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