Back in the lounge of the Glamper’s Retreat after the show, Periwinkle, Chuffer, Tubby and Twistleton-Penge all agreed that Ms Meadow Flowers was to blame. For everything. Including Brexit. To admit otherwise would have been to face the fact that none of them knew the first thing about outdoor hospitality. And since outdoor hospitality was their raison d’être such an admission would have made them all look as embarrassed as a politician who’d just lost his deposit.
For some time, our rural business consultancy has been making slower progress than a hungover tortoise in the teeth of a gale. Called Ms Flowers at her small-business ashram in Tooting for advice on shaking things up a bit. The trade show circuit got a tad crowded in the autumn with big shows racking up footfall figures capable of making a Debenhams’ area sales manager slaver like one of Pavlov’s dogs. What, we wanted to know, could our band of merry entrepreneurs do to stand out from the crowd?
“You need profile, darling. Oodles of the stuff,” Meadow trilled. She proposed a high-profile visit to a low-profile show. One of those woebegone unaffiliated shows held during the summer, on the periphery of the industry, over on the edge of the county.
“There’s more chance of getting noticed at a small, off-piste show,” she said. “You might even get your photo in the local papers. It’s a chance to make a statement too. To wear something that catches the eye of a future client. Your unspoken message should be clear: We are out-of-county hospitality gurus with a soupçon of the avant-garde.”
Ms Flowers rang off, but not before leaving a fashion tip and promising to dangle an amethyst or two over a mandrake root to woo the gods of fortune over to our side.
Chuffer, who’d been scouring the trade press for a show matching Meadow’s blueprint, eventually came up with ‘Small Holdings A-Go-Go 2017’. We set off in Twistleton-Penge’s Bentley.
We arrived at the show ground in time for lunch. Within minutes of parking the car, we discovered why Chuffer’s chosen show wasn’t mainstream. On a day hot enough to cause hedgerows to spontaneously combust, the show’s promoters were trying to sell a range of ludicrously unseasonal goods: Snow globes, old single bar electric fires, donkey jackets with incongruous messages on the back like ‘Phew! It’s a scorcher,’ and ‘I’m having a heatwave, are you?’
In addition to the Yuletide paraphernalia, fridge magnets were to be found across the site, their twee rustic slogans shouting ‘Squirrels rule, OK!’ and ‘Beware of the Chaffinch!’ A couple of bikini-clad girls worked the thin crowd, giving away snow shovels. There wasn’t a pizza oven, safari tent or wood fired hot tub to be spotted as far as the eye could see.
A girl appeared on a makeshift stage, wearing a Laura Ashley-style chemise. She had a ballet pump on one foot and a Doc Marten with a rose-coloured ribbon instead of a bootlace on the other.
The event manager announced through a megaphone, that Hermione had come up from the big smoke to enact the history of outdoor leisure through the combined media of modern dance, mime and Feng Shui. It was an impressive gig, but she lost her footing when the rose-coloured ribbon came undone and she flew bottom over ballet shoe into Twistleton-Penge’s lap. The Twistle hadn’t been this close to a filly (other than Mrs Twistle) since he blagged his way into the winner’s enclosure at Ascot in 1979.
Was Ms Flowers’ ploy to raise our profile a success? Not really. We were noticed all right. Given that Meadow had made us wear our trousers at half-mast and put on unmatched hiking socks, this was hardly surprising.
We bought stuff, though we did not fare well in doing so. Chuffer purchased a herd of Alpaca selectively bred to grow wool with camouflage markings. Unfortunately, on the day of delivery, Chuffer’s sheepdog, Taffy, lost the plot and the alpha alpaca led the herd deep into the forest. So effective was their subsequent concealment that over the ensuing weeks and months, although often heard, the alpacas were never actually seen again.
In another major retailing faux pas, Tubby rented an artificial maze and schlepped it home in the Bentley’s boot. But he failed to memorise the sequence of left and right turnings guaranteeing escape. As a result, during trials, he was unable to find the exit before the contract hire expired. All in all, with penalty payments for the late off-hiring of the maze and the 100% loss on the alpaca deal, Tubby and Chuffer were collectively ten-grand out of pocket.
Granted, this loss was partly mitigated by the free snow shovels which probably cost less than £1.50 wholesale. Ironically, strapped to the roof rack for the return journey round the M25 the blades of the snow shovels melted in the roasting July heat before we’d got half way home.