How to Avoid Embarrassment and Be a First Class Guest

Saturday husband and I attended the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) Game Fair. That’s game as in pheasant and grouse, not Scrabble and Monopoly. And yes, I knew that before I attended. I even offered to drive R&R, who invited us, but they deemed arriving at the game fair in a Toyota Prius unacceptable.

“We’ll take the E-class,” R number one sniffed.

We also took their Norfolk terrier, Teddy, terriers being de rigueur at this sort of thing. There was in fact an awful lot of activity dedicated to dogs, including dog shows and hunting hounds and vets and people hawking pet insurance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The game fair bills itself as “the world’s original, biggest and greatest country sports exhibition and showcase for rural life.” The website FAQ includes questions on whether the public can bring their dogs, their guns, and their helicopters when visiting, and the answer to all three is yes. Held on the grounds of Ragley Hall, a stately home in Warwickshire, the show amounts to a mass outdoor mall dedicated to all things associated with the British countryside, with a heavy emphasis on guns and fishing but with plenty of room for falconry, teak tiki huts for outdoor dining on the grounds of one’s own home, Airstream trailers (a rare American incursion), hog roast stands, and every piece of clothing imaginable rendered in tweed. To shop all day amongst this splendour costs £21 per person, which, judging from the crowds, didn’t seem to be much of a deterrent. As R number one observed, “What recession?”
We started our tour of the fair with a sharpener at the Pimms and Champagne tent, followed by a photo op milking a plastic cow and a hog roast and cider lunch. We then headed for Gunmakers’ Row where I was immediately taken with a ladies’ sporting ensemble of raspberry velvet waistcoat with pale blue silk cravat and plus fours. It was enough to make me give away all my personal details to Shooting Gazette (“Driven Shooting’s Finest Journal”) for a chance to win £1,000 worth of shooting clothes. The nice gentleman also gave me a copy of the July issue, which features articles such as “10 Steps to being the perfect gun – How to avoid embarrassment and be a first class guest” and “Confused by cartridges? The questions you never dared ask.” It is sure to make some amusing bathtub reading.

R number two, the only shooter amongst our group, accompanied me into the Holland and Holland tent, which looked like something in which you might take gin based cocktails while on a luxury safari. As we browsed he explained in hushed tones that guns here are sold in pairs so your loader — the shooting equivalent of a caddy — can be readying one while you are shooting the other. Prices can reach £100,000 per gun. Luckily, I was more interested in a fetching silk scarf with knotted fringe ends and a pattern of forest creatures reminiscent of French tapestry.

“Don’t hesitate,” a cravated man said to me in Italian-accented English. “They’re going fast.”

The hard sell took me by surprise, and instead of the scarf I opted for buying a round of ice cream cones for the group, which we ate in the British Food Village while admiring the local human wildlife. Even though it was the middle of summer, the look for women under thirty was knee high brown boots, a skin-tight tweed mini skirt, a tailored long sleeved shirt in pink or stripes — the kind I might wear with a suit — and a mane of long straight hair. The options for men seemed more varied, and my favorite was the lederhosen-evoking velvet bermuda shorts sported by a fellow customer in the Holland and Holland enclosure. He had both the height and the uber posh accent to carry off the look.
We ended the day with husband and R number two taking in a round of target practice, the evidence of which now hangs on our fridge. Worn out from our big day, Teddy and I both fell asleep in the car on the way home.

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  • David
    August 5, 2010 at 4:51 am

    I hope you get a chance to go to a driven shoot. If you aren't up to shooting, offer to be a loader or to pick up.

    As an American, I wore the wrong clothes and shot badly when I started in the 80;s in England. In the end I was hitting left and rights at driven shoots, rough shooting for wood pigeon and stalking in the Highlands. Give it a chance, it can be great fun underneath the veneer of ritual and yes, snobbery.

    David Bershtein