Well, this weekend [steely, ominous voice] it was time.
The battlefield was the Domestic Classes of the 2009 Lambeth Country Show Flower Show (too many shows, but I cannot explain it any other way) - in particular, the baking categories. I did not, as I had proposed, learn skills from the world’s best baking ninjas. I did not travel to Vienna and Kyoto. Instead, I searched deep, deep within myself – past the literature of the American renaissance, past my A-level French vocabulary and past all the lyrics to Duran Duran's Rio album – and drew on all I had learnt at the formica worktop of Mrs Jones. I also trusted in an email I received from a lovely lady called Valerie, a benign member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, who answered my plea about how to enter and also wished me good luck.
The sun rose over Brockwell Park on Saturday morning, and I made my way to the Flower Show tent with my freshly baked weapons. I walked up to the reception desk, told them my name and in return I was given this:
Oh yes, readers, I am kind of a big deal. These change hands for hundreds of pounds in certain tea shops and garden centres with wheelchair access.
The atmosphere in the tent was – heh – intense. People were nervously primping bonsai trees and smoothing out crocheted blankets. An elderly man was wiping stray smears of homemade jam from around the rim of a jar with the concentration and precision of a watchmaker.
I started to lay out my entries on their special, pink paper plates. Then a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would like to use some of her clingfilm. I felt a warm glow spread through me, from my sweating feet to the tips of my shaking fingers. It was a glow of camaraderie, but also of smugness because I may be a rookie, but I had remembered to bring my own clingfilm. So I said no thank you, and told her she was very kind. And to make conversation, and try to prolong the moment of respectful bonhomie at the competition coalface, I said, ‘Oof! It’s really hot in here, isn’t it!’
'Oh,' she said ominously, striking a deadly blow at my ingenous enthusiasm, ‘this isn’t hot. This is nothing compared to some shows.’ She also told me that she had won the handicrafts cup a few years before. That put me in my place.
Once I had set out my plates, and spent several minutes moving them a few centimetres one way, then several centimetres back again, I wandered around the tent (which was still closed to non-exhibiting civilians) looking at all the other displays, without the crush of the general public. It was a special time and I thought this is what it would be like if you were allowed into The Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York at dawn, just the greatest treasures of the world, and you. And about two dozen really competitive pensioners.
But then, a man shouted, ‘Stop exhibiting!’ and it was exactly like Masterchef, and all the arranging and fussing was over, and we had to leave the tent so that judging could begin.
A couple of hours later, I had been joined at the Lambeth Country Show by Miss W and Marbury, and with them by my side I returned to the tent to Face Destiny.
Firstly, the marmalade cake was not placed. I was not surprised, given the rogue batch of marmalade. Thanks, Forest Hill branch of a popular supermarket chain, for RUINING MY LIFE.
But then there was this:
So, to the runner-up, the spoils. And here they are:
Three pounds. Three whole pounds. Two second-place prizes of one pound fifty. It’s unfortunate that I then spent eleven pounds on my way home in Herne Hill’s excellent branch of Oxfam, but I don't need to tell you that here, money is unimportant. Like all the great contests – Mastermind, Fifteen To One – prize money is irrelevent. It is about prestige. It is about respect. It is about glory. And now, I am only hungry for more.
Next time on Why Miss Jones: more from the Lambeth Country Show, in particular, vegetable sculpture and owl-stretching time.