Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 17 January 2009

Matter of judgment

I’m in the barber’s chair, getting a trim, studying the reflections of the waiting customers in the mirror. One man, about 60 years old, his head in the Daily Mail, looks vaguely familiar. We’ve met somewhere before, I think.

Then I remember. It was at one of our lurcher, terrier and ferret club summer shows. (Our club was disbanded shortly after the chairman died, so it must have been ten years ago at least.)

I was stewarding the ferret show. We’d erected a gazebo to keep the sun off the show cages, and we’d strewn straw bales around for the exhibitors to sit on. The appointed judge was an old-school ferreting man of some renown and we were thrilled that we’d been able to get him. Unfortunately his car had broken down irretrievably just outside Bodmin. Half an hour after the ferret show was scheduled to begin, our club chairman came hurrying across the new-mown meadow grass accompanied by a last-minute replacement judge. He introduced me to this man, announced the change of advertised judge to the patiently waiting exhibitors then left us to get on with it.

I announced the first class, white hob kittens. Then I began taking the 50 pence entrance fees and placing the ferrets in the numbered show cages. As I did this, I noticed that the replacement judge had his back scrupulously turned away. Excellent. An experienced judge, then. If he couldn’t see which ferret belonged to which exhibitor, nobody could accuse him of favouritism.

But when he turned round and I gave him his first ferret to examine, and we saw that he was wearing gardening gloves — new ones — we were dismayed, to put it mildly. Any future cultural history of this rural backwater will be essentially worthless without at least a paragraph on the occasion, towards the end of the 20th century, when a ferret judge at a local show wore gardening gloves.

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