Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

by Norman Murphy

Newbury 2012 and an Old Friend

As our members will know, the Society sponsors the Berkshire breed Champion of Champions competition held each year at the Royal County of Berkshire Agricultural Show, aka the Newbury Show. And each year, those of us who attend watch expectantly as our Chairman, Hilary Bruce, drapes the winner’s sash over the broad back of the new champion. Sometimes he/she stands still for the honour; sometimes he/she doesn’t and the presentation party – comprising Hilary, the judge, chief steward and proud pig owner – have to follow it round the ring until it decides to stop moving.

This year, Hilary was unable to attend, and the honour of presenting the trophy, sash and rosette fell to me. That meant getting up two hours earlier than normal and making sure I had the pages of information for the ring commentator, covering the Society and the reasons for our sponsorship (the Empress of Blandings), plus information on PGW himself and his books. I also made sure I had my secret weapon, but more on that later!

We arrived well on time and met Elaine and Tony Ring (our official photographer) and Chris and Sue Reece at the pig show ring, which had beside it a small enclosure housing a litter of delightful little Berkshire piglets. The first competition was for Inter-Breed Champion, and a splendid group of winners of every breed entered the ring. They included a Kunekune, the smallest domesticated breed, which comes from New Zealand, and the commentator, also from New Zealand, had their history off pat. Their main attribute to an ignoramus like myself is that they have woolly fur that makes them look like a pig that has been crossed with a sheep, but what do I know? There were some lovely animals there, including a splendid Large Black, but the worthy winner, greeted by shouts of applause from the Wodehouseans, was a splendid Berkshire named Bonny, shown by Lucy Scudamore of Barton Hill Farm.

Then it was our competition, to decide the Berkshire breed Champion of Champions, and a tide of beautiful animals came into the ring. While the judging was going on, our sponsor party became VIPs, making our way to a privileged position beside the chief steward. This meant we were able to correct the commentator who had told the audience that the prize was sponsored ‘by P G Wodehouse’, not ‘The P G Wodehouse Society’. Having performed this necessary task, we waited for the judge to make her decision. It did not take her long, and I had the pleasure of presenting the Reserve Champion prize to Bonny, who had just won the Inter-Breed Championship fifteen minutes before! (Don’t ask. The secrets of judging pigs are not for us non-pig-owning spectators.)

And then the big moment arrived: meeting the Berkshire breed Champion of Champions, Harry, shown by Sarah Ashcroft of Barlings Rare Breed Pigs. It went like a dream. Harry (bless him) stood still, I shook hands with Sarah, presented the trophy and rosette to her, and then draped the sash over Harry, who took it like a lamb. No need for the secret weapon – an apple in my pocket to be produced if Harry decided to go walkabout with me chasing after him. I calculated that, if necessary, the production of said apple meant I had about 5-10 seconds for Harry to pause, sniff and munch, quite long enough to drape the sash for the essential photograph recording his triumph. But this time it was not necessary, and this year’s winner was congratulated, rewarded and properly sashed without any bother at all.

Though delighted to represent the Society at such an important occasion, I was even more delighted to renew my acquaintanceship with an old friend – Truffle. Who she? I’ll tell you.

On the 2007 Week With Wodehouse, our last call was on Christina Dunlop in Berkshire, who had agreed to let us admire her (already a champion) sow, Truffle. Truffle initially showed a sturdy common sense in resisting this invasion to her privacy, but a few pig nuts persuaded her to join us. She was delightful, placid and inquisitive, and a respectful scratching of my umbrella down her back produced a happy smile and led her to collapse on the ground. She arose only to consume the apples which I had had the good sense to bring with me.

The following year, in September 2008, Truffle was shown at the Newbury Show and, after the championship competition, the announcer said the next event would be the Novice Pig Handler’s Competition – ‘open to novices of any age’. The temptation was too much. Suffice it to say that, thanks to the remarkable kindness of Christina Dunlop, who not only lent me Truffle and her own white coat but also told me what to do, Truffle guided me to a third place and a yellow rosette.

I saw Truffle again in 2010 when she had ceased to appear in the show ring but was chosen as the ‘face of the Show’ i.e. her picture on the front of the Newbury programme. And this year, when I went to say hello to Christina in the collecting tent, there in a pen was my old friend Truffle. As old ladies do, she had put on a bit of weight; quite a bit actually. Again, she was reluctant to be disturbed, as old ladies are, but a couple of apples aroused her interest and a few more later cemented our friendship. She had come back to Newbury to compete in the Veteran Berkshires competition, and although she came second (only two veterans competed), she did so, as PG would have described it, with a dignity that became her well.

But her work was not yet done. Christina’s four-year-old son had entered in the Novice Handlers class, and though he was the smallest competitor in the ring, he was showing what was by far the biggest pig there. With an unceasing broad grin on his face, this little trouper herded his enormous charge around the ring, sometimes with his arm draped over as much of her back as he could reach. He and Truffle were placed second for his age group, but they earned the loudest applause of the day. Truffle took it all with her usual good grace.

As far as I can ascertain, Truffle has never been unplaced in a competition. How many of us can say the same? Long may she flourish.

While his owners are clearly delighted to receive the winner's trophy from Norman, Harry himself appears a little underwhelmed

Norman tempts Truffle with an apple while her owner, Christina Dunlop (far right) watches