. . . every year at this time, without fail, I think about doing it. About doing what? I hear you question; the Great Dorset Steam Fair of course, hundreds of muddy acres in the middle of the rolling Dorset hills covered in vintage machinery of all shapes and sizes, just waiting to swallow me up in fond memories of the past and enticingly waiting to be captured by my camera!
I first went to this show way back in 1975 when it was slightly smaller than the massive extravaganza it has since become. In those days it was held at the end of September not the week following bank holiday that has now become the tradition, and consequently suffered the worst of the British weather that could be unleashed upon that hilltop site for that time of year. I have photographs showing traction engines and people up to their shins in liquid gooey mud, parents dragging squawking toddlers around in mud encrusted pushchairs, vehicles getting stuck and being pulled out of the glutinous mire, kids having fun getting muddy; and all this wonderful nostalgic atmosphere is captured on little 24 x 36mm pieces of see-through celluloid now lurking in my negatives archive!
In the last 36 years, since that first visit, I have only been a further five times, three more visits in the 70s, once in the 80s and then not until 2009; the latter occasion in the company of a fellow photographer who I didn’t see all day as the site is so vast! So why haven’t I been more frequently? Well, it’s nearly three hours drive away, add on another hour queueing in a 10mile traffic jam just to get in the car park, plus another half hour walking to the showground with heavy photographic equipment over glutinous footways which threaten to suck the essential wellies off your feet.
The enjoyment of the experience once you get inside is soured slightly by modern safety regulations (not present in the 1970s) which ensures that anything moving is well out of reach behind hideous orange plastic fences and when you need to make a “visit”, the conveniences are absolutely foul; then, after spending hours shuffling through the mud, your boots getting larger and larger, and heavier and heavier with the mud that collects on them you have that long walk back to your car and an unending drive home again with your eyelids threatening to block your vision! I swore after the last visit that it would be my last and I’d never go back again.
So then, what is it that is attracting me to the idea of attending this event this year? Well, from 1975 until the late 1980s I ate, drank and slept Steam Rallies; from April until October I’d be at a rally every weekend, sometimes two if they were one-dayers! The sounds, sights and smells of vintage shows were just too much too resist back then and I guess I’m hankering after a little nostalgia, to wallow in happy memories of times past.
So there you have it, will I, or won’t I?