Finding My (Penguin) Feet - Life As A Mascot At Living Coasts
Published: Jul 9, 2015As Alice remarked ‘curiouser and curiouser’ – and so goes our volunteering for Living Coasts! The Solitaire du Figaro yacht race was visiting Torquay, and the Race Village was in full swing on Haldon Pier and along the harbour quay.
In what was possibly a fit of madness we volunteered to be Mac the Penguin mascot and his handler to publicise Living Coasts to the crowds; not an activity to which we have previously contributed. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the mascot volunteered but the handler was less certain, although did agree in the end… A significant change from conducting school visits round the site, assisting with workshops and generally acting as round-up support to ensure that timetables are adhered to (at least, as near as possible).
So, to dressing up as a penguin. I did a quick recce the day before with Events Co-ordinator Hayley and Paignton Zoo volunteer Roger to ensure the costume was all there (it had been out on loan) and to figure out how it worked and the optimum attire to wear underneath. It seemed straightforward enough, although bulky and apparently very hot inside, so sessions with it on are limited to 20 minutes. Not sure what happens after that time, but assume the wearer melts into a gloop and settles in the feet.
The great moment arrived and Hayley, Roger and Thea, my wife and also a Living Coasts volunteer, all look at me in anticipation of my disappearance inside a penguin. Start with the feet. Large, red and floppy, so I feel that walking may be a problem, but leave that to one side. Then a kind of underskirt, padding for the body, but in a series of tubes, so I look rather like the Michelin man. Thea says it would be ideal for a crinoline. Now the costume, over the head, trying to find where to put my arms into the flippers, with my ‘dressers’ tugging the costume down over me. I discover that I now have stumpy legs zipped over my feet. Finally the head. It is large, with padding that prevents my own head from moving about too much. There is even a small fan inside it, but alas it does not work!
I look out. I can see downwards through the mouth and upwards through the eyes, but they are quite high up in the head and the beak obscures my vision directly ahead. Now I know what a four-eyed fish sees! Thea guides me expertly to the cafe lift and through the shop. I follow, trying not to fall over my feet – the feet are so wide that I keep treading on one with the other, but eventually master the technique.
And out in front of Living Coasts. We are immediately surrounded by children and parents who want a picture of their child with a macaroni penguin. And not just children – adults join the fun and embrace Mac, even thought I felt a ‘goose’ or two! Thea, Hayley and Roger give out leaflets and stickers, and we are amazed by the number of Living Coasts members who have come to see the yachts – we even meet a mum who is a regular at Waddles Toddles.
So now time’s up and Roger takes over the penguin. He must enjoy it as soon he is jigging to the Palm FM rock and roll music coming from the nearby stage. A passer-by even comments that he has never seen a dancing penguin before – perhaps he’d never watched ‘Happy Feet’! At last we realise that the crowds have gone to watch the start of the race, so no point in carrying on trying to give out our stickers and leaflets and we call it a day. A new experience, most enjoyable, quite tiring, but worth it – so here’s to the next time!! Now which school do we have this week?
Jim Redman - Volunteer