Friday, May 21, 2010

Muncaster Reveries, Last Chapter: Or, Back and There Again

And so today I'll finally tell the end of the story that really started six years ago, when I became Milwaukee's Official Municipal Jester, and ran a rambling road of preparations, experiences and delightful terrors on the way to the end of the International Jester Tournament during Muncaster Castle's Festival of Fools 2007.

For the earlier parts of the story, click here. I'll now continue from yesterday's thrilling cliff-hanger, where I was hoping to quietly slink away to chat with people, rather than having to revisit the so-silent crowd I puzzled that morning.

After the last act had performed a spectacular competition show, with juggling and fire and fire-juggling, and I was embroiled in a very serious conversation with a group 7-to-10-year-old children about the future of screenwriting and the joys of churning out 2-minute plays with no punchlines, Sadie found me and gently ushered me into the castle's dining room, which had been doubling as a sort of green room for those about to go on during the competition. We were all supposed to wait there for the awards ceremony. Embarrassed as I was, Sadie and Vivienne Soan managed to distract me brilliantly by asking me charming questions about how I'd constructed my clothes -- and all Phooligans know I love to jabber on about motley haberdashery! So many students ask me why I bother to spend so much time, money, research and energy on my motleys. Well, it pays off, one way or another!


(I don't know why, but I like the way Paul's sort of peeking into this shot, like a one-eyed Jack on a playing card. I just like it.)

And then we all had to troop outside, to await our fates behind the little stage, while Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington re-introduced us each to the crowd and then announced the judges' pick for the winner. The crowd cheered when I came back on, which I attribute to them having just been seriously revved up by the last several excellent acts, and also I think the children might have been energized a bit by my goofing off with them all day; my interactions with them may have caused them to forget my dreary performance earlier. In any case, cheering happened, and it surprised me.


Paul Garbanzo took the big prize, to thunderous accolades, and once he'd been hatted and coated and adorned with medals, Patrick handed around the consolation prizes -- each of the non-winning competitors received a handsome, simple wooden bowl.

The hilarious Martin Soan had changed costumes about 457 times that day, and he'd appeared for the awards dressed as the Pantomime Mrs. Havisham (yes, that one, from GREAT EXPECTATIONS). I do not have a picture of Martin dressed as the Pantomime Mrs. Havisham, but I want you to know that it's one of the funniest things ever. Chair, dress, wig, everything: hysterical! And I wish I had video to show you of the moment he received his wooden bowl from Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington, whereat he pointed into the bowl and said, "Hey, there's no money in there!"

The audience enjoyed this. But taking it completely in stride, Patrick addressed the crowd directly, on the mic: "He says there's no money in there. Look here, fellow, I'll have you know that branch came through my sitting-room window!" And the crowd roared with delighted laughter.

While the roaring went on, I grinned dazedly, and the little wheels inside my brain clicked around and lined up: in 2005, a devastating storm struck Muncaster Castle, taking two huge branches off Tom Fool's Tree. The family had saved the wood from that ancient chestnut tree and had our prizes fashioned from it. I held in my hands a piece of Tom Fool's Tree.

That felt a bit like winning. It still does. I have the bowl at home, in a nice case. Here you can see me, gripping it while getting jostled for the obligatory group portraits:

Picture 174

(Back row: Mike Hancock; Compere Maynard FlipFlap, Muncaster Fool Emeritus; Etienne; Martin Soan in his Elizabethan attire. Front row: Jason the Juggling Jester, Paul Garbanzo, and yours very truly madly deeply.)

Here, Martin discovers that my bumroll makes an excellent place to rest a drink when you're tired of carrying it around.


And then we all had to do big arms:


Paul was shortly whisked off to BBC-Carlisle for interviews, but the rest of us got a bit of tape in as well:

Picture 178

And then I goofed with the crowds again until all had calmed down and the Festival had closed.

I recall we got rain then, the first rain since Jiggins and I had disembarked in Ravenglass, just a five-minute squall, and the sun came right back out again. I'd dashed up to our perfect little room in the Coachman's Quarters to wash the glue out of my hair (my hair [I do actually have hair, and I'm sorry if you're finding this out now for the first time] is so fine it won't hold any kind of hairpin or bobby pin, so in order to make my hats stay on correctly, I have to coat my head in hair glue, which is a real thing that exists] and put on A-E clothing, came down, got rained on very briefly, and then everyone piled into a room to enjoy Paul on telly from Carlisle. That being achieved, Jiggins and I headed out for possibly our last Muncaster stroll of the voyage.

We had an absurdly dramatic farewell scene with Joel Dickinson, who was clinging to the back of a luggage-cart train as it zipped across the lawns, waving with baroque sentimentality, which we returned double, because he's an extremely nice person. And rounding the corner by Tom's Tree, we found Martin and Vivienne taking in one last skullfull of the mind-blowingly beautiful vista:
Picture 191

If you can arrange to recline on cannons by Tom's Tree and watch slanting evening sunbeams chase a rainstorm across the fells while in the charmingest company of the Soans, I recommend you do it.

Picture 192

And the next day, so very sadly, we left great Muncaster Castle, gorgeous sheepy Cumbria, and the eye-explodingly-beautiful Lake District behind. But I can't end the story without revisiting Eric Tree-Head. Remember young Eric, son of the great Maynard Flip-Flap?

The day after Eric and I first met, he recognized me at breakfast in Creeping Kate's Kitchens, even though I was out of my motley. He approached our table wide-eyed and awed, and pointed to me, and said, "You were the Queen yesterday!" I grinned gigantically. After he'd retreated, beaming, his mum confided, "You're his new girlfriend, I'm afraid; he talks of no-one but you." I was terribly impressed with myself at that. I mean, his dad was the reigning Muncaster Fool at the time -- I was happy to simply be remembered at all!

So on the last day of the festival, Eric Tree-Head, age six and three-quarters years, gave me a gift. He presented me with the stout walking staff he'd found and used during the Festival of Fools, shown in his hand below:


He was extremely solemn in giving it to me. I took it reverently, turned it over in my hands, and looked at him very seriously. "Eric, this stick has a pointed end, and I am a very silly person. Do you think it's safe for me to have a stick like this?"

He considered for a long moment. And then he pronounced, "I believe you can be trusted."

I laughed and cried.

I couldn't fit the stick in my trunk, no matter how I tried (which will amaze those of you who have seen my trunk. I can fit ME in my trunk, but this stick just would not fit in). So as we were leaving, I found Eric Tree-Head, and together we put the stick leaning up against the trunk of Tom Fool's Tree, and I said, "I'm coming back to Muncaster Castle some day, and I'm going to find this stick when I come back, all right?" That seemed fine with young Mr. Tree-Head.

It's hard to believe that "some day" is coming up in less than a week.

Will the stick still be there?
Will I see Eric Tree-Head again?
Will he remember?

I wish I could take every last one of you with me -- I'd pack you in my trunk, but I need room for the stick! Failing that, I'm bringing some tech, so I can report on adventures if there is ever a lull.

Phooligans all, thanks, thanks and ever thanks for your absurd devotion. It's the Phoole Fuel that keeps me adventuring!

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