Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the pandemic is now in retreat and that life will soon return to normal if indeed what we knew as normal still exists. For field sports enthusiasts and supporters a part of that longed for normality is an annual visit to the Game Fair, the 2021 event of which is scheduled to take place at the end of this month.
In a world where those who fish, shoot or hunt find themselves increasingly at the mercy of at best ill-informed public sentiment and at worse well-funded hostility, the Game Fair represents a gathering of the clan; a chance to spend time in the company of those who share their passions and beliefs and to recharge a faith which may have flagged a bit during lockdown.
Whilst the Game Fair has sought to move with the times much of what the visitor sees, and experiences has changed very little over the sixty or more years that it has been running. Although this can be used as a stick with which to beat it, to do so misses the point. The Game Fair is as much a reiteration of traditional values, qualities and experiences as it is a show.
Viewed from the perspective of its enemies, the Game Fair offers an example of all they feel is wrong with this country; the narrative running along the lines of its being a three day gathering of the well-heeled, white middle and upper classes celebrating their joy in killing animals and birds and they could well cite as evidence in support of their case the pleasures available to those with the desire to, as the Game Fair website puts it, escape the crowds and repair to the ‘The Enclosure’, wherein those with £160 to spend can enjoy lunch courtesy of chef James Martin. Hardly, then, an advertisement for the rewards of inclusivity.
Of course, the reality is as it always is, different. The Game Fair is if nothing else as good a demonstration as possible of the egalitarian nature of country sports. There are no barriers to participation. Unlike other spheres of life where class, gender, education and privilege play a role, the hunting, shooting and fishing communities are only separated by the distinction that applies in all other walks of life – money. And in this day and age that can often be more to the advantage of a labourer than a lord.