I promised Silver Fuge some time ago that I would write about re-enactment, but life as is its wont intervened. I find myself now at a loose end, full of insomnia and nothing to do, so I figure now is as good a time as any.
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Re-enactment a brief overview
I am a re-enactor, at the moment I only have one time period that I portray but within the re-enactor community you will find there are many people who choose do several different periods, Some make it their profession, others are in it for the scrap, others for the craft, many although some may be loathe to admit it come for the social round the fire after the public have left.
I always wanted to do some kind of re-enactment, I wanted a chance to use the weapons I studied and experience the lives I excavated, the Clarence Household found me first. The Clarence Household recreate the life and times of the 15th Century retinue to the Duke of Clarence, we travel around the country attending events and providing living history displays, the events are eclectic spanning from National Heritage events to local festivals. My group within our specific time period has a reputation, well actually it has several; the one that we present to the public is that our particular group’s authenticity rules are very strict (Kit Nazis over here), we have a wide range of crafts collectively and usually provide a large number of fighters; Clarences’ train more regularly than other societies and as a consequence even our new recruits are viewed as a ‘threat’ on the field.
Our reputation within the re-enactment community is less salubrious; we are also known as the rowdy ones who can keep a round of “I used to work in Chicago”, “Jesus saves” or other such pun and innuendo filled songs going for a good hour, while other groups will perform harmonised folk songs, our boy’s acquaintance with tune is… well to quote a reference to one of our members “[name]will now sing in the key of out”. Clarence women are renowned; both revered and feared, often considered tougher than our blokes (even those who are non-combatant) new members warned not to anger them, but also shown as ‘the kind of woman you should go for’, there is a lovely Lady from a society we often work with who attempts to ‘inter-marry the dynasties’ almost every event we see her.
The woman of whom I speak is Sally colloquially known as the Mad Gloucester lady, one of the many characters you find within the re-enactment community. She has an impish sense of humour and much to the chagrin of her daughter still acts like she is in her early twenties, she has made it her duty to inspect each year’s new male recruits and then try and steal them away for the girls in hers. There is Willow one of the longest standing members of the Clarence’s, renowned for his fighting prowess and toughness and for his drunken antics (in the bad old days), the amount of stories are too many to recount here but one that happened in my first season were; in the beginning of the first battle of a four day event he broke his ribs and continued fighting, all four days only going to the hospital after the event. There Is Jim the pot, the only man we know who can skank in pattens (like wooden flip-flops) even on cobbles, if you ever watched time team when they had a working kiln and a chap who appeared to be 50% clay himself that was Jim, he is one of the pros producing pottery for many different re-enactment periods.
Being a re-enactor has its ups and downs, you are dressed for a mini ice age but are at the mercy of the capricious British weather, some days you are dying of heat stroke others you suddenly find new impetus to finish that sewing project so you can wear another layer; the year it snowed over a four day event or the gale force winds over Whitby stand out in particular.
I love being able to impart the fascinating and sometimes gory facts about medieval life, kids are the best for gory; “can I poke it” is the most common question to anyone butchering and preparing meat and fish. You do get some odd questions though you have to wonder whether people just switch their brains off when they pay entrance fee, there is a rich anecdotal history between re-enactors for the times when prize winningly stupid questions have been asked, and asked with concerning regularity. Here for instance are some of the regulars; is that a real fire, are you a real medieval person, is that child real, are you really going to eat that, did medieval people really have eggs, do you live here, but the prize has to go to this conversation;
Member of public – “Don’t be stupid medieval people didn’t have nails”
Re-enactor – “So they gaffer taped our Lord to the cross then did they?”
The unique benefit of being a re-enactor is that you get to camp out in castles and areas of historic importance for free, that are usually off-limits to the public at night, and accessible for a fee during the day. I will never forget running around Whitby Abby in the dark (or assaulting it during the afterhours Pirates Ver. Ninjas party), or the night a disco was held in the under croft of an old church.
In the end it is the community that you stay for, the nights we go visiting navigating from campfire to campfire, the in jokes and rivalries. However as the majority of interaction between groups is done in kit and in the dark, it is entirely possible for people who know each other well on site to be unable to recognise each other in the ‘real world’ out of kit. This can also lead to confusion when people acquire new kit and mischief when someone else wears another’s kit (like the night Kristal was born; one of the guys dressed in girls kit). There is however one time when re-enactors can identify each other out of kit, everyone tends to ends up stopping at the same services, there is a distinct bedraggled and sun baked look to us, and the pervasive scent of wood smoke and lanolin.

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