Hazel McHaffie

moral tales

Herr Doktor Schrinkenfeldt and Friends

One of my most exciting Christmas presents this year was a dress circle seat for Scottish Ballet’s production of Hansel and Gretel, at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 19th December. It was utterly fabulous – costumes, music, story telling, dance, everything. And I appreciated it all the more because I’d looked at all the videos about what went on behind the scenes; so much vision, so much expertise, so much talent.

Returning to my own Christmas production, Herr Doktor Schrinkenfeldt and Friends, was something of an anti-climax. But then I don’t have a vast team of experts at my disposal; I personally double as scriptwriter, artistic director, costume designer, scene setter, makeup artist, sound effects technician, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – master of none. Which is entirely appropriate given that our audience is limited to nine people, the budget is low and it runs for one day only.

This year the story/play (performed yesterday) revolved around four cousins who find themselves invited to visit a house full of monsters – well, 6 actually – allegedly friends of their Great Aunt Olga, all of whom have wisdom to impart and fun activities to offer.

Along the way the children tasted de luxe sandwiches, made soup from revolting ingredients, adopted fairy companions, painted ceramics, sent magic lights 40 feet into the night sky. As they met each monster, they also learned that they themselves are uniquely special, strong, brave, compassionate and talented. And that parents aren’t actually monsters erecting barriers to communication.

Suddenly after months and months of preparation, my seventeenth Christmas story/play for the grandchildren is over. How does the artistic director of Hansel and Gretel feel as the curtains close for the last time, I wonder? Exhausted but satisfied, I imagine. And already thinking of his next production.

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Preparations and procrastinations

Not much novel writing going on here this week, I’m afraid. But I have been writing for hours and hours.

Most fun has been composing the now-traditional annual story for my grandchildren for 27 December. Each year it presents more of a challenge as the youngsters become increasingly discerning and sophisticated. (They’re now aged almost 12 down to 6.) There’s always a message in the story, and lots of potential for activities because the children act out the tale as I narrate it. DJ takes hundreds of photos (literally) during the event, and we then create an illustrated book personalised for each of them.

This year it’s about the highly eccentric Professor Devine who opens an emporium with magical qualities, and tries to train apprentices, and there’s a moral in the tale for the adult audience. I’ve been making costumes and collecting props for weeks because the story evolves around the things that catch my eye. A lovely change from my more serious scribbling, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of preparation for the festive season as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll give you a sneak preview of the opening paragraph:
If you go out of your front door and take a sharp right, and then four left turns, walk up the hill in front of you, go right round the roundabout, climb the second tree on the right, swing through the pines for eleven and three quarter minutes, shimmy down the monkey puzzle tree, take a hop and a skip and a ginormous jump, hop on one foot to the bottom of the next hill, and take the third turning on the right, you will come to a shop.

You’ll be relieved to hear that’s the only mile-long sentence. My aging lungs wouldn’t take kindly to many of those. And I do have to think of  my reputation with the children’s  schoolteachers.

Then there’s the writing involved in the Christmas mail. You’ll all know the hours that takes. Less compulsive than the children’s fiction, I must admit, but I do try to write something personal for almost everyone I send to. And the thoughts in a wee anonymous poem sent to me by a friend in 2008 spur me on. It starts off:

There is a group of folk I know, all written on a list, and every year at Christmas time I go and look at this. And that is when I realise that these names are a part, not of the list they’re written on, but of my very heart.

Sending a few hundred cards can feel like a chore but less so when you actually take time to think of each person specifically as you write.

Never think these Christmas cards are just a mere routine of names upon a Christmas list, forgotten in between. For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you, it’s because you’re on that list of folk that I’m indebted to. For be you relative or friend, or just folk that I have met, you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget. And whether I have known you for many years or few, in some way you have had a part in shaping things I do.

OK, I know it’s not prize-winning poetry but I like the sentiments.

However, truth to tell, the biggest spur to getting all the mail ready this week has been the imminence of visitors chez nous. I can’t leave mountains of parcels everywhere in the spare rooms, so I’m clearing them off to the post office early. Then I’ll be able to see the beds! Then I might find time to make them up. Feels like the equivalent of a colonic cleansing before a surgical procedure. Great when it’s all gone!




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