It’s the highlight of the allotment calendar. The annual Vegetable Growing Competition, where fifty or so green-fingered pensioners try to outdo each other with their perfect parsnips and magnificent marrows. And I just try to find something which hasn’t been molested by slugs or children.
If it was a novelty competition, we’d be laughing. We have plenty of bum-shaped strawberries (which J and D find hilarious) and two-legged carrots (too many stones in the soil.) But unfortunately, this isn’t a silly veg competition. Oh no, it’s the vegetable equivalent of the Chelsea Flower Show.
The proceedings start with a barbecue. For a load of veg growers, there don’t seem to be many vegetarians present. Sausages and burgers fly off the grill faster than foxes to an upturned dustbin.
There’s also the obligatory raffle. Prizes range from bottles of Lambrusco and Martini, to a set of fake Molton Brown shower gel and a slightly odd looking stuffed rabbit (I think it’s a toy as opposed to a piece of taxidermy.) I buy a strip of tickets for J, and one for D – even though her numeral recognition skills currently stop around number 8.
When enough meat has been devoured and enough raffle tickets sold, the master of ceremonies announces that we have ten minutes to select our finest produce and bring them to the display table for judging.
We all scuttle off to our plots. Mick next door is already polishing three perfectly identical beetroot. (Slug pellets have a lot to answer for.) I briefly consider a mad dash to the supermarket. I could buy a large cauliflower, smear a bit of mud on it, nobody would ever know. Except that would be cheating.
In the end we opt for a trio of courgettes. We could be on to a winner. Except in these kind of competitions you’re supposed to find three identical specimens – and ours are about as alike as a Chihuahua and a goldfish.
‘Do you think we’ll win?’ J asks excitedly. Not unless they’re awarding marks for originality. Gingerly, we transport our offering to the display table and place it among the other entries.
We don’t win first, second or even third prize. Gold goes to Sheila, for three grapefruit-sized bulbs of garlic. Identical, of course. J looks like he’s just been robbed at pass the parcel.
‘Never mind,’ I whisper. ‘It’s the taking part that counts.’
He clearly doesn’t believe me, and to be honest neither do I.
He’s still looking dejected when they call the raffle.
‘556’ the adjudicator announces.
No-one moves. Then J leaps off his seat. ‘556!’ he cries. ‘I’ve got that one.’
Courgettes are history as he dashes up to the prize table amid cheers and ‘aahs.’ He takes first pick of the prizes and bounds back to our table.
‘I chose this for you Mummy,’ he says, triumphantly thrusting a box into my hands. It’s the rip-off shower gel. He’s so delighted it’s the best present I’ve ever received.
Sometimes, it really is the taking part that counts.