We all have our own checkpoints in every farming year – special sheep or cattle sales, start of sowing, start of harvest, rent day – but for most farmers in the Borders and north Northumberland the Border Union show at Kelso and Kelso ram sale appear on their list: show on the last Saturday of July, ram sale on the second Friday in September.
The odd thing is that as Kelso show has gone from strength to strength in the past 15 years, selective human memory being what it is we forget that in this bicentenary year for the Border Union Agricultural Society, it was not always so. Far from it, at times – and there are a number of reminders of that in the excellent two-century history of the society, At A Meeting Held At Kelso, by the late Brian Wain, veterinary surgeon, and Charlie Robertson, former rector of Kelso High School.
It is too thorough a history to quote at length, but for instance in 1968 the late JRB Wilson of Cowbog warned the society’s annual meeting that “the writing was on the wall” for the show unless members got to grips with the finances.
A dozen years later they were in a position to spend £25,000 on showground improvements, and it’s one of life’s more welcome ironies that Mr Wilson’s son Ronald has been secretary, and one of the prime movers, in the massive further changes that have been made to the showground since 1998.
It also comes as no surprise to someone – that is, me – who has seen an outraged sheep exhibitor tearing up and dancing on a second prize ticket while shouting “We were robbed!”, to note from the book that more than a century ago said – “After almost every show there were protests concerning the awards of prizes”. After all, one of my few claims to fame is that when I judged the pet show at Kelso I had the mortification of hearing my final decision reported in an aggrieved stage whisper by a parent as “He’s gien it tae the ******* hamster!”
Nor do my 27 years as writer of Landlines, every one of those years with some mention of the Border Union show and Kelso ram sale, count for much in a double-century during which several show secretaries racked up long service – a veterinary surgeon once completed 62 years, a fence erector completed 50, and at least one of the various Dukes who have been president seemed to spend most of his long life in the post.
There are also farmers who have been at every show since babyhood, and exhibitors who have seen their animals judged for half a century and more. It is a family thing and a social occasion as much as a farming event that draws a five-figure crowd each year.
This year’s bicentenary event, with or without heatwave, will be another good one, including special events such as the story of wool, a farm product that has played a major part in Borders farming history.
The show, its exhibitors and visitors will also continue to reflect changes in farming.
There have been many in 27 years, possibly more than in any similar period in the past two centuries – but as noted, 27 out of 200 is more a late flurry by a tailender than a major contribution to the score.