A Law of Nature
Whenever a party of schoolchildren turns up for an educational visit something will expire on the route they were due to take through the property.
At the Big House where I used to be, before coming here, part of their tour would involve going below stairs, to see how the servants worked and lived. This included visiting the well in the cellar. We would walk the route and check everything, thoroughly, before they arrived. Without fail we would later get to that part of the tour, gather the children around the well, and then spot a dead mouse floating, bloating, in the dark water. You may as well just give up at that point. You can try to carry on, to engage them by asking how they think it would have been, having to carry buckets of water up all those stairs, but all you will hear from that moment on is a chorus of “Urgh! Look! A dead mouse! Urgh!”
We made a similar error in leading them through the basements, past the stuffed animals. “What did that one die of?”
“Um….I’m not sure. Perhaps it was run over. It looks like it was run over”. (It was particularly badly stuffed).
“What did that one die of?”
And so on.
A week or so later we received a bundle of drawings and letters from the schoolchildren, on the theme of their day at the Big House. My favourite was “We did saw a ded mouse”, with accompanying picture.
Then there was the day we were waiting for the coach to arrive, laden with excitable primary school children. As we leant against the gate in the car park we became dimly aware of a background buzzing sound. A dark cloud of flies was hovering at the opposite side of the car park, at the entrance. Uh-oh. On closer inspection it turned out to be dark cloud of flies over a dead sheep. (Sheep take a lot of care to plan their deaths so that they are on a main visitor route if possible. Prefereably on a road or footpath. On one occasion on the back doorstep of the holiday cottage. If they can get a crow to peck at their eyes for effect, so much the better.) There followed a frenzy of phone calls, to try to get the shepherd out to remove the body before the coach turned up. “OK,” I said, “worst case scenario, we’ll just try to stand in front of it. Maybe they won’t notice”.
As it turns out my master plan wasn’t necessary. The shepherd arrived on his quad bike, loaded the carcass onto the front, and roared off with moments to spare. The coach then pulled in to the car park and the visit went as planned. Until one of the children said, apropos of nothing, “When we drove in today we saw a man with a sheep on his bike”.
“Did you? Ah, well, that was the shepherd, and he was just moving the sheep to another field”.
“It was on its back. Its legs was up in the year”.
“It was probably sleeping”.
Another Law of Nature
No matter what you tell the children, what you show them, no matter how engaged they seem to be, how exciting the activities are, what they remember afterwards will be what they had for lunch, what they played after they had lunch, poo (“Darren did step in sheep poo when he got off the bus!”) and “ded” animals. On the plus side, it makes our display of their letters and drawings really, really entertaining.