I spent yesterday and Saturday at the Lambeth Country Show.
For the last forty years, the London Borough of Lambeth has held an annual event in Brockwell Park, around the middle weekend in July, except in 2012 when a shortage of portaloos because of the Olympics meant it had to be rescheduled to September. (The Council tried to cancel it, but there was a massive popular outcry.) It seems as though the whole borough goes to the show – but the estimates are that only about 100,000 do. So about four out of five of us doesn’t. More fool them.
The show is free, and long may it remain so. The council – committed nuLabourites to a woman and man – would love to be able to charge for it. They’ve introduced charging for the other big community event in the park – the annual fireworks on Bonfire night. Don’t get me started on the fiasco that was. Charging for the show would change it from a wonderfully inclusive event to yet another ghetto for the gentry and the hipsters, which is just what the council wants.
It is a brilliant conceit, dating back to when we had a real Labour council. Our inner London borough, as urban as they get, puts on a flower and produce show like a rural county show. But it also has several giant music stages like a big festival – although it doesn’t need to book chart-topping headliners , and lots of stalls and stands. Every year it seems to get busier. For years it was hardly advertised at all – and only ever in the borough. No one outside had heard of it. It was such an unlikely event. A country show? In Lambeth? How ridiculous! We Brixtonites – and really, it is a Brixton event – kept schtum. It was our show. Of course, people who’d left would come back for it. Our friend who’s now a super-hot TV producer in LA comes back for it whenever she can. Worse, its reputation is spreading. People with no connection with the borough cross town to come to it. That’s not to say they’re not welcome, but the Lambeth Country Show is ours. It’s the day of the year when the whole community goes to the park for a party.
It’s the start of the school holidays, sometimes – as this year – just after the schools have broken up – or in other years it’s the weekend before those last dog days of term when nothing ever gets done – so most middle-class families have yet to pack their bags for Tuscany. The normal London children are there too of course, and well provided-for. There’s a funfair and several giant inflatable slides, and the children love going round to see the animals.
There are wonderful events. Camel racing; a jousting competition, falconry demonstrations, sheepdog trials. One year we saw the Household Cavalry performing cavalry manoeuvres in perfect time to thumping techno music. Superbly surreal. The highlight of the flower and produce show is a class for vegetable sculptures – probably unique to Lambeth, and certainly exceptional.
And we drink cider. Specifically, Chucklehead Cider from a small Devon producer. Years ago they took a stand at the show and sold out. Every year since then they’ve increased the amount of cider they sell; it’s now by far the largest event they do. Practically their entire annual production is sold at one event in a Brixton park. It’s strong – 7% – real scrumpy cider, sold in plastic bottles like the ones you get milk from the supermarket in. It’s very pleasant and gets you softly, gently merrily chuckleheaded in the sun. There are lots of other bars and other brands of cider are available, but we regulars know that for the Lambeth Country Show one drinks Chucklehead. Despite the fact that many people are really quite drunk, there is hardly ever any trouble – except occasionally some of our more opportunistic youth might take advantage of the situation to nick a bag or two. But this is very rare.
There’s a big choice of food stalls, but this is Brixton so we eat jerk chicken.
This also being Brixton, there are thousands of beautiful people, relaxed, cheery, smiling in the sun with plenty of multicoloured flesh exposed.
As far as I know, no other borough in London does anything like it. They should: they shouldn’t try to copy it (the brilliant incongruity makes LCS uncopiable), but put on their own free summer shows in their local park. Otherwise our own Lambeth Country Show will get too crowded – if it isn’t already.