A few days ago I talked about an exhibition of puppets I organised at Liverpool nearly 20 years ago and how it was one beginning to the journey that led me to Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic. Well, although it is true that puppets generally are something of a common theme with the Czechs, that exhibition had a special importance in my journey.
I approached quite a number of television and film puppeteers for exhibits - these were days before the arrival of emails and so the approach took the form of a letter. Any way I got a phone call in response from one puppeteer. Of course I could borrow some puppets, she even had some scenery if that would help. But she wasn't sure what I would want anything said the puppeteer with a soft, low, Czech accent. Perhaps I could come round to her flat and look at them - she lived only a few miles away from my home in London.
And so it was that I found myself climbing up the cast-iron external staircase of a large Victorian house. At the top of the stairs I rang the doorbell and waited. The door opened, I was greeted and invited in. I descended a few steps in to the reception area, on one side was a set of what I recognised as old Czech marionettes, on a table was a nutcracker in the form of a soldier. On the walls was an array of prints and paintings, and a large Mexican embroidary. I was shown into the main room and waited whilst the puppeteer disappeared to find the puppets. The room was light and airy with large windows overlooking a park. A centre piece of the room was a grand piano with sheet music, beside the door was a plant hung with hand-painted Czech easter eggs. On the bookcase was an eclectic range of books - on Jung, books of fairytales, film and a number of books in Czech.
The puppeteer came back carrying some wonderful characterful black-light theatre puppets - wasn't sure that I would want them, I wanted everything including the scenery and I told her so. She grinned and asked if I would like some tea. Two mugs of dark (very British) tea arrived and we started to talk. We have been talking and drinking tea together ever since.