“Show me the way to go home”……

“I’m tired and I want to go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago and it’s gone right to my head !!”

Sunshine, heat, no food, booze and walking, not a recipe for feeling good.  That is my memory of this year’s Royal Welsh Show, at least on the first sortie.  The second ‘assault’ on those vast grounds and multitude of stalls thronged with sweaty bodies, was much less sapping on body and soul.

Les Anciens - tractor tired

Me at the end of a long hot three hour visit on the busiest day…. ? do I really now have to drive this home …..

The annual gathering was, for the second year, blessed with fine weather.  Too fine in some cases as huge fans had to be installed in the large metal sheds in which livestock are incarcerated for five days.  I noticed too that at long last the organisers have provided free stand-pipes with drinking water for the public to avail themselves of, that at least did away with having to pay the exorbitant price for a bottle of water !

I have gradually reduced the visits I make to the show.  For more years than I care to remember I had to attend on most of the four days in my capacity as Chairman of the South Wales Dry Stone Walling Association.  It’s pleasing to see that those now running the demonstration are keeping the tradition going and continuing to enhance the permanent features of the showground with some fine stone work. (www.southwalesdswa.co.uk).

Dry Stone Wall Association display at the Royal Welsh 2013

The wall, with integrated seats, has been an on-going project for nearly ten years and is providing some much needed shady seating for the visitors.

Normally, nowadays, I just go along as a mere punter but this year I had also been cajoled into ‘manning’ the FWAG stand on the last day.  It was an interesting experience, not least in seeing the marketing issues thrown up by the position and the signing.  I had arranged to meet several people at the tent, none of them managed to find it.  One of the major issues was its location in some obscure narrow alley-way of tents that lead nowhere.  The other major issue was that the banner across the front of the tent was in Welsh and a complicated translation at that,  Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group does not easily translate into the mother tongue.  Much better to have stuck to the eponymous ‘Fwag Cymru’, which both English and Welsh speakers use.

As usual I met and chatted to many folk whom I hadn’t seen for a while – probably since last year’s show !  I almost always see certain individuals but this year one very old friend was absent. Dai Walters, for over 20 years the main man at the Society and for many years now, its Chief Executive, has gone and retired !! Can that be true !?  It seems no time since we were both teaching together at Hartridge High School in Newport.  He was a P.E. teacher having trained at the famous Cardiff College of Physical Education, Cyngcoed.  I was a less accomplished teacher of a variety of subjects including Economics, Environmental Studies and, believe it or not, Typewriting !!  We got on well, as young rugby players do but after two years we went our separate ways.  He, in part due to an injury which curtailed his P.E. days, went off to study Agriculture at Aberystwyth and it was some years before we again met.  On a holiday to west Wales in about 1976 I decided to seek him out in his old village home of Llangadog.  His father was the local doctor so was easy to find.  We didn’t meet on that occasion but what did happen was that whilst walking my dog on the common of Felindre Sawdde I got talking to a local.  By the end of the day I had agreed to buy his house and it was a year or so later, whilst doing the old place, up that Dai and I finally caught up.  It is strange to think that David Walters O.B.E. is no longer at the helm of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society.  Hopefully he will finally get to have a holiday !

Royal Welsh Cattle Ring

The Cattle Ring is a must to visit for me. The standard of entries this year was,  so I’m told, quite outstanding.

I am in awe of those that come to the show for the whole week.  Indeed a few of my clients from the previous  weeks did exactly that, the good weather having allowed them to get the hay and silage harvest completed prior to the event.  I am particularly dumb-struck at those who take stock to the show. They arrive on the weekend prior to the opening Monday and everyday they are grooming and working with their animals to have them ready for the event into which they are entered.  The Classes for all animals at the show, be it cattle, sheep, goats or Guinea Pigs is an array of strange names and groupings of ages, sections, types and abilities.

The whole event is heavily televised, especially within the Welsh Language media, and in a conversation I had with one of the presenters I have known for a while, I suggested that such was the year-long organisation behind the scenes – known to me in relation to my negotiations for the Walling demonstration – there was surely a good TV series awaiting – and now that Dai is retired ……the ideal man to do it !!

Welsh Black Cattle winners at Roya Welsh 2013

The winning Welsh Black Cattle await interview by another famous ‘Dai’ of the Royal Welsh – ‘Dai Llanilar’, leaning on his ever-present stick, the perfectly designed presenter of the Welsh Medium TV coverage of all things agricultural – if you’ve never watched ‘Fermio’…

On the Wednesday afternoon, having spent a good five hours hauling timber I took ‘my little helper’ into the show for a few hours.  It had been some time since he had attended and he was duly ‘shocked’ at the huge numbers of people and the countless number of vendors selling total and absolute crap.  I can always rely on him for an astute, in-depth analytical response, “Why are all these people here?”

What can you say ……..?

The real amazing event of Show week for me occurred some distance away.  Indeed such was my total amazement at the utter stupidity of what happened I need to tell you about it !

About a mile down the main road that runs from Beulah to Llanwyrtd Wells and on to Llandovery, is a set of traffic lights.  They are of the ‘TEMPORARY’ kind, you know the sort; lots of signs laid out at the precisely defined distance as per the manual of Traffic Light Installation (apparently it is a two day course to become qualified to erect such an obstruction on the highway…).  They first appeared a year ago when repairs were started on some bent crash barrier/rails along the parapet of a bridge – the stream beneath is about 2 feet wide.  I should say at this juncture that the said crash barrier/rails are a good 20 feet back from the edge of the road, sufficient room for the repair gang to have parked their vehicles side-by-side without hindering passage of traffic along the road.  Work proceeded nicely, a good 80% was done in the first two days, the next 15% took a little longer – well it is Powys workers after all.  The remaining 5% (my estimate, you understand) consisting of about a 2 foot (60cms) section of crash barrier either side of the newly installed main parapapet rails and which join the new steel-work to the old, remains on the floor.  So, for a year the main flow of a rather busy main road has been halted by these moronic lights.  Of course, they are efficiently maintained by the hire company (Masco) from whom they are rented and all the signs are regularly mown around so’s they can be clearly seen by approaching drivers.

I have had to drive through them almost daily, twice a day, and the sheer stupidity and waste of it all generates an increasing anger within.  We are all having to pay higher and higher Council Tax, we are suffering huge cuts in local services.  Indeed only this week I read that next year ‘they’ -our dear elected council members and their highly paid advisers – are going to shut all Public Conveniences in Powys.  Great, a county heavily dependent on Tourism asks all visitors and locals to please find a suitable hedge or gateway to relieve themselves behind but just take care that the local super-efficient members of Dyfed-Powys police don’t see you, Oh how they would love to add to their driver-derived cash crop !

I find too that my already fairly disdainful opinion of our own ‘Elected member’ – ‘elected’ in the sense that about 10% of the population bother to vote for him – grows ever more entrenched as I know full well he drives through those idiotic lights himself twice a day and more if he is off on some Committee business.  He has sat far too long for the slightest good he could possibly do, and besides silly ex-military officers who insist on being called by their long-ago rank and wear absurd handle-bar moustaches cannot ever be considered worthy of being my representative … if you get my drift.

I digress, so, meanwhile back at the traffic lights; as we approached the annual Royal Welsh show and the road signs warning of impending road chaos began to be unveiled, as they are each year, I felt sure that the realisation would dawn on the clowns in the Highways department that a major bottle-neck, such as those ‘temporary lights’ represented, would lead to inevitable long and frustrated queues, the road being the main arterial route to the showground from all points west. We are talking  thousands of cars per day for four days and more.  Surely NOW they would order the ten man crew needed to bolt two pieces of crash barrier into place, onto the job pronto.  After all, surely a year’s hire charge must be nearly more than having the road gang do the repair ?

Whilst normally I would stay off the road during show week, a problem that be-set my trusty 434 necessitated a journey to Llandovery – I needed a new tyre from the emporium of my old mate ‘Sammy tyres’.  As I came to the bend where the lights are, already slightly angry to find the warning signs still up meaning no, they hadn’t moved them out of the way for the show, I was astounded to see a Powys County Council Highways Dept. truck parked in the coned off area between the lights. “Don’t tell me they have left until THIS week to finish the repair”, was my thought.  Oh contrare, no indeed, the intelligent suits in the Highways department had indeed recognised that the TEMPORARY lights would cause chaos during show week.  Good on them, I retract my sarcastic sneering jibes….. but instead of FIXING or merely moving the lights to one side – after all there is plenty of room and acres of grass between tarmac and said rails – they had exercised amazing leadership and assigned two men to ‘guard’ the obstruction and, in the event of a build up of traffic of significant proportion either going to the show or in the evening on the homeward journey, they leapt from the warmth and comfort of their cab and using the time honoured method of traffic management, they over-rode the red, amber, green of the lights and instead stood proudly brandishing the hand held lollipop ‘Stop’/’Go’ sign.  Marvellous.  So, instead of two men finishing the job of bolting the two remaining sections in place, a matter of four nuts and bolts per section, those goodly wise souls in the lavish offices at County Hall come up with a TEMPORARY solution to the problem of the TEMPORARY lights. Bravo !!

Then again, I mustn’t be too cynical; the lads manning the hand held signs from 7 in the morning until 10 at night got some good overtime.  In any-case they were clearly not trained in the correct procedure for nut and bolt threading and all those in the Highways department who had attended the ten week course were on leave having exhausted themselves – or the budget – erecting the traffic management signs for the Royal Welsh Show.  By the time they come back it will be time to take all those TEMPORARY show signs down again until next year.  In the meantime the great flood of holiday traffic which runs along that road from the Midlands heading to the resorts of west Wales will enjoy the extra stop-over on the pretty bend just west of Beulah, by a small stream with a highly dangerous missing section of crash barrier along a bridge parapet difficult to see from the road….

Show me another way to go home, I am so sick of those damned lights….. Who knows, maybe Colonel bloody Rip-Van-Winkle will finally realise they are there and decide to do something useful for his constituents, hell, he’d get a Mention in my Despatches !

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