The Empire of Custom

 The empire of custom is most mighty.
Publilius Syrus

An Anglo-Saxon Maundy scene: monks washing feet and a king giving alms, from an C11th Psalter (BL Harley 603, f.66v): c/o Eleanor Parker ‏

Probably just as well for Her Majesty  that she doesn’t have to wash the feet of old beggars*. I saw her at York Minster one Maundy Thursday. I was disappointed because

she was tiny and didn’t wear a crown! [it was 1972]. Nonetheless, I still love traditions – the older and dafter the better. Who wouldn’t like a reigning Monarch giving weird bags of coins to pensioners?


Yeomen of the Guard with The Royal Maundy Money

*James II was the last to do the feet-washing thing.

I love living in a country where the Speaker of the House of Lords (The Lord Chancellor) has to sit on The Woolsack to be reminded where or wealth comes from – an ordinance dating from the 14th century.

woolsackBut it’s not all might and majesty that delights me. How about Football-in-a-River ? This takes place on August Bank Holiday Monday in Bourton on the Water
Gloucestershire. It is not ancient ( seven decades or so) but the no-rules-at-all madness which is The Haxey Hood has happened erupted every Plough Monday for over seven centuries in Lincolnshire. It involves a Lord, a Fool, eleven Boggins and The Sway – what is not to love?


Smoking The Fool Haxey 2007 by Richard Croft

Then there’s Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire (again). Video below by The Maccabees

Nearer to where I live there’s the Bramble Bank Cricket Match.

Bramble Bank Cricket MatchEach September the Island Sailing Club from Cowes and the Royal Southern Yacht Club from Hamble contest a cricket match on the Bramble Bank, a sandbar exposed only at the very lowest tides.

As the victors play host to the post-match celebrations, it helps if the winners are prearranged, and so they are: the ISC win in even years and the RSYC in odd ones. Match-fixing in cricket is alive and well. In 2012, the combination of a strong south-westerly wind and a low tide that really wasn’t especially low meant that there was some doubt about whether the sea would recede entirely from the bank. This photograph shows players from the ISC having just taken the, er, field. Cricket’s favourite admiral – for complex reasons, scores of 111, 222, 333 etc. are known as “Nelson”, “double Nelson”, “triple Nelson”, etc. – watches from the (forgive me) deep.

  © Copyright Hugh Chevallier and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

All around the coast there are variations on The East Wittering Big Dip – where blokes  dress as ballerinas and run into freezing cold water in the name of charity.
Ian BetteridgeJust how much madness can one small country hold? Well, every week there’s some potty, wonderful tradition still carrying on – and if you add in the historical ones, every day. And that’s just England – the whole of the geographic British Isles is chock-full of wren-chasing mummers, mummified Hot Cross buns, first-footing and bog-snorkelling.
It strikes me that with my love for all this bizzarity, this sort of joyous mayhem ought to feature in the worlds I create. As a last thought –  how could I could invent anything as wondrous as the Tar Barrel ceremony at Allendale in Northumberland?

(This song always brings tear to my eyes – thank you The Unthanks!)

3 thoughts on “The Empire of Custom

  1. Lovely prose as usual love…the old saying “there’s naught as queer as folk” is never truer with regards to an Englishman, as mad as other nations sometimes are, we are the hundreds and thousands decorating the proverbial fruitcake!! and ooh! how I love The Unthanks, think I saw them years ago on Jules Holland and fell in love with their harmonies straight away x

  2. Pingback: In comes I , Bold St George | K.M.Lockwood

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