I had not done a trade show since my appearance at the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham in early 2006. However, during a recent visit to Leeds Castle I had been asked to appear on the Visit Kent stand at the Best of Britain and Ireland Show at the Excel London Arena for the end of March. I had travelled up a couple of days earlier as I had a meeting at my son's school and then a lunch time meeting at Leeds Castle with Darlene and Helen, and a chap named Jeremy from the Knights who are hosting the Jousting tournament I am appearing at in May. It was a very helpful meeting and things are looking good for the show.
Thursday. Up bright and early and ready to head up to London. I have to say I dislike London - nothing personal dear capital, but I reckon London is a young person's town. I lived in London from 1986 to 1990 and I loved it mostly. It was exciting and wonderful to be so close to so many happening things. But now I am old and the delights of London just elude me. Everything is so busy, hectic, packed, angry, full, impatient etc. I was really not looking forward to going back there. I wasn't worried about the show, just the travelling. It would be difficult at the best of times, but when carrying a massive great case full of Henry costume and with a silver topped cane in hand... not fun! Anyway, I made it to the arena and an impressive place it most certainly is. I phoned Lynette my contact at the show to see where she was. She answered on her mobile to tell me she was "behind you". Yup, about 10 paces to be precise. The stand looked very good and as soon as I upload the photos from my camera you will be able to see for yourselves! Almost as soon as I arrived I get whisked off for a photo-shoot with a load of other people dressed as characters such as Robbie Burns, an Arsenal supporting dinosaur called Gunnersaurus and some ladies dressed as posh ladies at the Cheltenham races. The Thursday and the Friday are trade days and Thursday is much the busier of the two days. It is a long and hot day and I was more than grateful when it was time to rip off the costume (in private folks, don't worry) and get changed back into normal gear.
Friday. A much quieter day, which made it drag, but thankfully the show closed at 3pm rather than the 6pm of the previous day. However, I met a very nice chap from Warwick Castle who I passed all my details on to, so fingers crossed there, and I also met Terry Thomas - no not some gap toothed cad from a scandalous school, but a charming little West Indian lady who is a photographer for "Visit Britain" and want to do a photo shoot of me. I shall keep you posted on that one. I continue chatting up the lovely ladies from Hever Castle in the hope they will give me some work, and I playfully pester Tamsin from Penshurst Place for some work as well. You never know, it might work!
Saturday. A very bad journey up. For some reason, London Underground has taken it upon themselves to close the Jubilee Line so I can't get to Canning Town from Stratford. I have to take some buses, but as usual they tell you there is a bus replacement service but don't actually put any signs up telling you where the flaming buses are. I eventually found them and get bussed down to Canning Town station. All I need now is a Docklands Light Railway train to Beckton as it is only two stops to the Excel station. I arrive at the platform and it is packed and all the trains listed on the dot matrix board are going to Woolwich Arsenal. Each time one of these trains comes in only about two people get on, and more and more people are arriving from the other platforms. Finally a Beckton train comes in and there is a total bun fight to get on board. I eventually surrender and have to wait for another 9 minutes until another full Beckton train turns up. I fight my way on board and after what seems a lifetime I get to the Excel arena. There are masses and masses of people queued up to get in - how exciting. Only after I am in do I discover that they are all waiting to get into the Dive Show which is on in another hall. It takes me so long to fight my way in that I am ready with apologies for my tardiness - but I soon discover I am the first one there on the Visit Kent stall! It is a great day and I take much delight in chatting up the ladies on the Irish stall, especially Broughaid (I think that's how you spelt it) and my friend Bill on the Portsmouth stall (she is a lady despite that name). There is a great look-a-like on the Bristol stall dressed as Isambad Kingdom-Brunel who is great fun and a bizarre chap from the London Bridge experience dressed as an evil Professor who is 7 feet 4 inches tall. My only complaint is that on the main stage they have frequent - far too frequent for my liking - performances from the cast of "Mamma Mia". Now, how can I explain my feelings about Abba and their music? Well, let me put it this way - I would rather hammer tent pegs through my feet than have to listen to their inane whining, so you can imagine my delight when a load of shouty women then bounce around on stage for what seems like a lifetime screaming out "Mamma Mia" "Honey Honey" and, horror of horrors "Dancing Queen". When they began screeching their way through "The Winner Takes It All" I gave up all ideas of subtlty and took to howling like a wolf. I was delighted to hear various other voices joining in the howling from other stalls in the vicinity. It was good to have friends. "Mamma Mia" are on THREE times. THREE! Rather than face the vagaries of the train service going back I got a cab to Stratford station instead. Expensive but easy.
Sunday. The final day. It is announced that I am possibly to play keepy-up football with Charlie George, legendary lank haired lunatic centre forward for the Arsenal team of the early 70's. He now looks like Andy Pitkin from Little Britain with a bald patch, lank hair and thick glasses. All he needed was to say "I want that one" and he'd have been there. The keepy up never happens. Football does rear it's ugly head as I am asked to take part in a table football tournament with lots of the other costumed characters. We are teamed up with a member of the public and then set out to play each other in a knockout tournament, the winning member of the public then walks off with a luxury holiday for two - very nice. I manage to get through to the semi final before being vanquished, which was pretty good for me. More fun is had with the lovely Irish ladies (hello Josephine!) and the ladies on the Scottish stand. Then Mamma Mia turn up again, so there is more Wolf Howling from me and my friends. Finally it is time for me to go and get changed, but still there is more fun and mishaps to be had. I am getting changed in my tiny little cupboard, surrounded by everyone elses coats and bags etc, when I manage to knock over the big bottle of water I always carry in my Henry bag. It shoots up in the air and then plummets downwards, but somehow manages to miss all the clothes. I am left with a virtually empty bottle but a big suspicious looking wet patch on the floor, and not a dog in sight to blame. I end up mopping at the floor with my dirty Henry shirts from the previous few days. What a way to finish the week. I get another cab back to Stratford and for the first time in the week I can only get a slow train stopping at all stations to Shenfield. At Romford four scantily clad young "ladies" stagger through the train reeking of lager and playing an Ipod with speakers as loud as they possibly can, singing along with various foul mouthed R&B tracks. How lovely.
I will be appearing for Visit Kent again this Thursday at the Detling Showground in Kent. See you there.