So now, parents, we can breathe again. World Book Day has come and gone, and the children have all had a great time. Now the sheer terror of finding a costume can be forgotten about until next year.
World Book Day is a fantastic idea. Children get to dress up as their favourite character from a cherished book and go to school in that outfit. It’s about inspiring kids to embrace the dying art of reading and to get them to really love books. And it works… they come home enthused and excited.
But by heaven it can be hard work.
Last year, I resorted to going to a fancy dress shop after one of my children set his heart on going to school dressed as Willy Wonka. All I wanted was a suitable hat and cane, but there were none to be had.
“We’ve been cleared out,” said the woman behind the counter. “It’s World Book Day. People get desperate.”
Because if you think about it, barring Harry Potter, there isn’t a great demand for literary outfits from party goers. When you think of fancy dress, you might think of soldiers, policemen or cowboys, but you don’t tend to think: “I know, I’ll go as the lead character in that novel I read the other week”.
You end up having to be creative, and if there’s one thing that tends to scare exhausted parents, it’s the need to be creative on demand.
We have two boys, both of whom needed an outfit. Bearing in mind it’s probably against the rules to simply reprise last year’s Wonka effort, we were forced to start afresh.
Fortunately, the older of them quickly plumped for a character called Alex Rider, a sort of younger version of James Bond. Happily, he wears black clothes, sunglasses and carries a big identity card that we could do on the computer.
Well, I say ‘we’. It took me an hour of fiddling around to get the basics and then my daughter all of about five minutes to correct my mistakes and make it perfect. If you want something done quickly on a computer, ask a 12-year-old.
But the younger son was altogether more picky. First off, he wanted to be Fantastic Mr Fox, which I thought was a great choice. We made a fox mask and he assessed it. “No, it’s completely wrong,” he said, woundingly disappointed and disenchanted.
Then it was a knight. That idea went away, as did plans to go as Horrid Henry (stripy T-shirt, ruffled hair), Where’s Wally (scuppered due to lack of stripy woolly hat) and Harry, the boy who famously has a Bucketful of Dinosaurs.
No sooner had I filled a bucket with dinosaurs than that, too, was rejected.
None of the above. In the end, he chose to go as General Grievous, a villainous character from the Star Wars films.
And for World Book Day purposes, let me assure you that the General is right there, in the book of the film.
Next year, we plan to think ahead. We won’t, of course. Just like every year, we’ll be sitting there two days before, exasperated and stressed. The charity shops will have sold out of Harry Potter shaped glasses and our dressing-up box will again offer precious few solutions.
But if it makes children love reading just a little more, I guess it has to be worth it.
n Thanks to all of you who’ve come up with the cultural references for our beloved area. I kicked off last week with the obvious – Leavesden – and the less well-known – the woods at the start of Star Wars Episode I are in fact Whippendell Woods.
As luck would have it, I went to see that very film last weekend (audience in the cinema: 11 dads, 24 boys, no mums, no girls) and had to suppress the desire to shout out “look everyone – that’s in Watford” as the two Jedi Knights were running for their lives.
But there are, of course, plenty more.
One I should have remembered straight away was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which features the Royal Masonic School, but my memory had to be nudged.
Then there are the Professionals and the Avengers, both of which seem to have been filmed on a rotation basis across every postcode in south-west Hertfordshire.
The Three Horseshoes in Letchmore Heath seemed to be as regular a part of the show as Ford Capris and colliding with cardboard boxes.
Stephen Griffin, who knows more about such things than any man alive, assures me that The Grove, which in those days was a somewhat less grand building, appeared in half a dozen episodes of The Avengers, as well as a couple of episodes of The Champions, and Department S.
Watford Town Hall has also housed The Avengers – where hasn’t? – and also Here Come the Double Deckers.
But best of all, The Saint once drew up outside the Town Hall in his beautiful Volvo. If you’ve got a picture of that, let me know.
In fact, there was a time when just about every British TV series appears to have been filmed around here – you can add The Baron, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, Journey to the Unknown, Danger Man and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. We’ve had them all… We’ve got music ticked – the whole Ace of Spades album by Motorhead was recorded in Rickmansworth. It’s not my favourite song but it does carry a happy memory.
Many years later, working at Our Price Records in St Albans, we used the very track as an experiment to see whether we could make the shop shake so much with music that cassettes and CDs would fall out of the racks on the wall. They did. Well done, Lemmy… But have you ever seen any of these things in action? Ever witnessed Grange Hill being filmed on your doorstep, EastEnders arguing on the High Street, or Roger Moore coming to Watford in either Persuader or Saint mode?
Send me a tweet to @adamparsons1 or drop a line to the Watford Observer.