Graham Field: Some shows must go on

When my first book came out, I went to my first bike show as a trader as opposed to a punter. It was the (now defunct) BMF show in Peterborough. I put a bit of plywood over my Black and Decker Work Mate, covered it with a bed sheet and set up my very limited display. Behind me were a stack of 400 books under a blanket, ready to rapidly replenish supplies. I later learned a tenth of that would have been adequate but it shows the level of optimism I had.

By pure luck, because where my optimism fails my luck remains, the stand next to me was occupied by two guys who did a show every weekend all over the country and had been doing so for years. They sold a product that stopped your glasses from misting up. Their technique was to stop every spectacle wearing passer-by and offer to treat their lens for free with their unique formula. They then held the glasses over a steam machine and behold, the treated lens remains clear whilst the untreated one was opaque with condensation. Their clincher was, to get the other lens done you had to buy the special potion. They were such smooth operators, there wasn’t a comment, negative or otherwise that they hadn’t heard a thousand times and had a sure-fire direct hit retort to.

Over the weekend they took me under their wing and taught me a lot, they even went so far as to say to their customers of undistorted vision ‘now you have such clarity of sight you can take a look at this lad’s book’. It was a spectacular introduction to the show circuit, which, over the next five years,became my life, my income, and my social scene. I lived in my van every weekend, sleeping between stock and rapidly thawing precooked frozen meals, which doubled as refrigeration for my evening beverages.

It takes a while to learn what works at a show and what doesn’t. I think the most frustrating thing is a bad pitch at a good show, you leave your lonely stand for a toilet break to find the isles are heaving but no one has ventured to your solitary, off the main drag, gazebo of inspiration.