Oh those poor, tired dogs! Lookit them, the soggy barkers, fresh back from the long grass and the snouting:
The weather was gloomier than the Summertime when I last crunched up the short driveway to Hill Farm, all honeysuckle and clematis over the fences.
It was just before Two and I'd diverted briefly all the way to Whitstable and back in search of a convenience then stopped at a Pub for a coffee; leaving myself a generous five hours to get across the country, I'd treacled on the M25 for 40 minutes but still managed to arrive early. Mr Firmin shuffled to the door; he beamed me a straggled-bearded smile and offered a crumpled-paper handshake. 'Come in' he says, 'Joan is off with the dogs down the field'. I come in. On the kitchen table is some Bagpuss paraphernalia, and in the dining room too - great boxes of philatelic envelopes waiting for signing - because next year this most beloved of British Children's characters celebrates his 40th birthday. There's so many of the bloomin' things waiting for autographs that Peter has split the job between himself and his youngest daughter - the famous 'Emily' of the story, a little girl who finds lost things and delivers them to the saggy old cloth cat for repair.
We retire to the lounge amongst samples of his children's crafting output and the continual background noise of licensed goods sent over 'for your archives': there are books, videos, toys and miniature figures peeping from beside and behind the family photos and the furniture. All at once there is a scampering book-ended by the opening and closing of a latched door and the two canines trot in, happily panting, to join us. Tim is the little one, the other is a guest, and they leap on to the sofa - turn exactly three times in a clockwise circle - and plonk themselves down. I love dogs and I love old 'Family Dogs' like this in particular: gentle, funny and loyal. Tim plays the piano, apparently; Peter trained him (and other dogs before him) to jump up on the stool and bash at the ivory with his front paws (much to the annoyance, sometimes, of grandchildren Chopin or chopsticking to impress the ay-jeds). Joan shakes my one hand with her chilly two: 'Gosh, you're warm!' she says, then in to the kitchen for some chocolate cake and tea.
We chat about how the Ivor the Engine game project is going, timings and progress, then he hops up - stiffly (he's in his eighties, for goodness) and fetches a brown-wrapped, flat parcel: map for the board (oh, goodness), miniatures for the cards that needed new art
and - Lordy! - something extra for us to use as a limited edition print:
We talk about Clangers: there is a new series (52 episodes) coming in 18 months or so and Peter is an Executive something-or-other, as is Dan Postgate - the son of his Smallfilms partner Oliver. Despite what seemed to have been a long journey and day, Peter enthuses about most of the design proposals: new sets (the old ones were just thrown out and burned when the original filming was done - why would anyone want to keep them?), the new Clangers themselves knitted to an original pattern and the shape of their ears a major Agenda item. Peter the-opposite-of-enthuses about some of the more modern tropes of entertainment:
- you can't differentiate male Clangers from female by their clothes (armour or dresses) because that's sexist;
- you can't show characters leaping blindly into holes or stuffing cotton wool in to their ears because of Health & Safety; and,
- does it always have to be dark in the Sky? Children watching in the morning might thinks it's night and get the wrong impression of time...dark in the sky? That'll be 'space', then. We chortle, cakey-fingered, as Peter admits to finding the Clangers a little boring - when faced with a time-filling choice, Oliver could add more dialogue (quickly) or spend a week on a more intricate action sequence...mostly preferring the quicker solution!
Lord love them both; these gentlemen made heart-filling, wit-filled, eye-gorgeous dreams for whole generations using jam-jar lids, string, paper and invention.
No committies, no writing teams, no demographics and focus groups; just mischief and practicality.
...and then we're done. It had only been an hour but time stops when you're having fun (and drinking in every moment). Unless I can tempt Peter to some event(s) when the game comes out in the Spring/Summer, it may be a while before I get to do this again but it's worth the wait; it's worth its wait in gold.
Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk
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