This weekend was our annual History Festival which, whilst being enormous fun to host, requires a great deal of careful planning and preparation. Friday night was particularly challenging as we began the weekend with manifold bright ideas all rolled into one event. For all our excellent preparations, I was still “touching wood for luck” up to the beginning of the evening to help ensure it all went well and as planned.
Luckily there is plenty of wood throughout the castle and to counter any doubts and anxiety I could throughout the day always swiftly reach out for reassurance. For all our technological advances, and wherever we live in the world, our innate habits and cultural references seem still to reflect our superstitions.
Perhaps, here in the UK, with this phrase we are looking back to the Celtic traditions, hoping for help from the spirits or gods of the trees or maybe touching wood is recalling the Christian adaptation introducing the idea that the “wood” refers to the wood of the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. To be honest I’m not sure where the phrase stems from but I say it all the time as did my mother and no doubt her mother too.
In fact, in the end, the evening did go well and was a splendid start to the festival. It was an evening to thank our sponsors (Viking Cruises), to welcome VIP ticketed guests (thank you) and to congratulate all those who had entered the summer reading prize and give then each a cheque courtesy of Legal and General, to whom we are grateful for their support.
History is about understanding, reading, listening and discussing but I think we all prefer to be entertained rather than educated so it needs to be fun too.
Coming up with a very Highclere theme – Tutankhamun – the first icons to book were Max and Clio the camels. This is not the first time we have worked together and I have become rather fond of these extraordinary animals who in fact come from Gloucestershire (Joseph’s Amazing Camels) rather than further afield. They are wonderfully calm as well as colourful and surprisingly relaxed around all our visitors.
The re-enacting team moved in for the weekend. Camping in tents dressed for modern Egyptian archaeology, they set up on the sand which had been spread out by the gardening team on plastic sheets to preserve the lawn underneath. There is of course plenty of green grass around Luxor thanks to the irrigation systems from the Nile but nevertheless we all felt that a large sand pit was de rigueur for this weekend.
The vintage cars, motor cycles and helicopter provided much interest whilst on the south lawns the old pole marquee hosted talks and dancing. Sally and her Gift Shop Elves were inspired by Egypt in terms of the decoration and everyone loved the gift shop.
Instead of watching Strictly Dancing on TV, the idea at Highclere is that as many visitors as possible take part and learn a few steps. The Gatsby Girls are marvellously patient teachers and it is both life affirming and such fun to watch and applaud.
Deckchairs from Viking Cruises proved so comfortable from which to enjoy the music with impromptu dancing from some visitors whilst Luis’s Bar offered a fantastic choice of themed Cocktails from King Tut, the Luxor Lady (delicious – a pale gold colour), the Viking Ra, (a deep red coloured cocktail due to the Campari) and many others.
We all need a little luck sometimes and the greatest gift was the amazing sunshine we had. Clearly, everyone at Highclere had touched a lot of wood as one of the greatest issues with outdoor events here is the weather and we were blessed with warm temperatures and clear skies.