It’s hard to think of the Borough of Lambeth as very rural. One does not readily associate its districts – Brixton, Streatham, Clapham, Kennington – with the bosky delights of the English countryside. Few residents of Tulse Hill or Stockwell encounter a sheep, a tractor or indeed a blade of grass on a day-to-day basis. But despite these drawbacks, the Lambeth Country Show has been a big draw for decades. Every July, 3,000 locals stream into Brockwell Park to eat Bratwurst, drink Red Stripe lager, gaze at birds and animals from outside the borough and learn about country pursuits they seldom get a chance to pursue in SW2.
I went along with my grown-up children to the 40th incarnation of this rus in urbe extravaganza. Believe me, I told them, there’s nothing countryfied about any of this. The music, though, sounded promising. Revellers assured me that Aswad, the reggae band, would be headlining, that Jerry Dammers of Two Tone Records was doing a DJ thing – and that, according to rumours, Ed Sheeran would be on at 4pm. If the world-conquering ginge hobbit thought it worth playing Lambeth Country Show, it was clearly becoming cool (still not country-ish though).
We’d missed the camel racing, which was obviously a blow, but several fascinating spectacles caught the eye – a young girl taking her slithery pet ferret for a walk on a lead, an amazingly tall transsexual with a John Cleese demeanour in a pink bikini. In the produce tent, a crowd gathered around one of the show’s annual high-spots: the sculpted vegetables display. This year’s theme was “Sea Monsters.” Much ingenuity had gone into making “The Kraken”, in which a purple aubergine with green-bean tentacles menaced an 18th-century ship with lettuce-leaf sails. A tableau of root-veg sailors in a yellow boat turned out to be “The Life Aquatic With Swede Zissou”.
Four o’clock came, with no sign of Ed. It seemed the rumour had started when somebody had mis-heard, “The shearing’s on at four…” Billy Kinghorn, 55 years a shearer, announced, “I come a long way to be here today,” but he didn’t mean Australia; he meant Scotland. The crowd cheered. His announcement that he held a record for shearing 427 sheep in a single day, and that “I once done a sheep in 32 seconds” drew more cheers, possibly lewd.
And then, just as we queued for falafel and burgers, the heavens opened. Raindrops the size of condom water-bombs crashed down from the heavens upon our heads. A lacerating shower attacked us sideways-on, then, as we ran, deluged us from behind. We sprinted for the only visible shelter, a cider tent, already filling up with escapers from the cloudburst.
Was it okay, I asked the owner, if we hung out there for a while? He regarded my (extremely pretty) girls appraisingly. “Go down the end there,” he told them, “an’ stand beside the Sweet barrel.” For the next half-hour, I looked on amazed as thirsty punters pitched up through the Niagaran downpour and asked for four-pint (or six-pint, or gallon) bottles, as rain coursed down their noses. If anyone ordered sweet cider, the owner waved plastic glasses at Sophie and Clementine and with the words, “Would you mind, darlin’?” turned them into de facto barmaids. Eventually I tried a couple of pints myself, before deciding it might be better to stick to Dry.
And there we stayed, crowded together in sodden camaraderie, wet but content, for almost an hour, until an official from Lambeth Council arrived to say the show was now over, “…so you can’t sell any more cider, okay?” We watched her departing waddle. “Is that so?” mused the landlord. “Does that mean I have to give it away?”
Suddenly I didn’t feel I was in London any more. More like in Hardy’s Wessex, or Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, in a timeless company of rustic archetypes, tricksters, knaves and varlets, hell-bent on jollity, heedless of authority. Now that’s what I call a country show.
Clegg should know how to mix a cocktail
I’m suspicious of people who criticise politicians for behaving like ordinary people during international crises, as if being in public office requires you to employ your Serious Face 24 hours a day.
What struck me about Nick Clegg’s appearance on Sunday Brunch (where he actually talked quite emphatically about the West’s obligation to hold Mr Putin to account) was that he looked happier than he’s looked at any time in the last four years. Was it the presence of Cher Lloyd? Was it that no Parliamentary smartarse could attack his contribution to the avocado cake? Or did he glimpse a future in which he’ll be a sought-after expert on liquid coalitions? “This cocktail of rum and cranberry was never a good idea… Your ill-advised hybrid of whisky and grappa was an accident waiting to happen… Whoever thought gin could work with Tia Maria must have been living in dreamland…”
Evil, or just too early out of bed?
Dr Johnson was strict on the subject of getting up early: he never did himself, but he recommended it in others. “I have, all my life long, been lying till noon;” he told Boswell, “yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good.”
He’d have been intrigued by a new survey that suggests you can’t trust early risers to be honest and behave decently in the evening. The study, called The Morality of Larks and Owls, found 200 people with different “chronotypes” – dispositions towards being asleep and awake at certain times – and gave them problem-solving tests. The early-risers showed a tendency to cheat late in the day, while the late-risers were likely to behave badly in the morning (when, of course, they’d never usually be up.)
So there we have it: your ethical choices change with your internal body clock, and at different times of day. And if you find yourself still a-slumbering at 10.29am, you’re not an idle, shiftless layabout at all – you’re building up your inner morality bank.