Here I am Monday morning and exhausted after my four day stint of doing four demos and talks per day at the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair at the SECC in Glasgow.
It has been full on and all go. There were times when I wondered if maybe doing four talks a day was on the verge of madness, and there were moments when I was right.
It all starts off on the Wednesday when I go down there with all the props, ingredients, books and equipment and find out where I am stationed (3 different theatres) and where all my various bags and boxes can be stashed for easy use. Each theatre has a little room attached to the back of the stage for us demonstrators to store their belongings. Getting in there first means securing a good position for your kit and having the quickest access when you are in a rush.
The kitchen theatre is of course the biggest and the back stage area is mayhem with all the chefs coming in and out with literally tonnes of kit and the poor staff running around like mad desperately trying to get all the washing up done and keep the place in order between the demonstrations. Here I had a shelf and a tray in the huge fridge. It was paramount to keep my kit together and not let anything get mixed up. A case of being back to school and having everything labelled with your name rather like a gym kit.
As always with these fairs I start off with the very best intentions in the fashion department. Hell, this time I had 4 nifty little dresses all hung up outside the wardrobe door complete with accessories all lined up. Organised, moi? Bet your ass I was! This worked well for day one as I had the press call so wanted to make a good impression and look suitable professional and maybe just a tad festive. The red dress wins the vote.
By Saturday (when all these pix were taken) I’ve abandoned the nigty frocks and I’ve opted for comfort and jeans and warm tops. So much for ellegance and all that wardrobe organisation. Being human wins the day!
I’d been asked to do a press call on the first day of the show half an hour before my first demonstration which was for my Gourmet Gifts For Christmas. The photographers duly turned up bristling with cameras I would give my eye teeth to get my mits on, however I resist the temptation to mug them for their Nikons and Canons and instead smile sweetly while being told to hold this and do that, pour this and turn that. We move from my stage (comfort zone, nice place where I have bottom half hidden behind huge counter space so only top half seen – a secure area in my book) to the middle of the hall itself where the enormous Christmas tree is situated. I have to pose about clutching a gift basket and copy of my book Gourmet Gifts For Christmas and trying to look casual as if I always hang around underneath 50 foot glittering trees on a Thursday morning. They are shooing people out of the way to get clear shots and I feel more and more like an idiot when some friends make me laugh from the sidelines.
Ditch the camera boys and my PR lady and get on with the real business of the day, my first demo. This was my Gourmet Gifts so I was in my element making up my Tipsy Toms and Brambly Apple Gin. People really love these boozy demos so you get a good crowd of eager viewers with lots of questions at the end.
My next event was teaching the How To Make A Recycled Fragrant Raggy Wreath class in the crafting theatre which was all set up with rows of tables and chairs for 50 participants to get busy with the scissors. The crafting classes are always really popular and there have been problems in past years with there being way too many people and not enough seats and spaces, so this year the organisers had closed the theatre off and were issuing tickets so that we’d have exactly the right number of bums on seats and kits in hands.
I’d been asked to prepare 150 kits for the duration of the show. We thought an average of 37 kits per class would be enough. How wrong we were. Day One and my first class is sold out within ten minutes of the show doors opening. Dan the head honcho on the organising department is on to me like a rocket saying we will need another 50 kits so we can use 50 per day. ‘No problem’ I glibly reply, desperately imagining my fabric stash at home and wondering how on earth I’ll pull off prepping up another 50 kits tonight.
Idgy and I end up staying up till 2am and get the 50 extra kits done. Throughout the 4 day show every class is a sell out and all 200 kits are completed and happy crafters take them home with pride.
I get a lunch break between the crafting class and my next demo at 2.30pm which is in the food theatre where I am making my smoked salmon on tattie scones and the Scottish salad spoons from my new book A Wee Taste Of Scotland.
As I’ve already said this is the biggest and busiest of the theatres and no place for the faint hearted. My biggest problem is dealing with the horrible halogen stove which heats up instantly and seems to have a mind of its own. I am also hindered by my own vanity which decries that no way on Gods good earth will I stand on a stage with my glasses on, so of course I can’t see the numbers on the stove to work the damn thing.
For anyone who imagines that live cooking demos are easy let me assure you that going live and doing two recipes simultaneously while smiling, chatting and remembering to keep your hands in view of the cameras is not altogether a walk in the park.
My good old friend Mr Cock-Up (who the keen reader will remember from many a post in this blog, like this ) has decided to leave the comfort of my kitchen at home where he lurks against the Aga and join me here on stage. He pops up quite dramatically on Friday afternoon when I have to shorten my demo by 15 minutes as we are running late due to over ambitious chefs earlier in the day hogging the limelight.
As I stand there telling folks how a hot pan is a must to get your tattie scones that perfect golden colour I realise to my horror that mine aren’t browning, instead of putting the temperature up on the horrid stove I have switched the damn thing off and now can’t get it to go back on again. I smile and talk and realise the only way out of this one is to make a joke and hope the back stage staff and sound guy are listening and will come to my aid. It works and a kitchen elf pops up and calmly turns the cooker on. These things are sent to try us……
My last talk of each day was the Festive Home Fragrance back at the lifestyle theatre which was right after the cooking demo and left no time for messing about or over-running. Sometimes it was touch and go if fragrance was going to hit the stage in time or not.
The four days of the show were hectic, mad, fun and non-stop. There were wonderful people and great comments and feedback. People who read the blog and want to say hello.
Cherry Menlove is also demonstrating in the Lifestyle Theatre doing some lovely festive table settings and making a gorgeous door wreath with fresh pomegranates and foliage. We compare notes and keep meeting up between demos and talks.
Catching up with some of my favourite chefs like Neil Forbes from Café St Honore in Edinburgh and spending time with the lovely Marie Claire and her assistant Kelly who organise the cooking theatre and deal with all the mayhem. Spending time catching up with my friends who have stands at the fair every year and give it there all. Sometimes this is our only catch up in a year so there is a lot of news to impart in snippets of conversations snatched over the four day show.
The private party on the Saturday evening is a great time to catch up on the gossip and find out what is happening with everyone else. How is the foodie business in France, are boots and hand crafted jackets selling well in Ireland this year, how tricks with the jewellery? All life is here, it is commerce and companionship, it life and families, friends and aquantances who all sail in the same boat for this short adventure in time.
Country Living Fair is a wonderful time for me, I look forward to it every year, back when I had stands selling hand crafted items and now going there to do demos. What do I prefer? The demos definitely. Standing selling my wares is so not for me, but put me on a stage with a microphone and I can talk the legs off a donkey and don’t even care if the dreaded Mr Cock-Up comes to visit, guess I’m just a bit of a media tart at heart.
So that’s it for another year. Back home to unpack all the boxes and baskets today. Total the book sales and catch up with emails and step carefully into my own kitchen now and realise that there is nothing in the fridge and I’m going to have to hit the shops and get back to the real world of cooking, cleaning and getting tea on the table.
Life goes on……