Warning: hideously off-topic (and also duplicated, if you subscribe to my other blogs) post to follow, for today only.
About eighteen months ago, I was strolling across Cheltenham Racecourse on a sunny Tuesday morning when I had an epiphany.
We’d been there for a music and arts festival, and these gatherings are synonymous with creative sharing. There are writers’ workshops, song-crafting panels and at night you’ll leave the lights of the village and its coffee stands and art displays to the camping area, where the air is alive with the sound of a hundred strumming guitars. “Be not afraid,” I said to Joshua and Daniel on our first night there. “The isle is full of noises.”
My idea wasn’t new or revolutionary, it was just something I hadn’t tried before. I was recalling the sequence in Amelie in which the titular heroine cures her agoraphobic father by kidnapping his gnome and arranging for it to go travelling. Assorted photos arrive on his doormat from round the world, and in the end the old man conquers his fear of travel, packs a suitcase and leaves.
I know that the concept of the travelling gnome – the item that is abandoned in various places and then picked up, and then put down somewhere else – is nothing new. I’ve even seen it done with books. But it struck me that it would be a fun topic for a blog, so I spent the next week or so obtaining three cuddly dogs from local charity shops, before typing out a multi-lingual set of instructions that could, I imagined, be understood by the bulk of the word’s population. I set up a blog, Facebook feeds and even a Twitter account. Then I left the dogs in assorted locations around the home counties, and sat back and waited.
It was a dismal failure.
I don’t think the problem was in the methodology. For one thing I’d dumped them all in different places to maximise the spread. Manny was left in Didcot town centre and was picked up by a local girl who promptly emailed me with a photo and promised she’d be taking him to Oxford in a day or two. Bernard was left in Reading University library by the husband of one of my colleagues – it took some effort because the staff kept running after him to remind him to take his stuffed toy with him – before being collected by a chap who said he was going to the Isle of Wight. Francesca fared the best of all, having enjoyed a whistlestop tour of Oxford courtesy of another colleague, before being collected by a family who assured her that they were off to Australia and that they’d take the dog with them.
Then zip. Zilch. Nada.
I guess I placed too much faith in human nature, and that someone decided to pick up the dogs and disregard the (clearly visible) instructions. I’d like to hope that they’re warming a young child’s bed somewhere – that wouldn’t be such a bad ending to a journey, however brief. There is, of course, the possibility that they’ve been incinerated by zealous security staff who assumed that they were a suspicious package. I probably caused a major alert at an international airport somewhere and delayed several long-haul flights. Sorry about that.
That was September 2011, and very recently, off the back of conversations I’ve been having in the office, I decided to have another go. The infrastructure is already in place – I simply had to find new dogs. And here they are.
Meet (left to right) Penny, Leonard and Sheldon. Well, obviously.
I have no idea how far we’ll get, but the possibility of failure shouldn’t stop you trying – Thomas has taught me that much, at least. So I’m plugging the other blog here, and granting you the opportunity to join us at the start of our journey, should you be so inclined. God knows I could use the moral support. Simply pop across to followthedogs.wordpress.com and hit the ‘follow’ button. And then sit back and watch as ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS.
Well, we’ll see…