What entraps crowds of unlikely people in an unsanitary environment for endless periods of time other than gaol? It’s the Royal Show, of course. And the Show Circuit for those intrepid souls who move from show to show, making that their living under the artificial lighting and breathing recycled air, while guzzling down unhealthy quantities of expensive junk food to combat the numbing boredom.
Imagine the scene. Its day one of a nine day show. Everything is still clean and orderly. Enthusiastic punters polish their products. Coffee and Cellophane clad muffins seem a delicious treat. Cheery greetings, as if from long time friends and promises of a good show punctuate the still fresh air. The first customers make the long walk, fielding frenzied promises of complete satisfaction with window cleaners, graters, fudge, cheese, duvets, hot sauces, knife sharpeners and finally, organic cream. They look at little tired as they reach the end of that long room. The smiles are a little fixed. The refusals come through clenched teeth. Suddenly the day seems less vibrant. The reality of being just one product in a huge boiling pot of consumerism, is suddenly stark. Stinging rejection allows the customers a few minutes reprieve, as the stall holders rush for more coffee and cellophane muffins but, not for long, as bills are to be paid and targets met so, with hardened armour, its back into battle to wrestle that coveted cash from the mustard seller next to you .
There is an occasional shining moment as a customer walks purposefully towards you, ignoring the pitiful pleas of the ironing board girl and the healing clay lady and picks up three or four items, which they “get every show” A yearly sale. Should I make smaller containers next time? The huge frustration of the Philistine comes next. That frustrating person only uses cheap petroleum based glycerine soap, on her doctor’s recommendation and wants lavender oil at three bottles for 50 rand because she got it from some elusive stallholder at that price last time and knows it was genuine. That annoying person knows everything. She knows that you can get sandalwood oil at 15 rand a bottle and she only uses pure sandalwood soap at 15 rand a bar from the nice lady at the flea market in Queensborough. The fact that your last quote for sandalwood from the supplier was R900 for 5 mls, meets with scepticism and even hostility. Then, if the nice lady at the flea market isn’t enough of a cross to bear, out comes Dr Google and his far flung pharmacopeia from the arse ends of the world, most of which has never bobbed up on these shores.
Painfully, slowly the sales tick over. Dusk draws near but under the artificial lighting you only know it by the after work crowds, cheeks bulging, onions falling from open mouths, chubby bottoms wobbling in delight as dinner is devoured during animated discussions with stall holders. Wiping gravy stained spittle off the products, prising soap from sticky fingers and picking up soiled serviettes, tells us that the day is nearly over. Then, the stock count and, the much less impressive money count and out into the cold air, at last, through the traffic and the dark to a much coveted bed.
So follows the pattern of days. Foes become friends and rivals become one’s best customer during those slow mornings over coffee and cellophane wrapped muffins. An analysis of past failures and a hope for future triumphs is on every pair of rapidly paling lips. We are comrades in despair and the customers become the enemy. We hide our successful days so that those less successful are not aware that they are alone in their failure. We exaggerate our disasters so that we all feel vindicated by one another. We blame the economy, the show management, the uniquely penurious attitude of the Maritzburg crowd. We hear wonderful tales of shows in Jozi and Cape town. We become unethical. When the huge wobbly bottomed person rejects our detox tea and dives with both hands into the sauce man’s snacks, chips spraying and crumbs flying everywhere, we remember with secret joy, the monumental sneezing attack which coated those snacks with saliva and germs an hour before.
The last day dawns. Not much can be done about the past but we launch into that public with frenzied sales pitches and reduced prices. Bargains and free gifts become more prevalent as the day progresses. Only the gloomy faces of those who refuse to mark down attest to the reality of the spend. Farewells are said as the government departments pack up half way through the afternoon, having only arrived at ten. Then its over. Half the stalls are empty as people, illegally, manoeuvre huge parcels out, hoping to avoid another night of costly accommodation to further deflate their show figures. Last farewells are said. Most will meet again. Some within a week or two. The night feels very cold and the stars are very bright.
Show’s over for another year.