Repeating history

Have you ever met a member of a historical re-enactment society? These peculiar people often staged their events on the same site that our circus performed. I remember a fellow in medieval garb arriving on the scene as we were departing from a venue in
Sussex. The gourds hanging from his belt suggested he was an apothecary of sorts.

“Got any contraceptive potions, mate?” asked one of our female employees facetiously.

He responded to this quip by remaining resolutely in character. “The venerable Longworm has written that a woman who swallows a bee will never again conceive from man or demon,” he declared.

The girl tittered and I walked over to have a chat.

“I see you are a graduate of the Catweazle school of medicine,” I said. “Is it true that a woman who swallows a goldfish will give birth to a mermaid, or possibly a fish-faced goblin?”

“Those are the words of Old Mother Muckton, the Fishwife of Fuckton,” he replied. “Last Michaelmas we put her in stocks and pelted her with parsnips for her false tongue.”

“In that case I am indebted to you for refuting her bogus theories,” I said. “What brings you here, good Sir? Is a battle in the offing?”

“Your premonition is true, O wise and wondrous ape! The Bastard of Normandy has arrived at Hastings with his ignoble thanes to ravage our Saxon kingdom with shafts of iron! As we speak, our Noble King Harold makes haste from the north to confront the devilish intruder with an army of rampaging knights and lanky pikemen! Godspeed to the brave protectors of England’s honour!”

“Godspeed indeed!” I agreed. “Were it not for another pressing engagement, I would gladly assist in England’s defence. Send my regards to King Harold and advise him to put on a pair of extra thick goggles before the battle. Good day, physician – I fear that your services will be much in demand!”

It was actually a pleasant surprise to meet a medieval re-enactor, because Britain’s most popular historical role models are undoubtedly the Romans. I put it down to their soldiers’ gear – the light functional armour, the short stabbing sword, the trouserless tunic that permits air to circulate in the nether regions. It is for good reason that Roman men were famed for having the least sweaty scrotums in the ancient world. Roman re-enactors never seem to worry about their javelins going astray on a windy day. You can tell from their faces that they’re having a ball.

We shouldn’t forget the women, of course. Allowing them to be Roman soldiers would be ahistorical, but they can fight against them if they’re butch enough to be British and don’t mind acting in simulated rape scenes. Playing a Roman woman is more suited to the domestic goddess type who prefers to stay in the villa and recreate authentic dishes. The historical sources indicate that the mainstay of Roman cuisine was a fishy sauce in which they dipped their bread and marinated their meat – salsus vaginus as they called it.

But condiments notwithstanding, the best way to spice-up the Roman scene would be to muster an army of druid impersonators. Those mystical wizards made their last stand on the island on Anglesey, spooking the legionaries with their hideous howling curses. The campaign against them provided valuable lessons to all future conquerors of Britain. In the words of Suetonius Paulinus: “To subdue Britannia one must build roads and temples, encourage commerce and crack down hard on the Welsh.” Wales was and remains the exposed groin of Britain – he who holds it in his grasp has the nation by the vitals.

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