My Weekend: My First Show

If I were my Tutor, I would probably be a little surprised by the things that I say I get up to at the weekend. Without fail every Friday, my Tutor team ask me: “so, what about you? What are you doing this weekend?” And so I expect they’re probably a little surprised when they get the replies that they’ve got for the past few weeks – “I’m off to Liverpool,” or “Oxford this week,” and most recently “Well, I’m spending my Saturday at an optical trade show.” In fact out of all these replies, this was probably the one that vexed them the most.  Liverpool was easily explainable – my Grandad’s in hospital, and we’re going to visit him. Oxford, similarly so, my Uncle lives there and I visited a college. But an optical trade show. What even is that? And why was I there?

First question first. What is it? Well, according to them:

“the largest optical event in the UK, attracting over 7,500 international visitors and more than 200 exhibitors at this year’s edition in February.

Organised in partnership with the AOP, the annual show provides a platform for optical professionals to:

  • Source the latest eyewear, technology and solutions for their business
  • Gain invaluable CET points as part of the world leading education programme
  • Network with fellow industry peers through one to one meetings or parties”

Boring, right? I’m not an optical professional or an eyewear exhibitor. So why was I there? Well the simple answer is my Mum. A high-powered 21st Century City-type, she was putting on an Eye to Eye lecture entitled ‘I can see clearly now…but what can I see?’ (Sadly, despite my best encouragement, Mum refused to put on either James Blunt’s Heart to Heart, or I can see clearly now the rain has gone). And I, well I was free catering staff. Never one to splash out on unnecessary additions to the budget, I was the ‘hired’ help for the day, serving drinks and crisps to VIPs from the lecture. And hired was a very loose term – more like ‘coerced’ or ‘bullied.’ No pay, no food, no incentive. And yet my brother and I were there in full force. Everyone was keen to know our ulterior motive. What did we want?

Well, ultimately, it would give us a whole host of brownie points that we can probably choose to levy at any point in the near future. Say we were given 100 hypothetical points each, we could probably wangle our way out of taking out the bins, or putting away clean laundry for a week. But realistically, that’s not going to happen in our house. And it has to be said that brownie points have a very short life span. In fact, I’m pretty sure my Mum teaching me how to start (and stop) the car for 40 minutes this afternoon has exhausted them all already. Basically, my ‘hiring’ was either due to the fact that I don’t have many friends, and so there’s nothing I can say to get myself out of situations like this e.g. “Oh I’m going round to James’ house that day.” Or I’m just the perfect child and would agree to do anything to help my Mum out. I prefer to think it’s the latter, but no one’s perfect and I’m not a limpet, so it’s probably the former.

But to be honest, we didn’t have a choice. And I’m not sure that even ‘James’ would have got me out of it. And though everyone was asking us why we agreed to come, the answer was that we kind of didn’t agree to come. It was hazily talked about over Christmas when I was in too much of a food coma to really pay attention, and then one day in January we were sent an email saying we were booked on, and that was that. But as the day went on we came into the full realisation of what our motive was, and it was a several pronged fork that we held tightly in our palms.

Admittedly, waking up (yes, I actually had to wake up at a set time on a Saturday, shower, dress, do my make up, eat breakfast and get out the house) was a trifle difficult. I still have my winter duvet on and boy is it a struggle to get out of bed. From a dark, warm, cozy cocoon to a cold shower. Yippee. Not.

But then the first wave of thrill of excitement came over us. We were going to be smugglers for the day. And yes, we are teenagers. And no, doing something naughty does not get any less exciting as the years go buy. In fact, I would hasten to say that it almost becomes gradually more exciting. Trade shows are strict on their catering, and high in their pricing. Mum had ordered from them 1 Apple Juice, 1 Cranberry Juice, 1 bottle of white wine, 40 plastic glasses and a plate of (slightly stale, curling, 1/3 sliced, filled with indistinguishable) wraps. £70.

So we had to pack 2 suitcases with – 1 apple juice, 1 orange juice, mineral water, still water, paper plates, plastic plates, 4 sharing bags of assorted crisps (including a nut free/gluten free/dairy free/taste free option), napkins, leaflets, 2 bottles of white wine, a bottle of red wine, a knife, a pair of scissors, 6 Viennese whirls, Tesco’s finest lemon cake, and 12 Thorntons’ caramel shortcake bites. And we had to get it through the doors, and onto our table without them noticing. The game, my friends, was on. Having been sniffed by an explosives dog, we made it through. Thankfully the dog was trained to smell chemicals and not smuggled food – it could well have been a different story I was telling you today.

And what did we make it through? Well – a red carpet-esque channel, dark, and lit periodically with striking blue lights up the walls. We felt like we were either at a movie premiere, or on the Apprentice, dragging our business suitcases behind us, with our VIP passes round our necks. We were truly in business.

But then disaster struck – we had to find our stand. And in an exhibition centre, that is by no means as easy as it sounds. W225. In a sea of spectacle frames. And we never found W225. Or at least W225 was not what we were expecting W225 to be. Some pristine white pouffes and a coffee table in front of a Calvin Klein model wearing limited clothing and glasses was just not cutting it. But next door was a table, and a table with nothing on, though we discovered afterwards (much to our (obviously) hidden amusement whilst trying to cover up the smuggled in food with our bodies), when the caterers came to reassure us that our 200 champagne flutes had arrived, that this table was quite obviously not ours. But we annexed it – and no one actually came up to us to claim it. And we had to move a ‘where am I?’ board that was blocking our nice table to a place where you were definitely not where the arrow said you were, but that’s by the by. I don’t think we confused too many people, perhaps only the ones who had downed a few too many glasses of prosecco and Mozart chocolates from Silhouette (our Tesco’s lemon cake was really not up to par…).

We did our duty, fending off our food from the hoards who were not entitled to it (I’m not stereotyping, but being honest when I say that a nice man from Pakistan had brought his wife, 4 children, his grandmother, mother and aunt with him, and was trying to flirt with me for free food) – sorry, it’s not going to happen. I can see through the flirting. We served drinks and nibbles smuggled and unsmuggled alike. We cleared up – and only misplaced the knife for a couple of hours (thankfully no knife crime was committed, and if it had then the suspect couldn’t have gone far with a knife that was quite pungently emitting a citric drizzle odour). We recovered the knife, popped it in the suitcase, were resniffed by the explosive dog and passed again. We passed with flying colours. It was on to the afternoon.

Mum had meetings, and having downed cookie and cleared up any of the remaining crisps from our table we weren’t too hungry. So we started on a campaign to collect as many freebees as possible from the 100s of exhibitors that were there. We spoke French to a nice man from Toulouse making frames from a 3D printer, a woman selling glasses accessories, optometrists, opticians, ophthalmologists, ophthalmic surgeons, technicians, designers, models, charity workers, marketers, lecturers, sales staff and management teams. We took selfies and participated social media campaigns. We sussed out who had the best things on offer, and who would be best at getting the goods. We were engaging and charming. And we were there for the freebees. And freebees we got: 4 heavy duty shopping bags, a contact lens cleaner, 3 cartons of popcorn, 2 liquid glasses cleaners, 5 glasses cleaning cloths, 4 spectacle keyrings, a box of chocolates, 2 boxes of mints, a 1/2 bottle of champagne, 16 chocolate coins, 2 chewits, 2 black jacks, a note book, 2 sets of post it notes, 13 pens (some with highlighters, styluses and torches on the end), 4 highlighter flowers, 3 photos (of us) and a headband. And about 1 million brochures. And on the upside to all these freebees – I can tell you an awful lot about frames, manufacture, fitting, design, marketing, and what makes you stand out.

We came home from our first ever show, our first ever time driving into London (we usually would get the train), and our first successful day as business associates, smugglers, and freebee snatchers. We were exhausted, but as far as Mum was concerned the day had been successful, and that was all that mattered. We started out the day thinking that it was going to be an absolute bore. But we were surprised at how much we enjoyed it. And perhaps the main thing we gained from the day wasn’t how to engage with people, work experience, freebee-snatching skills or social media publicising, but actually that in life, especially in business, there are days that you’re not going to look forward to as much and there are days which you think are going to be boring and a waste of time. And all you want to do is stay wrapped up in your bed away from everything. But if you put in your all, if you smile and engage, not only do you learn a lot, and meet loads of new people, get brownie points, and a good night’s sleep, but you enjoy yourself, and you create an experience you’ll never forget.

So maybe my Tutor team think I’m crazy spending the weekends like I do. They think I have no time to do anything. And maybe, in an academic way, they’re right. But I have fun. And I know that the next two weekends aren’t going to fail to disappoint – next week I’m #goingsolo to Paris. The following weekend I’m heading to Cambridge, with a night out planned in London. Working hard is great – but I sure play hard too.

And at the end of the day – if my day didn’t go so well, my bed will still be waiting – and the affair with sleep can begin again, until I reach a new day and a new lease of life. But far better to have your bed as a prize, than your weekend life. With a bit of optimism, sometimes the weekends you thought would be the hardest work and require you to get out of the cosiest bed, turn out to be the greatest fun. I think somewhere, there’s a lesson for all of us.

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