SINGER Al Stewart from Wimborne, one of the most original talents of the British folk scene in the early 70s, before he settled in the USA, has a line in a song called Nostradamus: “Oh, the more it changes, the more it stays the same.”
The French have a similar saying: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” which is (rather pompously) defined as an expression of “resigned acknowledgement of the fundamental immutability of human nature and institutions.”
This is one of those cases where the French did have a phrase for it first. Plus ca change is regarded as the origin of the aphorism, and is credited to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a journalist, novelist and critic renowned for his caustic wit. A man of many talents, he edited Le Figaro, bred many varieties of flowers, founded the French trade in cut flowers and gave his name to a species of bamboo. Presumably he liked constantly to test the truth of his most famous epigram.
Nowadays both phrases are too wordy for the txt-spk generation and you are more likely to hear “Same old, same old,” which I suppose makes up in brevity what it lacks in elegance.
We found ourselves musing on the way things don’t change as we ploughed through the horticulture and handicraft results for the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. Here you find a world that has hardly moved on since the 1930s and certainly hasn’t changed since we were (very) young journalists covering flower shows and the New Forest Show for the local papers – the Lymington Times, the Echo and the Western Gazette.
There are still the classes for the longest runner bean or leek, five potatoes (coloured) and the infinite complexities of dahlias (pompom, cactus, semi-cactus and the rest). There are the floral art classes with exotic subjects such as “Tropical heatwave” (dream on, this summer) or “Elevated elegance” and there is always one theme which invites the more adventurous and artistic to try something contemporary.
Moving on to homecraft, there are inklings of change with classes for a loaf made in a bread-maker and a gluten-free Madeira cake, but the old favourites are still there – butterfly cakes (no sign of trendy cupcakes), Dundee cake, cheese straws, Dorset apple cake, strawberry jam, lemon curd and pickled onions.
Many shows struggle to attract youngsters and part of the reason may be that many of the competitions bear no relation to the lives of today’s children. It is rather endearing to find classes for a bug or insect made from an egg carton, a clown’s face on a paper plate or a person made from fruit or vegetables. The subjects are deeply nostalgic – I remember them from earliest school days, all our entries lined up on the long trestle table on the village green and the prize-giving afterwards in the village hall. It is a far, far cry from the world of the iPad and the smartphone and the latest (computer) games.
The classes may not have changed, but the way we record the results certainly has. There used to be a press tent at the New Forest Show, a three day show which drew entries from a vast area of the south and west. In those pre-computer, pre-digital days, we had to write everything down, type everything, and then get the countless pages of results over to our respective newsrooms – not too difficult for my colleagues with offices in the New Forest, but a long drive for me to the Gazette office in Yeovil.
Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of wifi, laptops and digital cameras we can take photos on the ground and straightaway transmit or tweet them to the office or the world, and the results come straight from the show secretary’s office to our home computer, ready to be edited and transmitted onwards to go to press.
But our fondest memory is still from one of those old children’s handicraft classes in a flower show in Christchurch, where the prize for the “person made from a vegetable” went to the potato that looked like Mick Jagger.