BY mid-summer, country shows are in full swing. Excellent venues for a sociable day pottering around agricultural machinery displays, jostling crowds in the food tents, admiring livestock classes, cheering on terriers as they scrapped with each other at the finishing line.

All, of course, washed down, on what was a very hot day at our local show ground by copious refreshments.

This year, with a suspected case of swine fever in the area, there were no classes for pigs. This robs you of one of the best show experiences as, watching a pig lead its handler in the ring, rather than the other way round, is highly entertaining.

Pigs do their own thing and there is no stopping them. But there was a fresh entertainment experience. Rivalling even the dancing sheep on their podiums were the racing camels. Now there’s a new way for farming to diversify.

But John’s interest in a skill his mother demonstrated was piqued by a display of corn dollies. She was the corn dolly queen at all the local shows and used to regularly travel to country women events to give demonstrations.

She remembered when corn dollies were also used as a trade mark, or badge, at hiring fairs. A corn dolly worn with a twist of horse hair or wool would signify that work as a shepherd or waggoner was sought. We still have a trunk full of her dollies. Dusty candelabra, umbrella, bell, fan, key, heart and horse shoe shapes, locked away safe from hungry mice who would love to feast on them in the attic if they could.

John’s mother used to insist he grew a small acreage of Maris Widgeon, a heritage wheat that is popular for thatching, for her to use in her dollies. She even devoted a large section of her garden when she left the farm to this wheat.

A strange display among all the flowers and vegetables. But inspired by the show exhibits, John cut a sheaf of rye from a friend’s field (after asking him first, of course), soaked it in a bucket to make sure it was pliable, and proceeded to plait me a couple of Yorkshire Spirals to hang in the kitchen.

As the dollies were originally linked to fertility and harvest rituals, and as John has just taken most of our hives up to the moors so that the bees can gorge themselves on the heather, I think he should create a new dolly to adorn the hives and promote honey production. A corn bee would be just the job.