Thursday, November 29, 2007

Natural Materials

McColleague needed an implement with which to apply the floor polish so that it went on in a smooth, thin layer.

Lovely Warden suggested a paint roller.

"But it will knacker my back, having to kneel down to use that," she protested.

"I'll make a handle for it," he countered.

McColleague showed me the finished product today.

"Other properties get proper high tech conservation equipment," she said. "I get a big stick affixed to a paint roller."

"What did you expect from Lovely Warden?"

I was reminded of a classic Lovely Warden moment the week before. McColleague and I had been with him in the landrover, as we zipped about the estate making final preparations for our festive events. "I just need to get some more diesel," he announced as we pulled into the forestry yard. The storage tank is equipped with a meter and readings are to be noted before and after fuel is taken. Lovely Warden rummaged fruitlessly in the landrover for a pen and paper. There were bug collecting jars, magnifying glasses, CDs, chainsaws, rope, toolboxes, batteries, torches - everything imaginable, other than pens or paper.

In the end he found a small, flattish piece of wood and scratched the meter readings into it with a nail. "You are such a warden," I told him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winter Games

It is the time of year we prepare for our annual Christmas events. Without fail the weather is glorious the week beforehand and then changes as soon as we need to go outside to set up. Last year it was extreme winds which decimated our gazebo, our trees and marquees. This year it was unexpected snowfall.

"I have to say," I announced to McColleague as I looked out of the office window at the slowly melting snow, "that I am not overly keen on the concept of foliage gathering today."

"Lovely Warden is on his way," said McColleague, closing her mobile phone firmly. "Get your waterproof trousers on."

I did indeed put my waterproof trousers on. They are a fetching olive green colour and smell very much like plastic. McColleague has an identical pair, only in a smaller size. We were issued with them last year as part of our emergency salvage kit. They do very well for wearing in wet, muddy and scary conditions, but they do restrict your leg movements. Once we have put on our green jackets, wellies and gloves there was only one thing left to complete the ritual - the Foliage Gathering Hat.

Mine is green and deerstalker style, with handy ear flaps. McColleague had forgotten hers (oh, the shame!) so had to wear the only hat we could find, which was a furry Santa Hat.

"Do I look stupid?" she asked.

"No," I lied. "You look very festive."

Lovely Warden arrived in the Gator. He was admant that before we went foliage gathering we had to go to the bird hide and restock the bird feeders.

McColleague and I waited patiently while he did his rounds.

"Come on! It's cold!"

"And where's your foliage gathering hat?"

"I left it in the Warden's shed."

We detoured back to the shed. Lovely Warden reappeared with an exciting fleecey hat, with very long ear flaps.

"I feel inadequate," I wailed. "His flaps are bigger than mine!"

"I haven't even got any flaps," pointed out McColleague.

"I have also brought a safety modification for the Gator," announced Lovely Warden, brandishing a length of orange webbing.

At this point I must stress that under no circumstances would we make an impromptu passenger seat for the Gator from an office chair and a length of orange safety strap. We certainly wouldn't drive it around the estate with someone claiming to feel like "king for a day" and we would not laugh about "catching some air" as we went over molehills at high speed. We would simply gather our mistletoe and holly, safely and sensibly. And anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Blind Ambition

Earlier this week I went on a training course, where I learned all about the various aspects and issues pertaining to disability.

In our organisation we pride ourselves on making every effort to provide as enjoyable an experience as possible for all our visitors. If people are unable to access rooms upstairs, for example, we provide a virtual tour instead (or, in my smaller, less affluent property, a photograph album depicting the the rest of the house). For the visually impaired visitor, properties are encouraged to compile a sensory list of items which can be touched, or plants that have a particular scent, or sounds to listen out for, like the chiming of certain clocks, and so on.

Our trainer on the course was blind himself, and had a wonderful tale to tell of a visit to one of our properties (thankfully not mine) where he was relentlessly persued by a room steward who could not fathom why he didn't want to touch Winston Churchill's walking stick. He personally does not get a great deal out of handling items, but the fact that properties have items specifically for handling by the visually impaired, or have constructed a "feely box", has led to some volunteers believing these have to be utilised. In our trainer's case, having politely declined the offer of a feel of Winston Churchill's walking stick, he was then followed through three further rooms by a mystified volunteer, urging him to "go on, just touch it!"

I did have to point out that this was not discrimination due to him being disabled, but that our room stewards will cheerfully pursue anyone. "They were taught that on a different course," I said. "They must engage our visitors at every opportunity. If you don't want to be engaged they're at a bit of a loss."

Mind you, I wouldn't stick my hand in an anoymously presented "feely box" either, if I couldn't see. Actually, I wouldn't even though I can see.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


"Have you seen Lovely Warden's bird hide yet?" asked McColleague.

"No. What's it like?"

"Well, it's big.....and made of wood."

This came as no surprise. Lovely Warden is very good at making anything you need, as long as you need it to be big and made of wood. The Wizard's Staff we commissioned him to make as one of our Halloween props must have been 8 feet tall. He did cut a bit off the bottom at our request, but you'd still need to be a 7 foot tall wizard to wield it properly. The bicycle racks he created could stop a tank. "Sturdy" and "robust" and "that's somewhat bigger than I imagined it would be" are the words that spring to mind when you witness one of Lovely Warden's creations.

The bird hide in question is part of the new nature walk that is being created over the closed winter months. "Do you want to come and look at it?" asked McColleague.

So I donned my welly boots and set off with McColleague into the woods.

"There," she pointed, as we reached a clearing. "Behold, the Bird Hide!"

"It's a bit bigger than I expected," I said.

"Yes," agreed McColleague. "When I'm inside it I can only just see out of the window so he'll need to build some kind of step for kids to stand on."

It is a good height for me, though. We went inside and waited for the birds to appear. Lovely Warden has nailed many of his handmade bird boxes to the surrounding trees and crafted mighty, monolithic bird feeders and tables to install in the clearing. If you wait, patiently, quietly, in his bird hide you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the man himself, putting out food for the birds, to lure them to his avian Eden.