As a little girl I loved my stash of costumes and fancy clothes. I wore my best pink dress and frilly socks while keeping up with the boys as we hunted rabbits in the woods outside my place. If there weren’t any there, we’d pretend that there were. The costume box never seemed to be too far away and imagination was always closer. In this world of make believe we worked through our problems and dreamed of possible futures. One week we would suit ourselves up in Olympic hats and imagine the crowds cheering as we were the finalists competing for the gold medal. The next week it was time to play teacher and help students work out their math equations. When inflicted with boredom, we were forced to play, to become.
In a world of “should haves,” I probably should have grown out of the desire to play and dress up. But I didn’t. There are just too many stories that I’d just love to jump into and try out for a while! Who wouldn’t want to step into a scene from one of their favourite movies, tv shows or books? Take Downton Abbey for example. Imagine living in this upstairs, downstairs world … where of course I would live upstairs. And without all the terrible drama. I could do without the drama! Ok, just give me the costumes, the house and the setting. When I heard that my friend’s hen party was going to be at a place that advertises as a Downton experience, I was over the moon!
The Victorian Escapade at Clonard House was so much more than it advertised! From the outside, the house is just a large country home. Except it did have the huge vine spreading possessively across the entire front, made only more beautiful in the winter as it bared its skeleton. As one of the people in the last car to arrive, along with the bride-to-be, I felt the full impact of entering the house after her! At least 10 others stood in two perfect rows just inside the door ready to curtsey as soon as the guest of honour stepped inside. It even took me a minute to realise that it was the rest of our party dressed in black and white with their hair tucked away in their caps. We soon joined them in costume and were brought downstairs where the laughter really began as we tried to out-do each other in baking apple cakes, scrubbing out stains and tossing rings. Following our final outdoor task of chamber pot racing (in which we lost all the contents onto the ground … and each other) we were told that we would just not do as downstairs help. Upstairs we entered a room filled with satin, silk, lace and fur. In order to play parlour games and sit down to afternoon tea we had to look the part.
When we finally entered the dining room we were convinced that this was no ordinary hen party. The table was set with an exquisite array of sweet and savoury foods that tasted as good as they looked. The staff were so genuinely kind and played their roles perfectly throughout the entire day. Never once did it feel like we were in a cheesy role play or crude costume party. When it was time to re-enter the present and leave all the house behind we were all satisfied with a fantastic day of play filled with laughter.
Child development scholar Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote: “play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” I’d like to think that he is right not only for children but also for adults.