Mad dogs and Englishmen

With The Game Fair more susceptible to change than the British weather, Philip Moss braves the elements to bring us a full report

Thursday: Set-up Day

This is the first Game Fair in nearly two decades when I won’t be sweating my socks off, setting up the stand and trying to blame everyone else for the stuff I’ve forgotten.

Low stock and the laziness gene persuaded me that spending a huge amount of money – even with the saintly intervention of Rob Crampton’s Shooting Village, it’s still about a grand – on setting up a table with a single leather key ring and a selection of belts so short the EU would have them categorised as watch straps seemed senseless.

I therefore determined to visit on a press ticket, for once. I had in a mind a gentle late breakfast and a saunter around the showground pointing and laughing at my erstwhile trading colleagues while they groaned beneath the entrepreneurial yoke.

That was until the someone turned the thermostat up. For years, we have laughed about ‘the blazing heat of an English summer’. Not now. With mercury rising north of 38 degrees, I wobbled and then chickened out, taking the advice of Henry, our cat.

I headed off for the garden shade with a bottle of Foxdenton’s export-strength gin, an ice bucket and a range of mixers.

Friday: The Show Opens

I awoke at the mid-point of the night in a darkened garden. Prising open an eye, I checked my watch and saw that it was 3.30am. Nothing like an early start.

I was soon on the road to Hatfield House marvelling in the crepuscular gloom at the sheet lightning that lit up the horizon, giving the whole Game Fair visit experience a sort of End Of Days feel. 

This, obviously, was also the brief given to the AA when signposting the event. The brief might have included lines like ‘make sure the ones who arrive early have to drive around the estate several times before they actually work out how to gain access to Europe’s largest game fair’.  To be blunt, The Battle of The Bulge had better signposting than this event.

With some judicious, if risky, re-arrangement of traffic cones and a surprisingly easy transit through a hedge, I eventually found my way to Car Park A, where some helpful and cheerful individuals beckoned me through a hole in the tree line.

Frankly, gate-crashing an early morning dogging party was not what I had quite had in mind, but that’s another one I can cross off the bucket list. 

I eventually found my way to the red gate and the media centre, where the helpful and understanding Gemma supplied me with water and tea. It was already 25 degrees, with humidity that wouldn’t have been out of place in an equatorial rain forest.

I saw my reflection in the glass and began to fully understand the sympathetic reception I had just received. The sweat-stained safari shirt, the drenched linen jacket topped off with a rush hat? I looked more like an escapee from a moated asylum than a member of the press. 

Then James Gower arrived, and something odd happened. For months now, people have been shouting at me to get my hearing tested. I, of course, have ignored these entreaties (mostly, I couldn’t hear them). But now, I was confronted with the full awfulness of my vanity.

During our introduction, I managed to get it lodged in my head that Mr Gower was an MP and not managing director of The Game Fair. There followed an awkward series of parallel conversations during which James moved further and further away, presumably hoping to put some distance between himself and the wet nut-job that stood before him pontificating about the lamentable state of politics in the UK. 

The situation was saved by the arrival of a scoop of foreign journalists who, despite being linguistically challenged, obviously made more sense than I did.

Does Size Matter? 

But when all is said and done, it comes down to size, doesn’t it? Is the Game Fair bigger or smaller than it used to be? From my stagger around, I would say that it was smaller, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The event at Hatfield House was a good showcase for country living in today’s UK and I hope it continues to provide this valuable service for many years to come.

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