At various times in the year, some of the Highclere team turn into “elves”, of which there are various sorts. The Chief Elf is inevitably Sally in the gift shop and the most recalcitrant elf is John G, the Castle Manager.
Elves have a very long and rather mixed history. They were part of old Norse mythology and were usually, and rather appropriately, female. They apparently lived in hills and mounds of stones, which must have been a bit cold in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries. The Swedish “elves” were stunningly beautiful girls who lived in the forest with a king: the sort of story and elves I am sure my husband would prefer. Most agree, however, that any human who watched the dance of the elves would become lost in time and discover that the few hours spent watching were, in fact, many years. Even today, in the real world, it is far too easy to lose track of time so perhaps that was just a handy excuse.
Scotland and parts of northern England also retained a belief in elves, probably from sharing a “Viking” ancestry, and James VI of Scotland (who succeeded Elizabeth I as James I of England) was recorded as discussing elves and fairies seriously with Robert Kirk. It was, however, a time of belief in witches with their associated trials which we would utterly condemn today.
I myself have also discussed elves but in a far happier setting involving English essays about Shakespeare’s “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, where Puck, or Robin Goodfellow as he is also called, causes mayhem but also makes amends. Elves were beings with magical if ambivalent powers who could help or hinder at random but who were endlessly fascinating.
Thus, just as I as a child walking in the woods with my father, used to imagine that fairies – elves – lived in the old tree stumps, so I repeated the stories to my son and nieces when they were toddlers. Sadly, they do grow past my stories rather quickly …
As we count down the days to Christmas, and all the different events we are holding, most of us are co-opted as “Sally’s Christmas elves” as there is much to do. Luckily, we are not dressed in green tights with little red tops like the Christmas films, nor do we have pointy ears and odd hats, though we have to work just as hard as the more traditional ones in Santa’s workshop.
There is the tree, staircase and tea rooms to decorate, the Christmas Fair to set up and the gift shop to sort out, not to mention all the trees lining the Castle driveway and courtyard. The gardening team are dressed in green of course – but baggy waterproof trousers rather than green leotards. They start early so rather magically by the time we have exited our offices to help, the small Christmas trees are already lining the front drive.
Luis from banqueting, with a rival set of elves, also runs round at great speed preparing the various Castle tearooms to serve all sorts of delicious Christmas Fayre, though he too cannot avoid tree decorating duty. Since John G prefers not to wear interesting Christmas sweaters and, frankly, is not a good elf, most of his office join other elf teams. The only question is – which one?