Plaid wool shirt and became a rustic creatrix, transforming a dollar basket of pears into chutney and a funky bit of sheepskin into a bike seat. Thursday, I was up at the crack of 10 am to roll down to the annual queen of country conventions, the Royal Winter Fair.
The trees in front of the Trade Centre at the Ex are set in concrete that prevents any two-wheelers from locking up. SUVs blend right in.
Inside, an announcer intones the virtues of the Rocky Mountain horse -- "a true American melting-pot horse" -- as a sleek grey beauty shows off in the GMC cavalcade of horses ring. I look up to the floor above and, to my surprise, spot the familiar mug of my little brother. Leave it to him to be out antiquing before noon. Of course, he hasn't been to bed since finishing work last night. After an exciting little hunt for the staircase, I locate him hovering over a case filled with jewellery he doesn't need. "Sheila, can you lend me a thousand dollars?" He already has the place fully sussed, and I'm glad to let him be my guide. I'm having an inevitable allergic reaction to the atmosphere thick with bits of fur and leather. It's strange to be stepping over the droppings of barnyard animals in a building that will revert to housing displays of boats, Jacuzzis and other intimate lifestyle products at the close of the Royal.
We pass stalls of sheep dressed up in their coats and hats to keep their fluffed wool clean. Everywhere you look, a cow is being coiffed or blow-dried to achieve that velvety finish that I long to touch but dare not. It feels wrong to say "a cow" or "a sheep" when so many different breeds are represented. However, I'm too woozy to linger long enough to get acquainted with them all. My brother warns me about the goats. They look great, but you have to watch their tendency to vary their diet with scarves.
Quilts have come a long way from something you wrap furniture in when moving. They've become precious. Too precious. "Thank you for not touching this work of art," reads the tag attached to each of the many squares hanging in this show. A chorus of "baas" rises from the animal pens.
There's a cloth version of the Titanic. There are scenes from Africa, and 10 famous American women depicted by a Swedish woman who will be bringing a "juried quilt collection" to Waterloo.
Hundreds of caged pigeons, turkeys, roosters, goats and exotic ducks represent the bird world. Next door, Lieutenant-Governor Hilary Weston is representing royalty by sitting in a leather chair while the few dozen schoolchildren who have been provided sit on the Astroturf used by the performing dogs. The LG is wearing hot pink and reading dog rhymes in a plummy accent. "Flat dogs and fat dogs as jiggly as jelly." Photos are taken, flowers received, and everyone gets a "bookmahk" with her Web site address on it. The charming commissionaire who is Madame Weston's honourary guard tells me the LG is Irish. "Like my mother in Jamaica," he says, then shows me the photo of his beautiful daughter.
I rush by Cowboy Fred, who is pointing out the prime cuts on a sad-faced live steer. Finally, we come to the old Horse Palace, and a wave of relief sweeps over me. Don't people realize that hanging around architecturally thoughtless places like airplane- hangar convention centres is depressing? The Horse Palace is like an old quilt, beautiful, functional and comforting. We walk up the same ramp as the horses and look down into a ring where massive Percherons are being judged.
Skylights and windows provide natural light. The horses are calm, and the owners have made over their stalls into cozy, even showy, rooms for themselves. Some sit in lawn chairs, eating and chatting, prize ribbons on display. Even the smell of the place is aromatherapy.
My father grew up on a farm. This is as close as I'll ever get. Well worth $15. Allow yourself eight hours -- a day off work.