Sunday, 30 August 2009

Me Vs Children

As Sponsorship Assistant with Team Sponsorship here at the Book Festival, my duties vary widely- one day I'm overseeing elegant Scandinavians quaffing fizz in a Georgian Board Room, the next I'm giving out free milk (courtesy of the lovely Graham's Family Dairy) to eager children.

Which brings me nicely to the topic in hand. Children.

The Book Festival loves children. We have a whole bookshop just for them. Not to mention a free Activity Corner run by some lovely ladies who know a thing or two about colouring in. We also have an amazing kids programme, run by Sara Grady.

The thing is, I am a big kid at heart, and I quite often get jealous of all the great stuff we have on offer for children. I mean, even my book of the year so far is a kid's book. Check out The
Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently - no matter what age you are!

When Team Sponsorship recently played host to Scottish Power's Family Day- a day where the sponsor and guests can have some good food, good fun and see some great events- they hired some brilliant entertainment to keep the kids amused between eating and viewing, and facepainting and a genius balloon modeller were on hand. So you can imagine I was in my element. Face-paint stars? Check! Silly balloon hat? Check!

However, it seems that the children are not always on my side. For, when outside playing with some of the boys, they took it upon themselves to attack me with their balloon swords, telling me to 'Talk to the blade!' Which is all very well and good, but I was completely defenseless. A small girl took pity on me and lent me her balloon-butterfly, but it was hardly a match for those swords.

Children- 1, Me- 0.

The same day none other than The Gruffalo was visiting the Festival. After Julia Donaldson's event, The Gruffalo himself left the theatre, followed by a horde of small children, much like a hairy Pied Piper. Those children didn't get their sticky mitts on the Gruffalo though, he hot-footed it to the sanctuary of the Author's yurt, where Press & Marketing Assistant Julia and I found him. We politely asked Mr. Gruffalo if he would have his picture taken with us, and we got to give him the biggest hug!

Children- 0, Me- 1.


Beyond the ‘No Public Access’ sign on site lies the Author’s Yurt, a mystical hideaway for all the authors, participants and guests who grace our lovely gardens. For those of us lucky enough to work here, the Yurt is a fascinating place to observe the great and the good of the literary world, as well as the newbies and debut authors who are appearing at the festival.

The Yurt is home to secrets, rarely belying the clandestine goings on that occur beneath the fairy lights. But I’m offering you a sneaky glimpse beyond the boardwalk, a fly on the wall opportunity to see what we see. Obviously, I have to watch what I say here – there are a crack team of Yurtlets scurrying around who keep a keen eye on any potential intruders, and they would be quick to throw me out if I divulged too much information from behind the scenes. So I will give you merely a few snippets of what we have witnessed in the Yurt over the past two weeks:

  • A giant papier mache seagull’s head (named Gully by the creator, a name too friendly to convey how terrifying he actually looks).
  • An inflatable snake and cat food.
  • An inflatable palm tree, propped up against the reception desk.
  • Fairy wings hanging on the coat rail.
  • 600 Gruffalo badges, 600 Gruffalo balloons, and one real, live Gruffalo.
  • Several cake thieves who shall remain unnamed – but they know who they are.
  • The impressive quick-change routine at the back of the Yurt by our lovely British Sign Language interpreters.
  • Increasingly early requests for us to bring out the wine (earliest request has been 11.30am. Breakfast wine and croissants – how very continental).
  • A small child pushing a dog on wheels (a toy, so permitted on site).
  • Will Self’s dog (a guest of the author, so technically permitted on site).
  • Roy Hattersley’s dog (an author himself, so technically permitted on site).
  • Numerous musical instruments, including Frank Skinner’s banjo, Mathias Malzieu’s ukulele and Richard Holloway’s marvellous singing voice.
  • Icelandic snacks (Thank you Ran, Hermann and Ingunn – not so keen on the cough sweets, but we love the chocolate wafers).
  • The most impressive stookie this festival has ever seen.

And that’s just the stuff that we can tell you.

There's a moose loose aboot this...festival garden.

Poor Catherine Rayner. If one of your most famous characters is an animal which rhymes, then people are going to spout poor poetry at you whenever occasion arises. Occasion did arise, rather marvellously, yesterday, when a giant MDF Ernest the Moose was lovingly illustrated with exceptional skill by Catherine, to the wonder of children and adults alike.

The Moose was yet another seemingly unsolvable puzzle cracked by our phenomenal tech team. Seriously, those boys and girls are good. Not only do they sort out all of the author's technical requests (including one memorable incident with two step ladders, a curtain rail and some sheeting), they also ensure that our toilets don't block, our heating doesn't falter, our tents don't blow away, and our radios, well, keep radio-ing. So mounting a moose to the railings surrounding Prince Albert, and then protecting it from the rain with a bolted-on parasol was nothing, nothing!

As if a Moose wasn't exciting enough, yesterday was also a day of birthdays, and therefore, naturally, of cake and fizz and rounds of applause. Lois and Jennifer looked radiant in their balloon hats (the height of sophistication, let me assure you) and everybody was particularly tickled by the presence of several old staff members, and one especially sweet Icelandic baby.

Today is a day of goodbyes: our luggage shed is overflowing. Our Yurt is full of authors promising to catch up with one another soon ('in London', usually, which fills my little Scottish heart with indignation). We are hailing fleets of taxis to transport out authors northward, southward, and often back over the sea. But it is not not not not not all over yet. For a start, the fat lady has not sung yet. And although there is no fat lady to hand, there will be karaoke at the staff party, and I imagine that will suffice. And we still have a couple of marvellous days ahead of us.

And oh, the memories: for example, Rachel Hazell's blog with its haunting picture of EIBF audience heads (see top of page): Not to mention the Guest Book, with its generous words of thanks. And definitely not to mention my slightly cavalier style of filing, which means that I will probably be disentangling threads of admin for the rest of my youth, and thus will be eternally encumbered by the finer points of travel and fees 2009. But until that glorious close, fill up your Sunday wisely: spare some time to come and view the Moose.

Raymond Blanc recommends...

Raymond Blanc graced the RBS Main Theatre last night with his presence and he was as lovely and entertaining and passionate about food as his television appearances would suggest. I'm a terrible cook who lives vicariously through cookery programmes (Blanc's 'The Restaurant', 'Masterchef' and its celebrity variant, anything with a good montage scene and fabulous tasting sessions...), so it was a bit of a thrill to hear him talk so engagingly on his life and journey as a chef, from nurse, cleaner, glass polisher and tray carrier, to Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons today. Getting him to tell me a quick and tasty recipe started out as a dare, but after he'd spoken I found myself propelled along to the end of the signing queue to do just that. Even though he'd been sitting there for an hour and a half, patiently answering questions and signing books, he indulged my bizarre request and said, 'we'll do a fish bouillabaisse.' My spelling bee skills failed me in the speed and nervousness of the moment. So he said, 'ok, we do a stew instead'...

Enough for 4 people:
200g cod steak with skin on
2 pinches of salt
4 twists of black pepper
40g unsalted butter (my one wise moment was to ask if the butter should be salted or not)
capers (he initially said these could be optional but changed his mind at the end and said, no, they're lovely, keep them in)
diced croutons
2 tablespoons of parsley (I seem to have written 'parsnip' but know that to be wrong - see point above about nervousness)
juice of 1 lemon
50ml of water

Season cod with salt and pepper
Panfry cod on both sides for 4 - 5 minutes till caramelised
Start to melt the butter on a medium heat (if it's too high it'll burn) and add the hot water to form an emulsion. The water should sizzle onto the butter (is this how recipes are normally written and am I making sense? RB certainly did, though my notes, less so)
Pour emulsion over the fish and add your capers, parsley and croutons and squeeze lemon over.
Tuck in.

If life doesn't give you enough time to make a four minute omelette, life isn't worth living.