Saturday, March 23, 2013

(Nursery) Crime and Punishment

Those of you who have read my ramblings for some time will be familiar with the traumatic trail known as the Nursery Rhyme Walk. I had long harboured dark fantasies of taking a blowtorch to those badly painted and peeling boards featuring warped monstrosities from the Salvador Dali school of children's decor.

With the departure of Old Boss and the arrival of Acting Manager a window of opportunity had presented itself, under the guise of  change and improving the visitor experience. My proposal went somewhat as follows:

"Can we rework the existing walk and turn it into a nature trail?"

"There's nothing in the budget for a new trail."

"Not a problem, what I have in mind won't cost a thing."

"All right then."

A few days later saw myself, McColleague and Lovely Warden standing amid the forlorn Nursery Rhyme exhibits wondering just where to start. We were quivering with excitement, this moment had been anticipated so eagerly for so long.

In the end McColleague kick-started things. Take that, Little Pig. We hate you and everything you stand for.

Then it was the turn of the Three Little Pigs' houses. What the Big Bad Wolf couldn't achieve Lovely Warden most certainly could. Huffing and puffing is all very well but opposable thumbs and an ability to fling bits of wood a very long way is what's needed to top the food chain. It was all as deeply satisfying as we'd imagined it would be.

All too soon we found we'd demolished the whole walk. Humpty, Little Miss Muffet, Snow White and the rest of the mutants had been uprooted and flung into the abyss. We'd closed off the steep stairs of doom down to the swamp of despair and re-routed the walk entirely. No more would families with pushchairs find themselves confounded by uneven steps and tricky gates. Toddlers would no longer have to negotiate nettles and clouds of mosquitoes on their way to be terrified by what looked like Eeyore, if he was made of plastic and been left on a hot radiator for too long. Now they could stroll contentedly through our nature meadow and on down to the bird hide. They could even buy a bag of bird seed to take with them to top up the bird feeders if they so chose. Not only had we improved the walk for nothing, we had found a way to generate a tiny bit of income while improving the visitor experience.

This was surely a triumph and would look good on my annual review. I could almost taste the rewards to come.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Big Red

"So, you want to build a gingerbread cottage on the Nature Trail?"

"Yes. Just a temporary one. It's for my exciting new interactive Halloween event I have planned. I want to tell the children the story of Hansel and Gretel and have them actually discover this amazing house made of sweets and lollipops as we walk the trail. I want to inspire awe and wonder."

"I've got a shed, some off-cuts of wood and a bit of leftover paint."

"That'll do."

                                       *   *   *

A few days later saw myself, McColleague and Lovely Warden bringing these mundane entities together to create magic.

"Well, I don't know about you, but I think it looks amazing."

"Compared to the old Nursery Rhyme Trail a couple of garden gnomes and a plastic windmill would look amazing."

"True. But once we're in costume and the group are in the right frame of mind, I am quite sure this simple garden shed with painted bits of wood stuck to it will be utterly convincing as a magical gingerbread cottage in the woods. Don't look at me like that. It'll be fine."

The day of the event was a perfect October day, sunny and crisp. I planned to take three guided walks over the course of the afternoon, each one telling the tale of Hansel and Gretel.  I wanted it to be as interactive as possible, so the children were actually part of the story. So many guided walks and tours are hugely dull for adults, let alone children, and I wanted this to be anything but.

I was the story teller and guide, Big Red. I used to be Little Red Riding Hood, I informed the groups, but I grew. I had personal experience of these woods but not to worry, the big bad wolf wouldn't be bothering us today (at which point I showed them the wolf's head prop I had cunningly stashed in my wicker picnic basket.)

The picnic basket also contained a big bag of breadcrumbs which the children were encouraged to dip into so we could leave a trail just as Hansel and Gretel did and which would be obligingly eaten by ducks, sheep and, on at least one tour, a visitor's dog.

 McColleague was a part of each group, coming with us from the start, nonchalantly carrying a large shoulder bag. As we drew nearer the gingerbread shed I paused for a while in the orchard, to recreate Hansel and Gretel's fearful night in the woods. "Close your eyes," I instructed, "and listen. What sorts of noises can you hear? What sorts of noises do you think you might hear in the night?" Some of the children were entertainingly creative with their hoots, growls and comedy parps.

While all this was going on McColleague would leave the group and hurry on ahead to the shed, where she would complete an amazing transformation using only the contents of the big shoulder bag.

After sufficient time had passed I would move the group on to the next chapter of our story. Hansel and Gretel, tired and hungry, finally stumble across  a dwelling in a clearing. Hooray, they are saved! It looks like a shed, but no, it's a totally edible and completely realistic gingerbread house!

The children would eagerly gather round as I recounted the delight with which Hansel and Gretel broke off pieces of chocolate and biscuit and  gorged themselves silly. But what they didn't know was that in this house lived.....a witch!

And bang on cue McColleague would come flying out of the shed and chase the children, cackling madly. The kids never failed to shriek and run while their parents collapsed in laughter.

Eventually things would settle down again and we would finish the story, with Hansel being slowly fattened up and the short-sighted witch being fooled into thinking he was still too skinny to eat when he hands her a bone instead of his finger to squeeze through the bars of his cage. We re-enacted this with a small plastic dog bone from the pet shop as I didn't want to risk upsetting anybody with a real one.

The tale finally ended with clever Gretel tricking the witch and pushing her into her own oven. I did the pushing for this bit. Interaction is all well and good but knowing how keen over-stimulated children would be to shove a wicked witch headfirst into a painted fireplace I thought it best to cover this part of the roleplay myself so that McColleague and her pointy hat would survive to perform another day.

By 5 o'clock we were all interactived out.

"There aren't any more tours now, are there? Please tell me that was the last one. Please don't put me back in the shed."

"That was the last one, McColleague. All that remains now is to close up, cash up, put more lippy on, open the wine and partay."

I am a great believer in balancing hard work with an equally demanding level of play. Some people might say that having been on their feet all afternoon, talking non stop, having to do it all again tomorrow, they might prefer to have a quiet evening in on the sofa, resting. Those people are sensible and have probably never known the pain of having to open a visitor attraction the morning after with a head full of ball bearings. However, these people do not get to go to my after-event parties, so who's the real winner here? Answers in the comments, as per.

Big Red

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The First Goodbye

She arrived in a cardboard box over twenty years earlier. The runt of the litter, she wasn't even chosen by my husband when he came to select a cat. She came free with his purchase of her sister, a somewhat larger, cuter kitten.

She was tiny, mottled brown and orange in colour, with large yellow eyes and pointy ears. She looked a bit like a gremlin but was far gentler in nature. She might take on a burly spider if feeling particularly fierce. She would follow me down the street as I walked my infant daughter to nursery school. I would fear for her safety on the road and turn round to chase her off back home only to find her behind me again a few steps later.

Her purr never worked properly. It stuttered like a faulty engine. I would wake in the night with it buzzing choppily in my ear as she licked my hair and dribbled contentedly on my head. She always drank my water. If I put a glass down she would immediately put her head in it. She loved barbecues, appearing as soon as the coals were lit and begging shamelessly for food, taking off across the shed roof with a piece of sausage held proudly aloft.

She outlived her better looking sister by eight years. I was worried she would be lonely and brought new kittens into the house, which gave her a second childhood for a while as she chased them about. She grew skinnier, tattier, louder, madder. She became a suitable mad old cat for a mad old cat lady. She only wanted human food and would yowl incessantly, annoyingly, until I caved in and shared. She developed a relaxed attitude to litter trays, preferring, in her old age, to go in exciting new places like games consoles, behind the television or in my shoes. Her favourite place to sleep was in a cardboard box on the landing.

She always hated travelling, being in the car frightened her. So the vet came to us because I couldn't bear to see her scared. The tumour in her abdomen, he told me, was the size of a cricket ball. I was doing the right thing, he said. Would I like to stay? Of course. I held her and talked to her and then she was gone.

My husband carried her out of the house in her cardboard box, an unconscious echo of her arrival so long ago.

It's no different to any other relationship, really. There will always, at some point, be a parting. It hurts and on some level we know it's inevitable but, for the most part, we forge ahead regardless, keeping our focus on the journey. If we didn't we would never have pets, children, lovers, careers or even new shoes, we would be too scared of losing them. This deliberate act of forgetfulness is what enables us to keep starting anew. The pain fades and only the silvery scars remain to remind us.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

From a Distance

I'm still here. More or less. Perhaps a mile and a half to the west of where you last found me but still on the estate itself, if no longer residing within the medieval manor house.

I no longer work for my former employer, the national conservation charity I gave my love and commitment to for 14 years as they decided to make me redundant and replace me with a younger, more compliant model. There, that's finally resolved that particular cliffhanger!

With the benefit of time and distance I finally feel able to continue lovely old Stately Moans. I have a good 2 years worth of material to write up and many blanks to fill. I have missed writing here but if I'd tried to do so before now I think the keyboard would have suffered irreparable vitriol damage or else it would just be pages of "bastards, bastards, bastards" or variations thereof. It probably still will be, to be fair, but hopefully with a witty, wry spin that will take the edge off. The bastards.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Under New Management

That is the current situation.

We no longer have a Property Manager - the Boss I referred to in posts past left in April 2009 and was never replaced. We now have a General Manager who was appointed in March 2010 and whose brief is to manage not just us but all the other properties in this region. He will be Re-Structuring the Portfolios. He will be unveiling his masterplan in July. Until then I, McColleague and indeed all my colleagues are in limbo. I may not have a house to live in, love and blog about in a month's time. Or I may be Queen High Poobah of the Western Territories. I just don't know.

Bear with me and I'll keep you updated. I mean it this time. Really.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Cold Inside

"It's so cold my face hurts," moaned McColleague as she returned from the freezing conditions in the Great Hall to the relative warmth of my office.

It is very cold in there. The old circa 1970s storage heaters stopped working a couple of years ago and curatorial debate over replacement heating is still in progress. (For those of you familiar with the Lord of the Rings, Ents make speedy decisions in comparison with those responsible for deciding what light fitting or heating system should be put in place in our historic buildings.) In the meantime McColleague and I plug in electric heaters (and lamps) where we can and put on several layers of clothing before venturing into the showrooms.

"I don't know how our volunteers are going to manage when we open in a couple of weeks time. This cold snap isn't forecast to end anytime soon. They're likely to freeze to the flagstones."

We ponder for a while.

"I'm not lifting the ban on hot drinks in the house," I assert. "Not after the coffee ring on the chest incident."

In the end we decide to let the volunteers keep the front door closed and stay in the Parlour, the warmest room in the house, emerging only to meet and greet visitors as they spot them coming up the path. That and as many trips to warm up in the staff room with a cup of tea as they like should help keep hypothermia at bay. And possibly taking it in turns to wear the Stately Moans fleece (budget restraints mean I can't buy one for each individual, sadly. I'm happy to share mine though, if people don't mind the fact it has paint on it and biscuit crumbs.)

"It's all moot though if the cold snap continues and the drive stays icy."

This is true. The drive down to the house is two miles of twisty-turny, slippy-slidey ungritted ice when the temperatures drop to below freezing. Getting down is a scary yielding to gravity and the patron saints of bobsleigh teams. Getting up is impossible. I spent two weeks back in the January snows dependant on Lovely Warden bringing in supplies over the fields on the Gator and what I could wrestle off the cows in the barn.

"Ah well, it's all beyond our control. Now give us that fleece and I'll go back and finish the bat covers."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

About a Metre

Regular readers of Stately Moans will be aware that Lovely Warden is very good at making things, just as long as they happen to be things that are very big and made of wood.

I have written of the enormous table, the giant bird hide, the mighty mallet and more.

Talking to Lovely Warden in my office one day I happened to ask him how big his current woodworking project would be when completed.

"About a metre," he replied, stretching his arms wide, like Jesus on the cross, to demonstrate.

"That's not a metre," said McColleague, shrewdly assessing the extensive span of his outstretched arms.

"Yeah, it is," he affirmed. "This is the way I was taught to measure a metre."


"When I was a boy. I was taught that the width of your arms - like this - is a metre."

"When you were a boy."


There was a pause while we all digested the significance of this and understanding dawned as to why Lovely Warden's creations are all so massive.