As you may have gathered from my last entry, we’ve just returned from the Democratic Republic of Norwich, and aside from being bitten by what I can only assume was some sort of vicious tropical insect (judging by the fact my right ankle and foot became so swollen and purple they resembled Alex Ferguson), we had a rather good time.
I ate well, drank nice beer and wine, managed to read most of a book (which, bearing in mind I usually average three books a year, is quite an achievement let me tell you), and indulged – almost daily – in one of my very favourite pastimes: the power nap.
But above all else, I went hunting for dragons.
Yes, you read that right, and no, I haven’t completely lost the plot. Whilst admittedly there is still a fair amount of insect-venom coursing around my lower extremities (a full week after I was savagely attacked), I can assure you that my mind is as stable as it ever was. Baaaah.
I’d better explain myself then.
Every two years, a charity called ‘Break’ (who support families and young people in East Anglia), ask local artists to paint a series of animal-based sculptures, which are then hidden around Norwich for people (mostly, but not exclusively, children) to find.
Two years ago, a vast array of colourful gorillas took over the city for a few weeks of summer, and Ollie – who was three at the time – absolutely loved wandering around trying to find as many as he could.
Not only did the ‘Go Go Gorillas’ raise awareness for the charity and the work that they do, as well as a considerable amount for their coffers when the sculptures were eventually auctioned off (nearly £300,000), but the local economy was boosted by all the extra shoppers flocking to the city to join in the hunt.
Such was the success of the gorillas in 2013, it’s fair to say Break stepped it up a gear with the 2015 ‘Go Go Dragons’. Not only were there more of them to track down (84 dragons compared to 54 gorillas), but budding hunters could also buy the official sticker book to complete, as well as download the app – which showed you where all the dragons could be found, allowed you to ‘unlock’ them via GPS once you’d discovered them, and gave you information about the artist or group responsible for the – often weird – design.
The stickers alone will raise a huge amount for the charity (it’s amazing how addictive sticker books can become, even as an adult helping your dragon-obsessed offspring), and judging by the number of people we encountered taking part in the hunt, the shops and restaurants displaying the dragons will have done very nicely out of the deal too. Everyone wins.
Everyone, that is, except for the tired parents.
We explained to Ollie relatively early on that, whilst Mummy and Daddy were happy to help him look for some of the dragons, we had only managed to discover around 35-40 of the gorillas a couple of years ago, so there was no chance of getting anywhere near 84 dragons this time around. Not only that, but the gorillas had been largely restricted to the city centre, whereas the dragons were now as far afield as Norwich airport. He had to be realistic. We were simply never going to reach all 84. Not even close. No Sir, no way.
How naive of us. You should never underestimate the determination of a five year old with a sticker book to complete. Of course we tracked down all 84.
In fairness, when he managed to find 30 dragons on just his first day of hunting (which, our Fitbits reliably informed us, meant he’d walked more than six miles), followed by a further 29 the next day, even I had to admire his determination to complete the challenge.
My competitive side started to wonder whether all 84 might just be possible, but then I kept reminding myself how remotely – and ludicrously – some of them had been strategically placed. I understand why a department store might want to place a dragon in their toy department, and why the Castle Mall might stick a couple in the food court, but what in the name of all things holy possessed the organisers to place two at the airport, one at the nearby Holiday Inn and one at the Toyota garage around the corner? Who in their right mind is in the middle of what is essentially a glorified Easter egg hunt, and suddenly thinks ‘you know what, I might as well fly somewhere/stay the night/buy a car while I’m here….’?
I can only assume that they ran out of places to cram all the dragons into the actual city centre (bearing in mind they were around six foot high and the same in length), and tried to think of interesting places to dump the overflow.
Anyway, by Day 3 Ollie had amassed over 70 dragons and was loving it. Each of the dragons was numbered, and when you located one there was a corresponding letter or symbol on the plinth that you filled into the boxes on your map in order to spell out a message. You could then enter the competition with that message, for the chance to win a prize (which turned out to be flights somewhere, I believe).
My wife and I had worked out most of the message quite early on, so at least Ollie could still enter the competition if he didn’t quite discover all the dragons, but then they kept changing some of the letters for numbers or symbols, like replacing the occasional ‘E’ with a ‘3’ instead, to make sure you had to find all of them. Swines.
Anyway, he added a few more each day until, by Sunday, he only needed seven dragons to complete the set. We knew of the four at the airport and surrounding area, and two more at a couple of restaurants just outside Norwich, but couldn’t work out how we’d missed the final one – which turned out to be right in the city centre where we had been on Day 1. We must have been really close to it as well. Bugger.
So, since he had been uncharacteristically well-behaved for most of the week thus far, I decided that, as a treat, I would drive him out to the airport on a ‘mystery trip’. It’s fair to say that not many children would be that enthralled by an impromptu visit to an airport, but when it dawned on him where he was, his little face lit up.
Realising the end was in sight, I didn’t need a great deal of persuading on Ollie’s part to drive to the other side of Norwich and secure the two others positioned outside the restaurants (one of which became my favourite of all the ones we’d seen), which just left that elusive one we had missed in the city centre.
Having considered the map, and not being particularly familiar with the part of Norwich in which the last dragon was apparently hidden, I wasn’t overly keen to try and find it without one of my wife’s family to direct me. However, Ollie was determined, so, naively trusting our stupid out of date sat-nav, we set off nonetheless.
It’s fair to say, I (and by that I mean the damn sat-nav), got us hopelessly lost. I knew we were in the right part of the city, but there didn’t seem to be any car parks (or certainly none we could fit in with the top box on the car) and most of the roads appeared to be one-way. In the end, the only thing that saved us, and stopped me from giving up and heading for home (or the nearest cliff), was Ollie’s scarily-photographic memory.
He had spent so long lovingly flicking through his sticker album, he had memorised what all 84 looked like, and as we drove around one particular part of city (for what felt like the fifth time), he suddenly shouted “there it is!”
Unfortunately, the dragon in question was on the other side of a three-lane road to us, which meant I had to cut across traffic in order to loop around the building it was positioned by, park illegally (and at speed) in someone’s private office space, dash out with an excited Ollie to take a quick photograph of his final dragon, and then throw him (literally) back in the car to make our getaway.
I’ve not felt so exhilarated in years. It was like being in the A-Team. Only with slightly fewer guns made from things you might find in a garage.
I’m glad Break don’t do this hunt annually, as I’ll need two years to recover and mentally prepare myself for the 2017 hunt (when Isaac will be old enough to join in too). It was a lot of fun though, and having been back through the photos, I have come up with my favourite 10 dragons, lovingly modelled by my first born. Here they are, in descending order:
#10 – Spidy
Nice and colourful. Plus, as you’ll see from what follows, I tended to favour the dragons who had a film-based theme to them.
#9 – Raptorsfire
I just like the colours of this one. It would have featured higher in my list, but I’m pretty certain it was around this point that I got bitten by the unspeakable insect of evil, and the memory (not to mention my leg) is still a bit raw.
#8 – Dragonfly
See, that’s clever. They’ve given the dragon some funny eyes and wings, and made it into a dragonfly. Although, again, it might have been a dragonfly that bit me, so I might retract my affection for this one later on…
#7 – Dragon With The Girl Tattoo
They just keep getting cleverer, don’t they? So help me, I do like a nice play on words. Good job too, because other than that, it’s a bit naff.
#6 – Go Go Horatio
Ah, Nelson. A true Norfolk hero. Like Delia, only with less arms, not-as-good eyesight, and presumably less pissed most of the time.
#5 – McFly
Yes! I’d had my fears that this one was going to be based on the boy-band of the same name, but, instead, the best film ever gets immortalised in the form of a dragon sculpture. Get in.
#4 – George The Dragon
Is it my unwavering patriotism that means I like this one so much, or the fact that it also talked? Yep, it’s the talking.
#3 – Draco
I really liked this one anyway for some reason, but I’ve since found out his stars glow in the dark at night time. Genius.
#2 – Clang
Not the best looking, and we nearly died several times trying to get to it, but it was our final one, number 84, the finish line. And just look at his face.
#1 – Stormy
Words cannot express how much I like this one. It’s based, obviously, on a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, and just out of shot was his helmet to one side (not sure why I didn’t get that in the photo to be honest). Even better, the artist evidently decided that a six-foot dragon isn’t quite intimidating enough to young children, so s/he altered the head and face into something truly terrifying. Kudos my friend.
So, there you have it. We conquered the 2015 Norwich Go Go Dragons. It’d be nice to now win the competition, but just finding the full set of 84 dragons and, even better, completing Ollie’s sticker book along the way (with, fortuitously, the very last sticker in his very last pack), is reward enough.
I wonder what animals they’ll think of next time, and whether they’ll increase the quantity yet further – perhaps dotting some around Ipswich and Kings Lynn, just to really add to my fuel bill and stress levels?
Oh, and I still don’t know what fucking bit me.