Sarah Todd: Great Yorkshire Show is our annual pilgrimage – and also a real education

COMING from a generation that got time off for hay making, harvest, potato picking and the Great Yorkshire Show, the whole form-filling palaver of taking children to this week’s agricultural extravaganza takes some swallowing.

Gone are the days when you could talk freely at the school gates about an annual jaunt to the Harrogate showground. It is akin to a military manoeuvre. Show your hand too soon and the job might be blown; but leave it too long and headteachers have had time to get their knickers in a twist about it.

The head of one friend’s primary school put a notice out that she would “not be accepting” any applications for time off for the three-day show.

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The onus is on parents to prove there is an “exceptional circumstance” behind any term-time absence.

This year our submitted forms stated: “We are from a farming family and the Great Yorkshire Show is part of our tradition and heritage.” At the time of writing, one of our offspring has got the go-ahead and the other – in secondary school – is still waiting.

If they say no, we’ll have to ring up and say she’s ill or take her without permission and face the music, or the embarrassment of a fine. Is this what we’ve been reduced to? Lying about one of the highlights of our year; something we look forward to for months. Surely, saying “no” is a form of discrimination.

The line about “tradition” and “heritage” was, after much pen-poised posturing, very deliberate. What’s the betting that if the children were from an ethnic minority these two words would be revered by teachers; frightened to death they might get into trouble if they didn’t grant permission? Well, going to the Great Yorkshire Show is sacred to us and thousands more families. It’s our annual pilgrimage.

Our first port of call, for goodness knows how many years, is the Army assault course. However old they are now, they still love to run off some steam after the car journey through the nets and over the obstacles. It’s a marvellous set-up, raising some money for the Help for Heroes charity.

Then, tradition dictates, we go for a milkshake. Husband and son split off to look around the cars and tractors, while the females in the family take a peep at the livestock.

We sometimes sit and watch the students’ fashion show. All this time, we are constantly bumping into people. We do that old-fashioned thing – pass the time of day – and nobody can tell me it’s not more character-building than watching the clock in some half-baked last-week-of-term lesson.

We usually meet up for something to eat and after the moths have been stuffed back into His wallet we usually end up at the Discovery Zone. This is the children’s educational area and the youngest always makes a beeline for the display put on by Drax Power Station.

According to big sister – who will be off doing some sport activity or other – he is “a nerd”. If he is, he’s not alone. Thousands of children come through this area, taking part in experiments and actually making things. Last year we came home with a bird box and a willow basket, along with a whole host of smaller bits and pieces.

After this, we might split up again. Yours truly will be ready for a sit in the grandstand, via a few stalls, and the oldest person in our party will be hankering after a pint in the Black Sheep Bar. For quite a few years now the children have gone off by themselves and had an hour or-so wandering around.

They will each have cash they have saved burning a hole in their pockets. Nobody can tell me that navigating their way around a massive showground and handing over money, checking the change, isn’t educational.

We’ll probably meet back at the grandstand to watch one of the main ring displays and, hopefully, a bit of showjumping. The standard of competition at the GYS is among the highest in the land. In fact, a real education. Then it’s a final wander through the cattle lines, sheep and pig pens.

A shot in the arm for families hoping to go to the show is the fact that the legend that is children’s programme Blue Peter will be recorded at the event today. If it’s good enough for this broadcast institution to find worthy of mention it’s surely good enough for our schoolchildren?

Rules about holidays were put in place to stop irresponsible parents taking a fortnight’s foreign holiday at exam times. In my mind, no comparison can be drawn between the cheek of lobster-red bikini-clad bodies and the Great Yorkshire Show.

A grand family day out should be celebrated. If we stop taking our children to the show, what will the powers-that-be pour cold water on next? We must march onwards, heads held high and defiant, to Harrogate. Otherwise, what sort of future are we facing?