100 Years On…And On…And On…

Well, we got through 5 years of WW1 centennials with few casualties. No zeppelin raids on London and only a few Australian politicians fainting at Gallipoli ( on camera… ). Hardly any battle cruisers blown up off Skagerrak and only the merest whiff of poison gas attacks in France. I think we can put the era to bed with relief.

This last year the pandemic has been bad enough for the world – the sort of 100-year recurrence that we could all have well done without. It brooks no jokes and none will be made.

But 2021 is here and I was moved to look on the net to see if there were going to be things that could make good remembrance events – re-enactment or living history – in the coming 12 months. I suspect we’ll still be stuck circulating around home base, and here in Western Australia the distances are pretty large.

First thing to put on the table is the topics of geography, history, re-enactment, and living history. I’ve done it, and have done with it for now, but it is the sort of activity that can be picked up again at any time – particularly if there is fun involved. The sport of shooting old rifles was what brought me to it in the 1980’s and I found myself doing many strange things with many strange people. As I progressed to costume societies and medieval types the costumes got odder and so did the people…as did I. I’m not complaining, mind – but I did note some things:

a. Re-enactment is theatre, but you’d be kidding yourself if you thought it was theatre for a thinking audience. It is not – the general public is called the Great Non-thinking Unwashed for a reason. The theatre of re-enactment is played for the actors themselves, and frequently done very well because of this.

b. Re-enactment is expensive. You have no idea, unless you have ever done it. If you have ever done it, bin the receipts before the family sees how much you spent.

c. Re-enactment or living history should be regionally-focussed to have any validity. It frequently isn’t and consequently hasn’t. That doesn’t stop it from being fun and all, but a Lee and Jackson Confederate Society in Manangatang is a curdling sight. Blood, liver, or custard – you choose.

d. Re-enactment always has battles. Even the Jane Austen Society book reading and tea ceremonies degenerate into hair pulling occasionally, because everyone has enemies. And if you don’t have them when you start, you certainly have them when you finish.

e. Re-enactment societies split faster than amoeba in a warm dish.

f. You can never sell your gear for anywhere near what you paid for it.

However, you can structure what you do to navigate through some of these hazards:

a. You can accept the fact that most of the people who are paying any attention to you are you. Be honest with yourself and accept the fact that no-one else really cares. This is not existential angst – this is an opportunity to splash in the warm mud for the feel of it alone.

b. Everything is expensive if you buy it ready-made. It becomes less so if you make it yourself. Stealing is also a good frugal thing to do.

c. Well, look about you. Wherever you are was there 100 years ago and someone did something. It may not have been capturing the cannon at the battle but it might have been something that was quieter, safer, and accompanied by fresh scones and a pot of tea. You can redo it too, and feel some – undeserved – connection to history.

d. Accept the fact that you will make enemies and set out to make horribly good ones. Decide early whether you want to be a conquering hero or not. Drinking from the skull of an enemy is all very well but you spill a great deal from the eye sockets.

e. When the society splits, go with the ones who have secured the treasury and/or the baked goods.

f. Don’t sell anything. Wear the clothing and use the utensils. People think you’re foolish anyway so it makes no difference if they see you in funny clothes on weekdays. You’ll get more space on public transport.

Next post will contain some practical ideas. Steel yourself.

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