SO, said Helene, our milk recorder, "is Monsieur Tim entering for the comice this year? Ill leave the forms for him. I really think he should, but tell him not to leave it too long deciding."
And with that she was gone, and I posed the same question to his nibs when he came in for lunch.
"Oh, I dont know," he said wearily.
"And, er, what is it exactly?" I asked.
Le traditional comice agricole cantonal is a yearly competition between breeders from communes (or parishes) under the same canton (main town). We live in Guerquesalles and our canton is Vimoutiers; in our "county" of Orne we have three main areas, 40 cantons and 507 communes, Vimoutiers has 19 of these.
After much dithering he finally selected six cows and sent off their details, at the same time he sent off for some new halters, it being his first show. The lucky ladies were brought in several times to get them used to being haltered and cleaned, it didnt take long to get them used to the preferential treatment.
On the morning in question the stock was washed and generally tarted up ready for collection at 6am by Orcal the local co-operative which sent a trailer round to collect all competitors needing transport. Ours were one of the first en route, but on arriving at St Aubin de Bonnerval, their destination, they were in need of another good wash and brush up. Cherry and Abi had gone along to help their Dad and Jacques, the cowman.
In spite of there being more black-and-white cows in Normandy, there were 64 race Normande candidates and only 21 Primholstein.
The jury was finished by lunch time.While they were marking, young farmers aged from 10 to 20, had their own judging competition, the three reaching closest verdicts to the actual results going on to compete against others in September.
The cows were returned to the farm after lunch. That evening Tim and I took Jacques and his wife to the dinner to hear the results.
We had a good meal, then the results were read out with the president of the comice committee holding a microphone in front of a table full of cups. Behind was a second table with rows of table lamps, I thought for runners-up, but actually they had been donated as raffle prizes by Vimoutiers conseiller general who also happens to have a large hardware store in town.
Prizes were awarded for the Normandy cattle first then the Primholsteins. Tims heifer won a first for the 2-3 year olds, he also won a first for his 5-7 year olds and for the best group. He had two seconds. There were eight categories with a cup for the first in each, we came away with three cups and a lovely medal for Jacques and a cheque for just under 2000 francs (£200).
We werent so fortunate on the draw, though no end of people were, it took longer to hand out the lamps, (and tractor oil, quilted jackets, plates and endless pocket
calculators) in a very
indiscriminate fashion, than it did to award the prizes.
Example of the presidents system after a dozen prizes had gone:
"How old is he?"
"Give him a calculator, give the lady a lamp."
As time wore on, and the wine went down we were all chipping in, here comes Mr so and so…
"How old is he? Give him the tractor oil."
All in all, a good day.