Monday, May 7, 2018

Once more unto the Renfaire, dear friends...

On Saturday, I mentioned that Scarborough Fair (officially Scarborough Renaissance Festival) was open for the season. About ten minutes later I was calling my father to see if he wanted to come with us on Sunday. About two hours after that, he called us back and the plan was on. This is going to be a gigantic wall of text, so if you want the TL/DR: version, just scroll down.

So this morning I woke up to my alarm -- very much not my usual Sunday morning patter. I got everyone else out of bed, put food in the boys and myself, and loaded us all into the van. (Beautiful wife has a medication that she takes in the morning, and she can't eat for at least an hour after taking it, which absolutely doesn't complicate things at all, ever. The plan for this morning was just to feed her as soon as we arrived at the Faire.) Then we swung by my dad's house, picked him up, and headed on down to Scarborough Fair. (Travel music...)

We got there about ten minutes after the gates opened, bought tickets, and went in. Sunday morning is a great time to show up, because it's cooler -- and yesterday the temperature was perfect -- plus the real crowds won't show up until the afternoon, but everything's going and anything we want to see or do is available.

My father, being my father... Look, I'm not going to explain that. If you know him, or if you've been reading other things that I've written about him, you'll know that he is outgoing to a fault, and kind and generous as well. Plus, he's heavily involved with folk music and instrument repair, two communities which have a decided overlap with the sort of people who perform at renaissance fairs. So going to the renfaire with him, well... he knows people. He's been attending this one, at least once a year, for the last thirty years. (So have I, more or less, but I am... not outgoing.) So our first stop inside the gate was just to buy some of the candied almonds, but our second stop was to swing by the glassblower's shop so he could check in with them, and see how they and their kids were doing. Turned out one of their kids was in town with her partner, so we had a bit of a chat while the glassblower and his wife were engaged with their demonstration. (I think I want to call it a demonstration, since they're actually demonstrating their craft the whole time; but... well, they throw in so much history and background and discussion of the technique, that it feels a lot like a TED talk as well.)

Secondborn wanted to buy a wooden sword. (His, he explained, had broken.) So we went on around and found the shop with the wooden weapons, where he examined a blade based off the plasma swords from the HALO series of video games. Alas, it was too expensive -- each boy had been given twenty dollars to spend as they would, with the understanding that we would take care of group needs such as food, but this particular sword was outside his budget. Instead, he settled on a pair of daggers at six dollars apiece, which left him with a decent chunk of his budget still intact. His older brother decided on a battle axe, and wisely bought a hanger for it as well, so he didn't have to carry it the whole time.

After that we wandered for a bit, while the boys looked for an open space large enough to let the battle. We finally found one, and they... um... battled. Specifically, Firstborn tried to use his axe with a lot more finesse than axes usually merit, while Secondborn wound up running in wide circles around him with the daggers held in dramatic poses. When they wound up ion a standoff on opposite sides of a tree, I called a halt under the theory that I didn't want Firstborn using his enchanted axe to cut down the tree just so he could get to his brother.

We continued on our circuit, visiting the fellow with the bird-warble flutes. (Yes, my father knows him too.) At the far end of that branch of the festival is what used to be the mud pit stage -- home to performances such as Beowulf! In! The! Mud! and suchlike. It's just an ordinary stage now, and the boys are still a bit too young to sit through a show. But as we came around, they spotted the open area where the cast of the festival sometimes performs Living Chess, and decided to have another battle there. There's a stage nearby that used to hold a carrillon, but unfortunately it wasn't there this year. My father wandered over to find out what had happened, since (you guessed it) he knows the guy who plays it, or at least his performing persona. As I understand it, there was some kind of situation (not necessarily involving drama) where the person who actually owned and/or built the carrillon set-up had found it too expensive to maintain, or perhaps just too expensive to get it to the fair.

By then, people were beginning to admit that they might be hungry, so we got Secondborn some pizza, Firstborn some chicken on a stick, Beautiful Wife a fajita, and various sorts of ciders for all the grown-ups. My father wound up finishing off the second half of Firstborn's chicken, which apparently filled him well enough. We continued on around, and Secondborn asked if we could cross the Troll Bridge. We could; we did.

Unfortunately, the troll was not in residence. (The troll makes magical jewelry for children in exchange for small donations to cover supplies.) So we came up the far side of the bridge next to Stephen Bennett Pottery, where we stopped to pick out mugs. This is something of a tradition; we've been buying these mugs for at least two decades now. Beautiful Wife and I picked out a matching pair, glazed in a medium blue over bands of dark brown. She thinks of them as Monet mugs, but they look like seashore to me.

We stopped to finish feeding ourselves on this side of the creek, where I could get fried cheese and my father could find fried ice cream. We also had more cider. From here I took the boys over to look at swords, and they were extremely well-behaved while holding the blades. (There are rules to examining custom swords or even knives at at renfaire: don't swing it around, keep the blade over the counter, and do not touch the blade with your fingers.) After that, we ventured on... and found a place that sold air plants and self-contained terrariums (terrarria?). Secondborn decided that he really wanted a small succulent in a bottle that he could wear around his neck, so there went the rest of his money.

And, once we reached the end of that aisle -- and found the occarina cart, which my father engaged from his deep love of musical instruments and Firstborn engaged from his deep love of video games -- Secondborn announced that he really wanted to play in the maze. It wasn't that far off, so we started in that direction...

And ran right into the parade. Firstborn peeled a vendor off from the front of the parade and used the last of his money on a giant pretzel. Secondborn looked at any number of stone carvings and plaster castings (because that was the shop where we found ourselves) and then we started trying to work our way back towards the maze.

We did get there eventually, and the boys disappeared inside. My father offered to wait outside, so Beautiful Wife and I could go get anything else we needed. In my case, this included protein, so we crossed down to the food-and-beer circle in the center of that area, and I grabbed a gyro and another cider, while my wife acquired ciders for herself and my father. Upon our return, she handed him his cider and announced, "Those who watch, receive their reward." This prompted the fellow selling tickets to the maze to point out that he'd been watching all day, and where was his reward?

I commandeered a table so I could eat my gyro, but stopped after about half of it; that seemed to be enough. After a bit, Beautiful Wife and my father came over and sat with me, and we waited in the shade while the boys ran around in the maze. The boys emerged a couple of times, seeking water or rest or shade (by now it was well into the afternoon, and getting warmer -- plus, we'd all been out in the sun for some time). At one point, Beautiful Wife and Firstborn ran into some sort of weight-guessing game. They came back reporting that the young man running the game had been considerably younger than she would have guessed -- in his early twenties, in fact. When asked to guess my wife's age, he'd called her at "Attractive!" which we all had to admit was pretty accurate; when asked about my father, his estimate was: "Wise."

So with all this done, and the boys fairly well worn from running through the maze, we decided to head back home. We swung by the glassblowers again, and this time caught them between shows; but after that we headed out and made it back to the van. We swung by granddaddy's house, where Secondborn and I made a token attempt at swimming in the Holy-Hell-It's-Really-Cold pool, and Firstborn paused to paint his new wooden battle axe with his grandfather's help. Then we went home.

I've come to think that five people is pretty close to my ideal group size for these trips. Too many more, and you have too many competing priorities. Too many fewer, and you might as well have just gone alone. (...Though admittedly, going with just my wife would be fine; but that's a very different bit of emotional calculus.) But I think everybody had a good time, and I'm pleased with our new mugs, and once we got home I managed to shower... Plus, just getting out of the metroplex (and in a way, getting out of the modern world) was an oddly-lovely little one-day vacation. It left us all much more relaxed and refreshed and just generally happy.

TL/DR: We took my father down to Scarborough Renaissance Festival. We didn't watch any of the shows, really, and we didn't do too many activities, but we still had a great time and I think everyone enjoyed it.

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