Haggling for votes at Frome's cattle market
I pulled into Frome market just as the Holstein calves went under the hammer. The auction rings are new here, plenty of room for farmers and animals alike, and a huge yard outside for the inevitable bacon joints and Tupperware stalls that flock to a rural market like wasps to a barbecue. But the scene hasn't really changed for decades.
"Fifty pound fifty five sixty anyone gimme sixty ok fifty eight thanyou fifty eight fifty nine ok sixty now you're coming sixty five no sixty three no-one at all ok sixty going at SIXTY" and BANG goes the stick on the wood.
Paddy Ashdown was at the cattle market just before me, hawking his wares. Somerset is, of course, a Lib Dem heartland, but Frome is now a real battle. The Conservatives are coming, just hundreds of votes in it last time, and David Cameron's aides had already chalked it up as a likely victory in their march to No 10.
But the debates have changed all that. Now, Somerton & Frome is one of the seats the Lib Dems might hold, their voters encouraged by Cleggmania that an orange vote is not a wasted vote. So the farmers and Tupperware traders of the market are under siege as never before.
You have to get your message across fast in a market. So I knock up a big old fashioned board, with my simple question. "Who can get Frome back in business?" above three mug shots of the party leaders.
"You stick 'em all in a bag, and put your hand in, pull one out and - well, you wouldn't be any better off with any one of them I don't think." The man's a sheep farmer. He seems well-used to this kind of decision-making. But his sentiment is popular.
Many scuttle away as I approach. "We've had enough politics, thank you!" they call over their shoulders. "You can keep the lot of 'em!" shouts another.
By the sheep lines my placard sparks a healthy debate. "I reckon he!" laughs an older sheep farmer to his friend, rapping Nick Clegg's face with his crook, "give 'e a chance!". "No, he's all talk," his friend barks back, tapping David Cameron instead, "we've gotta vote for him, or we're sunk."
Outside, there's a general goods and chattels sale underway. Kids bikes, golf trolleys, a rather nice Victorian chimney pot which goes begging at two quid. I quite fancy it for my rhubarb, but with the placard I'd struggle to carry it away.
A knot of men in plaid shirts tap Mr Cameron's hopeful face. "He's the best of the lot," says one. "This chap (Clegg) he's ok, but he's got a lot to learn."
"Yeah," chips in another, "and this is no time for learners is it?"
But Mr Clegg has good solid support too. An antiques trader searching for hidden gems tells me he's not voted for 40 years, since he was 18. But this time, he will.
"Do you know what? They've been in so many times (Conservative) and they've been in so many times (Labour), why not give them a chance, you know?" and he points decisively to Nick Clegg.
Frome's streets are pock-marked with empty shops. Traders in the main market tell me their takings are down by hundreds of pounds a day. The recession is the grim backdrop to this election, here as everywhere.
But here's the thing. Is the economy a deciding issue? I don't hear anyone choosing between rival policies. There's no talk of 'cut now or cut later'. Even National Insurance is off the radar. Instead, traders, farmers, businessmen weigh up the candidates just as anyone else is doing - on character, personality, impression.
It's as if Frome knows the town - and the country - has an economic headache. They just don't believe any of the parties have any magic medicine.
There's more on the election in Somerton & Frome here, with details of all candidates standing.