November is A&P; show time in Wanganui, Waverley and Hawera as people gather to compare and compete with their neighbours. For the country folk, it's stock, shearing, equestrian events and baking, while for the townsfolk it's competition too, but at the sideshows or downing hotdogs. In business, it's selling tractors, spa pools or widgets. A&P; shows have always been the place to see the whole community pass by in one afternoon.
The Wanganui show last weekend was a shadow of its former self and really needs a person or group to get hold of it and give it a good shake. The fun stuff at one park and the competitions at another seem an odd configuration, and people tend to go to one or the other rather than take in the whole event at two parks.
Waverley on Tuesday is a smaller show with a strong tradition, and the whole population shows up to meet up with friends and catch up on the gossip. It's news that radio and TV won't cover - but it's the stuff rural and provincial New Zealand thrives on.
The Hawera show is the largest A&P; show in the North Island, and has all the bells and smells of a country carnival. Kids crying over a dropped ice-cream and the banter of some bloke trying to sell the very latest in left-handed screwdrivers make for plenty to watch and see. At the end of the two days, when the tents come down, the sleeping kids are pushed home in their buggies, and the new owners of the latest in screwdrivers head home. Everyone is happy.
As I write this column a multi-storeyed cruise ship is being piloted into Wellington harbour as the tourists see another stunning New Zealand city, probably their fourth in a week. They'll wander up Lambton Quay and purchase another authentic artefact all the way from China but won't go to an A&P; Show. Maybe they will tick off New Zealand as another destination they have "done" and wear a T-shirt with a Maori motif when they show off their holiday pics to the neighbours when they get home. Their tourist dollar is so important to us and the health of our economy, yet I can't help feeling a bit like the left-handed screwdriver salesman.
The real strength of our economy is in the countryside, where growing stock, grass, and trees keep providing the produce we sell overseas. It is countryside overseas visitors rarely see, that even New Zealanders from metro areas know less and less about. Yet agriculture has its mystery and controversy as much as the busiest CBD.
This week it has been announced that New Zealand will not sign up to the second tranche of the Kyoto Protocol due to gains we have made on environmental protection and carbon emissions in recent years. To sign would also impose on the strength of our economy constraints that our competitors don't have to endure.
Some won't like that. They will rail against a government making decisions based on a well balanced environment and economic future for our country, decisions which recognise that our farmers are more aware, regulated and responsible than in any other country in the world.
The cows won't notice, the pigs won't mind and the sheep won't care. The kid at the A&P show will still be bawling over his ice-cream as it melts into the well trampled grass, and his mother will just be glad to get home.