This weekend finds me down in the heart of Wiltshire after a sunny week at the National Tramway Museum.
The four-day stand in Derbyshire was very successful and the crowds turned up in abundance. I love the place. It is run almost entirely by volunteer staff, and, like the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, their passion and dedication make the place come alive. The audiences however are quiet. I don’t think they altogether understand my brand of humour or the style of the show. Maybe they are more used to the type of entertainer who rushes out at the start of his show shouting ‘Hi kids’. Maybe it’s just that there are fewer theatres in the area, but they are definitely quieter. They seem to enjoy the show but just didn’t let anyone, least of all me, know. Typical of the response was a man who I observed in the audience with his hands stoically folded with an ‘Entertain me, I dare you’ look on his face. Of course I picked on him and managed to elicit a half smile, but he looked around nervously as if he was checking that it was ok to do so.
The folk down south are very different. The Vintage Nostalgia Show pulls a cognoscenti audience well used to the style, humour and detail that I try to work into the show. Their warmth and appreciation is welcome and it leaves me feeling comfortable and easy. Even the dogs were more relaxed with Mimi, not one to usually deign herself to play with Blue, racing around chasing and having a lovely time in the sun as I finished setting up yesterday morning.
Then it happened. A huge explosion. Closely followed by another. I jumped out of my skin, looked over to the direction they had come from and saw a puff of smoke rising from the vintage army display area. I immediately sought out Blue. She becomes terrified when there are bangs. Mimi is not so bad. She doesn’t like them but Blue is what I later discovered is called ‘gun shy’. She shakes and whimpers and has to be held. Of course I did my best to comfort her and put both dogs into the lorry as the bangs were continuing to shake the ground. When they seemed to have finished, I stormed off to talk to the organisers. There had been nothing about the bangs in the programme and no tannoy warning. As I stalked up the field to the organisers’ tent I saw several other dog owners comforting dogs.
I was very angry by this time and told them so. The reaction of Mimi and Blue meant that they wouldn’t work for the rest of the day. They lose confidence, they stop being relaxed and don’t focus on performing at those little moments when I bring them out. I learned that there was to be another volley of gunfire timetabled for the same time as the start of my last show. After a little heated negotiation they agreed to postpone for an hour ‘so I could take them for a walk away from the field’.
Well that’s it for here. I don’t believe that firing guns at events is either fun or necessary and I don’t return to events that do. There are enough real guns in the world making hell of people’s lives without having to endure them as entertainment. Especially when they stop Mimi and Blue enjoying their lives. I have told the organisers that they will have a choice for next year. Me or the bangs. I think they thought I was just upset and would change my mind. They were right about one thing. I was upset.
So twice today we shall have to take a mile and a half trek away from the field, leaving all the stuff out and breaking the continuity of the day. Yesterday for their second fusillade we walked into the village and hid behind the church and the bangs were still loud even from there. Blue still shook for five minutes and needed to be held, but I think she knew that I had taken them away from the place for her benefit.
Coincidentally on the way back we passed a man with two superbly-behaved Labradors walking alongside. He had ‘Dog Trainer’ embroidered on his top. I stopped him and we had a great conversation about ‘gun shy’ dogs. He said the only way to train one was to deliberately expose the dog to gunfire and explosions until it was used to them. The other method was to repeat play a cd of explosions every night and tweak up the volume. Maybe we could just move to Syria. And it only worked for one dog in three, he said. He guessed (correctly) that I would not be doing that to Blue.
I just won’t come here again. I know it sounds like blackmail, but it’s their choice. There are always other events.
All the best from a road near you,