SHEPTON MALLET HEROES
For the first time for years I was staging flowers at a major event, but this time it was dahlias at a National Dahlia Society Show in Somerset. Having only shown chrysanthemums before at the old Royal Horticultural Society Halls at Westminster it was a daunting task. My mode of carrying the blooms stuck out like a sore thumb, but untouched by the activity around me I carried box after box of the best that Petersfield Road could produce. The first person I saw was a big fella with a stick, he seemed to be organizing a whole lot of dahlias of all groups, pretty intimidating to a novice at this dahlia lark. As I went back for yet another box, I saw an ingenious way of transporting show blooms, I called out "I've seen it all now" and the bloke doing the shifting smiled back. The blooms themselves were packed in a single line in what can only be called a holding bay, at the front of the contraption was a slot that he inserted a metal bracket, to which was attached a small wheel, probably off a pushchair. Backwards and forwards he walked, with the ease of a man out for a stroll with his dog. I wish I'd have taken a photo, if I go next year and see the same guy I most certainly will.
As it turned out, he was setting up right next to me, I hope I didn't put him off. He was a Welshman, and the salt of the earth, like most people with absorbing hobbies. Even more fortunate for me he'd bought his wife along, this would be company for Irene I thought. Turned out even better than that though, as we hadn't been able get a room for the night before setting out, this was still something on my mind, but I couldn't worry about it now with so much to do. Luck would have it this couple had been to the National before and knew the ropes, the lady escorted my wife to the NDS administration area, you know where you get your class cards etc, and when they come back sure enough a bed was found, more to the point two beds were found, as the last room at the Traveller's Rest was a twin bedded room. I felt easier now and settled down staging the varieties I'd bought, the first job was to soak the Oasis, having never set a vase up in Oasis before, I wasn't sure how to go about it, the bloke next door said it was simple, just dunk it first one end, and then the other, then cut it into three, making sure that when it's cut every bit is full of water. I looked at the varieties I had and decided to stage the American variety first, it was called Badger Twinkle one of John Theirmann's, as they call them over there `Originals' I didn't have a perfect set, the central back bloom was the best, the reason for placing it where it was, but the other four could have been a little more developed. Saying that, when the vase was finished they didn't look bad. I placed them on what appeared to be a free area of the staging. Photo
By the time I'd staged another two varieties, a chap I'd only ever know from the Internet via emails come up to where I was staging, he'd supplied the very first photographs of the Northern trial I'd ever used, you'll have seen some of his masterpiece's in the NDS Winter Bulletin and Year Book. Don Sutcliffe is his name, and as Jack Gott put it, "A thorough gentleman" I agree. Don bought a fella with him called John Parkinson who is now the co-ordinator of the Northern trials, and he wanted to know what that bi-colour was. I told him Badger Twinkle, it was from a friend of mine called John Theirmann, the long and the short of it was, John Parkinson wanted the variety to be in the Northern trials next year. I was silently ecstatic, not only was I getting to know these guys, but they were getting to know me, before they were just photographs in a NDS publication. I carried on and was half way through setting up Culdrose, a miniature decorative, when a familiar face appeared, I said I know you, you're Frank Newberry the miniature man, he agreed and asked me what the decorative was, I told him Culdrose one of my seedlings, by now I was on top of the World, Frank Newberry asking after one of my seedlings. Before he left I asked if I could send him some stock of it, and he said his address is in the Classification booklet, under judges. By now I was almost floating on air, I didn't feel half as out of place, all these guys are people I'd looked up to, special people, but as I now realised lovely human beings, and as nice as pie.
This is where I divert from the script, and tell you of the continuing saga of Badger Twinkle, several exhibitors glanced at the vase of American seedling as they passed taking vases to their respective classes, more than one paused, and moved on. It didn't stop there, the day everything was judged, when I was seeing if I'd gained any tickets, Don Sutcliffe bought a guy up to me who was definitely wanting to purchase Badger Twinkle, could I supply it next Spring. I told him I wasn't sure if it was released, but would let him know, we exchanged telephone numbers and addresses, and that was that. But it didn't stop there, we'd know sooner returned home, I was out the back checking that everything was okay for water, when Irene calls out I'm wanted on the phone, abandoning the Wellington boots, I hurried to the phone, and sure enough it was another enquiry about Badger Twinkle, but we're not finished yet.
Having had a great meal of poached Haddock, mashed potatoes, parsley sauce, and lots of vinegar, we wash up, and the phone rung again. It was Bob Hendley, now this was a chap that I'd given a few of my seedlings to trial, he'd been in the game since he was a boy, learnt the trade from his father, who was the main man at a dahlia firm called Oscroft's, now no more. As far as I know Bob had moved further South to enjoy the sunshine, and to open a new dahlia nursery called "Fontmell Studio" When I gave my seedlings to him in late Spring of this year I had know idea if he could grow dahlias or not, but as these last few months have passed, and seeing how he goes about the art of presenting, and growing prize winning dahlias, all he told me about himself rings true.
Before I tell you what he wanted me for, I must let you in on an incident that happened about a month ago, Bob had a show to attend at Shrewsbury, it was early and he didn't have a lot of bloom available, so he rung me and asked could I let him have some of mine. Fortunately I had some early stuff, and agreed to supply him, he offered to pay for it, to his credit, but the flowers were only decorating the garden. I told him I'd mark the varieties he could take, and asked him to only take fairly mature blooms, which he did. He'd seen some of this years seedlings over the road, and I'd explained the plants growing all around the edge of the seedling beds were second year splits. He could use any of these that were in flower, that way the seedlings I'd acquired last year would be shown to his customers. He said he'd put these in a separate basket with my name on, stating what they were. Okay the awkward part was that I was working the week he wanted to cut, and wouldn't be there to supervise the operation, know trouble I thought the guys a professional. Wednesday come, and I was determined to get home before he left, no chance. As I left, Bob arrived, my wife was having kittens, as she watched bucket after bucket of well grow produce leave our garden, and loaded on to Bob's four-wheel drive.
I comforted her when I come in from work, and inspected what was left. I must admit the garden looked like it had had a haircut. No buds were damaged, no half blooms taken, and when I went round a few days later, cutting for the local church, the only sign of Bob was an odd dropped cut leaf here and there. Anyway now I've given you a description of Bob Hendley, and my association with him, on with the plot.
Bob Hendley had rang to ask about, you've guessed it Badger Twinkle, it seems scores of people had seen it in the National Dahlia Society Show in the seedling class. When they visited the Floral Tent where he had a beautiful stand, Photo. they asked him if he had it. Some had noted it was exhibited by yours truly, the second sentence he uttered after asking what is this Badger Twinkle all about, was, "Where was I hiding it?" I told him it wasn't out the last time he called, and I was waiting for an answer from the raiser, as to the date it would be released in Britain. I put the phone down, still excited about the National, and the fact that this little dahlia had caused such a stir.
To end this diversion can I tell of a silent worry I've had since making my acquaintance with Mr. Bob Hendley, it's his email address email@example.com My mate said, "You know what that means?" I thought about it, and dismissed the idea, but still looked up the worrying part of the email address in the dictionary. I think my mate was right, there were no other words but the worrying word in the dictionary. To make it worse I found he had another email address called firstname.lastname@example.org now I was really worried, seriously though, this is all tongue in cheek stuff, and the reason for adding it is this, if you're going to deal with someone, the only way to do it, is to trust them, because if you don't you might as well forget it. So far I haven't had an email back from the Badger Twinkle's raiser, but be sure as soon as I do, I will put the people who want it, out of their misery.
The first time I saw Richard Cook, in the flesh, he looked very smart indeed, I almost didn't recognise him, I know at first he hadn't the foggiest who I was, but gradually the more I passed him, the less formal he was, I spoke to him a couple of times, asking if he'd seen Jack Gott, and I know the penny had dropped before I left on that wonderful first experience of the National Show. I honestly could have stayed there all night, even with nothing to do, but Irene was cold, aren't women always cold? So we left and started the mystery tour to the Traveller's Rest, we knew it was the first left off the round-a-bout, which was taken, but as the miles ticked away, and the beautiful Somerset sunset changed to darkening shadows I was beginning to think, maybe we were going the wrong way, so as soon as I saw a pub on the right, I pulled over to ask directions. I told Irene I wouldn't be long, and to lock the door. I ventured into the dimly lit interior, and saw a slim fella supping a pint, "Sorry to trouble you mate, but could you direct me to the Traveller's Rest it's at a place called Stone" he paused and stood up, I got the gist of what he said, but most of it sounded like a foreign language. As I got back in the car I told Irene it was over the hill, bit like us, and about four miles away, just passed a empty garage. We ploughed on, and eventually pulled into the Traveller's Rest car park. The landlord wasn't put out at all, although we were over an hour later than we'd said. All he said was "Your here, that's the main thing"
He showed us to our room, we order drinks and an evening meal, which was very passable, I wanted to settle up, but he insisted we left it till morning after breakfast. We bid him good night and settled down, and for the first time in our fifty six years of married life we slept in twin beds. We both woke about four thirty, one of the reason was, the engine that kept the cellar cool was located adjacent to our bathroom, and vibrated into the bedroom, we've all had a similar situation haven't we? I asked Irene if she wanted a cup of tea, she did, and while the kettle boiled we watch the television, turned down very low. We must have dropped off, because looking at my watch I said we'd better get ready, I suggested she got showered, while I had a shave, we'd ordered an eight o'clock breakfast. All spick and span we made our way for the door, S`funny I thought, I can't get the door open, I remember pushing it into the lock the night before, and now it wouldn't release it's self. I struggled with this dam lock for all of a quarter of an hour. Irene was getting a bit panicky, there were no windows, except a Velux skylight twelve foot above our heads, I took the pole that opened and shut that overhead window, and banged hard several times on the floor, and told Irene to sit down, while I banged franticly again and again on the door. I told her to cover her ears because I was going to shout really loud, thank God that done the trick, and the landlady come up and opened the door.
On the way back to the show ground, I thought about the cold Croissants, the spoilt tea, but most of all the seedling classes, how had I faired? We passed another gate to the show ground, which was for the general public, but sailed on up to the round-a-bout we'd gone round last night, and took the last exit. As we come to the exhibitors entrance I realised it was shut, everyone was turning round, and making there way to the only entrance in now, the one we'd passed on the way down.
Reaching this entrance we followed in single file along a very dusty track to the visitors car park. This wasn't what I expected, I tied a Sainsbury's plastic bag on the Arial, so as we'd know where we were when we left, there were hundreds of cars, and we made our way to the entrance gate. I went up to the kiosk, and as I had a complimentary ticket, I told the woman inside, I'd also got a couple of half price tickets from my being a member of the National Dahlia Society, and would these do? It didn't wash with this girl, she referred me to the chaps on the gate, but that wasn't any good either, I had to buy another ticket, which cost eleven pounds. Seemed steep to me, after all if they had no exhibitors they would have no show, any way water under the bridge. Of course the first place I wanted to visit was the seedling classes.
I couldn't believe it, first in the cut flower section with Mr. Buttercup a small water lily flowered dahlia, and these five were from the second flush, second in the miniature and small ball or decorative class with Culdrose, third for a vase of small semi-cactus called Mayan Princess, and a fourth for that vase of sparkling, Badger Twinkle, a case of a good miniature being beaten by some equally good smalls. I'd also got a N.A.S in the miscellaneous class for Sweet Charity, this class was flooded with Collerette's. As I'd staged every other vase with five blooms, I'd made the mistake, my own fault for not reading the schedule correctly, and done the same with this vase which should have been a vase of three, I'll make sure I remember not to do this again, after all three good small water lily flowered dahlias should beat three Collerette's shouldn't they? Only kidding. I looked for Jack's sport of Barbara's Pastelle, and sure enough he had gained a deserving first. Photo. Pretty good results I thought, beginners luck come to mind for my seedlings, although these had been judged by some of the best judges in the country, so why not feel proud.
As I looked at the vase of Culdrose for the second time, I had to move because a fella in a Ryecroft Dahlia Polo shirt was taking a photograph of the vase of dahlias next to my second placed exhibit, they were placed third. He thanked me for moving and took his photograph, "Lovely set " I said, "Is it yours?" he told me it was his mate's Phil Godsmark. Imagine talking to a bloke who's mates with a Phil Godsmark. I explaining I thought I was lucky to beat it, especially as I now knew it was a Godsmark seedling, the centres were perfect. He was kind, and he said I was unlucky not to win the class, as the small decorative that won hadn't finished yet. Irene and I hung around the seedling classes for a while, hoping to see Jack Gott, my Northern friend, where ever he was he wasn't near enough to make contact with us. Before I left the seedling classes, I took another look at Culdrose, and by chance the big fella with the stick, who I'd seen when I'd arrived, was eyeing up the vase next to mine, smashing vase I said, it's Phil Godsmark's. He said he knew as he was Phil Godsmark. Talk about embarrassed, we chatted, and the question of why he was hobbling around the National Dahlia Show come up. He told me that a few years back he was in his car when it was struck by a car going around eighty miles an hour. He was thrown out of his car and his spine was broke in several places. If it hadn't been for a very skilful surgeon he would be in a wheelchair. What a remarkable story I thought, and how fortunate he was still able to breed his fantastic seedlings.
I could hardly believe what a remarkable two days I had had. First there was Don Sutcliffe and John Parkinson spotting Badger Sparkle, next Frank Newbery clocking Culdrose, after that I eventually made myself known to Richard Cook, and I'm sure I saw some of the Vagabond boys, they were larking about, as Vagabond boys do. I stopped Dave Spencer, and told him I was an Essex man to, and shook his hand, and finally had a little chat with Phil Godsmark, one of the breeders, all were smashing blokes, but I knew they would be. Oh and although I saw Eric Payne talking to a few guys, I didn't like to disturb him in case he got me in a neck lock. What a time I'd had, the only sad part was I hadn't seen ol' Jack.
I wondered around still looking for Jack in a ecstatic daze, I knew when he saw my effort he'd be just as pleased as me. Little did I know Jack lost the exhaust on the second-hand van he bought for the National, about eighty miles from the show ground. In an email he sent saying sorry he hadn't seen me, he said the noise from the exhaustless van was horrendous, and he was worried he was going to get picked up by the police. The number of people in the villages he travelled through, and that this infernal machine had woke up, must have run into three figures. Worse was worrying how to get it fixed the next morning. Pleased to say he managed to get home, and the van it's self run well for it's year.
All in all for my very first National I was extremely pleased with myself. I will definitely go again with any seedlings I have available, but return home the same day, if I can keep going until Jack Gott retires, you never know I might meet the guy. I thank the many dahlia buffs that I met for putting up with just one more fanatic. The heroes of Shepton Mallet by the way are all those blokes who put stuff up, and don't get a sniff.
See you next time God willing.