It's Sam's birthday today. Instead of relaxing, kicking back, being pampered and having a day of fun and relaxation, Sam is taking her daughters to the Royal Melbourne Show.
When Sam told me she was doing this I did a spit-take and sprayed water all over my monitor. I know that not everybody has the ideal birthday every year - I know that not everybody celebrates their birthday on the day. But taking your kids to the Royal Melbourne Show, on your birthday, taking public transport from the mid-eastern suburbs to the showgrounds and back is not my idea of a relaxing day. It's up there with a birthday visit to the dentist for root canal or an extended visit to the tax accountant. Sheer lunacy.
Okay, I have a bit of a love hate relationship to the show. I've not been to the Melbourne equivalent of the Royal Adelaide Show at all - not in the 13 years I've lived here. The last time I went to the show in Adelaide was before I went to university - although I did go to the showgrounds for end of year exams, like most students at Adelaide University at the time. The memories of sitting with a thousand others, sweating it out in Bonython Hall on 30 degree days in early November bring my heart rate up with the acquired stress. Bonython Hall is nothing more than a glorified tin shed. Yeah, we love the showgrounds.
The last time I tried to go to the Show was in 1991. I was about to leave for London and my sister and I were going to go on a sort of last minute bonding session. My sister collected me and about two kilometres before we reached the showgrounds, my sister rear-ended the car in front writing off the calf-poo brown station wagon she was driving. Thankfully, neither of us were hurt, but we never made it to the Show that years. All I remember was my sister crying, Trista's (step-mother) parents helping us out and me going catatonic that evening. (That's what normally happens in a crisis like this - I'm great at the time, then I go silent and teary a few hours later).
In my final year of high school, I worked at the Show. My friend Linda and I stayed at my grandmother's house for the week during the school holidays, taking the train out to the showgrounds. We worked in the Dairy Vale stand, making milkshakes and toasted sandwiches on behalf of the local dairy board - this is back in the days before food handling certificate's were required to work in food services. Working at the show meant that you could wander around before your shifts and you got to get the odd free ride and cheaper show bags.
Back when I was sixteen, this was all a great lark - staying in the city - catching the train - being like grown ups - and I think we got paid a royal sum of five dollars an hour or something equivalently wonderful to my sixteen-year-old self. I could go and buy a Phil Collins album with that sort of money. Linda and I also got to wear make up - during the week - something that wasn't allowed at school. It was an exciting time.
For as much stick as I give the Show, I do have fond memories of it. There is something about the joy of going through the paper and working out what two show bags you were going to buy. (I've put in an order with Sam for a Bertie Beetle show bag - thirty years on and it's still the best value, no matter what state you're in.) I remember my grandparents taking me on a couple of occasions and buying me a kewpie doll and a pinwheel - I used to love those things. While the dolls would disappear after a few weeks, the hooked sticks would hang around for years.
The show also meant to got to eat all sorts of things that were only available at the Show - fairy floss on a stick (pink of course), hot, cinnamon-sugared donuts that you had to fight Dad for, Dagwood Dogs smothered in tomato sauce, hot chips in paper cups (also with obligatory tomato sauce).
Then there were the rides. Forever the wuss, I was consigned to the Ferris Wheel, the carousel and chair lift that took you around the grounds (until it broke down one year and left people stranded up in the air for a few hours until they found cherry pickers to rescue them). I was never brave enough to go on the Mad Mouse or the Wall of Death or any of those silly rides that made people throw up when they got off.
I have memories of my grandparents taking me to the show as a very young child. Being from city/country folk, my grandfather always made sure that we went and saw the animals. Sheep, cows, coats, chickens, you name it. And as is the case today, my five/six/seven-year-old self had to pat every animal I could lay my hands on (though not the chooks or pigs - still don't like chooks and pigs). I still do that today - any friendly animal that goes past gets a pat. Police horses are still my favourite. There was something really wonderful about getting up close to all of these beasts - little did I know at the time that I'd be living on a farm in a few years time.
Then there were the times that one parent or other dragged you along to the wood chopping or the motor bike display. Mum was always one for the cake decorating, winning prizes when she was a girl for her fantastic designs. It was a simpler time back then - back in the days when people knew by heart how to make a Victoria Sponge or a loaf of bread. I remember Trista entering a couple of loaves one year only to be bitterly disappointed when the old harridans cut into it to find a huge air pocket - not an addition to your regular prize winning loaf. My grandmother would take me to see the knitting exhibitions - not sure if I would visit those now, but my grandma thought this was a great way to spend an hour.
Okay, looking back, maybe Sam is giving her kids a rite of passage that they will remember for the rest of their lives, even if in twenty years time they will be half screwing up their noses at the occasion while simultaneously craving some fairy floss and a freshly cooked cinnamon donut.