The Lambeth Country Show has been a regular summertime fixture of Brockwell Park - a park described on its official website as the 'green lung' of London's Herne Hill - for 30 years. Originally it was a stage for purely horticultural events, like a dirty great peepshow for green-fingered types, but over time it has become more like a tiny segment of Glastonbury, without either the high fence or the enormous ticket price. Or the world famous bands come to that. But fuck it. This is a park in Lambeth. What do you expect?
It was due to kick off at noon, and the morning sky gave tender promise of a sweetly perfect day. Right up till about eleven a.m., when God in all his whimsical wisdom decided to send some of the worst weather this side of Wincey Willis - torrential rain and thunder and lightning quickly followed by great balls of biblical hail, pelting to the ground like babies' heads, setting off car alarms and crippling old ladies.
It seemed only a matter of time till the hail was replaced with flailing toads and the flailing toads with blood. But no. 'Twas not to be. By lunchtime the skies were more or less clear... and for some reason we are talking about the weather. We apologise.
But the hail was damned impressive. And anyway, even if it had rained toads, the Show would have gone on. Because it was a show, and that's what shows do. They go on.
This one went on for two days, and it has to be said, it didn't seem a day too long. We arrived there shortly after the rains subsided early on Saturday afternoon, and amongst the first things we saw were a number of great big tents filled with cacti and bonsai and orchids and candles, prim lady flautists and lanterns and rabbits.
We saw toddlers toddling all over the place, crawling around on all fours or high-pitch-squealing at a gang of drowsy ducklings piled up in the corner of a large hutch like Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. We saw a rather surreal hand-painted sign which read: 'Come and see the live bees!' Later on we would go and see them, and we would feel slightly disappointed as they weren't doing anything but flying around buzzing, like ordinary bees. We were probably expecting some kind of Bee Circus. Foolish of us.
Having said that, there definitely was a circus-type mood, especially up by the special stunts field, where we saw an inexplicable act featuring mostly small rat-like dogs jumping through enormous hoops which had been set alight. Accompanying the distinctly unspectacular canine fire-walking were the asinine rantings of a silly little man with a big booming microphone. Of Little Max the plucky Yorkshire terrier he boomed: "What a big-hearted little fellow he is." Could we have been the only ones there willing Little Max to go 'woof'. We don't think so.
Now, what else? Well, there were motorbikes jumping over cars, hand-crafted South-American Itchy Jumpers, bog-dried bananas, Mexican Hammocks, Bags and Belts, parachutists, an olive bar, garden furniture, Lambeth Socialists, rumours of jousting, lashings of scrumpy and speciality mustards, Friends of the Brixton Windmill, mules, horses, falcons and vegetables on plates. Plus there was a bunch of local charity shops, such as Streatham Cats, who had chosen to take advantage of the day by bringing all their most unsaleable junk out of the shop and putting it on a huge table in the park.
Then, as if that weren't enough, in between these tables of bric-a-brac we found three smiling ladies from the Baha'm Faith offering Tranquility, Enlightenment and Awakening (TEA). Always up for a spot of enlightenment, not to say a smiling lady or three, we popped over for a chat and a leaflet browse. 'Prayer is the food of the soul upon which our spiritual development depends.' Hmm. Ooooh, look! Streatham Cats!
All of which is to say, the Lambeth Country Show was a very pleasant, big fun- and big rubbish-filled day out for all the family.
But wait. Come here. Ther's more. As well as the junk and stunts and garden fete fun, there was also the fact that for what seemed at times like the vast majority, the Country Show was little more than an unmissable opportunity to smoke some of the highest quality, most freely available and reasonably priced skunk in the country, to get spread-eagled on a beautiful hill in a beautiful park in a thoroughly chilled-out environment, and listen to bags of live reggae whilst laughing like drains.
Which is why sometime after four, when the sun finally properly burst from behind the clouds, bringing the stenchweed yardies with it, the hill in front of the stage was suddenly awash with bodies and alive with the sound of repetitive bass riffs and rustling Rizlas. From this increasingly hazy vantage point, we witnessed a succession of reggae bands, of whom, to our mild but fleeting shame, we can give few details.
However, the first band we saw was almost certainly called Nucleus. Possibly. There was also talk of Mikey Dread. We think it was Mikey who chastised a young man in the crowd for 'rolling spliff' instead reading books and doing his homework. But that may well have been Tippa Ire. But Tippa may well have been Sunday. Or not at all. It was very good weed though. That much is certain. And we remember lots of fine talky bits between the songs peppering our heads with a succession of for reals, iries and babylons, which made us whoop with joy and speak with ludicrous, no-offence-intended-but-maybe-quite-offensive-anyway
accents for the rest of the weekend.
As the evening crept in, the sun started to lose out again. But no matter how ominous the clouds overhead, no matter how damp the ground underneath and no matter how long the yellow-bibbed men of the Met hung around making almost entirely law-abiding citizens feel mightily uncomfortable, an excellent atmosphere or, if you will, 'vibe', abided. Toddlers toddled still in flowery summer frocks, distant balloons floated colourfully over the grey twin tower blocks beyond the bottom of the park, and King's Cross at rush hour seemed the stuff of bad dreams, long forgotten.
Then, just before the final band, there was another vicious biblical shower. In seconds the hill was stripped and thousands of wrecked punters sought shelter beneath trees. Fifteen minutes later, walking back up the hill after the deluge, there was a slight feeling of disappointment at the litter trail left behind by hastily retreating louts. One felt rather like Ray Mears following the droppings of a swarm of greater-spotted chavs. But one let it lie. One was after all in super-tolerant mood, and the chav-louts meant no harm. They were just small-minded poorly-educated morons enjoying a lovely day out.
The only thing to really put an occasional dampener on the proceedings was the very large (and seemingly wholly unnecessary) police presence. They prowled mostly in twos, but later in their tens and twenties, very much in fact like gangs. And although there seemed to be nothing stronger than grass being smoked, there was also much shaking down of dealers towards the end of the evening - or if not dealers, at least young black men who were presumably assumed to have been dealers.
Considering the extremely peaceful atmosphere, it was really quite unpleasant. At some stage in the early evening the man with the mic (Mr Dread? Mr Ire?) put it rather well when he said, with a certain amount of indignation in his voice: "Da park is a place for recreation! Da weed is a recreational 'erb" He was fucking right too. Whether he was the same geezer who later insisted that we all remain 'peaceful and hygienic' we will unfortunately never remember. But he was definitely the same one who urged, "Don't be a tramp all your life." Wise words.
And speaking of wise words, we'd like to leave you with these, which made us feel nice from the back of someone's tee-shirt. Ghandi said them apparently. Here they are: 'There is more to life than increasing its speed.' Amen to that. And we'd like to sound what is commonly referred to as 'a shout' out to Lambeth Council for slowing life down considerably, for two glorious fun- filled days. Big up yourselves.