at the Mull show with Betsy the Sealyham it seemed foolish not to have a dibble in the terrier class.
We had low hopes. For the past few days, the Betsy had turned unusually feral, even for her. She’d teamed up with the house pack of collie dogs, churning out of the lodge and onto the beach occupied by the resident Highland cattle, who love their daily midge respite. The collies gambolled in the waves, collected sticks and kept themselves tidy. Betsy, however, had discovered the dunes held myriad rabbits.
On the day of the show I’d lost track of her while I picked a couple of pounds of field mushrooms, abundant on the sheep cropped strand, and she emerged covered with enough burrs and bracken to rival a Royal Marine on the Lympstone snipers’ course. I’d removed the worse before we drove into the show but then she jumped into a small mud mire in the car park and indulged in a little wallow. A dip in the burn washed off some of the brown stuff but it was still an off-white, rather matted mutt that entered the ring against an assortment of nondescript mixes, sleek Borders and a very dapper and leggy fox terrier.
His owner knew how to show him, too, ensuring his chin was up and he was always standing in profile. The Betsy, in contrast, mostly presented her bottom to the judge as she tried to corrupt the Borders with an invitation to play.
We did our two circuits round the ring, the judge gave the Sealyham a good feel for conformation and we waited for the red rosette to be handed to the fox terrier. Yet extraordinarily, the judge came over and handed it to us. I’d barely recovered from the surprise when the fox-terrier owner shook my paw, offered his congratulations and said, “Lovely dog. One of Harry Parsons’? Thought so.”
The moment needed celebrating, so walking past the skirling pipes of the local school band we stopped at the Tobermory Distillery stall, where a charming man was dishing out samples of the 10-year-old malt, 14-year-old and the 21-year-old sherry cask finished. All delicious – too delicious to make the call after one tasting. So we had a second. And a third. By the fourth it was clear the 21-year-old would make fine presents for shooting hosts.
“You’ll have to buy it at the distillery. Or online,” said my newfound bestie. “We can’t sell bottles at the show.”
That was a disappointment but one remedied back home. The real sadness was its absence the next day, after my host and I had trekked up to a hill loch. It was a hard haul – an hour and 40 minutes – but when we reached the summit there were the Western Isles moored in a silver sea, Colonsay, Islay and Jura, the Paps sharp against the sky. It merited a dram but we settled for peaty water and headed down to the loch where our long hike up was rewarded by the steady dimpling of rising trout.
“No one’s caught a fish here this year,” said my friend. “So you can have the honour of first chuck.”
I’d seen a few daddy longlegs blown onto the ripple and so quickly tied on a goldhead Daddy. One of the boys was rising 6ft from the bank, so I crept along, kept well back and threw the offering. Instantly the trout came but missed it. Another throw and he was on and fighting hard, a true clan warrior.
A few minutes later he came ashore, glowing in the golds and scarlets of true wild trout. A good fish of 12oz but bettered 10 minutes later by one that weighed more like 14oz. My friend was also connected and when the rise stopped and it was time for home we’d had four fish of exceptional beauty and power between us.
None of which could possibly be put on a proper CV. But on a sporting CV it trumps, I think, a non-exec directorship.
Having indulged in a little wallow, an off-white, rather matted mutt entered the ring