Earlier this year, on discovering how long I’d worked here, a visitor asked me what my favourite story or anecdote from over the years was. I was completely thrown – not only had nobody ever asked me that specific question before, but how on earth was I to pick just one thing?
But the question made me ponder, and reminisce a bit. Impossible to pick a single favourite moment, but there have been many, many stand out moments – and like for any job with animals, for both good and bad reasons. So I thought I’d tell you one of them, and will maybe write more blogs with further stories at a later date.
At the time when the question was actually asked of me, I went a bit blank, and despite a million different stories I could have told, suddenly the only one I could think of was a little moment from Christmas tour, several years back. I was on tour with Mel right down south and doing a ‘reindeer only’ event in Exeter. This differs from our normal events with the sleigh and parade etc, as it is just reindeer in a display pen for 2 or 3 hours, with us herders there to chat to people in the crowd. Much less work for both us and the reindeer compared to a parade!
It was a horrible day, absolutely pouring, so I can’t say either Mel or I were particularly enamoured of the idea of standing getting utterly drenched for hours, the sort of day where you know you’re going to get soaked to your underwear and the prospect of dry pants was a long way away (Christmas tour ain’t as glamorous as it sometimes sounds) – at least the reindeer have built in waterproof coats far more effective than any human clothing. We got the pen ready; straw spread out, feed and water in bowls, signage up, and then returned to the lorry to fetch the reindeer. The route to the pen involved walking along the pavement and then through a covered shopping arcade to the pen itself – no problem at all and the reindeer are perfectly happy in such a situation as we make sure that all six stay close together in their mini herd. There’s safety in numbers if you’re a reindeer! Just at the entrance into the arcade we paused, in the pelting rain, for security to clear a route through for us and the reindeer stood gazing around in interest at their surroundings – or more realistically, in hindsight, wondering where their pen and their lunch was. We were right outside a Costa coffee shop which had window seating, full of warm cosy people inside sipping nice hot drinks and oblivious to the world outside, until suddenly 6 reindeer appeared on the pavement, literally just feet away from them. We had big male reindeer Puddock as our of our team members (I can’t remember the others), and he put his nose right to the glass and breathed out, leaving huge steamed up patches. I watched a lady inside slowly put her hand up to the glass and put it flat against it, Puddock’s nose a centimetre away the other side. A few seconds passed and then we moved on, and the moment was gone.
And that was it. In real time just a fleeting moment, but one I have always remembered, and I often wonder too about the lady the other side of the window, and whether she still tells the story of the time she was having a coffee in Exeter and somewhat miraculously a reindeer appeared outside the window and then vanished once again. Years later I remember nothing about the actual reindeer event other than that little moment en route to the pen (and the fact that the herders at every single event across the country that day got completely soaked too apart from, ironically, at Fort William – normally one of the wettest places in the country).
In my head I debated telling the visitor on the Hill Trip about this memory, but standing outside a Costa on a wet day in Exeter, of all places, seemed so at odds with our current situation way out on the mountainside high up on the Cairngorms, on a beautiful winter’s day, surrounded by reindeer roaming freely in their natural habitat, that it didn’t seem worth the effort of explaining it all, and it wouldn’t have been the sort of the story the visitor was expecting anyway. But it’s a memory for me none the less and as Puddock has been one of my very favourite reindeer over the years but is now retired from Christmas tour, it’s a particularly poignant one.