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28 June 2010 @ 02:17 pm
Huntingdon Medieval Festival  
A good, but slightly odd weekend! :) Taking the odd first (as it's shorter to talk about) - J was at a stag do in Milton Keynes Saturday, so wasn't accompanying me on my travels, and that was weird. Not sure I can remember the last time we were in separate places overnight, certainly not since I stopped working (I occasionally stayed over in Norwich after work social things but even that didn't really happen in the last job). But we both returned yesterday, so normality is resumed :D

I wasn't sitting at home while he was away as A&P had invited me to join them in going to Huntingdon's Medieval Festival - they invited J too, but when they talked to us about it he'd just (as in the day before, iirc) said he would go to the stag do. (Which he did enjoy, shame this wasn't two separate weekends really). Friday I travelled across to Cambridge by train for the first time in ages (they picked me up in Cam as it took about an hour's worth of travel time off the trip for me & P had some shopping to do anyway). Meant to finish my Egypt book while I was on the train, but got talking to the woman sat opposite me, or rather she got talking to me. About Egypt to start with, but then she was saying how she spends a lot of time in Tunisia as she's got a boyfriend out there. Interesting conversation but I wanted to read my book ;)

Most of Friday evening was taken up with Beatles Rock Band - J joining in for a while from Ipswich :) I think we played for 5 hours straight, my arms were not in a hurry to forgive me about that ;) Fun tho, just picking random songs and having a go with no real purpose other than enjoying the music and the game (and the beer :D ).

Saturday was the main day of the visit though. We'd picked up our hired costumes on Friday, with the thought that we might wear them to the daytime bits of the festival as well as the evening, but then the weather was so good that we thought it would be far too hot for heavy faux-medieval clothes out in the sunshine. A shame in some ways, as I both quite liked the dress I picked and would've liked more photos with me in it (which we would've got if we'd worn them for longer). Photos from the weekend will be up online later this week, incidentally, as I don't have time to both write this and sort out photos if I plan to do anything else today ;) I took about 300 pics and even tho there are a lot that didn't quite work they still need sorting through before I decide what to show everyone else :)

During the day we watched several of the displays at the fair & wandered around the stalls/re-enactment areas a bit. First up were some Civil War re-enactors (Sealed Knot, obviously, I guess there may be other groups that do it, but I've never heard of them ;) ). Not quite medieval, but as Huntingdon was the birthplace of Oliver Cromwell, iirc, it was still appropriate. This was a small detachment from Lord Robart's regiment from Cornwall, and were Parliamentarians. I think most of the Sealed Knot stuff I saw when I was kid were more biased towards that Royalists (which makes sense for Oxford based shows, I guess). They told us a bit about the uniforms (this really was the start of uniforms for soldiers, particularly with the New Model Army in the later part of this period), and about the weapons (pikes & muskets), and demonstrated them. A good mix of spectacle & education, which suited me just fine :)

After that we turned round to the gallows they had set up, where the executioner talked us through the beheading of Charles I (and how they made sure his head would come off in one go) and then the subsequent executions of the regicides by the order of Charles II (hung, drawn and quartered for the still alive ones (described in gruesome detail) and just dug up & hung for the ones (like Oliver Cromwell) who'd died in the meantime).

There was time after that for a drink from the Drunken Monk Tavern before heading back to the displays. A & I had "mead ale" which wasn't mead like at all, tbh - a nice lightweight refreshing beer. And P had some "Tournament Mead" which was rather more wine-like than I remember mead to be, tho it's a long time since I last tried mead.

Next up display-wise was the War of the Roses re-enactors. These had some of both sides (Lancastrians & Yorkists) so we had a staged battle, with a chap telling us what was going on, as well as the introductions to the types of weaponry/types of people. They had longbows, crossbows, cavalry & cannons as well as the pikes and guns we'd seen from the later Civil War people. The guns in this were obviously much simpler than the later ones, and even less use - both sets of re-enactors said that the best way to kill someone with one of those guns was to bludgeon them round the head with it rather than actually fire it ;) Tho these older ones were apparently more prone to blowing up and killing or injuring the gunner. They fired the cannons, too, that was quite fun :)

We saw a bit of the knights display that they had on next (once we'd had a lunch of burgers from one of the food stalls - we picked one that was at least pretending to be faux-medieval). The bit that sticks in the mind from that is that they said the armour the knights were wearing weighed 6 & a half stone ... which is mindbogglingly heavy. And toasty warm too, as the guy was pointing out - and sweating doesn't help, there's no airflow to make it evaporate.

But we didn't watch all of that as P & I wanted to see the medieval fashions demo - they had about 10 people dressed up in authentic costume, one set from early medieval times (Norman conquest-ish) and one set from later (Wars of the Roses-ish). In both time periods there was a great emphasis on modesty, particularly in women's clothing - the lady explaining the early stuff said that there are reports of women being stoned to death for going around with their hair uncovered in public, although by later it was less total covering. One of the later period women was dressed a "camp whore" which involved mostly not wearing a hat and having her ankles on display - so obviously she was a woman of ill-repute! Chaps still had to wear a lot to be considered modest - both a linen undershirt & and overshirt, for instance, otherwise they'd be naked. The linen under clothes were actually to protect your outer wear (which might be unwashable) from your body, the linen could be boiled up to clean it. Linen was the cheaper fabric - cotton was expensive & worn only by the wealthy.

We headed off to a pub in a nearby village after that for a pint & a sit in their beer garden (via a stop at the house for some sun cream, after blithely saying that morning that I rarely burn in the UK, I was coming up rather pink & A was definitely beginning to cook). Then back to the fair for the jousting! As a contrast to the other displays this was firmly a staged spectacle, and very spectacular it was too! Great fun, lots of galloping about, knocking each other off, sword fights, and of course the Black Knight (complete with horns on his helmet) lost in the end :)

Back to the house again then for some much needed water before getting dressed up for the Banquet. Felt perhaps a trifle silly walking from the car park to the Commemoration Hall where the dinner was held but as we got closer there were more & more people dressed up so we felt less self-conscious ;) The menu was all fairly medieval - for instance no potatoes with the hog roast, instead the starch was bread. We could've drunk more authentically as there was mead on offer, but P & I shared some wine instead :) There was a lot of at least vaguely authentic entertainment over the evening too. First up was Fiery Jack, who juggled fire (:D \o/ and other over-joyed smileys ... ) with a helping of comedy too. We were sat right at the end of one of the tables, nearest the stage, so P got picked on a bit - but she managed to come up with the perfect thing to say to fit in, so that worked out OK ;)

There was also a folk group called Frumenty who did a couple of sets - including some songs I knew other versions of ("Black Jack Davy" which the White Stripes have done & "John Barleycorn" which The Imagined Village have done). I really enjoyed their stuff (as, it seemed did most of the diners). Somewhat less successful was the Mummery play ... which was sort of a medieval play (St. George v. the Persian Knight, the Doctor comes on to revive the Knight once he's dead, moral at end "can't we all just get along"), but done with a fairly modern sensibility - St. George as a terribly butch woman, the Persian Knight a terribly effeminate man. And it just felt a little out of place, and didn't go down well with the audience at all. Thankfully only 10 minutes, so it was over quick.

We also had an "interruption" by a Knight from St. Ives claiming we'd not paid the fees to the King for our banquet etc - unlicensed entertainment! At first this was slightly tedious - it involved a lot of taking the piss out of the District Councillor (who was there, along with the Mayor and other council people), which I think worked rather better for those people who actually knew the people concerned. But then they had a mock sword fight between the interrupter and the Champion for Huntingdon, with opportunities for heckling and so on, and that was fun to watch! :D

It was a really good day, the right mix of ooh-shiny spectacle & entertainment and authenticity & education for me. It's a shame J missed it, but I think the three of us all had a good time :) And if Huntingdon do another of these I think I'll want to go to it again!
 
 
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