Quicke Off The Mark

Mary Quicke
Photo by Matt Austin

Mary Quicke Photo by Matt Austin - Credit: Archant

This month our columnist MARY QUICKE sings the praises of the Devon County Show – and recounts her own special involvement with it

The Devon County Show is the biggest party in Devon. I’ve always loved it. As a child, I wouldn’t want to sleep the night before we went, for the sheer excitement of it.

My worst first memory was going to the show when I was three. I scampered up onto the seat of a combine harvester my father wanted to buy. They walked round to the other side, I climbed down and couldn’t see them. In that terrifying way children do, I assumed they’d deserted me, and I wandered off into the crowd, making desperate and woeful plans about life on my own. I remember a lady with a floral dress scooped me up and took me to the lost children tent, where my parents eventually found me.

Unscarred by this, we went back year after year. I took my own children, giving them a taste for delicious food - their favourite was the tent that served lobster. Good, we thought, as we coughed up, give them expensive tastes, and they’ll see the point of doing well, working hard.

We’ve sold our cheese at the show for years. The very first year my mother built the cheese dairy, in 1973, she took a van into the show and we sold cheese from there. Now we have a stand in the glorious Food and Drink tent with so many delicious foods from Devon, a taste of Devon’s food glories. The Queen came to our stand one year and was shown around, surrounded by crowds.

Imagine how proud I was to be asked to be the President of the Show a few years back.

I had a practice year as Vice-President, and then a year as President. It was such a privilege to see inside the workings of the show.

Most Read

It takes 400 stewards, giving their time free. The people in their bowler hats, such a distinctive feature of the show, are the Chief Stewards, team leaders of the sections, bowler hat to be visible in the crowds.

The stewards are from all walks of life, and all passionate to share their passion with everyone who shows an interest - cows, sheep, pigs, dogs, flowers, rabbits, cavies (guinea pigs), horses, goats, blacksmithing, lacemaking, felting, quilting, bell-ringing, forestry, steam engines, sheep shearing, shooting, bee keeping, tractors and food....all the arts and crafts, pursuits and hobbies, livelihoods and professions that make Devon what it is.

As a delighted visitor, I’ve wandered around, taking it all in. As President, I got to speak to these remarkable people, one after the other. Over and over again, I could see how a love for something that inspires you, and the commitment to share the joy and passion of it, gives people stature and vitality.

I wanted to highlight farming, particularly grassland farming, and young people at the show. It was wonderful to have the dedicated team of organisers guide the show, to have my fondest wish turn up in reality, to have the show be a celebration of farming.

What to wear? I had to give the prizes, open, thank, eat, greet, attend. I couldn’t wear anything ordinary. A man can wear a pin-striped suit and a bowler, the same each day. I came to the conclusion that it was the hat that gave the prize - that smart clothes honour people for their achievements. Scruffy, dowdy, ill-sorted, wouldn’t work.

Both years, I had the fun of going shopping with my daughter to buy smart dresses and hats, matching bags and shoes, seeing what (few) bits of my existing wardrobe would do the job. I wanted to honour the extraordinary achievement of the show and all the hard work of all those dedicated people in how I dressed.

I had three days of being the Queen of the Show - shown round, introduced, made much of, like a bride on her wedding day, a taste of what it would be to be the Queen. By the end, I was joyful, appreciative and tired.

I gained a huge respect for the Queen - it must be like being President of the Devon County Show, and more, every day. No wonder she’s got a lady in waiting to keep her clothes right and takes breaks from public life. Three days was plenty enough for me!