As news begins to trickle in about confirmed exhibitors for the London Boat Show, I wonder what it is that will greet us this January. When we fight our way through the ice and snow, past the big gruff guy who directs the taxis and the small gruff guy who roasts the chestnuts, what will the organisers have done to fill the vast hall spaces of the Excel venue?
If the past is anything to go by, we will see a dwindling boat contingent beefed up by cars, bikes, camping gear and binoculars. We’ll see cameras and kitchen units, glue purveyors and holiday letting agencies – and all manner of things apparently unrelated to the theme.
But is this really a problem? After all, hot tubs have been a permanent show fixture ever since I can remember. The same goes for elaborate garden sheds and summerhouses - and that’s to say nothing of the furniture, the art, the watches, the sunglasses, the wine clubs, the boys’ toys and the books. These things possess no direct relevance to boats but if diversification is the only way to ensure the continued exposure of our niche pastime to a broader market, then so be it. Better that than simply allow the show to fade into obscurity like the scores of regional events that have either disappeared or broken down at the concept stage.
Even off the top of your head, you could mention five or six UK events that have failed in the last decade. The North and South Wales Boat Shows, the Sports Boat & RIB Show, RIBEX, the Birmingham Boat Show, the Earls Court Boat Show and the Liverpool Boat Show spring immediately to mind.
I have therefore adjusted my expectations to such a degree that if I go to a boat show and find nothing but boats, I tend to be (1) disappointed and (2) concerned for its future. Certainly, the London Boat Show has its detractors (not least because the Southampton event appears to retain such popularity) but I enjoy my annual trip to the capital, so even if they have to rename it the ‘Handbag, Horse and Hot Tub Show’ I will continue to recommend it to anyone who will listen.