By the time you read this, my car will be packed and I will be preparing for the trek to Buxton in Derbyshire for the latest of what was once a regular pilgrimage to the Hillhead exhibition.
That pilgrimage was – sadly – interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown and so it is a full four years since I last skipped down that familiar haul road and then trudged back up it again after a day of work.
Of course, the fact that a journalist is attending an exhibition is not Earth-shattering news; I have attended at least a dozen Hillhead shows over the years and hope to squeeze in a few more before I hang up my boots.
But Hillhead 2022 carries upon its broad shoulders more significance, more importance and more eager anticipation than any previous outing of the show that I can remember.
The lockdown could so easily have sounded the death knell for this exhibition and many others just like it. The organisers of the old SED show in the UK were unwilling to wait out the recession that was gripping the nation and they abandoned an industry institution with barely a glance backwards.
The organisers of Hillhead, however, are made of stronger stuff. Rather than folding and surrendering, they doubled-down. They invested and they expanded. And they have emerged from a period of enforced stasis enlarged, renewed and reinvigorated. But that is just one of the many reasons why Hillhead 2022 needs to be a success.
As an industry, we are beset on all sides by bad news. Rising fuel and materials costs, an industry-wide skills shortage that just refuses to die; and a Government that is unwilling or unable to provide any real clarity on its planned spending on roads, hospital, schools and a multitude of other key areas of investment.
Hillhead 2022 will not provide a cure for any of these things. What it will do, however, is provide the industry with a reality check. It will provide a welcome break from media exclamations of impending doom and it will allow companies and individuals to get a true feeling of the state of the construction, demolition and extractive industries nation.
It is my hope that those that attend the show will emerge from the quarry with some renewed optimism; optimism that they can then share with those that were unable to be in Buxton.
More than all of this, Hillhead 2022 presents the industry with an opportunity to reunite. I say this as a person who works largely alone, who is at his happiest fishing alone, and who regularly longs for the tranquillity of solitude. I actually miss people. I miss the interaction and the banter. I miss reminiscing with old friends about old times. I miss meeting new people and hearing new ideas and opinions.
Through the bravery and steadfastness of the Hillhead 2022 organisers, we all have a forum through which to meet, greet and to reunite.
Against that background, I sincerely hope that Hillhead 2022 is a rip-roaring success. I hope the exhibitors merge from that massive hole in the ground weighed down with full order books. I hope that the show’s attendees are buoyed by positivity that the energy-sapping haul road rises to meet their booted feet on their way home. And those that were unable or unwilling to attend think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks, that were with us at Hillhead 2022.
The organisers deserve nothing less; the industry has earned it; and – frankly – I need it. We all do.
I hope to see you in Buxton.