Living in the South West I had looked around for appropriate local work and landed the role as Commercial Director of the Royal Bath & West. My role was not to focus on its annual four-day agricultural show, but instead to use the 240-acre Shepton Mallet showground and its buildings across the other 361 days.
It was not quite the rural idyll I had imagined. Our biggest income of the year was during the Glastonbury Festival that was held five miles away at Pilton. We became the cells for the Avon & Somerset Constabulary serving that festival. There was a real manpower issue, in that if they arrested someone the paperwork would take the PCs off site as they processed the arrestee. The solution was to helicopter individuals to our site, arrest them here and pop them into cells built in our cowsheds and process them later. The hire charge we levied was our biggest invoice of the year (outside of the Royal Show).
The police were rather less keen on our three Raves each year. There were several drug deaths on the way to or from us, fortunately none actually at site. One thing I learned from these was to be the contractor who supplied bottled water, those taking drugs needed lots.
We had an annual Hells Angel event which raised some interesting issues. The Metropolitan Police called me and said I should cancel it because their intelligence unit had learned that a rival group, was threatening to mete out revenge for a death at another event. I met with the event team, they were all professional men who liked bikes. They knew of the threat and explained that they would have outriders along all the major routes to the show ground (A303, A36, A37, A39…) and if they detected this other group, they would intercept and deal with them well away from our showground. They believed it was merely a threat and they were quite convincing, so I permitted it to go ahead – without a problem.
My wife Jane came to see the Hells Angel event and was struck by the difference between the clean shiny bikes and the ‘disgusting’ jeans (her word). Typical of Jane, her summary comment was that she had never seen so many jeans she wanted to get into the washing machine. The other incident is recounted above under ‘Religious Persuasion’ the incident of the Hells Angel, his ‘bird’s tits’ and the Bishop of Bath & Wells.
I bought myself a little Toyota RAV and darted around the site, becoming involved in building berms, arguing water-drawing rights, negotiating for brown directional signs, redecorating sheds, planting trees and managing woods. I helped to wrangle cattle, officially moved a badger sett, designed and built car park kiosks, planned for a pre-built modular hotel – it was engrossing, and a complete departure for me.
But, sadly, the overall feeling was of a place that time had forgotten. It was very ethnically cleansed, completely untouched by immigration. When people came down from Town the grass-keep guys would snigger at their clothes (just like at Granada Bedford, above).
There was class gulf with the Society run by a Brigadier and driven by the local ‘Great & Good’ and the grafters on the showground. There was even a pecking order within the categories of beast being displayed – Horses came top, Cattle was next, Sheep, Goats and Pigs were lesser, and the nice lady who worried about the badgers was somewhere close to the bottom, and of course despised by ‘Cattle’.
The local toffs fought to maintain their privileges while on site. Principal among these was the right to sleep on site in a set of damp garden sheds. They had sleeping bags laid on big blocks of foam, which sat in the none-too-waterproofed shed the whole year round and needed a bit of airing before they arrived. The real appeal was that they could get pissed in one of the bars, have dinner, roll back to their hut where a batman would help them into bed and polish their shoes while they slept. All it lacked was a Matron or Nanny!
|ASIDE: One of these toffs had a driving accident on the showground. The Society, and others around the country, believed that these were private roads. As a result of this accident the police promptly disabused them of this, saying that, as many thousands of the public entered the grounds, they were public areas. To say the ordure hit the fan would be an understatement. For a start many of the Society vehicles never left the showground so they had been insured but never taxed or MoT-ed. It then emerged that many of the maintenance team had no driving licence or insurance, some had lost these through an offence, others had never had them – yet they drove around the site freely (flashback to me doing the same at the M4/N5 interchange site, above). Worse, we had a number of car parks sited around the showground and if these were public territory then we needed to install lighting, for the security of unaccompanied ladies, late in the evening walking back to their vehicles. To achieve all of this levied a heavy cost on all the agricultural societies in the UK.|
For my events (outside the Main Show) there were other issues. For example, we had a good high-end antiques show that opened within ten days of the Main Event. Despite moving the cattle out promptly, and steam cleaning it several times every day, there was still a distinct lingering tang of Eau de Vache in the hall – where was my Texas BS Repellent now? This was not really conducive to browsing high-end antiques, but we did our very best to mask it.