Once a year I work somewhere that looks for all intents and purposes ( at least from a bit of a distance) like a Medieval court on a stop during a procession through the country.
Coming out of the woods and along the road you can see large marquees, banners fluttering and though the house is 19th century, you could imagine a 15th century version in which the local lord and his wife were both overwhelmed by delight at the honour, and horrified by the expense and trouble, of having this ‘visit.’
For all I know, the current landed gentry owner is feeling much the same because infact this is The Garden Show at Stansted House in Deepest Sussex.
I don’t want to extend this metaphor too far because we don’t have knights a jousting or cooks’ boys roasting hogs but still I needed you to get the image in your mind.
So, back to the 21st century and what it is like being involved in such an event.
Like all events, the activity behind the scenes is invisible to the visitor’s naked eye unless something goes wrong and it is our job to make sure they never notice any of it.
( We have a staff area which is well cordoned off from members of the public so that we can get on with things, have a break, leave stuff lying around, take radio messages of missing children and so on.
I found one elderly woman coming through our area and approached her and told her that this was not on the ‘public route’ through the show area and could I show her back onto the main show ground.
‘What the hell do you need a staff area for?’ she asked.
Well, 6,000 visitors a day, several hundred exhibitors, a timetable of events which makes sure the flying eagles display does not coincide with the doves being let out, a chance to have a cup of tea without being asked where the toilets are and what time is the chocolate cookery demonstration…….)
As with all such things 90% of the visitors are lovely and 90% of the exhibitors are great too.
But if you are staff those bloody 10% take your time and energy.
So, here is the story of the 10% this year.
There was a woman stallholder who was not happy.
The amazing person whose role it is to smooth ruffled feathers went to see her.
( In brackets, how many companies could do with an Anna, for that is her name. Worth her weight in gold, and she is definitely appreciated as such – smoother extraordinaire.)
It is hard in normal day-to-day life to imagine yourself negotiating and calming a woman dressed in a large pink tutu who is complaining large and loud.
But we were.
And it wasn’t just her, it was the man selling garden furniture next to her and the woman selling, dear reader brace yourself, dog poo composting systems.
I won’t bore you with the details but you can picture, if you like, the smoother extraordinare, the head of security and the woman in a large pink tutu, and me at each corner of a gazebo and walking across the site with it.
And the man with the popcorn-providing fire engine (yes indeed), picking up the tutu woman’s goods and chattels and following us to her new site.
Meanwhile, dog poo.
So, the dog poo composting stallholder bent my ear about the fact that she was a few months into being self employed and risking her livelihood on selling this product at shows like ours and this show was proving to be an abject failure for her and she was on the brink of failure.
I, learning from the smoother extraordinaire, was talking to her about the early days of a new business and how difficult they were, the vagaries of shows and how you could have bad sales one year and great the next, how you had to try shows to find out which worked for you because the demographics were different, how we could only bring in the visitors and the sales were up to the stallholders and so on.
She was not appeased.
When I went back to the staff area, I said that I had had this conversation and I thought they might get more in the way of complaints from this stallholder.
‘But it’s shit,’ said a colleague – accurate in various ways, but not providing me with a line I could take with the dog poo woman next time I saw her.