Aether Feature – Splendid Tea Pot racing

These features as a way for the Ministry to highlight artists, musicians, writers, and makers of all variety. With so many talented individuals to choose from, we know it is a challenge to feature every clever creative worthy of note, but perhaps we might endeavour to introduce to you a new name in our community of steam and cog, or perhaps remind you of one artisan’s successful efforts to bring the past that never was to the here and now.
 In this week’s Æther Feature brought to you by Countess Simona de Montgomerie we examine the latest trend in steampunk from New Zealand.

Splendid Tea Pot racing

What??? You well may say…. is that?

The Oxford Online Dictionary says:
Tea pot:
A pot with a handle, spout, and lid, in which tea is brewed and from which it is poured.
An animal or means of transport bred or designed for racing

splendid_teapot1Put these two kind of normal things together and what do you get – Splendid Teapot Racing, of course!

So how did this all come about?

My partner, the venerable Captain Various Miscellaneous Bitsandpieces, and I have been avid steampunkers for a number of years. We have religiously attended the best Steampunk event in NZ – may be in the world, The Steampunk Festival NZ at Oamaru , Queens Birthday weekend. One of the events at the festival is a Mess Dinner and afterwards there is usually an activity like dirigible racing. Now I am pretty technologically challenged unless it involves a glue gun or a sewing machine, I could never make a dirigible.   So it was a bit discouraging and gloomy, not participating and I got to thinking (potentially dangerous as I am not very sensible- more Monty Python) what could we do that was inclusive, easy and fun? After some contemplative reflection, I said, ‘Captain’, he said wot, I said ‘Captain’, he said ‘Wot d’ya want?’, ‘I’ve got an idea…..’ So I told him, ‘Teapot Racing!’ ‘Oh’, he said, scratched his head and looked at me rather strangely, not an uncommon thing for him to do.  So I explained how it would look and work and I started to see the light bulbs come on.

One of the things that was extremely important to me about teapot racing is that it is inclusive, participatory and comparatively easy to do.  I am a very non competitive person and like things to be collaborative, simple and family friendly. We also had a friend who had limited mobility and I was thinking about things that she could do. Manoeuvring a joystick could have been something she could have done. It is also a fun activity; well in reality it has turned out to be hilarious.  It is great because it’s fun for the driver and for the spectator. I have never seen so many adults nearly crying with laughter and it was deep belly rolling laughter because watching a tea pot zoom around an obstacle course is silly.

So the Captain and I when we next saw Lady Helen and Agent Darling, the organisers of the Steampunk Festival, said ‘the answer is Teapot Racing’, Agent Darling might have said but this can’t be substantiated, ‘Was there a question?’ We got some scratching of the head, a couple of head twitches and several – she might be loco – look’s exchanged between Lady Helen and Agent Darling. I explained the scenario and after some convincing and to their credit they said ‘Yes, if you organise it.’ So off we went and we did.

There were some interesting night’s activities in our lounge in the weeks leading up to the 2014 Steampunk festival and a very harassed elderly cat being chased around by Salty Sea Dog, the very first remote controlled teapot racer in the world.
We had some spectacular fails, the first ramp of doom we couldn’t even get Salty up it. It was on too much of an angle, some nifty work by the Captain and dada, perfection.  The ramp of doom was born, and then came the fine china obstacles, a tunnel and the finish posts. That was the first course. Since then we have added a jump and we are making a backing garage with a turret that has a light in it that you have to turn on when you back in to it. The course only ever consists of three obstacles and had to be completed in 3 minutes.  It’s an intense three minuets especially if you get stuck, summersault or get your doily caught in the wheels.

splendid_teapot3We packed up the course, trundled up to Oamaru and on the Saturday night after the Mess Dinner we set up the teapot racing. We had no idea what to expect, how many teapots would turn up or what fellow steampunkers would think. 13 experimental lads and lasses lined up with their rigs for the most entertaining event of the weekend. Te Radar a well loved NZ comedian compared the event and was most amusing with his witty repartee and I judged.

This was also the very first judge’s bribes that I received – we do encourage this sort of thing and extra points are awarded for ingenuity, originality, general silliness and importance to me. Chocolate scores very highly as does original prose, handmade items and clever items of ingenuity. The aim for a bribe is not to be expensive or exclusive baubles and bottles of wine. If the bribe fits in with the general theme of the team then all the better.  I have received Land Deeds to Cities, poems, shiny bits of brass and copper handy stuff, bacon and egg pie and short bread. Did I mention chocolate? The aim again is about fun and participation and a bit of performance. The best performance that we had was at Cuba Dupa February 2015 and the ATC Mark 2 Team recited a Decree and presented the judges with shortbread. Their rig was rather spectacular it was a tank, it had a turret that spun around, with a teapot on top. The tank had a trailer with a tea cup and saucer and for the grand finale    the tank erected its self and the teapot could pour a cup of tea. How is that for ingenuity – it is no wonder they receive the certificate for excellence.

splendid_teapot2Tea pot racing is mega fun, it is participatory, and it has thrills and spills and suspense the audience should be as involved as the racers. It is designed that anyone can have a go and it is up to you how far you go with it. We have had youngsters of 8 years old to young at heart 60+, we have had people with disabilities participate and be involved, the splendid teapot racing creed should be open to all. I previously mentioned my friend, Donna Rose who was confined to a wheel chair, sadly passed away in December 2013 never to actually participate. In her honour and memory we invested the inaugural Splendid Teapot Racing Cup. The Amelia Dangerfield ‘Woman of Steel’ memorial Challenge Cup awarded annually at the national champs at the Steampunk Festival in Oamaru.  This award is not for the fastest or the fanciest but for the individual or team who show spirit, participation and ingenuity. The first recipients in 2014 were Michelle Webb and Tam Savage with the Oolong Express.

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