I know it's sacrilege to be sniffy, what with this being the annual Pride of Norfolk spectacle. The multi-page newspaper layouts, the giddy coverage on TV news. Norfolk County Council even give all the kids a day off school so that they can attend (or more likely so that their absence rates stay down on official statistics). Every Norfolk brand worth its salt was there (Bakers of Holt, Jarrolds, The Councy Council, NHS – no I don't mean the medical NHS, although they had a presence, too). That's how much of a cultural tradition this event is. But then again, how often do you pay £46 to enter an outdoor shopping mall? Can't I express a wee bit of cynicism?
9:15pm Wednesday night Isabel mentioned she was going to the RNS the next day. When I enquired how that was happening she panicked. She had obviously heard all about the RNS from schoolmates (indeed, we encountered two mates while there), and was desperate not to miss out. Assumed there could be no other purpose to her random Thursday off school. 20 minutes later, one daddy firmly wrapped around her little finger, online tickets had been purchased for the next day.
Only Dad was too full of virus the next day, so it fell to muggins (Julii) to drive expectant children two hours the 22 mile journey to get there (other North Walsham people who left 1.5 hours earlier had the same pleasure). By the time we battled thru the traffic I had a bad headache which left me mildly incapable of decision-making or much coping at all afternoon (more on that headache later). Traffic jams are so exciting when you finally get into 2nd gear!
Parking was amusing. The Costessey Park-n-Ride centre was closed. We drove slowly by the empty acres of parking available at the Park-n-Ride, straight across the road from the showground (couldn't they hire lollipop people to make safe crossing?). So that we would have the pleasure of driving even further & paying £6 for parking on the golf course. Isn't someone, the council or the Showground, missing a trick with parking arrangements? I wasn't pleased, either, when we left in the evening, forced to turn southwest driving thru tiny lanes to unknown destination (we live north-east from the showground).
You'd think I'd learn by now to keep paracetomol in my purse at all times. I hunted in vain for it at the RNS. The NHS guy on the bike, the St. John's Ambulance people in quiet tents, the Drug Store venue: all stated bluntly they couldn't supply paracetomol but they all mentioned “The Medical Tent” in some farflung Nowhere Corner where I could get painkillers. As if dragging the children there would be easy (did I mention the headache left me with a 80% loss of most higher cognitive function?). It's funny, in the town where I live nothing to stop me from visiting Corner Shop, Supermarket and Newsagent in rapid succession to pay 17p each time for 16 paracetomol tablets. A 25 minute errand and 51p later, I'd easily have enough drugs to End it All (American readers are going to be completely confused, I think, so background to explain is that in Britain , sale of Tylenol & generic equivalents are strictly controlled to prevent deliberate overdose). But at the RNS, only the medical tent can supply paracetomol. Maybe something about being at the RNS creates extra high risk...
Only a few days before a workmate had tried to convince me all the good things there were to do at the RNS, especially with kids, but of course I couldn't remember a word of it because I never meant to attend. So I soldiered on. There were bits I liked okay. Some cute or interesting animals. (surprisingly few animals, far fewer than I recall from the Del Mar fair of my youth). Nicely groomed sheep, never though I'd seen an adult sheep that wasn't disgusting (but boy, llamas are disgusting). I broke rules and picked up chicks I shouldn't have and stroked bunnies we were told not to (not deliberate rule-breaking, just lost ability to think). Having held many a little boy's hands over the years to admire farm machinery I was happy to enjoy the tractor-sprayer-harvester parade, too (so weird to see guys with ties and dress suits driving them). The folk running the posh Shotguns+taxidermy tent were nice to let our scruffy group shelter there in the rain. The wood-craft corner people had the best cameraderie, stuck in a damp anonymous corner but happily showing off their traditional skils at making wooden and twiggy things with no power tools in sight. It was a great day out if you admire raptors & owls – although I couldn't help thinking I'd rather pay £46 straight into raptor rescue gates, not to the RNS. The dude selling reclining leather chairs was very good about letting my children flop in them.
Peregrine falcons were among the best things to see at the Show.
A lot of the independent traders looked stressed. Wondering if they were possibly going to be able to justify or even cover costs on their ? £25-£100+ pitch fee, I guess. There was a huge golf-course display, with a teeny putting green all kids took to. I read the notes Golf Course exhibitor wrote down for his day: “11am Quiet; 12pm Very Quiet; 1pm KIDS!!!!; 2pm quiet.”
Plenty of funfair activities, I limited the kids to only 2 “rides” each, or 3 in Michael's case. A mere £9 each so I was only £27 down for that. I wonder how many rides £27 would get them at the North Walsham Carnival (probably not many, to be fair). Luckily Tristan was ½ inch too short to go inside the insane bungee cord ball (punters strapped in ball, ball attached to bungee cords, ball flung 100' high into the air and bounced up and down for a while), so I didn't have to endure a heart attack watching my children do that. Plenty of food (not quite carboot sale prices I'm used to, £4.30 for a sausage butty, about what I expected). I clocked no proper picnic area but easy enough to chomp our own sarnies & home-brought snacks as we wandered around. Around 5pm someone gave out free spare sandwiches out the backdoor of the hospitality tent next to the main showground (good to see food not going to waste). Michael loved the animatronic dino next to the wedding tent and pole dancing hen night advertisers (animatronic dino on a hen night doing some pole dancing, definitely original!). Free snacky tidbits in the big barn near our entrance (Wymondham gate), where I enjoyed a teeny sip of wine. It was nice wine and I would have bought a bottle or six even, if only I could think straight, or if they had even supplied each bottle with a free packet of paracetomol (sigh).
It was clean, surprisingly free of litter given how unobvious & mostly unavailable the bins were. The kids paid a good price for artesan marbles (they buy a lot of marbles, I am accutely aware how much fancy marbles cost). Everyone accepted credit cards (good thing because I only had about £80 cash and didn't see any cash machines). I liked the kid activities at the Elveden estate display / bar. Several craft areas. The one type of craft I would have enjoyed a bit of would have been patchwork, needlework or quilts: didn't notice any of that.
Lots of animal charities and private schools and state schools even, dancing and displays of cleverly trained animals. Diggers on challenges and Landies trying to reverse thru cones (big cars have such such lousy visibility). And... shops. Some specialist shops (like ski clothes for children). Many consistent with the rustic theme (countryside pursuits, wellies, jumpers, waterproofs). But then there was Joules and hippy dippy Batik, toys, tonnes of jewelry, more toys, a nail bar, more clothes, and just...shops. A great place to go if you have lots of £££ itching in your pockets to get out. Tonnes of cute stuff most of us rarely if ever need to buy. Yet another homage to modern consumerism.
I am grateful that we didn't have pouring rain or roasting sunshine, and that I actually still had some cash in my wallet when I walked out of the gates. I still can't help but feel that I spent 9 hours of my life and paid a £46 entry fee to... a shopping mall. A quirky outdoor tidy celebratory one with a better cut of clientale for sure, but still, a shopping mall. Better than online shopping, for sure, I'll grant you that.