This week I’m doing a bit of an Andrew Brace – although sadly, I’m not filing my copy from Puerto Rico or Paris, but rather from a slightly soggy Peterborough, a couple of days before the East of England show is due to start.
The caravan site is already starting to fill up, mainly with those who will be working at the show – stewards and committee. When exhibitors complain about the mounting costs of show entries, one of the common complaints is that too much money is spent on providing plush hotels for the committee – here at East of England we get a caravan pass!
The championship show circuit now has quite a number of dedicated stewards who spend most of the summer travelling from show to show in their caravans and motorhomes. Where would we be without them? It’s easy to forget, when you arrive at a show, already tired and a bit fractious after a long journey and maybe a couple of traffic hold-ups, that shows don’t just happen. There have been people at the showground for several days before, erecting all the tents and the benching, marking out the rings.
To run a large championship show there must be an efficient secretary who has a virtually full-time job, keeping on top of all the paperwork, attending to the seemingly insignificant tasks such as sorting out the boxes for each ring – time consuming, yet vitally important, since the wrong paperwork will slow things up considerably and the efficiency of each ring is vital to the smooth running of the show.
Of course most of the hard work is done before the show even starts. Just appointing judges can take up an inordinate amount of committee time, and tweaking the show layout from year to year will normally generate much discussion. There are some breeds that never seem satisfied with the size of their ring, the position of the benches, the appointed judge – no matter how accommodating the society tries to be. Other breeds attract good-natured folk that arrive ready for a good day out, win or lose, and write letters of thanks after the show, saying how much they enjoyed their day – they are the ones that make the committee’s task a little lighter.
Here at East of England this year, we haven’t just tweaked the layout, the whole show has had to be re-planned due to the fact that we have once again joined up with the agricultural show. Quart and pint pot are words that spring to mind. Will it work? Well we shall know in a few days’ time – and if they aren’t happy the exhibitors will doubtless tell us.
Then there’s the weather. We all know just how much the championship shows have suffered this year, culminating in the cancellation of two days of Blackpool. The ground here is reasonably well-drained, but there are a few boggy bits – so we just have to keep our fingers crossed that there isn’t too much more rain over the next few days.
One group that will be praying for some decent weather are the trade stand holders. These folk add so much to our shows, and I wonder if we really appreciate them? We moan like mad if one of them is missing from a particular show when we want to buy something specific, but if the weather is bad we don’t even venture around the showground to see what they have on offer. But their expenses are the same, whether we go and spend or not. They still have to pay for their space on the showground; they still have to give up more or less a week to drive to the show, set up and then pull everything down again ready to start again a few days later. Staff still have to be paid, even if they don’t take a penny from customers.
I mentioned the stewards earlier, and they are perhaps the people that shows depend upon most of all. Good stewards are worth their weight in gold; they keep the rings moving smoothly throughout the day, making sure the paperwork is in order and ensuring that both judge and exhibitors are happy. No show, big or small can function without stewards, and exhibitors owe them a big debt of gratitude for all their hard work.
Mostly they stay cheerful throughout the day, but if they do seem a bit tetchy remember that they have been doing their job since first thing in the morning, often having to cope with several changes of judge, all of whom will probably want things arranged slightly differently. Some judges may be very slow, and the chief steward will be urging the ring stewards to hurry them on a bit, while others may seem totally disinterested in the dogs they are judging and give the impression that they want to finish as quickly as possible. The steward’s task then will be to try and mobilise the exhibitors, to keep the ring flowing smoothly and the judge’s temper in check!
Yes, a steward’s lot is not always a happy one – if you feel like complaining about an over-officious or unhelpful steward, then the simple answer is to try it yourself. Instead of exhibiting, give up a few days of your time to be in a ring for several hours, up and down, backwards and forwards at the judge’s whim. Of course, some people thrive on this sort of pressure and become indispensable members of the show team. Shows, especially championship shows, simply could not function without these folk.
There are many others who help in the task of staging a major show, tenting contractors, the Bannerdown boys, those who man the public address systems and commentate in the main ring. Then there are the caterers, the first aid and veterinary teams, the ground staff who keep the rings in good condition – an almost impossible task with the weather we’ve had this year – and not forgetting those who go round the show picking up the rubbish left by untidy exhibitors and spectators, emptying out the bins and cleaning the toilets.
Any show, large or small, is very much a team effort. While there may be a few who are visible ‘front of house’, backstage there is a whole army of folk pulling together to make sure that the show goes on. Every one of them is equally important, for you can be sure that there will be someone who will notice their absence and complain that things aren’t as they should be.
But when everything does work as it should, there is nothing more satisfying than a British championship dog show, green grass, blue sky, and rings full of lovely dogs showing off their virtues to the world. This year we have had our fair share of rain, wind and mud. Let’s just hope that for exhibitors and show committees alike, the weather gods will smile on what is left of the summer and we will be able to enjoy our hobby to the full.