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.