CLA Game Fair 2008

- the Big Hot One

by Sporting Shooter sub-editor Harriet SalisburyThere are two words of description no-one could argue with when it comes to summing up this year’s CLA Game Fair, and they are ‘Big’ and ‘Hot’. As a recent member of staff at Sporting Shooter, I had never been to a Game Fair, and my ignorance of such things is such that as I walked towards the showground, I was surprised to hear, in broad daylight, the crackle and pop of fireworks. I had gone another 50 yards or so before the notion that it might be gunshot entered my head. However, I had done my research, and noting that last year’s event was cancelled due to flooding, I hunted out suitable waterproofs and wellies. Fortunately, I then listened to the forecast and left them behind in favour of factor 30 and flip-flops.Various estimates as to the actual numbers are still being bandied about: was it 130,000? Or 140,000? Charles Cole, the man who organised the first game fair back in 1958, said: “One year I wondered if it had grown too big – should it go back to gundogs, ferrets and tweeds? But then I thought ‘Hang on, look at all the town people it has brought in.’” I was one of those townies. But there were plenty of gundogs, ferrets and tweeds; a brilliant mix of people exchanging gossip and knowledge, eating and drinking, buying vital equipment and daft souvenirs, watching displays and listening to talks. I was at first astonished by the number of children at the fair, but then there was so much for them to do. I walked past a whole tent full of small boys and girls serious in their aprons and rolled-up sleeves, being taught how to cook. A nervous group of half a dozen stood in the middle of a display ring while birds of prey swooped so low over their heads that they had to duck. And I lost count of the number of boys discussing guns with their Dads with an awe-inspiring grasp of detail. Periodically, the tannoy would tell us that a lost child was awaiting collection by a father (it was never the mother) who had clearly become far too excited and forgotten he had children. One man even managed to lose his wife and you could feel the whole crowd reacting as one (‘Oh dear, someone’s in trouble’) to the announcement that “Your wife Fiona has been waiting at your meeting point for some considerable time.” Over at the Sporting Shooter stand, there was a steady stream of people bringing in rare and interesting guns for an expert opinion from Diggory, chatting about fox shooting with Robert Bucknell and buying copies of his classic Foxing with Lamp and Rifle, getting tips on natural shooting from Mike Yardley, showing their dogs to Nick Ridley and vet Vicky Payne, or simply looking at the magazine, I was keen to meet some of our other associates, and over at the NOBs stand, Mark Elliot was doing dual publicity for both NOBs and Help for Heroes. He kindly introduced me, an innocent townie, to a priest. Hand-made, from a deer horn, this was clearly just the job for knocking out an injured gamebird, but I was puzzled by it. “You wouldn’t think deer horn would be so heavy,” I remarked. Once he had stopped laughing, Mark pointed out that “If horn was that heavy, deer wouldn’t be able to lift their heads.” Apparently, to make a priest, you drill a hole and fill it full of lead. Still, it can be confusing to the uninitiated, and to this day, my sister remains unsure as whether I went to the Game Fair and handled a priest’s NOB or a NOBs’ priest.Despite the vast crowd, people were constantly stopping and greeting old friends with cries of delight. The other notable stopping and greeting occurred among the hundreds of dogs. I have never seen so many in one place; instead of just one, people had two, three or more, and they all looked like illustrations from show catalogues: an never ending stream of silky spaniels, glossy labs and lively terriers. In the dog tent were exotic breeds such as the Lagotto Romagnola, whose curly coats can be recognised in ancient Italian frescoes, the charmingly pretty Kooikerhondje, rescued from obscurity by Baroness Hardenbroek van Ammerstol in the 1940s, and the imposing Korthals Griffon. One of the great thrills of the fair was suddenly coming upon the towers and embellishments of Blenheim Palace, seemingly hovering in the middle distance. On my first day, we thought we might be able to take a short cut through its gates, but were stopped by a charming man in uniform who informed us that we would have to go the long way round. Before we had time to protest that he had just let through a couple with a buggy, he added, “And I’m not showing favouritism; that’s the Duke.” We watched the Duke and his family cross the lawn in the warm evening air, and wondered what it would feel like to call that masterpiece ‘home’.Throughout each day there were displays of hearing dogs, hounds and horsemanship in the main arena, where I saw Sergeant Green of the Kings Troop slicing up melons and engaging the ring with his lance to great applause, although Bombadier Ridley let his sword slip out of the dummy (“He’ll be disappointed with that,” said the commentator). But for me, the highlight came when I realised that the recipient of the Arthur Ogleby trophy for services for fishing was going to be Bernard Cribbins. Young Dr Who fans, seasoned fisherman and me (I grew up with his comic songs Right Said Fred and Hole in the Ground) gave their rapt attention as a worried group of amateur technicians tried to get a screen to work so we could see a sample of his new video about fishing. Bernard was witty and charming, the video finally developed sound, the small boys and I pressed forward for autographs and the splendid fish sculpture trophy drew blood from the Wombles narrator’s finger. Like the Game Fair itself, it was an occasion that offered something for everyone.