Living Your Own History

I have given up pretending to be other people; I have commenced pretending to be myself. Whether I will be more successful at it remains to be seen, but I know one thing – the clothing bill will be considerably lighter.

Do I have enough life accrued to have a history? And is it notable enough to be worthy of re-enactment? I’m not Dwight Eisenhower or Jim Carrey…so I don’t know whether anyone else will want to see me playing me. But I will still pursue the idea for my own purposes.

What was I? A little kid, then a teenager, than a young man, than a middle-aged man, and now an oldish sort of man. I have never climbed a new mountain, nor discovered a new cure for anything. Equally, I have never murdered people nor stolen money from them. Just an average Joe.

But an average Joe who had a great good time doing several things; taking photographs, reading books, and building scale models. If I re-enact what I did then I will not please or harm anyone else, but I can still please and harm myself…hopefully in equal portions.

This column, and the others I write, are part of the re-enactment I do of success in school. That petered out early, but these WordPress posts are going along nicely.

The Little Studio continues to take dance pictures as well as commercial illustration to the satisfaction of the customers.

The Little Workshop is spooling up to produce more and more scale models that please and delight me. And keep me agile of mind and hand. The activity is totally beneficial.

I may decline to wear the clothing of my childhood – the Howdy Doody vest is a difficult garment to integrate into normal day wear – but I’ve noticed recently that I can rock the flannel shirt and work trousers…and as a retired man I can wear them in more places than you’d think. The white moustache and flat cap help as well.

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Reliving The Lives Of Someone Else’s Ancestors…

I used to take a great delight in the re-enactment hobby. I discovered it in the 1980’s as an adjunct to the activities of our local muzzle-loading rifle shooting club.

We’re in Australia, but a section of the country that has little colonial history of note – few battles and none of them famous. Re-enacting colonial times would mainly involve hard work, dirt, and discomfort. It is an unattractive prospect compared to the pageantry and bloodshed of  the United States, Britain, or the European continent. There is little in the way of glamour to it all.

So I reached out – gathering materials to pretend to live in 1860’s America, 1800’s England, and various areas during the Middle ages. There were a lot more things to wear and do when one concentrated on these cultures. At various times you could have seen me as an ACW soldier of either side, a British soldier of 1815 or 1860, a medieval dentist or crossbowman…it was a varied picture. But none of it was a picture of my own life …or of the lives of my ancestors.

Ultimately, this is where the activity failed. It introduced me to like-minded individuals here and now, and I value their friendships….but it had no valid connection to my life.

So what has taken the place of this once all-consuming passion? What fire burns in the grate now? And why is it producing a better heat for me? Read the next post and see.

Am I A Clubman? – Part Five

The last question that you need to ask yourself is the first question you should ask. If you don’t know the answer you can call a friend. If you haven’t got any friends, you have your answer already.

Some people are born clubmen or clubwomen. They are loud, make friends easily, are unruffled, take hearty exercise, eat breakfast, produce bowel movements every day ( frequently at the same time…), and are kind to animals. They can stand for office, scrutiny, the flag, or any other thing that the club needs. They are extroverts. indefatigable, ineffable, and impossible to have anything to do with. You’re soaking in one now…

Other folks are born to be recluses – hermits – loners – individuals  – eccentrics – etc. They are generally distinguishable by the simplest senses – silent to the hearing, invisible to the eye, clammy to the touch, and slightly odorous. No-one has as yet tasted one, and no-one is about to start…

And there’s a lot of people in between. Most of us have aspects of each of these types within if we would only see and admit to them. And most of us can choose a club or organisation to suit our real personality. It might not be a fashionable or distinguished society we move in, but if we find genuine correspondence in a group – that is the one we should join. Here’s a few checkpoints for you when trying to match yourself to others:

a. DO I ENJOY LOUD NOISE? If yes, take up shooting. If no, take up reading. Read about shooting if need be.

b. Do I enjoy working with my hands? If yes, carpentry, model making, and any number of crafting clubs are ready for you. If no, run out on a field and hit a ball somewhere with something.

c. Do I enjoy thinking? Yes? Literary and intellectual clubs, political parties, business clubs call. No? Singing and drinking, eating and dancing are for you, and there are people who will help you do it.

d. Am I artistic? Yes? Go to the art store, spend a week’s wage, take the resultant small paper bag to an art society, and ask for help. No? Gardening’s for you – Nature will make what you cannot, and you can eat some of it.

e. Am I an opinionated smart-arse who wants to best everyone in argument? Yes? Become a member of a debating team or get your own secret identity as a troll on internet forums. No? Have you thought of joining a religious order? Or the Asian version…a religious suggestion?

f. Do I love sports? If the answer is yes, join a sports club. If the answer is no, get a competent surgeon to tear your cruciate ligament for you. The cost of the year’s membership to the sporting club or the operation will be about the same and the hospital is quieter than the club rooms.

Less May Very Well Be More

Mies van der Rohe was thinking of architecture when he used a variation of the phrase that heads this column. It has since been adopted by minimalists all over the world to cut away the dross in many aspects of life.

I’ve been looking at the lives of some of the people I know to see if they use the philosophy. In a lot of cases I can be forgiven for thinking that they don’t – they have vast collections of weapons, armour, sewing materials, toy cars, and books…their lives have more more than most. How can they be minimalists?

Well, if look really carefully I can see the tiny little sections of their milieu that are clean, bare, and soothing. One person does not keep credit cards. Another eschews all interest in Facebook and social media. A third edits out all unused hobby items and gives or sells them away. No-one does it all at once, and no-one lives in a clean white space…or even a beige one. But they have all made a start.

Some are started on the road by chance…they have changed their life circumstances and do not have possessions they once owned. They may pine for them or not – in some cases I think they came to regard the possessions as owning them, and the separation has more freedom than deprivation in it.

Some have looked ahead and seen the entanglements…and have been strong enough to avoid them. There’s a degree of discipline and sensibility in this if a person knows their own limitations and is determined to stay within them.

Some have been attracted by a growing movement in the world for simplicity. This isn’t even religious in some instances – just people wanting to free some part of their psyche from the entanglements of possessions and relationship and acquaintance.

Of course there are detractors. Anything that you do or feel or think will be a target for someone’s disapproval. You have only to set outside a café on a busy street with a bag of Maltesers and pick off passers-by with a slingshot to find that out. You’d think people would be grateful to get free chocolate candy, but No…However, every individual can design their life and surroundings to some small extent, and the incipient minimalist can make those tiny little islands of simplicity in the hope that they will one day coalesce into a haven of calm.

Me? I am going to go through my shed and discard all that I derive no good from. It’s started already and the floor is getting less crowded already. That this will make room for more model building is inevitable, but then model building does me good.

And then I shall start on the clothes closet. The time has come to admit to myself that I shall never wear the historical costumes again. I must find someone who will.

A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

Mummy? Why Is That Man Dressed Like That?

Hush, child. He is a re-enactor. It takes some of them that way. Try not to stare.

Yes, I know it looks funny, but that is how it is meant to look. Yes, I know it looks uncomfortable. I’m sure it is. But at the price he has had to pay for it, he is bound to wear it anyway.

No, I’ve no idea what it has to do with us. It is from the olden days and from far, far away. From the land of Osprey. No. 138, I think. The lady standing next to him is from No. 94. That is a completely authentic outfit of the olden days. No, I don’t know how she goes wee wee in it. I don’t think she does – perhaps they didn’t go wee wee in the olden days – perhaps they just died young with desperate looks on their faces. She’s practising hers now.

Yes, it is a funny hat. But I’m sure it’s a very nice one. That’s why he has it tied on under his chin. He doesn’t want to lose it, and if it blew off I doubt he could bend over to pick it up. Not in those trousers. Not in mixed company.

Well, go and ask him. I’m sure he’ll let you feel it if you ask nicely. Offer him some of your fairy floss. Just push it right in there in the eye-slits.

That’s just how they talked in the olden days. And down on the docks. Perhaps he is a sailor or a pirate. Go ask him to show you his RRRRR’s. In those trousers it will be a memorable event.

 

The Costumed Society – Everyday Re-enacting

If you’re bored and want to start a fruitless argument, ask a group of re-enactors to justify what they do. You’ll get a variety of responses – angry, scholarly, theatrical, comical, righteous, etc. The only other topic that will set them off quite as violently is a discussion about correct period shoes.

People who re-enact dress up and play up on a regular basis. They’ll have something to do on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or yearly basis, and the amount of effort put into it increases as the interval lengthens. An annual trek to a medieval fair or a famous battle recreation can take far more than a year to prepare for and recover from.

Most re-enactors have daily jobs, uncostumed lives, modern connections. Few can live in a historical location, dressed in authentic garb, doing period activities. None of them wish to be doing this when it comes to sanitation, hygiene, and health emergencies. It is analogous to choosing where you want your horse to throw a shoe – outside the blacksmith’s or 130 miles away. You decide…

But there are facets of re-enacting that can be incorporated into daily life, and at a very modest price. Unlike buying the authentic, hand-last, organic died, battle-axe that you lusted over in the Pakistani catalog, there are things you can do for free.

a. Read about your chosen period. Libraries. Internet. Other people’s collections. There is never any dearth of new history written about old history.

b. Read in your chosen period. This is different from (a.) above. This time you don’t read other people’s reports – you read the literature of the day that was… not today. If you can’t read it because you can’t read Greek, or Persian, or Aztec, well you have your work cut out for you. Off you go. Start from the basics. Your goal is to see what the people said when they said it.

c. Consider the manners of the chosen period. If it is a time when there were no manners, you will have to bear that in mind for the next section…

d. Reproduce the manners of your chosen target time – and your chosen persona. You see – if you think being a Viking berserker is the finest weekend activity you can engage in, you may not be able to stretch this forward to Tuesday when you actually have to go to work at the local Beaurepaire’s or meet a professional client. You might have boxed yourself into a circumstance where you cannot play all the time.

Think again. If you are old and grey and slow, perhaps choosing a different pattern to model yourself upon is a good idea. A gentleman or lady of whatever period should usually have enough manners to be acceptable in any company. Likewise a philosopher, a literate, a scientist. If you local law prevents you from swinging an axe and howling  in the Coles checkout on a regular basis, try for re-enacting of a different sort.

e. Live your life in the rhythm of the day – as it was lived back then. If your period of time saw people getting up at daybreak and subsiding after dark for want of light and warmth…do so yourself. Readjust your clock – you can still wash clothes in a washing machine and use a refrigerator and poop in a flushing toilet – no need to go primitive and dangerous – but do it in the daytime.

Carouse at night if you must, but even here make sure that you do it within the economics and time frame of your target. You’ll save money and make less of a goog of yourself.

f. Readjust your speech. Here is where your early researches pay off. Use old words and eschew new ones. Use period phrasing and punctuation in your written communications. Write letters and post them. When you write an email to someone put the equivalent amount of postage that you would have used had the letter been a physical one into a jar with a narrow opening. When the jar is full, break it and use the money to buy your next physical accessory or costume item. If you have not got the price of the postage on you, consider well whether your communication need be written at all.

See? You can start to live the life with no big outlay, and if you continue steadily, you may find that you are having the most authentic of experiences.

As for myself, I have stopped cursing people, as it is not genteel. Or terribly effective. I now tell them that they may go to another place and do another thing…an authentic Victorian bowdlerization of telling them to go to hell and be damned. I do offer the occasional handbasket…