It was the 89th Annual Show in the North Yorkshire village of Thornton-le-Dale last week and I feel like I have been a judge in at least 80 of them. Called upon yet again to apply the wisdom of Solomon, I decided to brush up my powers of appraisal by first attending the 142nd Ryedale Agricultural Show. Though it's been going since the 1860s, this rural wingding has kept pace with modern times, as evidenced by the rousing rendition of "Jesus Christ Superstar" by the Malton Silver Band that accompanied our long slog to the sheep pens. We went to see the prize-winning Beltex ram displayed by our farming friends Simon and Valerie. "You want a straight top and a good back end," said Simon, thumping the rump of his woolly champion. "That's where the meat is." Exceptionally among sheep, the breed has a noble forehead of Jeeves-like proportions. I asked if this resulted in unusual powers of intellect.
"They haven't got any," said Simon bluntly.
"Oh, they do," countered Valerie. "They know what's what."
Though I was now brimming with ovine info, this proved superfluous at Thornton-le-Dale, since I was asked to assay photography. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Marie Curie Cancer Care, Class 67 was inspired by the charity's daffodil logo: "Photographic colour print on the theme of 'Yellow'". Bearing in mind my much-admired adjudication of "Class 156: Best Matching Pair of Pigs" a few years ago, this demand for me to deliberate on aesthetics rather than livestock was mildly dismaying, but I don't suppose the m'luds of Old Bailey turn down a case of grand larceny because they fancy a spot of libel.
By the time we arrived in the Produce Tent, our fellow judges were already scrutinising the 1,800 items in competition. They included torpedo-sized marrows, scones like small castles, carrots as long as rapiers and onions as big as babies' heads. My vote for "Children's miniature garden in a seed tray" would have gone to the entry that boasted a strawberry patch of real frais de bois. Elsewhere, such alluring classes as "Polecat gill ferret", "Non-primitive female gimmer lamb", "Anglo-Nubian goat in milk" and "Dog most like its owner" were being assessed, while we peered at 20 snaps featuring a yellow element.
It could have been worse. Last year, we were burdened with judging "Children's crafts, aged 11-16". You know that by singling out an entry in, for example, Class 121 ("A handmade, decorated gift box"), you are inflicting disappointment on the creator of a less distinguished container. However, the apogee of competitive agony is reached at the annual show in the upland village of Rosedale, which continues to include a beautiful baby competition. Even the most ill-favoured plug-ugly is, of course, a paragon of pulchritude in the eyes of its mother. Hoping that our exclusion of several images of toddlers in yellow did not cause too much heartache at Thornton-le-Dale, we ruminated long and hard before coming up with: 1) Buttercup; 2) Field of rape in flower; 3) Daffodil.
By the time we completed our task, the show was firing on all cylinders. It's strange how such events have the magical property of loosening purse strings. I found myself spending £7.95 on a chamois leather though I have zero interest in car cleaning. As a romantic treat, I bought Mrs W a three-metre extendable washing brush for cleaning the windows (£15). Sadly, the equine act known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ("Let's hear it for Pestilence!"), which provided headline entertainment for several years, seems to have bitten the dust, but a motor stunt team proved a thrilling replacement. Martin, the show's chairman, told us he was thinking of another innovation. "I want to introduce a new class for Best Pork Pie."
"That's not too surprising," Nick, the show's pig secretary, said afterwards. "Martin makes a very good pork pie." I am naturally too modest to propose myself as a possible judge but while watching the ginger Tamworths, mottled Gloucester Old Spots and squashy-snouted Middle Whites lolloping round the pig enclosure, it struck me that I had spent a good portion of my life assessing the crusty aftermath of these admirable creatures.
At Filey's Coble Landing, where the resort's small fishing fleet rests onshore between outings in the North Sea, Charles Baker of Baker's Snack Bar was repairing a tempting but inedible ice-cream. Made of fibre-glass, it was four-feet high (including Flake) with a highly realistic wafer cornet. "Some kid broke the base yesterday by climbing on it," Charles explained. "I got it in January from a company in Devon for £250. A six-foot version would only have been another £30 but they only do that size in Mr Whippy-style ice-cream and I don't sell that. There's one further along the prom, but I don't like it. No feeling. My cornet is a hard-scoop ice-cream without sprinkles. Actually, you can see the sprinkles here on the ice-cream but they haven't been painted. The company that made it also does pirates, water goddesses, the lower half of scantily clad ladies – it's actually a table – and lots of other designs. When I ordered my ice-cream, one of the sales staff asked if I also fancied a 48-foot Buddha. I did think about it, but it's not really in keeping with a seaside snack bar. Besides, it would be a bit of struggle to bring it in at night."