Visit 30: 4 - 6 June 2010
We return to Holton Lee at the end of a lovely hot sunny Friday afternoon, ready for Saturday's summer fair. On the way in we see Matt, the environment manager, and thank him for making us the new caravan steps. He has clearly been very busy, along with a team of staff and volunteers - the camping field is marked out for the various events; tables are already set up for the stall-holders; everywhere has been clearly signposted; and Twin Oak Tree field has been laid out as a carpark. Everyone has now gone home for a good rest before an early start the next day.
I need a good rest too, as I have spent the last three days working with Graeae Theatre Company to develop their comedy wheelchair line dancing troupe, the Rhinestone Rollers, which they first produced two summers ago. Since then we have danced at the Liberty Festival in Trafalgar Square, the Hackney Paralympic Handover celebrations and the Barbican Bite Festival at Gillet Square in Hackney. This time around we are incorporating Graeae's own unique versions of the pavane, can-can and Swan Lake along with our more familiar material - great fun, but totally exhausting. It is wonderful to sit in the caravan with a beer and listen to the birdsong - for the first time ever, we hear a cuckoo close by.
After a very early night, we get up slowly to a hot and sunny morning; perfect weather for the fair. We tidy up the caravan and set up the garden chairs in the orchard in case anyone drops by, before putting up some brackets to help support the caravan ceiling where it is sagging. These go in fairly easily, which is a relief. By 11, after unloading the scooter from the back of the van, we are up at the camping field to see a stream of cars making their way on to the site for the official opening by the Mayor. A band is playing in the marquee, the Dizzy Feet Dancers are performing in the arena, the stalls are already in full swing and the hog roast is attracting its first customers.
The first two hours pass by in a blur - watching belly dancing in the arena while eating a sorbet; winning a photograph album on the tombola; buying Holton Lee honey, along with tomato and strawberry plants that Derek has grown in the garden behind the caravan; buying a handmade whistle from the man who makes charcoal on the site... I am particularly pleased with some handmade bracelets that I buy from Sue, who used to work at the Barn, as they expand and therefore are large enough to wear over my wrist splints. I am also pleased to buy some lavender bath salts for my aching muscles!
After lunch - a burger and more sorbet - I register the new teddy bear for the teddy bear parachuting. As I have seen in the morning, this involves a long-suffering fireman winching up baskets full of teddies to the top of what is claimed to be the highest fire engine ladder in the world, and throwing them off wearing custom-made parachutes fixed on with rubber bands. A name is required for all entries, so I christen the bear Maggi in honour of Maggi Hambling - she is a painter, after all! The child in front of me eventually decides - after turning down every name for her bear suggested by her mother - that her teddy is too scared to jump at all, which slows things down considerably. Julie says that she certainly wouldn't let any of hers jump!
At 2 o'clock the first basket full of teddies is winched up the ladder, and before I know it Maggi's name has been called and she is parachuting down towards us. When I go to retrieve her, I am given a 'bravery certificate' with her name on it, which makes my day. Definitely one for the caravan wall! Then we go to watch the assistance dog demonstration in the arena, organised by a local group who raise funds to support people using all kinds of assistance dogs with everything from vets' bills to special food. We have already met them at their stall and have been so impressed with their kindness. For small charities like Dog AID, who train Genie, this type of support really does make all the difference in the world - as indeed the dogs make to us.
The rest of the afternoon rushes past - we are overtaken regularly by people who are enjoying sitting on a trailer and being pulled around the site by a tractor; elsewhere people are trying print-making, stone carving and willow sculpture; the pets' corner, bouncy castle and face painting are going down well with the children; there is go-kart racing with some magnificant hand-made karts; there is really more going on than I can take in or write about ... At the end of the afternoon I finally manage to get down to the stables, where there has been a steady stream of visitors to see the horses and watch - and in some cases take part in - carriage driving. The whole day really has been a wonderful success, and I am so pleased for everyone who has worked so hard to make it happen.
After a coffee at the stables I return to the caravan, where Julie and I have some tea before setting off, separately, to the woods to take photographs. I am intending to leave Genie behind, partly because she is so tired and partly to avoid her putting off any deer who might be around, but she sees things differently. Julie has anticipated this, which is why she has gone off separately! As we set off, Genie bounces along beside me to show that she is not, after all, completely exhausted; however, she is soon happy to hop on to my footplate instead of walking. The woods look very different now that more of the pine trees have been cleared, and I stop to take photographs. Then we go over the boardwalk through the reedbeds, where we surprise a lone deer who bounces off in dismay. The rest of the herd are clearly far away, having had the sense to give anywhere that visitors can get to a wide berth today. As we come back across the boardwalk, we pass Julie coming towards us, but leave her in peace in case any deer are left after all.
Instead we head back to the caravan, but before we get very far three New Forest ponies come cantering towards us out of the woods. I reach for my camera, intending to get some photographs as they run away from us again, but to my surprise they stop and surround us instead, touching noses with Genie and exploring every inch of the scooter. Clearly they think both are extremely cute! Genie is not so pleased to see them, and regrets not staying behind after all, but since they ignore my commands we have no way of making them move and Genie just has to stay quietly on the footplate. Fortunately, after about 20 minutes and when Genie is getting increasingly stressed, Julie comes towards us and helps to distract them. However, the ponies then follow us all of the way to the boundary of Twin Oak Tree field, and we only get through the gate without them with great difficulty. After that it is a relief to return to the caravan and spend a quiet evening watching the final of Britain's Got Talent, thanks to the continuing generosity of our neighbours in allowing us to hook up to their power supply.
We spend the next morning packing up, although I have time to find a stick to take back to the studio, intending to mount the antler that I found last year on it. As with the antler blog, I have cleaned and bleached the antler over the winter, and have since worked over it with gold pigment. I want to make a kind of ritual cane with it, and at last find the hazel that I need to do this after hunting unsuccessfully on the past two visits. Then we set off for Wally and Denise's flat, as they have offered to make us Sunday lunch before we return to London. It has been a flying visit - or parachuting, in Maggi's case - but a packed one, and I hope it marks the start of better times for Holton Lee again.
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