We’re off to see the Wizard

Tin Man, yellow brick road, poppies and a crushed witch
Tin Man, yellow brick road, poppies and a crushed witch

The Calverley crows are getting fidgety. They know what’s coming. By the end of the week, if all goes to plan, there will be nowhere to go. They will be scared out of their wits as dozens of scarecrows converge on the village waving straw arms and shiny old CDs to shoo them away.

The Calverley Scarecrow Festival 2014 starts on Saturday and of course my contribution is already under construction. As the theme is books and scarecrows, I thought L Frank Baum’s 1899 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would be fun.

The idea is to have Tin Man, a yellow brick road, a crushed wicked witch, a field of poppies, The Great and Mighty Oz and, of course, a scarecrow all in our tiny front garden. A bit too ambitious maybe? Almost certainly, but thanks to collective creativity with three friends, I’m well on the way. Crows beware!

Teamwork’s for the birds

Don't Stone the Crows, a homage to crows, my entry in the Calverley Scarecrow Festival
Don’t Stone the Crows, a homage to crows, my entry in the Calverley Scarecrow Festival

We make a great team, Noel and I. I have all the creative and wacky ideas, Noel brings the snigger of reason…’you want to do what?‘ and ‘have you thought this through?’, or just the plain old sucking of air through the teeth and shaking of the head.

Still, this time it was different. With the village scarecrow festival fast approaching, I had an idea, though this is usually the point where creativity and practicality go their separate ways. A book I picked up in Canada talked about the near-human nature of crows, they look after each other, they mourn their dead, they use tools (which is more than can be said of some humans who, say, still haven’t fixed the shed door…), they recognise individual humans and they have a memory or, in cases where they have been ill-treated, they hold a grudge. The more I read, the more I liked them, so I decided that rather than making a straw effigy that would scare them, I’d celebrate this remarkable species.

The idea was simple, fill the front of our terrace house with crows, not real ones of course, that would be foolish, they’d make far too much racket not to mention all that poo. With the lounge full of hand-drawn crows and bits of black material, I announced that I was going to make them fly from the bedroom window, suspended in mid-air, like a scene from Hitchcock’s avian frightfest The Birds . I had this vague idea of dangling them from wire, then anchoring them to the ground with Gaffer tape and garden canes, maybe a pulley or two.

Fortunately Noel has done maths, physics, trigonometry and woodwork, so he suggested (ever so carefully, mind you, he knows how sensitive we creative types can be) that good though this concept was (genius was the word I might have heard), there may be some practical challenges in its execution. At least I think that’s what he said, he had difficulty getting the words out because he was sniggering so much.

So a trip to various DIY stores and the local angling suppliers yielded fishing line, eyelets and a fancy twisty turny thing to fit them along with a multi-meter, but I think that was for something else, which I was assured would ‘come in handy’. There were diagrams, graphs, simulations and a project plan with gantt chart, followed by a ‘you stand outside and catch the bird’ discussion, much to the amusement of the neighbours and a passing outing of the Calverley Walking Club who stopped to eat their sandwiches before striding out in their stout shoes to the woods, clicking their trekking poles on the pavement as they went.

Although I say it myself the team effort looks not too bad at all. Living beside the main road, I fear our birds may already have spooked a few drivers, heads are certainly turning. Thank goodness I didn’t go with my original plan and give them all human faces!

The Calverley Scarecrow Festival starts tomorrow (10 August) and runs until the 18th.

There is no ‘away’

Everything an arty type could possibly need!
Everything an arty type could possibly need!

If you’ve ever turned out a few hundred Quality Street caramel noisette lookalikes and want to wrap them up like the real thing, or can’t find the 25 metres of extra strong bra elastic you need for that extra support, I now know just the place.

My mission, as Chief Out-Of-The-Box Strategist and Head of Left Field Thinking, tasked with designing and producing the winning entry in this year’s village scarecrow festival, was to find something crow-like. I’ll not reveal any more at this stage, as competition is fierce and scarecrow spies are everywhere, though they’re not too hard to spot as they leave a trail of straw.

The design concept relies on  large-scale production, so Hobbycraft, always a pleasure to visit, but too dear by half, is out of the question. Even tax-dodging Amazon with its free delivery can’t offer me what I want. But it turns out that all I could possibly need plus much much more that I will need at some stage and hardly anything I won’t need at all, is right on my doorstep.

Scrap is one of those ‘oh my!’ places. Once you’ve negotiated the metal steps to the cavernous rooms in old factory buildings on Kirkstall Road, Leeds, and go through the door, all you can say is, ‘oh MY!’ Shelves, barrels, drums, hooks and rails are full of stuff. I have to use the word ‘stuff’ because everything is so random. Giant gold Christmas baubles, bandages and dressings still in their wrappers, spools from old reel-to-reel tape recorders, a barrel full of lenses, five miles of tarnished ‘happy baby’ giftwrap and reels of the afore-mentioned Quality Street wrapping and bra elastic. And somewhere in there was just what I was looking for.

This fabulous randomness makes Scrap the best play and certainly cheapest resource in the city. Companies who would previously have sent these treasures to the tip now give it to this wonderful social enterprise which, for a very reasonable price, provides materials which are used by schools, arts organisations and individuals to do their creative thing. They also run workshops and, when they’re not busy the volunteer staff do their own creative thing. Oh my!

Scrap is next door to Seagulls, another social enterprise with environmental values, which re-uses all those part cans of paint we have hanging around in our cellars. It’s a very green part of the city.

More will be revealed about the StripeyAnne scarecrow ‘Don’t Stone the Crows’ at the Calverley Scarecrow Festival in August. I think I may have to make a return trip to Scrap in the meantime, just in case I’ve missed anything…

Crows scared, job done.

Crow Scaring for Dummies. Priceless

There wasn’t a crow within a five-mile radius of our village this weekend when a motley collection of straw-stuffed scarers moved in and showed them who was boss.

The first ever Calverley Scarecrow Festival caused a stir in the corvus world. They are known for their intelligence, so when they saw the signs in the local newsagent and heard the Tweets they packed their bags and were off to Bradford.

While the crows left, the visitors flocked in, walking through the many ginnels of our little village and hopefully spending their money in our local shops! They saw just short of 30 scarecrows skulking in gardens, churches, the library and even the dog club. Scarecrows included Olympians like Bradley Twiggins and Lunch Box Delight featuring Linford Christie and figures from literature such as 50 Shades of Hay and Gypsy Rose Tea. The winner was a splendid Gruffalo, hiding in full view on Shell Lane.

I hadn’t got my act together in time to put in an official entry, so I just did it anyway. Bob started life as part of a health promotion scheme aimed at encouraging self-examination in men, who we all know are a bit squeamish about medical matters relating to their manhood. So in celebration of the gold medals won by the Yorkshire athletes, five when I made them on Friday night and six by Sunday, I stuck him outside to join the other scarecrows. He was quite popular with passers-by and fortunately his fig leaf stayed intact.  I predict he’ll return for a future Creative Calverley event.

Bob, medals and fig leaf