Monday, May 28, 2012

Mediaeval Market

I probably write about this every year, but it’s fun and provides good photos. There is an organization of market stallholders who dress up in gingham and funny hats and sandals and go around the country passing themselves off as mediaeval artisans. The result is a lot of fun for everyone, and presumably they make a living of some kind.

They were here at the weekend, just as the summer arrived (it’s been 95º for the last week, and I don’t think it’ll cool down again until October. These things look better in the sun. In fact, everything looks better in the sun.)*

Most of the traders make and sell things which you really could imagine seeing on a market stall in the 14thC. There was a smith, with arms like iron bands, who had a charcoal-fired forge and an anvil, and made horseshoes and other things which you might need at a moment’s notice. He really made them, and you could really use them. (Unlike the ‘Fair Trade’ tent set up in the square a couple of weeks ago where nearly all the stalls were filled with over-priced junk, since the product on sale was self-satisfaction rather than anything material, the craftsmen at the Mediaeval Market are genuine tradesmen, offering well-made articles at a sensible price to people who actually want them. It’s one of the reasons the right-winger in me enjoys it; it’s free trade as it used to be.)

It’s not often you see a tent full of birds of prey in shop window in the high street. Is there some law that forbids a man to keep hawks unless he wears a leathern dress and is surrounded by bunting of chivalric design? Well, I don’t know, but I do like to see an eagle owl lazily turning its head to frighten the life out of some child who hasn’t understood what he’s messing with. (If you’ve never seen one, they’re over three-four feet tall and they take an indiscriminating approach to anything smaller than themselves. They just call it all lunch. We see them on the farm occasionally).

A popular exhibit is the mediaeval instruments of torture. Pain is big, especially other people’s pain. I suspect many of them are invented, but they look good, unless you are a potential customer, of course.

There are stands selling imaginative wooden games and puzzles made of rope. And an area with activities and games made to look Victorian, if not exactly mediaeval.

Smelly food in tents is another thing that apparently characterized the middle ages. In any case we like smelly food here. Our sausages are supposed to be detectable from hundreds of yards away when you burn them a bit, and our cheese only needs to be taken out of the fridge to get the attention of passers-by. So a lot of people like to eat smelly burnt stuff in tents at this time of year, because it’s fun, and easy, and cheap.

There was a lot of food. Cheeses and cured meats and sausages made the way they have been made for centuries, and very good they are. We have the fridge stocked with stuff. Homemade cakes and breads, sweet and savoury pastries, and chewy sweets of many colours. A sort of Arab tea tent with a hookah and long tubes for filtering coffee, which was atmospheric and fun. There were stalls selling leatherwork, woodwork, glasswork, needlework and novelty soap (there is always novelty soap, everywhere). There was a fair amount of snake-oil on sale. I imagine the situation allowed them to make claims for their leaves and things which they could not otherwise do.

It’s a travelling circus of a particular kind. One day it will be no more, just because whoever is getting the thing going will run out of energy and no one else will feel inclined to carry on. Or someone will have a better idea, or the public will stop finding it fun, or some ambitious politician will get his place on the list by making a fuss about the quality control of the cured meats and the hygiene of leather overalls. While it lasts it is worth remembering how much fun it is, and what it consists of.

*I should have kept my mouth shut. My morning run was rudely interrupted by hail.

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