I suppose everything about the CLA Game Fair is different just because it’s so big. But some aspects of the show remain odd even when its size is taken into account. Take the Jurassic proportions of the stand fees. Most traders find it difficult to pay for their stand in one go and the whole process nowadays has become a long, painful, drawn-out affair involving cheque-writing, the occasional sale of a child to raise cash, and a lot of weeping. Still, if you start just after the last show it’s usually possible to pay up on time for the next.
There are other aspects that are a little bit more difficult to justify – like the secrecy. The advice note you get telling you your stand number also includes a pretty stern boilerplate warning of the disastrous legal consequences of revealing your stand number to a third party or – heaven forbid – a retail customer. Why is that necessary? Have MI6 covertly warned the organisers of Julian Assange’s or Edward Snowden’s intention to reveal the innermost secrets of game fair organisation to the world? Is North Korea’s part-time barber’s model and generalissimo, Kim Jong Un, planning to hold the world to ransom armed with the knowledge that Moss Leather Goods will be situated on Row S, just down (yet again) from the airgun range? Would knowing that BASC’s stand is situated across the aisle from Moss Leather Goods on Row S really provide material assistance to the establishment by ISIS of a Caliphate in central Oxfordshire with its capital at Woodstock?
Personally, I doubt it. Would keeping the stand numbers secret prevent an unseemly ruck for better stand positions by traders desperate for income? Now that sounds more likely. Might these soviet-style levels of secrecy also prevent traders from finding out that they have all been clumped together by trade so they are cheek-by-jowl with their competitors? I think that this, too, is likely. Most clothing and accessories traders take the view that such a system is death for business, as punters merely traverse the short distance between rival stands trying to drive down the price. Obviously, this view is not shared by the denizens of the CLA’s Belgravia office who do the layout.
I had high expectations for this year’s CLA Game Fair. I have complained by email, phone and letter for nearly a decade that I am always given an inappropriate pitch by the air rifle range, when I have never made any products for airguns. Rarely have I received the courtesy of a reply. So this year, I decided to change my strategy. If, I thought, I go the extra mile, sell an extra child and go for the howlingly expensive alternative of shedding, the organisers might meet me halfway and site me closer to where I need to be – namely, the shotgun makers.
On my arrival, I made my way to Row S and found that, despite my extra investment, I was closer than ever to the airgun range and further away than ever from the shotgun makers. To say I was disappointed would not do justice to the slough (or any other part of Berkshire) of despond into which I tumbled.
As I paced the turf, ranting to myself like an escapee from a secure hospital facility, I noticed I was not alone. Moss Leather Goods, maker and purveyor of fine leather shooting accessories, had been situated next to Albion from Walsall, also a maker and purveyor of fine leather shooting accessories. Further down the row, we both noticed that the next stall was a purveyor, among other things, of fine leather accessories – as, indeed, was the stand beyond that.
I hailed down a couple of show staff passing by on a quad bike-y thing. Though not concerned with layout, they were immensely helpful and radioed for someone to come and see me. As I waited, my mood darkened. The pings of airgun pellets as they hit their test targets only a few yards away seemed to mock me. My part of Berkshire developed into a fully fledged pit with slippery edges.
With the benefit of hindsight, I really should have lightened up a bit. The ground manager arrived after only 20 minutes and was helpful advice personified. He even arranged for me to be driven by an attractive and cheerful blonde girl called Annie to the organiser’s tent, which would have taken an age to walk to. En route, I braced myself for the coming struggle. Again this wasn’t necessary: “Talk to Ian,” advised Annie. “He’s nice and helpful.”
I did. Annie was right. No unchristian language, unseemly behaviour or pantomime threats were required. Ian pointed on the map… miracle of miracles… to the very stand that, like my neighbour’s ass, I had coveted for seven times seven long years. And it was, as they say in The Good Book, er… good! I was situated like an irritating, soft, puffy sore between the buttocks represented on this occasion by Christian Hunter, a gunmaker from Connecticut, and a vast and stately pleasure dome that I imagined, on arrival, belonged to Kublai Khan but later discovered was the property of Mauser, Blaser and Rigby.
It was perfect. This is what trading is all about. This is the natural location of Moss Leather Goods. No septic tank display area or airgun range in sight – just shotgun and rifle makers and lots of ‘em. The trade, though not brisk, was steady throughout the sweltering first day and the sweaty, thundery second day. Despite the fact that such weather trims my tether to a very short span, the customers were mostly delightful and social. I apologise unreservedly to those that found me less than cordial.
As result, little could take the shine off the 2014 CLA Game Fair as far as I was concerned. However, there was an ugly incident involving one respected trader of long-standing who took exception to a group of thugs urinating over his vehicle and ended up being assaulted by someone a third of his age and obviously only a twentieth of his intelligence. I hope that CLA looks into this matter and exclude for life the thug responsible for this. No matter what I have said in the past, the CLA has always managed to achieve a good mix of people all intent on having an enjoyable time. It would be a shame if this hard-won reputation was undermined by a few morons with so little consideration for other people’s property who have yet to achieve the level of bladder control normally exercised by a Patterdale terrier.
One puzzle was the fate of Johnson Country Sports on Row T. As far as I was aware, this company had stopped trading some years ago. Yet, there, on an empty pitch, large as life, was a sign proclaiming their ownership. Was this another company of the same name? Or is just proof that like the mythical island of the lotus-eaters, once you have a good show at the CLA, you never want to leave?
Right, Madam. Strap me to this mast and set course for Harewood House!