1993 was the last time John and I went to the Royal Show. We were regular visitors to the Royal Show; we looked forward to setting aside the date in our diaries, at the beginning of the year. The Royal Show was held at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, not far from where I live. No matter what time in the morning you set off from home, the journey was fine until the last four miles when you had to drive down narrow, windy roads and the traffic up to the car parks was ‘chocker’; we just ground to a halt, and waited, as we all slowly trickled into the car parks. You’d think there wouldn’t be a problem because there were five very large car parks, in very large fields. But a lot of people went to the Royal Show. The car parks were spread around the circumference of the site and there was a logic (that I didn’t really understand) as to which car park you would be directed to, depending on the direction you were coming from. For as long as I had been going to the Royal Show (21 years), I had always ended up in Car Park 5, not by choice but because that’s where the route took us. All the Car Parks had an enormous balloon above them, with the number of the car park on it, that way, wherever you were within the ground, you could look up, see the balloon you needed and walk towards it. Simples! (As the advert says). For 21 years I had always joked about how awful it would be to forget which Car Park you were in. Welcome to 1993.
In 1993, there were road works around the site and traffic was re-directed; we followed those yellow AA signs taking you to the Royal Show. We didn’t recognise the route but that didn’t matter because signage was good. We parked the car and off we set, making a mental note that we were in Car Park 3. A mental note isn’t good enough when you have spent eight hours walking around an enormous show, with a huge number of stalls, stands, displays, activities; everything from cows winning Best in Show to learning how to spin wool, from cookery demonstrations to the Carpet Bag stall, from willow weaving to wood carving. At the end of the show, carrying a large number of bags, we set off for Car Park 5. By the time we left the showground, I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t Car Park 5. Didn’t we come in a different entrance? Question for a Pub Quiz: do you know how many Ford Fiestas had been made since they were introduced in 1977? Let me tell you, most of them must have been in Car Park 5. The saving grace was that ours was brown, not the most common of colours. There was no brown Ford Fiesta in Car Park 5 that day. If we weren’t in Car Park 5, where were we?
We did that exercise you do when you lose something, retrace your steps. The problem with retracing your steps is that we needed to know what the entrances, the other four, looked like, to see if it jogged our memories. Numbers 1 and 2 did even tickle the memory so we didn’t even attempt those car parks. On the way to Car Park 3, I saw the Country Living tent; we hadn’t been there so I thought we should pop in. This was about distracting me from going into meltdown. The Country Living tent wasn’t all that big but it did have several stalls. And there it was, a tea towel. It was pinned on some wooden orange boxes that were being used as a bookshelf, giving it a rustic feel. A joy to my heart. Country Living Magazine describes itself as “the lifestyle magazine for those who either live, or dream of living, in the country”. And what better for a lifestyle magazine than a tea towel; if it was Country Living then it was going to be good quality. I needed to buy this tea towel: (a) because I had never found a tea towel dedicated to the Royal Show itself, so I needed one from one of the stalls and I hadn’t bought one that day (b) it was simple, stylish, classy, with the logo of the magazine repeated across the fabric and just the title written (I am assuming the rose was the logo back in 1993, as it appears to be a duck today) (c) if it was from a lifestyle magazine, it was going to be good quality, durable, linen and absorbent, just what I like (d) if I bought it, I would always remember the day I forgot which car park we had parked in at the Royal Show (e) it would act as a trigger for a lesson to be learnt, always make a note of the place you parked your car (I think I have a tea towel from Watford, dated 1998, and that will demonstrate that I did not learn the lesson!).
After visiting the Country Living tent, and getting excited by a tea towel, Car Park 3 ‘rang a bell’; it was not the entrance gate and its location, but the number. Fortunately, because we had been distracted, more cars had left the site, so there were fewer in Car Park 3. I will never forget the size of that car park, or the fact that there was still a lot of cars there, or the fact there were a lot of Ford Fiestas. Thirty five to forty rows back, there was a little brown Ford Fiesta, our Ford Fiesta. I could have cried; I did cry with relief. I couldn’t have faced actually wandering around Car Parks 1, 2 and 4. Once sat in the car, feet rested, I could get excited about the fact that I had bought a tea towel. I can honestly say, that when I use it, I remember that panic I had when I thought I wasn’t going to find the car; as I said, lessons to be learnt. However, it is the same panic I’ve had at Gatwick Airport, Tesco in Beaumont Leys, NCP car parks in Watford and the streets of Stow-in-the-Wold. Will I ever learn?
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