Fuji X takes time for a day at the agricultural fair
People who love going to agricultural fairs need read no further; just take a look at the pictures. After all, you already know what you like. However, for those who are yet to be convinced, I shall describe the unique delights to be experienced from a day at the fair.
My wife and I have had wonderful days out at the Cheshire Agricultural Show at Tatton, the Flint and Denbigh Show in North Wales and the Usk and Monmouth Shows in South Wales. There are of course many similar shows all over the country and we could happily visit them all.
Imagine the green of the show fields, set off by white marquees and stands, encircled by mature trees and gentle hills, all warming in the summer sun. Watch the eager throng arriving: local farmers and their families, horses and riders, sheep and shepherds, dogs and dog-handlers, hawks and falconers, salesmen by the score, as well as agronomists, animal health experts, agricultural finance and insurance experts.
There are animals for everyone: ducks and rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs, fancy fowl and donkeys. There are machines for everyone: tractors, trailers, quad-bikes, combine harvesters, loaders, ploughs, elevators, bailers, diggers and ditchers and dozens more whose purpose escapes me.
There are stalls and marquees offering all the products associated with country pursuits: clothing, shoes and walking sticks, dog and cat accessories, duck and hen houses, garden gadgets of every description, horse blankets, saddles and curry combs.
There is also a Food Marquee where every kind of farm and country produce is offered for tasting and for sale: local meats and sausages, pork pies and pasties, fruit, vegetables, honey and jams, ciders and wine, cakes, biscuits and sweets. Some part of heaven is surely a table spread with goods like these?
The fair is a market place for the establishing and maintaining of reputations. It is a competitive arena for the judging of animals and produce which can lead to the winning of prestigious rosettes and ribbons. It is a chance to show off the result of a year’s intensive work on the farm.
The agricultural fair is also one of the few occasions in a hard farming year when farmers and those who depend upon them can socialise with others of like occupation and mind-set. Unfortunately, farming can often be a lonely, solitary occupation which throws strains and stresses upon farmers and their families alike. A day at the fair is therefore a time for shared pleasure and good company, a vital break in routine.
Some people have come to the fair for the displays of vintage cars and tractors — such as beautiful old MGs, Morgans, Fordsons and Massey Fergusons. Others can’t wait for a ride on the Ferris wheel, turns on the slides and fairground rides of every description. Many visitors are attracted by the displays which are some of the high points of the day: the Royal Signals White Helmets display of motor bike skills (how sad they are now to disband), the demonstrations of birds of prey, the skills of dog handlers in obedience and the retrieving of game, the driving of teams of shire horses and vintage wagons.
Click on the above images to see them full size and uncropped
By late morning, its time to visit the food court for sustenance, choosing from burgers, sausages, wraps and bacon rolls or, if you prefer, Indian, Chinese, Thai and other ethnic offerings. My own simple favourite is a paper bag of six fresh doughnuts, sizzling hot and sugared, with a hot cup of coffee! Sometimes I have to use a lens wipe to clean my hands of the sticky sugar.
When I had the Fuji X-T10 (now sold for my X-T20), I would sometimes take the 16mm f/1.4 lens along to the fair. This is of course a wonderful wide angle lens which is ideal for city or country landscapes. It also has the ability to focus close up, within 15 cm of the lens when required, which is excellent for close up work. This is a lens which, throughout the year, I regard as my trusty travel companion whose characteristics and strengths I think I know. Yet, I don’t use it much at fairs, usually restricted to the odd environmental portrait of a man at work with his tools and products, otherwise it remains largely unused.
My two preferred lenses for the fair are the 100-400mm long telephoto on the X-T2 and the 56mm f/1.2 short telephoto on the XT-20. The first at long extension is what is needed to photograph the shire horses or the Royal Signals motor cyclists when they are at the other end of the huge show ring. At the other end of its range, it can also cope with action in the smaller judging rings. The 56mm on the other hand is superb for portraits, vignettes of people and animals in restricted pens and marquees. Opened up wide, it dissolves away backgrounds and directs the eye to the subject.
There is of course no substitute for the 100-400 for action like running horses or motorbike stunts. On the X-T2, it is easy to acquire focus and keep locked on for action shots. The 56mm on the other hand is much more considered about its focus acquisition, some would call it plain slow! One has to concede it is indeed a leisurely performer in this respect but then it has such merit in other departments that it can easily be forgiven. These two lenses together cover most of my needs at the fair but I am sure that others would choose differently.
A final thought about agricultural fairs. Of course, there are many other types of fair and exhibitions, covering every possible interest group from sailing to flowers, from DIY to crafting. But none of these, it seems to me, are as directly related to the life, work and interests of a whole community as are the county and regional agricultural fairs. Those who are the backbone of such events are the working people of the surrounding countryside. That ensures agricultural fairs have an integrity of shared endeavour and enjoyment which, in my opinion, differentiates them from other kinds of fairs.
Can there be anyone still reading who doesn’t want to hurry off right now to their local agricultural fair? Well, I hope you will at least give one a try? The doughnuts are delicious!