Release the hounds

Philip Moss is dogged by indifferent customers and security breaches at the Midland and a host of other September shows

Nobody wants to admit it but the awful truth has been plain to see. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter how well organised a show is, it doesn’t matter how big the crowd; if the punters don’t want to spend, it’s difficult to make a living at shows. Fortunately there are always exceptions, such as the shows at Usk and at Frampton, which were both fun and busy.

The Thame show drew a reluctant crowd that gave traders virtually no chance. The show had sadly reverted back from its weekend to its midweek timing and in this instance, the old showman’s adage about never changing your date or venue proved its worth. The layout was a bizarre mix of ineptitude and lack of thought, with some stalls badly positioned and out of the way for punters. I had been allocated one of these ‘no hope’ sites and the show staff remained unmoved by my request for relocation. This said, they were perfectly prepared to hang on to my fee and watch me drive away rather than waste hours staring at the rusty barbed wire fence where my stall was supposed to be. It was only due to the kindness and courtesy of the Renapur team who gave up some of their space for me that I actually set-up and traded there at all. Of course, everything comes at a price and I can now say without hesitation that I have the shiniest and most waterproof footwear in South East Wales!

And so to Weston Park. The Midland Game Fair often has some fizz and pop about it and is used by shooters to stock up for the coming season. Sadly, the crowd was a bit like the weather: warm, sweaty and ever so slightly indifferent. My takings were down as were those of many traders I spoke to. Not all, though, as I understand that some of the clothing stalls had good days. The heavy, overcast weather seemed to sap the strength out of the show. I had grumbles on the stand about being forced to queue for an hour before being let in, which never used to happen. Many felt that Gunmakers Row was a bit light on gunmakers and little heavy on vehicle stands. Taking all this in ones stride, the Midland still remains one of the better organised events on the circuit and always attracts a reasonable crowd whether it’s a good year or bad.

READY FOR BUSINESS: Philip settles down to wait for the next customer – but how long will he be waiting?

READY FOR BUSINESS: Philip settles down to wait for the next customer – but how long will he be waiting?

For traders, the minutes (or hours) between sales on a slow day can be acutely unpleasant. Many have developed nerves and livers of steel to survive the pressure of it all. After a couple of quiet shows, traders’ concentration levels lapse, and business sense gives way to whimsy or delusion. Traders were clearly trying to attract the Sunday ‘family traffic’ by branching out from guns and shooting accessories into more generic stuff like keyrings. I got a particular surprise at the Global Rifle stand when I discovered they sold a keyring modelled after a gold-plated .308 bullet, which, if twisted in the correct manner, served as a mini-vibrator.

The combination of high-calibre firearms and marital aids is not one that would strike me as a natural pairing when it comes it comes to boosting sales; but I am prepared to be proved wrong on this point. What I have learned, however, is that I should never discuss such matters with Mrs Moss; I am currently typing this column with my one remaining unbroken finger. As for the whereabouts of the keyring now, well, I don’t think such things can be printed, but let’s just say I’m also typing this standing up.

Boredom and lack of income can often lead younger traders astray. I write in particular of one poor soul who thought the lack of sales at the Wiltshire Country Show at Bowood House could be cured by, as they say in Swindon, “gettin’ lagered up”. He took to this cure with gusto at the bar on the first evening of the show and continued “getting it down ‘im” into the wee small hours. Scientists among us will be interested in a new measure of insobriety which one onlooker shared with me: “That silly young sod was so drunk that he couldn’t lie down.”

And it was this that proved his undoing around the back of the tents at about three in the morning. “Lie down!” shouted the security man at the dancing, singing fool before him. “Lie down or I release the dog!” came the second warning. There wasn’t a third, as the long-coated German Shepherd, rumoured to be called Gnasher, was told to subdue the troublesome youth. On television series involving security dog training, you would normally see a large dog enthusiastically ripping hell out of a padded glove on a stuntman’s forearm. Gnasher was obviously overcome by his moment in the spotlight, and in the absence of anything that looked like a heavily padded glove, decided that the soft dangly targets half way between the drunk’s knees and nipples would do the job. It’s fair to say that the high-pitch scream following Gnasher’s contact with his chosen target woke most of the slumbering traders for 400 yards in each direction.

“Lie down! Stay down!” shouted the security man. But as we know, the youth was too drunk to do this. Staggering to his feet and clutching his groin, he screamed something incomprehensible in a cracked, high-pitched replica of a voice. Gnasher could not believe his luck and laid in for a second mouthful, which could have been very serious had it not been for the intervention of security staff, some traders, the organiser and a passing group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who, with exemplary teamwork, managed to save the errant youth.

Once sober, the young trader – so I was told by his colleagues – was filled with remorse and if his corner of the caravan was anything to go by, sick. Barred for life from Living Heritage shows, he is determined to rebuild his honour by joining the French Foreign Legion. Gnasher, after completing his current contract, will be appearing in the new series of ‘Britain’s Got Talent – Doggie Style’ in the autumn.

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