On a cold, soggy Sunday in October, no one feels like getting up early and going out first thing in the morning. But it was time for the annual Wombles storytelling and singalong with Julian Butler, kicking off the final day of Wimbledon BookFest.
This year’s session was in the new William Morris Tent, a cosier offshoot of the Big Tent with cushions and soft lighting. About 50 kids sat on the floor, with their parents (and a few grandparents) on chairs around the sides.
To get things started, two Wombles were brought in to say hello (well, to wave hello) – apparently they’d come in to shelter from the rain, which was beating down on the tent.
“Anyone know who this is?” asked Julian. “Pinocchio!” shouted a young voice. All the adults burst out laughing, but it’s an understandable mixup as his name does sound quite like Orinoco – and of course they both have a long nose.
“And who’s this?” Julian continued. “I’ve no idea,” answered a boy at the front. Someone else knew though; yes, it was Madame Cholet.
This time, most of the audience said they hadn’t been to one of these before, though there were a few regulars. But many of the kids knew their stuff, answering Julian’s questions with ease. Someone even knew that the Nightwatch Womble was Tomsk. Either they were established readers (or viewers) of The Wombles, or their parents had prepared them well.
The format of the event was much the same as in previous years: a song, some reading, another song, more reading, and a couple of songs to finish, with a bit of chitchat in between.
The Wombling Song was the familiar opener, with the lyrics displayed on a screen to help the grownups sing along.
“I should just check that everyone knows what a Womble is…” asked Julian, before beginning the story. “It’s a Womble,” someone stated, quite reasonably.
This year’s story was ‘Bungo’, the opening chapter of the first book, which introduces the Wombles burrow and a few of its main characters. “Does anyone know who Bungo is?” Julian began. “He’s a Womble!” answered several kids. “I think they’ve worked out that the answer to every question is ‘Womble’,” Julian laughed. “Does anyone know what Bungo’s like? A Womble, yes…”
Halfway through the story, as some children began to fidget, Julian took a break to sing Remember You’re A Womble, again encouraging everyone to join in with the chorus.
At the end, it was time for Let’s Womble To The Party Tonight with another audience-friendly chorus, before closing with a re-run of The Wombling Song while Orinoco and Madame Cholet made a second appearance.
Afterwards, the two Wombles sat patiently posing for photos with children (and, ahem, one or two adults). But it was nearly lunchtime so Madame Cholet needed to get back to the burrow. I thought I heard some thunder, but it might just have been Orinoco’s stomach rumbling…