At the weekend, while Karen was hard at work, Bernard and I went on a bit of a castle spree. I say spree, I’m not sure if two counts as a spree, but hey ho. The two could not have been more different. Kenilworth Castle is run by English Heritage, is mostly ruined, and really gives you a lot of opportunities to soak up the whole castleness of it all. Warwick Castle, however, is run by Merlin Entertainment and the familial resemblance to Legoland is not subtle. When you leave, your eyes have been so fatigued by brightly coloured signs and hot dog stands and gift shops that you wonder if there was even a castle underneath all that stuff at all.
That said, it was a fun day out, and the various demonstrations and shows that they had during the day were very entertaining. With an exception.
When we arrived, and had not yet found our bearings, Bernard said he wanted to go in the Princess Tower. Okay, I said. At first, I thought it was just a tower that you’d climb up. Then I read some blurb, something about choosing accessories for a dress, and realised that okay, this is probably Merlin Entertainment’s attempt at a girl-oriented attraction. I didn’t want to say flat out “I think that this will be too girly for you” so I explained what I knew to Bernard, so that he could judge for himself. If he thought it sounded too girly, then that was his call.
But he didn’t seem to have a problem with the notion of designing a dress, and nor did I, so in we went.
Initially Bernard was invited to dress up as a knight and have his photo taken in front of a green screen for later embellishment. Which sounded pretty cool, actually, but Bernard : dressing up :: Mr T : airplanes, so we walked through.
In the main room, we all took our places. Little girls sat down on the rug, their bored-looking dads stood around the back wall, Bernard and I chillin’ out, doin’ our thing. I leaned down to him and pointed at the thing in the corner. “Do you think that’s a sofa, or a small bed?” I asked. “Ummm, a small bed, I think.” he said. A few more little girls filed in. And then another little boy, hurrah, who was with his mum and older sister. Not the only boy!
Everyone was in the room, the doors were closed, Princess Something introduced herself. She kissed a frog, which made a ribbiting noise but didn’t turn into a prince. She then turned to the small bed, which I now noticed was actually mostly mattresses. “Ah, ” I thought. Princess Something told us the story of the princess and the pea.
“Now, does one of you want to climb up on this bed and see if you’re a real princess?”
A very, very short pause.
The hand of the other little boy shot up.
“This is fucking brilliant.” I thought. “We don’t want none of your old-fashioned gender stereotyping, Princess Something!” I yelled, still in my head, of course.
The little boy climbed up into the bed, banged his head momentarily, and we then were treated to a couple of minutes while Princess Something tried to get him to sit on a particular spot on the bed, while he did his best to sit everywhere but. Eventually, he acknowledged that yes, he could feel the pea, but it’s entirely possible that it was just concussion.
Finally, the painting of Princess Thingummy, which had been sat behind Princess Something’s shoulder and looking suspiciously like a TV screen, came to life! The painting it was magic! Princess Thingummy and Princess Something talked for a while about Princess Thingummy’s impending wedding to Prince Smugarse. Then we all voted on a scarf (pink, purple or white), tiara (crystal or diamond) and shoes (glass or ruby) to go with Princess Thingummy’s wedding dress. I think that the final outcome (purple scarf, diamond tiara, glass slippers) was probably as good as could be hoped for, and I think Bernard may have actually been in the winning camp on all three counts, which suggests that he might be doing this thing for a living one day. I should suggest that to him.
Then it was time to go, and we filed out.
There’s a serious point to be made here. Amongst the trebuchets and archery and eagles and dungeons and towers on offer at Warwick Castle, someone decided that it was necessary to put on something for the little girls. All the other attractions were educational and led by incredibly enthusiastic people, but this one had clearly been built from the ground up with only girls in mind. No disrespect to the women who were running the show on the day – they were very professional and friendly – but the whole concept was simpering, inane, patronising and very out of place. It saddened me that there was this little oasis of drippiness in the midst of so many well-presented, subject-driven attractions.
“So, ” I said to Bernard, “What did you think?”
He just glowered at me.