There is a touch of pantomime season about July (well, early July, to be precise), not related to the fact that genuine laughter can still occasionally be heard coming from our office, but there is a particular moment each year when I walk in one morning and proclaim, “alrighty [sic] everyone, this is an official announcement – the Director has started to lose her keys!” This needs absolutely no further explanation for my team. They could be keys to my car, house or, as in the most recent case, the car plus office (the car containing the spare office set… not the best of contingency plans), which find themselves deposited variously in absent moments in kitchen cupboards, Buster’s bed or in fact just anywhere. Cue huge embarrassment this year, as our TV producer recently drove me home after a frantic turning over of the complete office, saying, “Liz, are you sure they’re not in your handbag…?”
This hopefully minor, but occasionally major, aberration is an annual event in itself and it starts happening somewhere around the end of June, remaining sine qua non the most reliable indicator that we are officially in meltdown mode, heading, ready or not, for Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials – a time when there is no headspace left for anything other than the job in hand.
All are now in overdrive, and even Buster is fed up with the lack of attention as he wanders from room to room in search of anyone who is not too busy to fuss him. As the working “day” slides inexorably into the evening, the Competition and Operations departments are now in full battle mode. Fence judge training has taken place and Mark Phillips, our course designer, has visited again to hold discussions with our TV producer. Entries for the CCI 4* have closed at a healthy figure, with nine countries represented, while results from the qualifiers for the Burghley Young Event Horse competition are still coming in.
“Operations” as a term is, of course, a convenient catch all for virtually every logistic consideration in putting on an event such as ours, and Katherine and Sophie preside over a staggering number of areas of responsibility – security and policing, traffic management, insurance, TV, catering and licensing, connectivity, H&S, not to mention the unenviable task of coordinating the site build by hundreds of contractors in the Park over the course of the next five weeks. Suffice to say, there is a whirlwind of meetings, site visits and planning sessions, and there will be little time for chat until post event debriefs are over. Working in the events industry is like marmite – either loved or hated with no half measures – and as the event draws closer the camaraderie and sense of anticipation fuel what might otherwise be a somewhat discharging battery.
Outside the office, temporary stables are being constructed and Jack Tar from Woodhouse, our main site contactor, has set up his base camp nearby – this brings a mixture of emotions. Jack, with his wicked sense of humour, genuine affection for my team and no nonsense work ethic, is welcomed back each year as one of the family; but his arrival also brings with it the realisation that the inevitable is about to happen.
Inside the office, Emily has arrived to help in the Tradestand department for three months, and I wonder what she really feels, having hit the ground running scarcely 3 weeks ago and hardly come up for air since. Sol, who looks after internal comms and marketing, has been working her socks off with our appointed agency, Brand Rapport, and achieved some fabulous promotions with national media titles, and has the unenviable task of keeping our social media campaign up to date with the LRBHT countdown.
Our IT and scoring guru, Paul Harris, popped by recently – partly I’m sure to assure me that he will have his annual haircut before September – which is another of those significant waymarks in the two months pre-event. Paul is one of those delightfully maverick, unconventional and unquestionably brilliant people on whom much of my world depends on event, and one member of the crew who is absolutely not permitted to fall under a bus between now and September! I am trusting he will not read this, lest he might decide not to have his mane trimmed.
Meanwhile, we are surrounded by other reminders that time is no longer on our side. The annual summer camp of the Burghley Pony Club (how things have changed since my PC days) is as I write on its final day outside our kitchen window, and inside the kitchen the collective sugar consumption seems to be on the increase – to the concern of our chief medical officer who called in last week and whom I overheard giving a little lecture (which fell on deaf ears) on the subject. The “Friday only” rule for cake has gone out of the window and daily treats are appearing, courtesy of Alice, Sol and Carmel, and Jason, Carmel’s understanding husband. Even the Pony Club has taken pity on one and all and has been handing bacon rolls through the kitchen window.