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Easter Fires: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

At about 8:00pm, a group of six bunnies appeared, strolled casually beneath the set's silhouetted Cross Mountain and took up position for a group photo call. They were dressed just as the couple on the postcard had been, and sported the same magnificently erect ears. Each costume was a single, strong primary colour of yellow, red or blue. The baggy material, which seemed to be made from some sort of towelling fabric, left a circular hole for the wearer's face to poke out, and stopped dead at ankle level, revealing the cast's own black boots or box-fresh trainers.
We'd all taken our seats by this time, and I found myself sandwiched between two American men, both of whom seemed to have been dragged along to the pageant by their wives. The one on my right had an expensive-looking camera with a tripod and a massive zoom lens, which he couldn't stop fiddling with. There were a lot of pricey cameras in the crowd, most of which I imagine belonged to proud parents with a child in the cast. The bloke on my left clearly didn't want to be there at all, because he kept his arms folded defensively in front of him for the whole evening and let out regular sighs to let us know how bored he was.
The crowd was all white and mostly pretty rural. You could have stripped the whole grandstand naked and not found a single designer label among us. There were quite a few young children there, including one little girl behind me who had a decidedly black sense of humour. "It would be funny if a bunny's tail was to catch fire," she informed her dad. "Then he would have to scoot along the ground like Bugs Bunny does."
The first sign of action on stage came when Mark, our narrator for the evening, started testing out the PA. He ran through the usual repertoire of test phrases, but it was hopeless. We could barely hear him. Mark made a few more adjustments, then asked if we could hear him now. There was a great cry of "No!" from the grandstand and one or two fractious kids started to bawl. Mark started tugging at wires and checking his plugs again, but it didn't seem to make any difference.
A few minutes later, he decided he'd better press on regardless, and started what was supposed to be his formal introduction to the pageant. There was an outbreak of shushing in the grandstand as we all tried to make out what he was saying, and then more shouts.
"Can't hear. CAN'T HEAR!!! LOUDER!!!!!"
There was a stunned silence from Mark. "That's better," someone shouted.
Mark tried again. "Testing. One, two. Check, check. Testing. One, two. Testing, one, two. Check? Check?"
"LOUDER!!!! LOUDER!!!!!"
"Lil' more?"
The whole evening was threatening to degenerate into farce. The guy on my left gave a disgusted snort. "Typical small town," he said.

We sat patiently through the kiddies' wildflower ballet and then, at long last, it was bunny time

But then something clicked, and Mark's voice was suddenly clear as day. A deafening cheer rang from the grandstand, followed by triumphant whoops, whistles and applause. Mark realised he'd been saved. "Testing, one two - Yeah!!!" he said to more general applause. "OK, let's try it again. Since the beginning of time..."
Everything proceeded smoothly from that moment on, and the initial hiccups served only to create a sort of Blitz spirit among the crowd, who willed the pageant on for the rest of the evening. We were all in this together, and even the spotlight operator's persistent habit of being either five seconds ahead or five seconds behind the main action on stage could not spoil our mood.

The pageant began in the Indian village, where most of the next half hour's action took place. This was very much the playground version of the Old West. The script for the pageant dated back to the 1940s, and seemed to have been left largely untouched ever since. Mark made no attempt to call the villagers "Native Americans" or any other such PC term, but simply referred to them as "Indians" throughout. They wore fringed jackets with feathered headbands, appealed to the "Great Spirits" at every opportunity, and communicated with smoke signals.
We watched a supposed Indian legend being acted out, which involved a little Indian girl saving her people from drought by sacrificing a much-loved doll, sat patiently through the children's wildflower ballet and then - at last - it was bunny time. As Heath and Michelle Crenwelge hopped into view, Mark began telling us about the pioneer mother, deftly folding a little genuine Teutonic folklore into the story as he went.
"She remembered a story told to her as a child in Germany," he said. "A tale that, on a certain night of the year, fairies came out to dance around fires on the hills, signifying the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. But the mother realised that her children would not understand about on the wild Texas frontier, so she began to make up her own story. It was Easter time, and she wove a tale about the little rabbits that her children had seen as they played in the woods ..."
Heath and Michelle were well into their roles as heads of the Bunny household by now, fussing over a cooking pot and stirring its imaginary contents with two long wooden paddles. Mark cued up some jolly clap-along music, and suddenly the stage was awash with human rabbits. There were 80 bunnies of various ages and sizes taking part in the pageant this year, and all wore the same bright costumes I described earlier. It was a rainbow nation of bunnies, ranging all the way from full-grown adults to babes in arms. There were fat bunnies, thin bunnies, young bunnies, old bunnies, male bunnies and female bunnies. Some were too young to know what was going on and others were already drawing a pension.

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