Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween Happenings

Here you see McColleague hard at work, making final adjustments to our Grim Reaper mannequin. We had decided he was a tad over-stuffed for someone skeletal, so she is removing some bubble wrap. It was a pose that begged to be recorded for posterity.

Our hanging creations are complete, and now in place in the trees. They have proved hugely popular with visiting children, and I have spotted many having their picture taken with our various creatures. We call this one Spike.
This is Swampy.
This is Grunt.
This is Yvonne.
And this is the Bad Bishop.

I have since received a comment card. It reads:

"My husband and I enjoyed the tea room and the house but we felt that as practising Christians the witches and corpses depicting Halloween weren't quite what we were expecting!"

I have many thoughts on this point of view, but the one I shall leave you with is that it's still a lot less scary than the Nursery Rhyme Walk.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bonus Features!

Yes, much like those fascinating bonus features on DVDs, giving you insights into the special effects and creative processes involved in a major film production, I am delighted to give you a peek behind the scenes in our Halloween Creature Workshop!

It's hard to credit, I know, but our extensive props are not bought in at great expense from professional events companies.

No, believe it or not, we make our creatures ourselves!

Behold, a monster in the making! It looks, at first glance, to be a couple of rubber eyeballs nailed to a piece of wood. OK, while it is a couple of rubber eyeballs nailed to a piece of wood, once we add a mask and a bit of a body it will be transformed into an amazing creature of the night, to delight and terrify!
See? Here's one I prepared earlier. Isn't that incredible? Personally, I find there is no better way of assessing how effective your finished creature will be than to dress it up in a bit of muslin and put it on a sit and ride lawnmower in the courtyard.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


It's that time of year again. The time when I become very excited about Halloween and spend a lot of time making or buying new props. I find it hard to resist showing off my new acquisitions in the scariest ways I can imagine. This means I spend a lot of time waiting in shadowy corners so I can leap out for encounters like this:




"You utter, utter cow. I almost had a heart attack."

"Sorry, Mildred. Ooh, is that Derek coming up the path? Don't tell him I'm behind the door!


And so on.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Glove Affair

I went over to the Ticket Office to offer my Visitor Reception Assistant a tea break. He gladly accepted and headed off to get a drink while I stood at the desk, poised to welcome our visitors and issue tickets as necessary.

In a quiet moment I looked on the shelf under the desk. This is where newspapers and magazines tend to accumulate. A book or a crossword puzzle are useful tools to help keep boredom at bay on those long wet Wednesdays when nobody visits.

What could be better than something to read to keep you company on a lonely afternoon?

Behold Gert and Colin! It appears there is an entertainment alternative to books or newspapers after all.

OK, so he actually keeps these on standby to entertain families with young children as they come through the Ticket Office, but I prefer to imagine the scenarios he enacts with them when he is unobserved.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


"What's going on today then?"

I smiled through the screaming in my head and answered without a trace of irritation.

"It's our 17th Century Weekend."

Every single bleeding event this happens. I have banged on about it before I know, here and here. It's just so hard for me to fathom how they can sign their name beneath the event listing on the rota and then walk through a sizeable civil war encampment on their way to the house, and still have to ask what's happening. I mean, I was even in full 17th century costume myself. Was it really likely it was going to turn out to be the Autumn Walk or something?

Once the volunteers had established exactly what was going on the rest of the event went entertainingly well. The highlight was, as is often the case, entirely unplanned. Part of the scenario was the skirmish that took part outside the house, by the moat. I, and the rest of the household, would watch from the house as Parliamentarian and Royalist soldiers clashed. Cannons roared, muskets fired, swords clashed. It was all very colourful and noisy. The first skirmish had gone without incident earlier on in the afternoon, and now it was time for the second one.

I was sat at the table in the Great Hall, the rest of the household in character with me, playing cards, while the servant children swept and tidied in the background. Then the sound of gun fire is heard from outside and the men of the house grab their weapons and rush outside while the women and children look anxiously out of the windows.

By the moat soldiers were fighting in hand to hand combat. The public were safely cordoned off on the opposite side of the moat, facing the house. The fight progressed, a sword was thrust, the losing soldier fell to the ground and should, at this point, have just played dead for the rest of the battle. However, he fell with some momentum and rolled....and continued rolling, straight into the moat. There was an almighty splash and an "ooooh" from the audience. He later told me that his thought, as he fell, in full armour, was "just how deep is this moat, anyway?" Fortunately the water is pretty shallow and he immediately re-emerged, spluttering and covered in mud and pond weed. The public were unaware of this, as there is a five foot drop into the moat, so from there vantage point he had simply vanished from view.

In the house we were doubled over laughing. What made it funnier still was that the children were laughing in that infectious, purely joyous way they have, pointing and telling me "That's my dad! He's got to stay there now for the rest of the battle!"

And he did, crouching there, back to the wall of the moat, while the skirmish continued around him.

One of his daughters gleefully informed me how she'd been messing about by the moat the evening before and had slipped and put her foot in the water. "He sent me back to the tent to get changed and said I had to stay there until he said I could come back out again." No prizes for guessing what she said to her dad once the event had finished.

At last the scene ended, the audience dispersed, and two strong men helped to haul the unfortunate moat diver back out again. "I'll have to go back in again," he gasped. "My sword's still in there."

So, back he went, to fish around in the murky depths. He did find his sword eventually, raising it aloft triumphantly while we stood on the bank, laughing and shouting "Behold Excalibur!"

I do feel for him though. Getting the smell of disturbed moat sediment back out of woollen and leather garments is no easy matter. Authentic though.