Developing a Dorking Museum children’s book at the height of a pandemic

by Peter Brown

Dear Friends,

There is no more poignant sight in our town today than the Dorking Cockerel on the A24/A25 roundabout.  Like the shop window mannequin in H.G. Wells Time Machine, Mr Cockerel’s numerous outfits always seem to reflect the mood of the day while putting smiles on faces.  We are all children at heart.

Before this all kicked off, I was writing the outline treatment for a new Dorking Museum children’s action book.  The idea is to present a miscellany of family activities, based around our local history and landscape, to fire the imagination of inquisitive young minds.  Little did any of us know that the hand of the present was about to make its mark so forcibly on human history.  

Just when I thought everything would go on hold for months on end, I received the most heart-warming email from the mother of a local boy, Charlie, who is fascinated by fossils.  Mum included a photo of Charlie with his fossil collection (see below).  At home because of the lockdown, he had been taking part in a group videocall with his friends where they were discussing the fossils in his astounding collection!  Charlie wasn’t going to let a global pandemic or his confinement get in the way get in the way of his hobbies and discussing them face to face with his friends.   

We can learn a lot from Charlie and his generation about pursuing our interests and keeping in touch with friends in a lockdown.  We just have to think sideways.

As the Dorking Museum community, the thing that brings us all together is our shared passion for history and heritage – and history is happening in front of our eyes.  The museum’s new blog will help keep us all in touch with what we are doing. Perhaps it will inspire new interests.

One thing we can all do without leaving our homes is observe and record history in action. We owe this to future historians. Whenever the opportunity arises (within the infection control restrictions) photographers, diarists, poets, painters, sculptors, etc, should capture the moments in this extraordinary period.  History is happening at home as well as outside in the wider world and we are all eyewitnesses.  That goes for our children too.  We can all capture these events from our own perspectives.

I’m already hearing from friends, working at home using videoconferencing (instead of jetting off to meetings in Europe and beyond), how their enforced confinement is giving them more quality time to spend with their families.  What began as ‘apocalyptic’ empty streets and skies is now being relished as silence. A mixed blessing for many, I know, especially for those employed at Gatwick or Heathrow.  Yet people are also appreciating the sound of birdsong and I’m told young Charlie is going outside in the evenings with his bat detector! 

Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, we are likely to emerge into a very different world from the one we left behind six weeks ago. 

We must observe and record these changes, in the ways that we work best.  For the children’s book it would be particularly interesting to follow these events through young eyes.  Photos of activities will be useful (I can post a suggested list later) as well as children’s diaries and artworks.  Please send anything you have to [email protected]

When the time is right, I’d love to collate these records for Dorking Museum so they can be used for future projects and kept safe for the historians of tomorrow. 

Thank you, and please stay safe.

Best wishes,

Peter Brown

Author of The Vanishing River of Box Hill.

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