It is no secret that this Pilgrim bloke is a vintage agriculture fan, so around this time of year I get roped into preparations for the Borders Vintage Agricultural Association Annual Rally at the Border Union Showground at Springwood Park in Kelso.
There seems to be a common perception in some areas of the public domain that a major open-air rally such as ours more or less happens overnight – but nothing could be further from the truth.
Nowadays, when anyone asks me when we start preparing our next rally, my truthful reply is that planning kicks off the morning after the rally itself. Of course we hold a “greetin’ meetin’” a week or two after the event, leaving a useful space for everyone to mull over what went on and formulate any complaints, suggestions or queries – and I can tell you this and no more, that interval can be vital in cooling tempers, thinking through issues or even allowing a touch of indifference to influence contemplation.
We hold regular committee meetings over the winter months in which there is a roughly 50/50 split between serious discussion and yarning/gossip, but that is the way of successful committees, is it not?
The arrangements all come together in spring with only minor last-minute panics. This is assisted by the fact that we have established a reasonably-reliable formula for our rally – and it works well. We have reached our optimum size and maintain an ethos of providing an event in which the paying public can largely decide what parts of the rally are for them.
Other events where the whole shebang comes to a grinding halt while the big number is acted out can seriously affect that way things flow. For example, having the Red Arrows show up costs an absolute fortune and consists of a few minutes of oohing and aahing as the fly boys do their stuff with a great deal of noise and panache, after which there is a silence as everyone goes back to what they were doing and the pigeons settle back on the local pea crops.
I digress. We aim to start getting the showground ready on the Thursday evening before the big day, laying out arenas, marking out stances etc., while welcoming early arrivals with their caravans. We are hugely fortunate in having a work team of members and committee who always show up and help. Such ladies and gents are the lifeblood of any club – without them we would fail.
On the Friday afternoon we start a little earlier, concentrating on our auction sale of vintage items. I get to do a little gentle clerking while the muscular types help unload the stuff. This sale gets bigger every year and presents a grand chance to pick up a bargain. To keep the sale in manageable proportions, we have to do our best to keep to vintage agricultural/rural stuff, but the sellers know the score and we have few problems with that.
Saturday is the big sale day, so an early rise is essential for a 10.30am start. We are blessed with the services of Selkirk auctioneer Billy Stott, from John Swan and Sons, who I reckon is one of the best in the business. He rattles through the lots in his inimitable style, even drawing bids from folk with deep pockets and short arms. If you lose Billy in the scrum of onlookers, just wait until everyone starts laughing and you will find him in the middle, cracking the jokes.
With the benefit of a large hall, the Saturday evening has evolved into a get-together of local members and those staying on site. We have a ceilidh band and a bar which, taken with a well-supported monster raffle, makes for a splendid, if rather tiring evening, not to mention one or two sair heids in the morning wondering where they might obtain a trade pack of Alka Selzter.
As for the rally itself, what can I say?
This year was bright and sunny all day, with the merest zephyr of a breeze to keep flies off the beer and smiles on everyone’s face. Old geezers gathered to talk of the good old days – the younger equivalent were likewise engaged, wondering how anything ever got done on the land with such basic machinery. The rest of us wandered round the vast array of other exhibits, ranging from old lawnmowers to modern Jaguar cars. Wee lorries, muckle lorries and in-between lorries were a big draw, but if anything summed up the day, it was the constant long queues for Mr Ginestrie’s famous ice-cream.
I try not to eat at rallies for diet reasons, but this year I lost my resolve and enjoyed a mid-morning bacon buttie from AM PM catering, some ace fish and chips from Geoff Allan’s mobile chippie, and, best of all, got a freebie large 99 cornet from Mr G’s van (I’m hoping Ann, my diabetic nurse, does not read this bit!).
As the rally day wore on, the ring parades kept the crowd busy as a wide range of wheeled stuff strutted their funky stuff, the best of them bearing the rosettes of success. Ring parades always look good in sunshine, don’t they? Just to show how well off we are for talent, our chairman, Charlie McCririck, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things agricultural, along with a sharp wit, entertains with a fine ring commentary.
By around 4.30pm the rally had more or less shot it’s bolt for another year. I have always been astonished at the speed that a showground can empty – it’s like playing the national anthem after the film at the flicks – but, just the same, it’s handy, allowing the big clear-up to begin.
But I have left the best part to last, as usual. It was our great pleasure to hand over a cheque for £3,000 – yep, three grand – to the Macmillan Nurses Centre at Borders General Hospital. I know of no more worthy cause around here and suggest you note Sunday, May 17, 2015 in your diaries for a right good day out at Springwood Park.