Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Midland Game Fair

So, yes, I went to the Midland Game fair and, yes, it was an absolutely superb day out. I'd never been to one before and had no idea what to expect - I didn't know if I was going to love it or be bored stupid and regret the whopping £17 it cost to get in. But I really shouldn't have worried, it was close to being Hubert-heaven. I could have spent one whole, happy day just sitting in the falconry arena and watching the beautiful, spooky, dappled-white-and-ochre barn owls swoop about; I could have passed an equally fine day just watching mesmerised while a pack of infinitely patient sheepdogs herded a flock of geese. There was so much I wanted to see it was just mind boggling; I left feeling that one day was nowhere near enough and if I were to go next year I'd pitch a tent and stay the whole weekend.

Getting there, though, was a pain in the bum. Like a fool I'd decided against the scenic but wiggly back-lane route and chosen instead to cycle down the fast, cramped and choc-a-block-with-4x4's nightmare that is the A5. It took me an hour and a half of sweaty pedaling and the tally of cursing at careless motorists came to about a half-dozen bursts of standard-grade swearing plus one fit of furious and obscene screaming (some bugger who missed me by a scant foot at 70mph).

I finally pedaled over the brow of a hill onto the site itself and was just gobsmacked by the scale of the place. I set off at once down Gunmakers Row and there I peered at rank after rank of shotgun & rifle stands and the unbelievable crowd of people. Then I gawped for a while at bloodhounds and ferrets before I realised I was absolutely shattered and needed to flop with a coffee & bun right then or risk keeling over. Nicely recharged with carbs, caffeine and tobacco I set off for the Air Gun quarter.

I spent hours there: marveling at the unreachably-expensive but gorgeous Daystates; admiring the tidy and determined-looking new BSA's; frankly coveting the Falcon PCP pistols; puzzling a bit at the Gunpowers (they do look bonkers but I'd still have one); shooting terribly on the ten-metre match range; pondering pellet lubes; chatting very happily, as ever, with Tony and Tracy (both worked off their feet) at the Sandwell Field Sports stand; seizing the chance to finally eyeball a Weihrauch HW75 - in other words, having a bit of an air-gun orgy. Knackered once more I was forced to sit down, gobble a pasty and gape at the milling throng of fellow air gun fanciers (including one dapper bloke sporting a suit & plus-fours all made out of Realtree camo).

Then I set about trying to say hello to some of the writers I hoped would be there. I was in luck: I had the great pleasure of a conversation with the editor of Sporting Shooter, James Marchington.

James' Blog is simply the place to look if you're at all interested in reading a serious, intelligent and often very funny treatment of the contested politics in the UK shooting scene; he's a great advocate for shooters, has a fund of great stories to tell and I would have nattered with him gladly for hours.

After saying cheerio to James, I spent a while chatting with the friendly folk at the new Airgun Shooter magazine: with Mathew Manning (whose nice-looking book Hunting with Air Rifles: A Complete Guide has just been published) and with Nigel Allen - the editor - about the pro's and con's of paper versus net publishing for airgun writers (yes, it's a shame, he thinks, that so much great writing languishes in unreachable magazine archives but putting it on the net at the moment seems like a vast amount of work with very little obvious financial return for the writers). Then I wandered over to talk a while with Jim Tyler, the veteran shootist of AirGun World who was kind enough to give me a few photography tips (don't try stalking rabbits with a huge digital SLR round your neck, for one).

For me - a gonzo amateur airgun writer - this kind of chance to speak with so many professionals in one place was worth the sweat and cursing of the journey all by itself.

With the day almost done I threw myself back into the crowded streets of the fair; caught a display of gun dogs joyfully pulling dummy birds from a lake; gazed at something like a hundred magnificent hawks, falcons and owls; considered the sharp-suits, cut flowers and champagne on tap in the 'Weath Management' marquee - then found a shooting range.

I'd never fired anything beyond an air rifle before but here - after deciding against ten shots for a tenner on an AK47 - three quid bought me an enjoyable eight shots on a bolt action Marlin while a fairground PA thundered out, of all things, Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit'.

I rubbernecked a while in the knife stalls in the hope I could find a little folding Fallkniven near the reach of my wallet (not a chance) and then found my eye taken by the work on one of the smallest stalls. A young chap called Oliver Davison had, he told me, built a propane forge in his own back garden, taught himself the craft and was now producing fine pocketknives that seemed perched half-way between utility and jewelery. Lovely things.

Shiny objects aside, a lot of the day's pleasure came from pure people watching. Much of my past was spent in cities so it's still fascinating for me to get glimpses of lived lives that I wouldn't have been able to guess at while I was crammed in the Tube under Oxford Circus: blokes from farms in their Sunday best; falconers from Devon comparing scars; flawless tweed on landed youth and camo-clad lads from Shropshire towns - all of this is fascinating for me. And everyone had a dog, or more often had five dogs - and it seemed to me that no one there would have so much as batted an eye at the notion of someone bagging the odd rabbit for tea...

Near the end of the day a bloke packing up his stall said, 'Hey, do you want some beer?' He pointed at a crate of John Smith's, 'I'm off now and I don't want it - help yourself!' I thanked him sincerely and did what he said.

Really knackered by then - and dreading the A5 - I sat down to stoke up on hot chocolate and jam butties. Munching, I cursed myself for not bringing a map to help navigate the back lanes when suddenly I remembered - of course! - I had a Sat Nav on my phone.

So, recalling the great day I'd just had and vowing to go to another one soon, I cycled home smiling along the peaceful lanes of the Staffordshire countryside - pausing for a beer half way - while a nice lady robot told me which turnings to take.


  1. I seriously considered going my self but could not make it that weekend, However sounds like a fab time and next year ill be there!

  2. We do not have anything like this here, more is the pitty.
    A lot of people wearing camo! I wonder why. Sort of a military look-a-like thing I suppose.

  3. Sounds incredible... about the only thing I can compare it to is the Great Alaska Outdoors Show.

    Oddly, held indoors in February.

    But scoring a free brew is never, ever a bad deal.

  4. Lovely,lovely,lovely when you find your GROOVE. That's how I feel if I ever get a day staring at Oyster Catcher and Sandpiper and listening to Curlew.

  5. Managed the Cheshire show this year, seems to be a similar thing, glad you enjoyed the day.

  6. Excellent report, my friend. It was great to meet you in person, too - your Blog is really good these days. :) Nige (PS: Can you drop me an email - I've a couple of Qs I'd like to ask you privately.) ATB

  7. HH

    A great report, on what sounds like a great day out.
    10 AK rounds for a tenner!! Phew

    It's always good to hear Mr Marchington is doing well, every year we get a little older and he stays the same. Oh on the subject of 'older' the GF is in town and she saw me looking at you picture on his blog. "Aw your friend looks really sweet, like someone's really nice dad"

    Culottes indeed

  8. Wow! We definitely don't have anything even close to that where I am from. It sure sounds like you had an amazing day though. Free beer is always a nice bonus.

  9. That Davison knife is something else! Maybe someone will give me one for Christmas.

  10. Well, I'm surprised that these things don't happen in the States or in Oz.

    Holly: you should have a gander at Oliver's site here if you haven't already. He seems to be selling them at around $110 - maybe Santa could stretch that far?


  11. What a pleasant looking event and great report on what appeared to be a relaxing day in the country, save the bicycle shenanigans. Sure beats the Outdoor Mega Shows we experience here in the states. Bigger and louder ain't always better.