Bomb scares, attendant road closures, the worst stormy weather for years - yes, it's the weekend of the Viva! Road show in London.
Not only were we visiting the show, we were exhibiting for the first time. Our carefully hatched plans started to unravel however as the Friday afternoon for setting up arrived. Deciding, rather cleverly I thought, to avoid congestion charge and indeed congestion we travelled by train. This did result, I admit in the two of us resembling heavily loaded pit ponies as we struggled with our loads - 15 metres of green felt, large display boards, 2,000 very heavy leaflets, extension leads and all the other paraphernalia that at the time seemed absolutely necessary but now struggling across the concourse at Victoria station seemed a bit excessive - and to the welcome taxi.
We had organised the show carefully and one of our ideas was to have one of our advertisers promote their products. We thought this would add variety and interest to our stand as well as allowing visitors to try the wonderful skin creams and sample the bodycare products the company produces. All this was sorted and the company was even sending Dan to help us. Dan couldn't get to us on Friday afternoon as planned to set up as the roads were closed and traffic was at a standstill, so he decided to come early on show day instead. Thinking his scooter would be better than his car, but overloaded with products for the show, he set off in heavy rain on Saturday morning. Unfortunately he came a cropper and was clipped by a car that was overtaking him. Dan is OK but had to go to hospital to check he had broken no bones, so could not undertake to help us after all. Of course, we were all relieved Dan was not seriously injured but this was a big blow to us.
We managed to get our stall as presentable as possible - a computer with demonstrator for vegetarian and one for veggie places and I secretly resigned myself to very little interest. The first hour was fairly quiet but then the trickle became a stream and it was not long before we had a large number of people visiting our stand. Some came to say hello and thank us for the great service Veggie Places provides; others came and promised to fill in some of the gaps where our veggie coverage is patchy or update us with recent closures or openings; visitors came to see our new map facility that tracks places anywhere in the world or to ask us to show them how to do an advanced search. Vegetarian attracted interest too: from advertisers keen to be associated with our strong URL, visitors complimenting us on the progress of the site and in particular the new competition and blogs and other stall holders coming to say hello and to be able to put a face to a website.
As a committed vegetarian whose primary motive in setting up the websites was not to make myself money but to enable vegetarians to gain easy access to vegetarian information, I was especially delighted to meet so many people with a similar outlook. In fact, apart from the strident woman who demanded of me: "Are you the person who writes about pus in milk?" everyone was really friendly and positive and we all thoroughly enjoyed the day. I did think I might get some negativity from strict vegans who I sometimes think are a bit dismissive of us mere veggies, but my thoughts were unfounded. It just goes to show we should focus on our similarities, not our differences.
When I got the chance, I had a look at the other stands. Here are some I remember off the top of my head: Frys and Redwoods had long queues all day - they sample their products and also sell them at a special show rate - in fact most stallholders offer an incentive of some sort. Both Frys and Redwoods feature on our site and both have excellent products . all vegan. Veggie World were next door to us. We brought an ice box specially so we could take home a huge amount of sesame chicken, mock duck and chicken strips. I don't eat mock meat every day, but I do like it for a change and it's especially useful when I have meat eaters coming for dinner. Plamil were promoting their wonderful chocolate and I got myself a jar of tarragon mayonnaise, which is my favourite. I defy anyone to be able to tell it contains no eggs. Bourgeois Boheme have a wonderful range of shoes and sandals and are always so friendly and helpful. Zest foods have a large range of vegan baked foods for special diets - great to keep in the freezer when your wheat-free friend visits. There were over 100 stalls, many of them run by volunteers or small family businesses and it's a great opportunity to explore their products or services in more detail - far better than just looking at a website!
Despite having had an operation recently, Heather Mills managed to attend the show, which was a great boost to us and Lynda even got a picture with her.
We packed up in record time - less than fifteen minutes - the promised blow out veggie meal "on the house" a great incentive. Now no longer Viva! virgins, we look forward to our next event.