Superstition and the show

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Fresh from his return from the British Shooting Show, Philip Moss talks through the highs and the lows of the event’s first weekend at Stoneleigh

After a crap start to the trading year, the run up to February’s British Shooting Show was a fraught time for many traders.

Usually the first busy show of the year, its move from Newark to Stoneleigh sent many an exhibitor scurrying for the tranquiliser bottle. ‘Why should this be?’ I hear you cry. Well, gentle reader, the golden rule of any successful show is that you never alter the date or place.

This year the Shooting Show was two weeks earlier and it had moved from the semi-tropical climes of Newark to the sleet and arctic winds of Stoneleigh Park in Shakespeare’s (so every bloody signpost reminds us) Warwickshire.

The weather became so unpleasant that I was grateful for the offer of accommodation by Mr Kit Taylor, founder and general factotum of Muntjac Sporting Supplies, and his charmin’ lady wife Cath.

The Taylor dogs, however, had mixed views about this arrangement. Arthur, the ginger, wire-haired viszla, had long harboured amorous designs regarding my right knee, which he had met at earlier shows. I now know what it is to be stalked (I’m not talking about deer hunting here) and have your every movement monitored by a dog whose facial expression reminds one of a permanently surprised and sweaty moustachioed Belgian bureaucrat. However, this passing problem was alleviated by a bodge in the bollocks (his, not mine), several pints of scrumpy/dry cider mix and an excellent pheasant casserole.

Back at Stoneleigh, no one, including the organiser, John ‘Filter-Tipped’ Bertrand, knew how the new-look Shooting Show would go. As he revealed to me during an early-morning hookah break, all the tickets had sold, but with the weather closing in the question was ‘Would they turn up?’ He need not have worried.

There’s bugger all else to do in that part of Shakespeare’s Warwickshire (apart from the notorious brothels of nearby Leamington Spa) so attendance was assured. In fact, the filthy weather ensured that most people turned up on the first day rather than face the snow and sleet promised for Sunday evening and the prospect of a snowbound night spent in a car on one of the higher Yorkshire passes.

Although buying was slow to start, it gathered pace nicely and, when I gazed into my lead-lined coffers at the end of the day, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were they full of banknotes, but only a small proportion were forgeries. Having spent a perfectly normal evening in the back of my van rolling around naked in the day’s takings, I braced myself for a second day of trading.

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Oh tragedy! That which had gone so well on day one could not be repeated on day two. But the final tally was perfectly respectable, and a pleasant change from the events I had attended in January, the highlights of which included taking absolutely nothing at Chaddesley Corbett point-to-point; a dog at Ideford Arch that bore a striking facial resemblance to the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP; an entertainingly shaped root vegetable that had the crowd in stitches at the Black Forest Lodge point-to-point; and the traditional Cwmcarvan Wren Hunt in which pissed locals were outwitted and outmanoeuvred by Britain’s smallest bird.

Not that there wasn’t room for improvements. The discussion of these, however, is hampered on my part by the fact that, in my cups, I managed to sign a gagging order, the breaking of which will see me excluded from all future shows. It’s as bad as the NHS! John Bertrand also pointed out that in his extensive private collection of ‘special’ photographs he has a set showing me on a mole hunt about the person of a Russian girl called Natasha. If Mrs Moss ever saw these I would, at best, enjoy my remaining meals through a plastic tube or, at worst, feature as part of a central tunnel support on the HS2 project as it surfaces near Great Missenden.

Still, what the hell. Stoneleigh is oddly designed as an exhibition venue. The outside layout is reminiscent of an Iron Age astronomical instrument like Stonehenge. Lanes lead nowhere, the grassy squares they outline seem at odds with modern show requirements such as parking, parking or parking, which is usually accommodated in surrounding mud reservoirs.

Perhaps Stonehenge had this problem millennia ago. Visitors would turn up only to find that they had to park their mammoths miles away and trek for hours before getting to the main event – whatever that may have been. On returning, they would have to find someone willing to help them jump-start their exhausted mammoth (not as easy as it sounds) or someone with a sufficiently strong mammoth to tow their mammoth out of the mud.

The buildings, like all exhibition buildings since the pyramids, were designed without a single thought for the people who have to work in or on them. Not that I saw any examples of exhibitors actually being whipped as they dragged their stand and goods hundreds of yards through the sleet into Stoneleigh’s capacious interior. It was, however, extremely hard work. A well-placed ramp or three could have enabled people to use the entrances with stairs. Some additional thought might have made setting up and taking down less of a ‘lift that barge, tote that bale’ experience.

Still, it could have been worse. One helpful member of staff (no names, no pack drill) suggested that I should park my van in the sparsely populated disabled section of the car park. He added that if I could limp a bit when walking away from the van it would look a bit more convincing. Bless you!

Stoneleigh, once known as the ‘graveyard of shows’ after the demise of the Royal, looks set to make a triumphant comeback to the trader’s schedule. Even now, Mr Bertrand is pulling on his underpants over his trousers, donning a cape and mask and setting his sites on bigger targets.

The economy? The weather? Traffic flow in the greater Coventry area? If he fixes any or all of these, then traders and visitors alike can be assured of an even better Shooting Show in 2014.

Philip Moss

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