Fishing Lines: I'm usually fair game at the game fair but the party's over now

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The Independent Online

A friend expressed surprise that more than 130,000 will turn up for this week's CLA Game Fair. "I can't believe so many people are interested. Come to think of it, I've never seen you as the type, either," he said. Turned out he'd misheard and thought I said the Gnome Fair.

Although the concept of thousands wandering around Blenheim Palace clutching figurines of tiny, aged men with long beards proved rather appealing, the reality is slightly less bizarre. But over the years this three-day event has provided more than its share of entertaining moments.

I'm going there to promote my magazine 'Classic Angling', but in the early days I helped my friend Chris the Stuffer publicise his taxidermy activities. One year I even fished a competition that was organised as part of the activities. Chris, the little scamp, had an announcement relayed on the PA system that "the man who writes fishing in The Independent is on peg 22, and said he'd love to chat to readers". Sure – but not in the middle of a competition with a £500 prize.

Another year, I entered the casting accuracy tournament only to realise, as I stood on the platform in front of hundreds, that the guy alongside me was the world casting champion, Peter Anderson. He only beat me by about 3,000 points.

The Game Fair is usually an excuse for three evenings of merriment, with parties every night (I think the Irish Tourist Board one is continuous). Curiously, there often seemsto be a party at the 'Classic Angling' stand.

Not this year, though. I've got to behave. The memsahib is coming along to ensure I spend time selling subscriptions, rather than closing the booth and clearing off to chat with my mates. Normally, I muster about 40 subs over the three days. She turned up two years ago and doubled that in a day.

I can't even slope off on the excuse that I'm going to get some food. We will be livingin a very whizzy Compass Avantgarde 130 motor caravan, courtesy of Wellsbridge Sales of Ramsey, meaning hot water rather than cold showers, proper meals rather than hog-roast sandwiches, ironed clothes rather than rumpled ones.

I won't miss the tent. It takes hours to assemble. A couple of years ago I gave up and slept in my car. It also meant living on fry-ups. The only variation from sausages and bacon came at Harewood House, Leeds, when I collected dozens of crayfish from the nearby lake. But they got fried too.

We're on Fisherman's Row. Even so, it's not easy to attract people when you're just selling subscriptions. I once tried a guess-the-weight pike. Anglers' estimates ranged from 5lb to 51lb (over the British record). It was actually 12lb 6oz. Don't trust a fisherman who doesn't weigh his catch scrupulously. They don't have the foggiest.

But the health and safety mafia stamped on that idea without a special cooled cabinet, so this year I'm sharing a stand with a reelmaker, Garry Mills. When the punters pour in to watch him at work or buy his beautifully made creations, my plan is to sign them up for a sub. Might even sell 'em a gnome or two as well.

The CLA Game Fair is at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, from 25-27 July

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