Philip Moss journeys north for mud and cider at the Game Fair – but will he return next year?
The biggest problem with writing this column is wondering whether anyone actually reads it. Periodically, you get some wired moron ringing up ranting at you over some perceived or minor slight (conveniently forgetting all the good comments about his shows and the countless discounted items acquired by himself and his staff over the preceding five years). Sometimes, traders buttonhole you and ask you to raise a particular point about an individual show or shows generally. You write the material. It’s published in Gun Trade News. “The rest,” as Hamlet has it, “is silence.”
So it’s great when I do get a response from someone like Iain Nicol at the South of England showground. Via telephone, he addressed every single point I brought up in my last column about this year’s South of England show. He promised to revisit the placement and volume of speakers around the ring to prevent traders from suffering from Bleeding Ear Syndrome. He answered my doubts about the future of the show as a rural event by promising that farming, agriculture and the countryside will remain the beating heart of the South of England Show. To encourage the crowd of the future, all children under 16 accompanied by a paying adult could enter free of charge. He agreed that this would have little immediate effect on spend for traders at the show but I also had to agree that his ‘next generation’ campaign had seen a 224 per cent increase in children registering online to visit the South of England Show. These will hopefully be the buyers of the future. We concurred that winding the clock back was never going to happen, but a balance between rural stuff and family entertainment such as the ubiquitous motorbike displays and monster trucks was the way ahead. It was good to hear a reasoned argument in response to some of my “over-the-top comments”, as opposed to threats against my life (whatever that is) or legal action.
And so, inevitably, to the CLA at the scenic Harewood House. I admit my expectations were not high, as this venue has nearly always been less productive than others. Still, the site looked like a million pounds (several, actually – Ed.) with the attractive country pile overlooking the show field. Still, I always dread the prospect of arriving to find that my shedding, at huge extra cost, is located by the septic tank display area, and having to seek out the organisers for a shouting match. But, this year, it was not to be. Robert Sears, with whom I had a frank and detailed exchange of views way back at the beginning of the year, was as good as his word. My stand was on one of the four Gunmakers Rows (there may have been more; I didn’t have time to check) and I have no complaints. A CLA steward mentioned to me that the organisers had reduced the number of stands this year to focus on the rural life and country sport ‘feel’ of the show. Wandering around the aisles at the end of the first and second rows, I think this worked.
The footfall on the first day, though, looked very thin. No rush to commerce here, as at Blenheim. The volume of sales was worryingly low as well. I was not the only trader to notice or comment about this. The economy? Yorkshire? Viking raids? Horrible products? One can only guess at the true reason. Perhaps the crowds were coming on the second day? As it turned out, perhaps they weren’t. The footfall again seemed low but, being at the far end of the showground, perhaps the public was doing something else at the main ring or the Gunmakers Pub. The rain certainly made life difficult for some and the ensuing mud was an unwelcome addition. Still, the great British buying public managed to muddle through.
The facilities for the show are one area in particular where the organisers have learned from past years. The steel tracking from entrance gate to most areas of the show made vehicle movement possible after the rain turned the ground into a slimy mud bath. The loos and showers were brilliant and kept spotlessly clean. Congratulations to the staff who worked so hard on this, one of the shows more thankless tasks. Food prices at the show mirrored the cost of pitches with toasted sandwiches costing around five pounds. With beer, wine and cider, I think one just accepts that nowadays it’s going to be expensive. The majority of local customers I spoke to complained, in this order, about 1) high ticket prices, 2) the high cost of camping pitches, 3) the high cost of food, and 4) Geoffrey Boycott not being King.
I had a few asking why my goods were so expensive. Their remains will never be found. In retrospect, I should have roughed it with open space, as the extra cost of shedding wasn’t really justified. In the interest of balance, I can only speak as I found. My competitors and colleagues at Albion Sporting were not alone in telling me that it had been the best show they had ever done.
The CLA occupies such a central position on the game fair schedule that the majority of traders will always be there if they can. However, if the prices go up next year, there will be more than this year’s handful of traders taking that hard decision not to attend.
On a lighter note, there remains a genuine air of celebration among the traders at the CLA. I’m amazed that there are not more serious hospitalisations. It’s the hat-sellers! They’re the worst. The second day of the show was rounded off with the brilliant Laird’s Sporting Directory bash; a project bred of the feverish night-time thoughts of one Nathan Little. Expensive cigars, exotic women (well I hope they were, anyway), venison on the BBQ and lots of specially brewed beer – what could possibly go wrong? The Cuban theme went down particularly well with the motorised humidor of the Hemingway Cigar Company nearly selling out. There was ample opportunity for me to make a total arse of myself, but I was joined by several others (see Facebook). The party finished on the dot of eleven, thereby avoiding any excesses. These took place at other stands sprinkled around the area with Global Rifle and their excellent homemade cider deserving a special mention.
Yeah. Go on. Sign me up. I’ll be there at Ragley next year. Madness not to, really.