Taking the stress out of your child's annual celebrations!

Archive for August, 2011

Out of Africa

an Axatse (rattle from Ghana)

Image via Wikipedia

I was born in the midlands, England ( ahem) years ago. When I was ten my parents decided to emigrate to South Africa so I packed my teddy and prepared  to see lions.

I never really did see lions, except in a Zoo. My childish ideas of Africa were born in the mythology of the childhood Jungle where the Lion is the king. I didn’t expect the bright lights and heaven forbid, fish and chip shops! Cape Town and the beautiful Table Mountain became my home for over a decade.

I lived at the very tip of Africa for eleven years, and soaked up the sun and the culture and vibrancy until I decided it was time to return to my roots. I didn’t regret my African experience, far from it, Africa fired my loins and gave me my love for bright colours and a deep passion for African music ( and an awakening of my political awareness as I was dropped into Apartheid South Africa which shook me to my very core).

Today in my job as a children’s entertainer and storyteller, I told African stories at a South East London school. It was lovely to be able to bring a piece of my African memory and passion to such lovely children. They lapped up the stories of the trickster Spider Anansi, and were enthralled at my clumsy rendition of Nyame the Sky God,

My vision of Nyame the Sky God, in papier mache

as I hid behind my paper mache mask. They chuckled at the burping Lion and the silly witch called 5 and we explored yams and beautiful African fabric.

The box of stories and the sticky doll

I spoke about the web of stories that Anansi has spun around the globe, reaching far and wide from their origins in Ghana , travelling across the Caribbean and over to North America and all over Africa and we ended the stories by jumping on an imaginary bed with Jaffa, my monkey.

The cast and crew from the Anansi Spider tales

It was a delightful day at work.

The last time I told Anansi stories at a school in Brixton, upon showing the children the Sky God mask and the magic box of stories, one boy declared that he was going to call the police as I had stolen stuff from the museum. Bless him. I had to get him up to the front so he could see that the mask and box were just made of cardboard. 🙂

Storyteller Diane of Diane's Puppets tells Anansi Stories

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Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go…

office chair

Image by chotda via Flickr

I was on the bus on my way to my last storytelling session at my favourite school in Blackheath, musing over the stories that were to be told in my head. As I prepared my repertoire mentally, I gazed in an unfocused stare out of the window. I was totally unprepared for what I saw.

As the bus drove past grey grimy shop after grey grimy shop my eyes were startled by the following window display. In large letters on sheets of A4 paper stuck on the window, I saw

Damien Hirst bought a chair from us!

This really made me chuckle. This was celebrity endorsement like I’d never seen before. Here was a very normal , some may say downtrodden ,office furniture shop in the New Cross area of London using their creativity and really catching my attention. Even though there seemed to be an absolute glut of office furniture shops on that particular road, this shop was the one I’d remember.

It made me ponder on how resourceful people become in tough times like these. We are all struggling to make ends meet in what is a very difficult time, not only in England but across the globe. When times get tough, the tough get going. I often think that this economic downturn has an unexpected benefit of really strengthening individual’s resolve and stripping back the average and showcasing the special.

I’ve bumped into the very talented man called Damien Hirst at a few parties in my capacity as a London children’s entertainer. Once I was instructed to set up my puppet booth in front of a very famous medicine cabinet. I felt a little anxious when I realised just where I’d seen that medicine cabinet before. It bore all the markings of Damien Hirst and lo and behold, he was one of the guests. I then realised my client was of a very prestigious family with a history steeped in film making. I’d watched my client’s brother on the television riding his motorbike across Africa with the very lovely Ewan McGregor.

Sometimes being a London Children’s entertainer and puppeteer is a lot of fun!

Diane has been recommended by a celebrity or two as well.

Getting back to the business of entertaining

Lion - Louisville Zoo

Image via Wikipedia

Summertime is almost over and it’s time for me to put my children’s entertainer hat back on.

It’s been lovely to have a break and concentrate on other aspects of myself for a while, but to be honest I’m itching to get back to what I love best: entertaining London’s children.

The telephone has started to ring again and bookings are coming in. Birthday parties are back on the agenda and I’m gearing up by making a few new puppets and working on some new stories.

Tomorrow I’m tootling off to one of my favourite schools where I have been made part of the ‘family’ so it seems. I’ve been booked to work at their holiday club and tell some stories with puppet illustration. I’ve done a few in the last few weeks, Thumbelina, Space Mouse

and now I’m looking forward to telling tales from the Jungle.

The jungle forms a large part of childhood mythology, and whilst I’m happy to declare the lion the King of the Jungle, I also like to point out the inaccuracy of this statement and do my bit to tell the children real facts about lions as part of the fun entertainment. Mrs Lion does all the work and Mr Lion just lies under a tree all day, that’s why they call him a lion, because he’s always lying about . Well it works better when spoken…

I’ve made a brand new 5 foot long  knitted snake for the occasion and I’m really excited about introducing him to the children. He’s rainbow coloured and drapes really nicely around my neck. Sometimes I forget that the children see my puppets for the first time and whenever I make a new puppet, I share in the children’s excitement when they are first introduced to  them.

Meet Hissy the Snake

So Mr Snake will join Mr Elephant, Mr Lion and Mr Giraffe , Jaffa the monkey and wee Ms Mouse in my Jungle tales tomorrow.

I like to sniff you to see if you've washed your clothes!

Walking in the Jungle with a beat in your feet, tell me an animal that you’d like to meet.

I’m a lucky woman. I look forward to going back to work.

Save the pennies: Be gender neutral

Teddy Bears' Picnic

Image by Cockburn Libraries via Flickr

It’s a tough old world for the party scene out there. Money is tight, we are all struggling to pay bills and now you are facing the expense of a children’s birthday party.

Have you ever considered the impact of gender stereotyping when it comes to expense?

What on earth do I mean?

Well I shall explain.

So many times as a children’s birthday party entertainer, I see the  host struggling to keep up with the party tea, handing out blue/car boxes to boys and pink/ fairy boxes to girls. Sometimes they are left with odd numbers or an unexpected child turns up and they only have the opposite gender box, posing a tricky situation. You try getting a boy to eat his sausages and sandwiches and crisps from out of a pink fairy box. It isn’t easy.

The same applies for party table ware and balloons. It is also very noticeable at going home time and the party bags come out. In that mad scrum of leaving and finding shoes and bags and coats, it is really an unnecessary  extra effort to have to provide the appropriate pink or blue gendered going away gift.

Children really don’t care much about this gendered thing, trust me. Adults are laying on the expectations for them. Why do we have to gender the decor or the party table ware? Unless your theme is pink and girly or Thomas the Tank engine, you are really making things hard for yourself. All this gender stereotyping stuff serves to do is alienate boys if things are all pink , causing them to act up  or vice versa. There are plenty of themes out there that are gender neutral, why not take advantage of their potential.

Think about animals. Every child loves animals whether it is a Jungle or Farm theme or Teddybear’s picnic, there is potential for joy without having to do something different for each gender.

Instead of pink or blue tableware, why not try bright primary colours? There is nothing more visually pleasing than a table decked out in vivid rainbow colours.

As for party bags or going away gifts, a book or a pack of bright crayons and a colouring book always goes down well. Finger puppets are a great going away gift, especially after a puppet party.

My fairyland finger puppet set

A knights tale complete with fire breathing dragon and a tower

A space adventure

Ikea do very cheap and good quality sets . If you are looking for very special finger puppets, I make my own one off story finger puppet sets  available online in my folksy shop. One simple gift nicely wrapped in gender neutral colours is just as appreciated as a gendered bag full of plastic tat and sweets. I’ve even seen children going home proudly clutching their very own daffodil in a pot, or a strawberry plant. Be creative. There is more to childhood than turning our kids into princesses and pirates at every opportunity. Sometimes it is good to just let them be kids and it is considerably cheaper and far less hassle.

And if you are wondering, as a lady entertainer I am personally partial to pink and tutus and all things sparkly. But I do like a bit of rainbow thrown in for variety. Let’s open our minds to the possibilities of gender neutral and save ourselves a few pounds in the process. Can’t be bad.

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