Saturday, 23 June 2012

St John's Eve

On the Eve of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, as Thomas Hardy reminds us in The Woodlanders, the young men and maidens of rural country villages would rush out into the fields to - ahem - engage in some traditional midsummer activities. The normal way of things would seem to be that they'd keep this kind of things up, on and off, until such time as a couple had proven their fertility, at which point they would become abruptly married. Apart from the clergy, people don't seem to have thought this such an unusual way to go about things, and no particular blame would be attached to the blushing bride, as long as bride she became.

In some rural spots (Dunstable springs to mind) around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries it could happen that a young couple could have four or five children before they agreed upon what was causing it, and finally got wed. An interesting thought, given we consider the Victorians to have been a buttoned-up, hypocritical bunch. No, they were a church-destroying, colonising, smug, self-aggrandising, orphan-exploiting bunch. But it was really only the middle classes and above (of whom there were proportionally very few) that seem to have gone in for the hypocrisy. The lower classes (i.e. most people) seem to have been as cheerfully vulgar as they ever were or are. Hence the Victorian clergy and squirearchy's obsession with toning-down maypoles, sanitising Mummers and turning Morris Dancers into the rather sad spectacle we have today.

This St John's Eve, the Beaker Fertility Folk tell me they are not celebrating in their usual way - i.e. by leggint it into the woods. They say that running out in all weathers is playing havoc with their arthritis. Turns out even the Beaker Fertility Folk are a graying part of the population. So they're having a bridge evening and a quiet night in. The church ain't what it was.

1 comment :

  1. I believe that some Victorian virtues were actually quite appropriate. For example, hiding the really awful carved table legs with skirts, seems a practical way of avoiding buying decent furniture.

    I also have a penchant for Victorian Pipes. But the working class variety made from Clay. I've spent many loving hours shaping them from the rather clayey soil around here, and it's supremely creative when you draw your first inhalation of 'Old Holborn's Best' through the pipe and cough your lungs out. It clears the bronchitis a treat.

    Another good thing from Victorian times and still going strong is the Prophetic 'Old Moore's Almanac', this has been the fortune telling bible for the working classes, countless generations have relied on it to predict Wars, so they can avoid conscription and beer rationing.

    Victorian things had lots to commend them, although I suspect that there were one or two drawbacks. Colonial Wars, Missionaries being eaten by their intended converts, but overall, it was an invigorating, exciting era to live in.

    We built an Empire, half the Atlas was coloured a glorious Red (probably from running blood) representing it and we could exploit whatever and whoever we liked without being all namby-pamby about it.


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