The John Griff Column: When the old ways might be more than a match for the new ones.

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If ‘death’ and ‘taxes’ are the two constants that we all live with, perhaps ‘change’ should be added to the list. But is that change because change is good, or change for the sake of change – and is there inherently anything wrong with retaining the old ways, particularly when and if they can be seen to work?

In the past few weeks I’ve been recording an archive of voices for a business which marks 150 years of uninterrupted trade under the same family name. I’ve spoken to the 4th, 5th and 6th generations who, in turn, have personal recollections of the 2nd and 3rd – which is comfortably in excess of a century. It’s been fascinating to hear the recollections and anecdotes of family members as well as employed staff and their views on how things used to be done from the 1950s and beyond, as distinct from the 21st century and today. In some areas, very little has changed and it’s clear that in those areas the company has adopted the principle of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – which has clearly worked for them.

In some respects, I witnessed the same last weekend at the Crick Boat Show. As the event announcer and show ‘voice’, it was my responsibility - and pleasure – to deliver a series of scheduled and ad-hoc announcements from an office over the 3 days of the events, and in all weathers. The show has been running for almost a quarter of a century, championing boats and the boating life on the inland waterways of the country, as well as making the case for local and national authority funding to help keep buoyant an industry worth into the billions to the economy. Many years ago Britain almost lost its network until, with largely volunteer support and much physical effort, a number of inland waterways in decline were brought back from the brink to provide habitats for wildlife and a haven for boat owners old and new. Effort – and funding – is in constant demand though and both were subjects that this year’s show was keen to drive home the message about, even to an already interested and invested audience.

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I’ve had an interest in the show for quite a number of years – my first ever interview on Radio Northampton was with the man who runs the marina and I’d recorded a number of interviews to promote the show to my then audience. I’d been on narrowboat holidays with my family before, but it was the show which in a way started to sow the seed of boat ownership in me. There was something traditional, slow paced and yet very active all rolled into the same picture which did the trick. Whilst I’ve not had the cash to do much about it yet (boats are not cheap with mooring and maintenance being constant costs), Crick gives me an annual shot in the arm of enthusiasm. One day, one day…

Where tradition and 21st Century innovation meet - Crick Boat ShowWhere tradition and 21st Century innovation meet - Crick Boat Show
Where tradition and 21st Century innovation meet - Crick Boat Show

Being the newbie in the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of the show, I approached my involvement in exactly the same way as I’d prepared for Outside Broadcasts or motorsport PA work in the past. Having my own system works well for me and if its boundaries fit with the wider needs of the show, so much the better. Throughout my career I have preferred to use my own equipment where I can, using the logic that I’ll be more effective by having that familiarity and more confident too. Do it often enough and you also learn how to work with the needs of event organisers, making life easier, more reliable and so effective for all. And, of course, that really helps when it comes to repeat bookings. Many times I’ve been asked to do speeches and talks about life behind a microphone and I always incorporate one fundamental question – can you read the time and if you have to be somewhere by a certain time, can you be relied on to be there? If you can’t get that right, find another way to make your living.

It was for this reason that two days before the event I went to see the build-up going on – learning where everything would be, what my facilities would be and any limitations I would have to work with. It also gave me a chance to meet the people I would be working with and showing some support for what they were doing. Although this naturally meant the brilliantly unflappable and indefatigable Show Director Peter Johns who was my boss, it also meant crowd marshals, parking and security staff, as well as the technical guys operating the PA and Wifi services. Look after them, and they look after you – simples. It’s also how you learn the shortcuts to making life simpler – and less stressful. I wanted to make sure that even before the show started I knew how to fit in with everybody and not be caught out through my own ignorance. I was joining their crew – not the other way round.

In the event everyone was both accommodating and welcoming. Armed with a hi-vis tabbard and 2-way radio, I sauntered out into the show area during its Trade Day to acquaint myself with the site. Big mistake. Forgetting that wearing a hi-vis immediately confers both the wisdom of Solomon and all matters pertaining to the show on you, I was rapidly put on my toes by being asked where specific exhibitor stands were, and which train would be the best from the closest station to the show to get to Birmingham New Street. Stand 82 was rapidly found and Long Buckby seemed the logical transport answer and it was a good learning point – if I was going to be visible I ought to gen up on things.

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The Crick Boat Show is one of those events which has evolved, but gently so. It embraces historic practices but does so with modern day values and facilities. It is very comfortable in its own skin too, because over 24 years it has witnessed most eventualities and has a strategy or protocol to meet them. Being part of it this year brought back to me the lessons learned from years at other events but which I hadn’t applied for a long time. One example was that of dogs left in cars, over which a lot of people get very exorcised. When announcing a dog left in a car, you never talk about dogs directly – instead you ask the car’s owner to return immediately to their vehicle – the mere use of the word ‘immediate’ says everything it needs to. It was the same with substantial accidents at race circuits like Silverstone, where every driver has a team and possibly family present too. Far better to let the extraction crews do their work than alarm any one with misplaced hyperbole.

There’s a lot to be said for both innovation AND tradition. One drives development but the other brings wisdom, constancy and confidence. Those who shun one at the expense of the other might be missing a trick – and if it ain’t broke, why DO you need to fix it?

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