Thursday, 23 December 2010

Ding Dong Merrily

Er.. yes.. well – it’s a bit difficult with short legs. Walking through Cotswold snow, that is. [Think portly dachshund…] Let alone ringing my bell in Northleach Town Square. It’s that icy, I worry if I swing my arm to ringadingding, I’ll go base over apex! And we wouldn’t want to dent the Bell, or the Hat…

But I’m conscious of my duty and, if it’s not actually blizzarding on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, then I’ll tramp down from the farm and make a few icicles quiver.

Probably followed by throat medicine at a hostelry or two?! Everyone is working so hard to keep things comfy and warm. At the Red Lion, they were already cheering things up with what looked like a proper Yule Log. And I hadn’t understood why the wine bar was looking so smart – eyecatching new white-on-blue sign, cool new tables and chairs. Turns out The Ox House is our good old wine shop/bar/coffee shop under new management. The connoisseur wine business Savage Selection continues in upstairs offices. Downstairs continues with cosy fireside, mellow wooden floor and twinkly ceiling. Quite apart from comfortable evenings of wine and natter, it is so civilized to be able to enjoy a snifter of something restorative along with good coffee!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Day of the Dinosaur (is over)

Last Saturday I didn't go out and shout. Partly because I've had a tickly throat and damp cold does not help - in the context of imminent Hallowe'en performances: 6 storytelling events [my main work] in the next 5 days.

Partly I was feeling just a teency bit discouraged. My fault.. mostly...

The preceding Saturday had been fine and I was in good voice. Visitors to church and museum wandered around the square enjoying it all.

I was sauntering about in the sunshine when I became aware of raised voices. A woman visitor had parked in probably not the most sensible spot near the Post Office. A man had emerged from a local hostelry and, looming over the lady, was haranguing her. It was startling. His voice was rich and cultured, he wore majestic corduroys. He had a quilted gilet, for goodness' sakes. His complaint was that his vintage landrover [with limited turning circle] was now blocked into its parking spot by the unfortunate positioning of the visitor's vehicle. His outburst continued, no foul language but notably rising in volume and venom. It included his opinion that "We don't want all you foreigners around here anyway."

The woman regarded him steadily, not retreating a step. She was slim, grey and soberly dressed. In a quiet transatlantic accent she said, "I was quite ready to move the car. I can see it's not in the best place. But if you speak to me like that, I'm not gonna move at all."

Oh, how I admired her nerve. She didn't need any help... But then Haranguing Man growled, "So you won't mind if I have to smash into your car when I want to drive out of here."

I straightened my tricorne, hummed a few notes of 'The Good, the Bad & the Ugly', and stepped between them.

"Sir, would you like to moderate your language?"

Haranguing Man glared at me. "What's it to do with you?! Who d'you think you are? Are you a special constable?!"

Oh dear. He was terribly cross. And very large. I had to bluff. I put on my stern teacher face and voice. With a face like mine, that's quite daunting.

"I'm the Town Crier and I have a civic duty!"

Haranguing Man rumbled on for a few more moments but he'd spent his energy, like a thunderstorm fading over the hills. It was not clear to me if he'd been quaffing.

Presently I was able to help the visitor lady secure a different, less stressful parking place in the square.  We chatted in the sunshine. I felt obliged to explain that she'd been unlucky to encounter one of the town's handful of surviving dinosaurs. She seemed happy to accept that Northleach is in fact a friendly, welcoming town.

Now let's put aside the Bertie Wooster banter... I was more shaken by that little incident than the visitor lady was. Yes, I chose to step in - but in a very small way I'm part of the public face of Northleach and I will not stand aside while a visitor (or anyone else) is spoken to in such an aggressive manner. I am not someone who stands aside.

I'm delighted to say I am not acquainted with Haranguing Man. I probably know where he drinks, and some of his friends. His out-of-control temper makes me wonder if his life is currently troubled...

But the thought of having to stand in the square last Saturday and endure stares, glares and deliberately half hushed jeers from the Saturday lunchtime redneck clique in a certain establishment... well, it put me right off my Shouting.

I'll get over it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Chloƫ the Town Crier and the Blustery Day

It was what my favourite writer calls a lazy wind: it can’t be bothered going round you so it goes straight through you instead.  From the north.  I’ve been Town Crier for Northleach since 2004 (and grew up in Cambridge during the 1960s with no central heating) so I know how to wrap up warm.  It’s not all laid-down wine gums under that fancy grey coat, you know!

But young Callum, my new Junior Town Crier accomplice, was looking shivery in my sleeveless red velvet long waistcoat.  He was wearing a white school shirt, as instructed, but it was short sleeved.  Not that he said a word of complaint.  I just noticed his arms turning blue!

All dramatically different from Charter Fair Day last June, when Callum was recruited and I ditched my formal gear in favour of a Caribbean style loose tunic, in dayglow yellow – for sheer fear of fainting in the heat!  But I still wore the black tricorne.  Mind you, evidence suggests this is not a look to repeat in normal conditions...

Last Sunday 26 September, we were on duty for the first and hopefully annual Northleach School Fete.  Under lowering skies and a dreadful forecast.

The cold couldn’t dent Callum’s volume, however.  He has a clear voice and plenty of enthusiasm (and looks good in a pirate hat).  We did a Shout together in the Market Square at 2pm to pull in the punters.  Plenty of returnees from the morning’s NSPCC Car Boot Sale at Lodge Park NT.  Then we opened the Fete at 2.30pm.  Callum was word perfect.  (Thanks to mum Terri for the mini bell, too!)

All the fun of the fete was happening right across Northleach’s King George V Sports Field.  The aforementioned breeze might have assisted my astonishing effort at the Welly Wanging alley; either that or thinking about my unfinished tax return helped me hurl the wellyboot with unprecedented oomph.  Stomping about the field, coat billowing, I felt as if I were 10 years old again – but this time I was allowed to do what I wanted!  So I bought an armful of books, fished for plastic ducks, slurped tea and screamed encouragement at the hunky lads taking part in the Tug of War heats.

Ah, yes… A slight technical hitch… Apparently my wild bell dinging in joyous support of their manly efforts managed to put off one team so badly that they lost their bout. They thought the bell ringing meant they’d won.  And they stopped pulling – only to be yanked several yards down the field to startled defeat.  Gentlemen, I apologise.  In head hanging mortification.  And I promise I will never, ever ding my bell near a Tug of War team ever again.

Friday, 26 March 2010

An education!

Honestly, why do I worry so much?! KS2 pupils at Northleach primary school yesterday [Thursday 25 March 2010] welcomed me with smiles, giggles in all the right places, and joyful cheers for the 'Shout' at the end of my talk.

All I know about the history of Town Crying is decidedly potted... Greek and Roman messengers ran the risk of being killed if they brought bad news. It was William the Conqueror after a busy day on the south coast in 1066 who realised he had to tell the people of England they'd been.. conquered.. So (largely in my imagination) he sent off his biggest toughest warriors around the towns and villages of England with the proclamation..."Oyez! Listen up you English peasants - you've been conquered and William is now your king! Which is one in the eye for Harold! Who isn't your king any more! God save the king!"

The hayday of town crying seems to have been in the 18th century. Hence the tendancy of town crier costumes to flaunt swooshy coats, flowery waistcoats, fountainous lace jabots [fancy neckties], big bright buckled shoes and the tricorne hat. Back in the day, the town crier - or bellman; logical?! - was often the only local person able to read and write. So he wasn't just a voice on legs, he was perhaps more educated than most of his neighbours. After reading the 'Shout' - everything from new taxes to market days to lost dogs - from his scroll, he'd nail the scroll to the church doorpost. Hence the phrase 'posting a notice'.

And, because of those announcements about tax rises and unpopular official information, a law had to be passed to protect town criers. It was made a treasonable offence to 'hinder or heckle' the town crier from going about his duties.

So - technically - I could have arrested the miserable miscreant who banged on their window and shouted at me while I was doing my duty in Northleach square last month. Technically I could have had them hauled off to the Tower of London and - it tickles me to think - I could have had their HEAD CHOPPED OFF.

The pupils loved that bit...

(And I haven't even seen the Alice In Wonderland film yet...)

There is no set, official style of costume for modern town criers. Incidentally, of the 200 town criers currently adding colour (and noise) to British towns and villages, barely 20 are women. Most of them go for the 18th century look. It can be charming. But it doesn't look right if you use modern (synthetic) fabrics. I'm hankering after setting a style for the 21st century. The Matrix coat springs to mind. Except it'll probably look daft on a 5ft nothing female who is, frankly, a trifle wide for my height... (A trifle? More like the whole damn cake!!!)

I have invited the pupils of Northleach primary school to come up with some designs for my new costume. Which I hope to have in time for my first ever town crying contest at Fairford this August.

Before then, on Northleach Charter Fayre Day, 26 June, I plan to hold a Mini Town Criers competition. Got to find a mini bell, though. My official one is too hefty for the children. I had a little brass ring-for-the-butler bell (from my grandmother's generation, I hasten to add...) and it would have done the job nicely. But yesterday the clapper fell off.

Such is life.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Well, jangle my bell!

From the Northleach Town Crier

Another Saturday morning looms when I should go out and 'Shout' in Northleach Square. In the pouring rain.

I confess, I'm a bit of a fair weather Town Crier. Call me Cowardly Crier but for some reason I'm averse to standing out there swallowing cold, damp air with cold water blasting into my face, trickling down my neck and drenching my costume cloak or coat - not to mention the heirloom Town Crier Tricorne.

We'll see. It is, after all, my Civic Duty. Stop sniggering. The tradition is that the Town Crier 'shouts' local news and information. This by the way means that Northleach residents are entitled to the FREE announcement of their notable events - eg your significant birthday, anniversary etc - and Northleach businesses and events will also get a free 'shout' within reason...

Next week I visit the school to explain what a Town Crier is to the youngsters. They have no concept of a world without mobile phones or the internet. I grew up thinking that one phone in the house - and an indoor toilet - were normal. Then I must try to explain that only two or three lifetimes before I was born, the main mode of transport was the horse - and electricity was a novelty, let alone the telephone!

Oh, by the way, with reference to my recent Saturday morning appearance, you might be amused to know that until not so long ago it was an Act of Treason to interfere with the Town Crier going about their duty. Be told.

More soon, with pictures.