One of the best things about living in the countryside is having to create your own entertainment. I’ve never had so many creative dinner parties in my life. When our neighbours’ kids come over to play, they stage the sweetest impromptu talent shows in our backyard complete with tickets and handwritten programmes with events such as “Orlando’s amazing hammock tricks”.
I’m not saying that our 12 year old wouldn’t give his eye-teeth to be hooked up intraveneously to an Xbox 24-7 though, but he’s accepted that it’s just that it’s not the done thing here, particularly when you’re surrounded by a hundred opportunities for real-life-interactive fun. And he’ll thank us for it someday… (Oh that well-rubbed parental comfort stone!)
So yesterday night we hosted Story Night, which is my version of a book club. Only I hate book clubs. I detest having to wait for everyone to find time to read the same book and the petty politics of literary analysis…
Story Night is quite different. The rules are simple. Everyone has to bring a 5-minute-long story to tell. It can be something you wrote, something out of a book, poetry, a funny anecdote, whatever. Anything goes as long as its entertaining. Optimally the stories should be told around a bonfire. But given the sudden thunderstorm yesterday, we ended up sitting around the fireplace passing boxes of chocolates around. I think 8 people is best in terms of numbers, it provides just enough variety but not so many stories that people get bored.
Anne was very brave and brought a letter that she had found in a drawer, which she had written to Rick, her husband, in 1992 when they were dating and she was travelling in Ireland. Mark told a hilarious story about his travels in Vietnam that is absolutely unrepeatable in the daytime. Kate read from Dawn French’s autobiography. James lampooned the classic Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Imogen recounted how she met James. Tony reminisced about a trip to Mount Bromo when he was 24.
And Rick brought in this book. The Golden Plains of Tubbarubbabel, which happened to be written by Mary Karney, a local historian who was also the original owner of our house, which she built literally brick by brick with her hands. One of those marvelous coincidences, given that Rick didn’t know who the author of the book was!
In that book was a grisly tale about the history of Foxey’s Hangout, a local landmark near our house, which is a dead tree where many wooden foxes are strung up. In the 1930s, a trapper named Jack Johnston used to display his dead foxes on the tree as a sort of advertisement. Can you imagine the smell? Mary Karney recalled “the black swarms of flies around the tree.. and the gagging stench as (she) was driven past for summer holidays at the beach…”
Unfortunately, poor Jack was murdered and found concealed under a sheet of tin not far from the tree. An itinerant worker named McKenzie confessed to the murder and the rumour was that Jack was killed for a nugget of gold.
Today, the foxes continue to be hung as a macabre tribute. My neighbours claim that every once in a while someone hangs a real fox on the tree too. When we first came to peninsula, Mark actually thought about making a wooden fox to contribute to the tree but I think we’ll have second thoughts now!
On a more appetising note, dinner went off without a hitch. We had some Vietnamese rice paper rolls with a garlic-mint dipping sauce, portobello mushrooms with anchovies, and Mark roasted two enormous snappers on the barbie. Dessert was a delectable rhubarb crumble from Houghtons Deli with some Maggie Beer Lemon Curd ice-cream. Yum yum! Nothing left for the foxes I’m afraid!