Wombles storytelling at Wimbledon Bookfest 2011

Great Uncle Bulgaria waves to the audience“Does anybody know what a Womble is?” asks the man with the microphone. Hands shoot into the air and a polite young voice replies: “It’s a kind of creature that clears up rubbish.”

It’s a perfect explanation from one of the children in the audience of the Womble Storytelling and Singalong event at Wimbledon Bookfest.

In a big marquee on the edge of Wimbledon Common, families gathered to meet Great Uncle Bulgaria, listen to some stories and join in with a few songs. The event was so popular that this 11am session sold out, so an extra 2pm session was added to the Bookfest schedule.

Like last year, many of the kids brought their cuddly Wombles toys – one little boy even had the Orinoco hot water bottle case, which was almost as big as him. They loved to stroke and cuddle Uncle Bulgaria, though a few children were frightened. One boy seemed a bit confused, first calling out excitedly “He’s real!”, closely followed by “He’s dressed up!”. A little girl asked Uncle Bulgaria, “Where are your friends?” – she was told that the other Wombles were having a lie-in after working so hard, to which she replied, “I bet you tried to wake them”.

After welcoming Great Uncle Bulgaria and finding out how much the kids knew about the Wombles, Julian Butler kicked things off with The Wombling Song. He invited everyone to sing along, adding, “and I’m looking particularly at the adults…”.

A few rounds of ‘Underground, overground, wombling free’ later, Julian moved on to a story: ‘Bungo’, the opening chapter of The Wombles, which he read from the brand new colour gift edition. It was an excellent performance, complete with actions and different character voices, that held most people’s attention despite the length of the story.

“Can you sing again?” asked a little girl while Julian was setting up a mic stand. Sure enough, her request was granted with Remember You’re A Womble. After running through a couple of verses and choruses, he got all the kids joining in with the ‘Remember you’re a Womble!’ response, which was a great success.

The event could happily have ended on that note, as some of the younger kids were starting to get tired or restless and had more difficulty concentrating on the second story, ‘Orinoco And The Rabbit Hole’.

Then, after explaining that the most important day in the Wombles’ year is the Midsummer Party, Julian wrapped things up with the less well-known song Let’s Womble To The Party Tonight.

At the end, as they left, all the kids were handed a lovely promotional Wombles tidy-bag from publishers Bloomsbury. Then it was time to find Great Uncle Bulgaria outside the tent for more cuddles and photos – his ears flipping up rather amusingly in the wind – before he retired to his burrow underneath the Common.