Towton 555: Remembering Palm Sunday

For the first time in ten years, I’m not stressed out as the date approaches Palm Sunday. Why? Because the Towton Battlefield Society annual event to remember the fallen of Britain’s bloodiest battle on Palm Sunday 1461 has been, if not cancelled, then radically scaled down.

Since my first participation back in 2005, the event steadily grew and developed, helped by a series of freakishly perfect Spring weekends which attracted ever more re-enactors and traders keen to start off the new season, and ever larger audiences keen to find something interesting to do on a fine sunny Sunday. From 2007 I was on the management team; and as secretary and chair of the Society’s in-house re-enactment group, the Frei Compagnie, it naturally fell to me and hubcap to organise the living history camp, guest re-enactors and programme of field entertainment, including combat demonstrations and a battle finale. Planning and preparation involved a massive amount of work – not only for us but for the TBS chairman and committee, other Frei Compagnie members, and many Society members who spent successive weekends gathering and processing wood for the camp fires, cleaning the barn to receive traders and exhibitors, and mowing and marking out the field. Then the event itself spanned four days of preparation, delivery and cleaning up afterwards, with everything from setting cones out on the roads, marshalling the car-park and cleaning out the Portaloos being done by volunteers, many of whom were fitting all this in around full-time jobs.

By the battle’s 550th anniversary, a low-key day of guided walks and a small living history camp had turned into one of the biggest private events of its kind in Yorkshire and, arguably, one of the best. Many re-enactors and visitors would come along year after year to enjoy the very special atmosphere of an event held in the grounds of Towton Hall, where the famous mass graves were found, courtesy of landowner and Society President Mrs. Elizabeth Verity; and in terms of commemorating ‘our boys’, I like to think we did them proud.

Alas, in the process we all ran ourselves ragged and it became too much to cope with. By December it was obvious that TBS wouldn’t have enough volunteers to run a large public event safely and professionally in 2016, and it had to be cancelled. To be honest, my relief was as huge as the task-list we would otherwise have had to embark on straightaway in the New Year. Realisation soon followed that neither hubcap or I could face ever picking up that burden again – it had always been very tough for a self-employed pair at the financial year-end, and start of the busiest season in Mick’s gardening business – so whatever might happen on future Palm Sundays, any living history element won’t be organised by us!

But of course the Battlefield Society will always commemorate Towton, and this year I’m looking forward to taking part in a far more chilled-out way. Our main public event is next Saturday, 19th March: a series of guided walks of the Battlefield Trail between 9.30 am and 2 pm – we’re leading the 11.30 walk – plus a couple of Society stands in the barn on Old London Road, where I’ll also have a Herstory stall selling new and pre-owned books, and the trilogy of Richard III CDs by The Legendary Ten Seconds. Then on Palm Sunday itself we’ll go round the trail again on a special members-only walk, which will include a wreath-laying service at Dacre’s Cross, before repairing to The Crooked Billet for lunch and a spot of archery. Compared to the amount of effort we’ve put in over the past decade, two walks and a little stint on my book-stall seems like a mere bagatelle!

So if you’d like to join us next Saturday, dress warm, wear stout shoes and come prepared to pay £3 into the Society coffers for your guided walk. You can also enjoy various medieval experiences at venues in York, including beautiful Barley Hall in Coffee Yard – see http://barleyhall.co.uk/event/battle-of-towton-commemorative-event/ for further information. Or if you’d like to support TBS but are too far away to attend these events, log onto Just Giving and sponsor our intrepid friends Wes Perriman and James Hodgson of the Red Wyverns (Clifford Household) who are marching from Skipton on March 18th and meeting up with the Beaufort Companye to complete the trek to Towton on the 20th. But wherever you are and whatever you’re doing next weekend, please join us in spirit and spare a thought or prayer for the thousands of poor souls who died in miserable conditions on that snowy Palm Sunday 555 years ago…

 

The Traumatiser: Julie Bindel and Sanctimonious Students

Feminist writer Juile Bindel recently released a short, punchy video for The Guardian – ‘Sorry, We can’t ban Everything That Offends You – and I’m deeply offended by some of the content. Not by Bindel’s defence of free speech, (essentially, that it’s better to hear repugnant opinions and refute them with rational argument than to prevent them from being voiced). No, I’m offended by the self-righteous brigade in the National Union of Students: the ones who deny Bindel a speaking platform because they can’t be bothered to read or understand what she really means; the ones who think cross-dressing fancy dress should be banned in case it offends transgender people; and most of all by the ones who claim that they would be ‘traumatised’ if they had to repeat her ‘horrifically transphobic’ views.

Traumatised? Traumatised? Feh! Anyone capable of such pathetic self-dramatizing wouldn’t recognise real trauma if it walked up and slapped them in the face. How dare a minority of a minority lucky enough to have the brains and resources to enter tertiary education misappropriate the word for so trivial a purpose when millions all over the world are genuinely, horribly traumatised on a daily basis? It’s a symptom of our smug, self-regarding society where too many people are babied into adulthood with a grossly over-inflated sense of their own importance, and I’ve got news for you, children: you’ll find the adult world a whole lot rougher and ruder than Academia, full of unsympathetic grown-ups who won’t give a flying fig if you’re ‘traumatised’ by the idea of repeating words you don’t like. Try telling the drought-stricken, starving Ethiopians or the war-torn Syrians and Ukrainians how upset you are by Julie Bindel exercising her right to free speech. Go on, I double-dare you – I’d just love to hear what they reply.

And as for the woolly-minded naïvety of last year’s NUS Women’s Conference ‘ban fancy-cross-dressing’ debate, with its political hyper-correctness and control-freak mentality masquerading as concern for transgender feelings, well… the ‘pro-banners’ remind me of the joyless architects of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Imagine a world where they got their way: our legal system, already overstretched with serious crime, crushed by the weight of invented offences; informants gate-crashing ‘Tarts & Vicars’ and stag-parties, ever on the look-out for miscreants dressing up in forbidden clothes; police stations full to bursting with tipsy blokes in fishnet tights, mini-skirts and the wife’s purloined lippy. Taken to its logical conclusion, we’d have no more principal boys or pantomime dames; mass burnings of Little Britain, Mrs Brown’s Boys and League of Gentlemen DVDs (to name but a few shows in which cross-dressing is used, gasp shock horror, for comic effect); no more re-runs of Monty Python, Blackadder, or Morecambe and Wise; and a whole list of movies, (Stardust, Tootsie, Mrs Doubtfire and The Birdcage immediately spring to mind), the showing or watching of which would result in immediate incarceration for crimes against trans-emotions.

Well, stuff that. All I can say is thank God we can’t ban everything that offends some people – and I’m not the least bit sorry about it.

Mary, Queen of Scots and Fatal Februaries

February was a very bad month in the life of one of Britain’s most charismatic and controversial monarchs: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Dowager Queen of France and, in 16th-century Catholic eyes, the heir to ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor and rightful Queen of England.
Mary’s claim to the throne came via her descent from Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and great-niece of Henry VIII. The latter had barred the Stuarts from the succession in a characteristic fit of rage, having been outmanoeuvred in the dynastic marriage stakes when her mother Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland, had married the young queen to the French dauphin instead of to Henry’s son Prince Edward. Nonetheless, this lineal descent from the founder of the Tudor dynasty made Mary a powerful threat to Elizabeth I, (who was widely viewed as illegitimate), and to the Protestant Reformation – a threat made more ominous by her power-hungry Guise family, who proclaimed her Queen of England on Mary Tudor’s death. Unsurprisingly, such dangerous presumption perpetually soured relations with Elizabeth and her chief adviser William Cecil; and while the widowed Mary was prepared to relinquish her immediate claim when she returned from France in 1561 to rule her Scottish kingdom, her determination to be recognised as heir-apparent was a constant thorn in her sister-queen’s side.

Comparisons between these two prodigies, Queens-Regnant in a male-dominated world, sharing the same small land-mass separated only by a lawless and disputed border, are usually made to Mary’s detriment. Modern commentators represent Elizabeth as coolly rational, governing from the head not the heart – whereas contemporaries saw her as irresponsible and unnatural, refusing to be a proper woman by marrying and breeding legitimate heirs to settle the succession; and her much-vaunted statesmanship consisted largely of prevarication and wrong-footing Parliament and foreign ambassadors alike by repeatedly changing her mind; the only wonder is that so many people fell for the same game for so long. Mary, on the other hand, was more amenable to male guidance; she had also done her marital duty once and was willing to do it again, if only a suitable husband could be found.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s all too easy to criticise her subsequent choice of Henry, Lord Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, a tall, slim, handsome youth with whom she became infatuated in summer 1565, and who proved to be a disaster in every respect (except for his crucial ability to sire a son); however, from Mary’s viewpoint, he was a sound dynastic prospect whose royal Tudor blood, as a descendant of Margaret Tudor by her second marriage to the Earl of Angus, could only bolster her own claim to the English crown. Alas, the spoilt, syphilitic, drunken Darnley was hopelessly out of his depth in the murky sea of Scottish clan politics; and after alienating almost the entire nobility, was done to death in the early hours of Monday, 10th February 1567. As assassination plots go, this one could hardly have been more inept or less discreet; Darnley was supposed to die when his lodgings were razed to the ground by a massive explosion of gunpowder, but the assassins made so much noise that they woke him and he escaped through a first-floor window, only to be caught and strangled in a nearby garden.

The regicide became the scandal of Britain and Europe, a public relations disaster which, even if Mary was entirely innocent of complicity, severely undermined her authority and reputation. She then made matters worse by failing to observe the proper period of mourning, burying her late husband at night without the ceremony due a king-consort, and giving away his prize possessions to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – one of her most stalwart supporters, but also a prime mover in the assassination plot! Three months later, she sealed her fate by marrying the Earl, precipitating a revolt which ended in their defeat, Bothwell’s flight, (he fetched up in Norway, where he spent 12 years as a state prisoner until his death in 1578), and Mary’s imprisonment and forced abdication in favour of her infant son, James. Her escape and attempt to re-take her throne the following year having failed, she fled to England to throw herself upon Elizabeth’s mercy – a decision which resulted in her spending the rest of her life under house arrest in castles and manors of varying degrees of comfort and security until, in 1586, she was found guilty of conspiring to assassinate the queen and seize the English throne.

Typically, Elizabeth dickered over signing the death-warrant and thereby setting the extremely frightening precedent of having an anointed lawful monarch put to death; but she finally succumbed to her ministers’ relentless pressure, and Mary, Queen of Scots was duly beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8th, 1587. It was a sad, gruesome end for a woman arguably more sinned against than sinning, a victim of the self-interested ambition of the men in her life – so spare her a thought on this day, the 429th anniversary of her execution.

Catty Christmas

Even as a kitten, Henry Wowler hated Christmas. At the age of four months, when a proud new Mummy-cat tried to involve him in our first festive season together – rolling wrapping-paper balls and trailing lengths of ribbon for him to chase – he just stalked off and sulked in his tent. (His tepee, to be precise: a big bubble-wrap sheet draped over his scratchy-post, one of his favourite hidey-holes). He didn’t like the alien objects invading his living room playground; some smelt funny, and none were connected with his comfort or pleasure. The rattle of paper sheets and ripping sound of sticky-tape were most unsettling. And as for the shiny, dangly things that later appeared everywhere – pooh! He couldn’t be bothered to lift a paw at those (thank goodness – no Christmas trees or mantelpiece swags would bite the dust in Helmickton).

Needless to say, he didn’t mellow with age; and at four years, he finds Christmas simply a Nuisance. The fetching of materials from the loft disturbs his sleep with noises overhead; it’s also dangerous for cats, (we might bring the ceiling down), obliging Mr. Wowler to retreat to his safety-box under the bed, leaving a sad little depression in the duvet to reproach us when we descend. Postmen and couriers knock more frequently with parcels, producing a similar result (Stranger Danger! They’ve come to take him away – better hide!). Then there’s the space invasion: the influx of cards and gifts received and yet-to-give piled on every available flat surface, and worst of all, visitors… yes, it’s Extremely Distasteful for a gentlemog of Henry’s refinement and retiring disposition.

Still, our vulgar festivities hold some compensations, like his dinner of fresh raw chicken moistened with turkey cat-food gravy and, of course, presents. As a successful mouse-mass-murderer, the Wow has largely lost interest in play substitutes, but this year he’s rather taken with the run-around mousie-on-wheels from a gift-box of treats given by a friend, (for reasons I can’t quite fathom, family and friends often give presents to the moody fatso). Our gift goes down well with him too – a minute after I filled it up, in fact…

Yes, in lieu of his usual sturdy brand of catnip fishes, (of which there were none to be had), I buy a fluffy hedgehog about the size of a real mouse, with a Velcro slit in its tummy and a tube of catnip to stuff in at home to ensure maximum fresh aroma. A split-second after I toss it to the Wowler – who promptly goes into nip-frenzy, growling and biting and rubbing it over his face – I realise my mistake: Hedgehog is a toy for kittens or small polite lady-cats, not our huge strong tom. Engulfed by his jaws it looks pathetically tiny and so like his usual prey I half-expect to hear it squeak; and as he clasps it in his forepaws and rips into its belly with his hind claws, the Velcro parts slightly and bleeds a little catnip onto the carpet.

Oops – I need to get Hedgehog back before it all pours out and makes a real mess. Of course, Henry Wowler’s having none of that; as I attempt to snatch it, he swipes at my hand and hooks a claw in the side of my thumb, deeply and painfully. Involuntarily I yank my hand back, which only makes matters worse. ‘Argh!’ I cry. Startled, Henry rears up, dragging my impaled digit with him. ‘Argh!’ I repeat as the pain worsens, then try desperately to soothe the cat, rescue the hedgehog and unhook my thumb before any more damage is done.

Five minutes later, Hedgehog is sporting a tight girdle of bootlace to stop its flaps opening while it’s being savaged by the Wowler, I’m sporting a plaster on my throbbing, oozing thumb, and I’ve learnt a few useful things:

  1. Never give a tom-cat girly presents
  2. Never try to part a Wowler from his nip
  3. When snagged by a cat, never yell or pull; remain calm, treat the claw as a fish-hook, and gently push to release your pierced flesh
  4. Remember these points for Christmas 2016…

It’s Your Funeral

In the heady aperitif years of my youth, I paid no attention to the adverts. But now, chomping steadily through the coffee-and-mints stage of what Hubcap calls, ‘the lunchtime of life,’ I notice them everywhere. I must admit, (alas), that I need one of those. It’s responsible and prudent; it’d take a load off my mind and spare my family a world of hassle. And one thing’s for sure: someday, (long in the future, I hope), it will come in useful – yes, (gulp), I’m talking about funeral plans. If you’re my age, the adverts may grab you too: those budget funeral insurance policies plugged by silver-haired celebs (who could probably afford a horse-drawn hearse followed by a fleet of limos if they so desired). A free gift just for registering interest! No medical required! Mere pence a day guarantees a cash lump sum if you die after two years – and you get another free gift when you sign up!

For the over-fifty-fives they sound great – on the face of it. What’s not so great is being hooked into paying instalments on a non-transferable policy for the rest of your life – and if for any reason you stop, all benefits are forfeited and you lose every penny you put in. If you die within two years, all your family gets is what you’ve paid in – which may only amount to a few hundred pounds, nowhere near the price of even the simplest cremation. If you’re blessed with long life, at some point the balance of advantage will tip and you’ll be paying in more than the policy’s worth – but if you stop, you lose everything. And even if you die at an ‘optimal’ time so that your family receives more back than you shelled out, the sum still might not cover the full cost of your funeral.

It all sounds too risky to me, especially now I’ve found something different and better: the SafeHands funeral plans endorsed by the National Federation of Funeral Directors. Unlike the above, which seem designed primarily to make money for insurance companies, these offer decent, affordable, and above all reliable services to meet customers’ needs. Essentially, they’re about buying tomorrow’s funeral at today’s prices, either by one-off payment, up to two years of interest-free instalments, or instalments with interest for up to ten years. For folk who’d rather spend money on living than dying, a straightforward Direct Cremation without funeral service comes in at a modest £1695; alternatively, you can pick from four packages of increasing sophistication and cost, (although even the most expensive, at £3595, falls far short of the £6000 – £7000 which some funeral directors charge).

The main advantages of SafeHands plans are that you can choose your own funeral in advance, thus sparing your nearest and dearest; you can change/add to them if you wish, and even leave them un-named so that they can apply to any member of the family; you’re not bound to endless instalments; and they guarantee that when the time comes you’ll get exactly what you paid for, with no nasty surprises or shortfalls. (If you die before you finish paying, your family or estate has six months to come up with the outstanding balance). It seems like such a good deal that Hubcap’s currently considering a ‘Pearl’ for £2945, while I’m still undecided – I may yet leave my body to science, assuming science would want me – although I’m sufficiently impressed to have trained as a Federation funeral celebrant and agent to sell SafeHands plans. Check out my new website if you’d like to know more!

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,600 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Richard III: History or Histrionics?

One of my pet hates is hysterical hyperbole, the sort of thing frequently indulged in by sports commentators – for instance, a tragedy is when somebody loses their life, not a ruddy football match.

So the other day I found myself unable to feel sorry for a person who, apparently, will carry the scars of recent experience to their grave. Now, I would have sympathised if the writer had been a Syrian refugee, or bereaved in the recent spate of mass shootings in America and France, or had endured any of the other myriad horrors that would justify someone claiming to be scarred for life; but the source of this individual’s trauma is – yes, you guessed it – the treatment of Richard III since the unearthing of his remains three years ago.

Oh, to live in a world where the worst thing that happened was the analysis of a 530-year-old skeleton, publication of the results, and a reburial in a location some folk don’t like! A world where no-one has to flee their home for fear of being raped, enslaved or murdered by a vile apocalyptic death-cult; where no children or animals are tortured and abused; where people suffering painful or distressing illnesses are allowed to die with dignity in their own homes at a time of their own choosing- I could go on, but you get my drift. Alas, that’s not our world – and given the terrible reality of so many people’s lives, I find Scarred Writer’s melodramatic self-indulgence utterly repellent.

Hang on, you might say. Everyone’s entitled to their emotional responses; if this person feels permanently scarred then scarred they indeed are. Yet there can be a fine line between the average, ‘normal’ response to a situation and a gross over-reaction which merits being treated with a metaphorical slap round the head and a crisp, ‘Get over yourself.’ Trust me on this – I speak as a recovered depressive who once had to be physically restrained by my then partner in a dispute over- um, ownership of a slice of toast (blushes). My feelings might have been very real to me at the time, but that doesn’t mean they were appropriate or proportionate to the circumstances – which I suggest is the case here.

This puts me firmly in Scarred Writer’s camp of half-hearted, patronising Ricardians – that is, anyone capable of taking a more moderate stance on events since 2012, or who dares to say that it’s time to move on rather than nurturing that grievance and whipping up yet another tedious war of words to spread and perpetuate ill-feeling within a small community of interest. Actually, I’d go further: I’m not half-hearted, I’m hard-hearted enough to be glad that Richard III’s physical being is now so intimately known, and that he has a nice tomb which isn’t prohibitively expensive for me to visit (as it would be in Westminster Abbey or York Minster). I’m also hard-headed enough to recognise that he would have been a hot commercial property wherever he was laid to rest, and to find nothing dismaying in a provincial city’s delight that they’re making a few quid from being catapulted onto the historical tourism map.

Yes, I care more about history than hysterics… which is why, if Scarred Writer represents the prevailing view within this particular Ricardian community, I shall quietly bow out of it. It isn’t an environment I wish to stay in… and somehow I doubt that they’ll miss me!