The amount of time and effort put in by volunteers is staggering, as is the amount of commerce driven by prospective boat buyers, ale drinkers, consumable seekers, pie and pastie eaters. You get to see owls (essential elements for waterways restoration, Aickman insisted), the fire brigade cutting open a small car and paratroopers. If you slope off to the fringes of the show, you discover a small bit of water - the Soar - and a few boats.
Criticism of the efforts and dedication is not on, and it probably rakes in shedloads of money for the IWA and twenty other societies and campaigns, but it all feels like the circus it has become.
I'm not one of the in crowd, but I suspect that the National is most probably hugely important as a social event for those who are. The waterways community is a tight-knit one and the summer series of rallys and shows strengthens the community.
But in 2009, there looms in the background - like eight gargantuan power station cooling towers - the threat of dramatic cuts in funding for all government departments for many years to come. BW, the EA, county councils and local councils are going to be holding much smaller purses. Canals and waterways - especially of the softer, cuddlier 'partnership' variety - are almost bound to be be very low down the priority list. Look at how DEFRA managed to repay the farmers fiasco from other DEFRA obligations.
I enjoyed myself at the IWA National Festival, but as I sat in the queue to get on the M1 at 5.30, I wondered if those early Nationals were 'enjoyable'. Surely, as well as the enjoyment, I should have been stirred, outraged, fired up and energised?
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