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Looking Backwards

January 29, 2016


Modern life getting you down? Feel like getting away from it all? Perhaps a week as a Roman legionary will put the colour back in your cheeks. Or maybe you'd prefer to pillage a village in the company of rampaging Vikings. Historical re-enactments may not be the most relaxing form of relaxation, but for many, time travel beats Boredom on all counts. That, and maybe a warm beach in Mexico!

For Me, the world of re-enactments is a field just waiting to be harvested.

And what a strange world it is, where nothing is what it seems and everything is what it was. Enthusiasts drench their clothing in urine, mild-mannered coin collectors morph into bloodthirsty warriors, and everyone craves the magical fusion of past and present, a sensation known as "period rush".

Early on, you will learn that authenticity is the Holy Grail of historical re-enactment. But authenticity is an elastic concept. At one extreme, you may share frozen burgers with an Iron Age blacksmith, without anyone knowing (shhhh), and at the other, you may spend time with an 18th-century retromaniac who extracts his own teeth.


Ok, ok....you draw the line at home dentistry, but you may go to extraordinary lengths to recreate the past: you may be found coating your sandals with curried potato salad for that 'just back from ancient Rome' look! I know for myself, wearing 100% linen and handmade leather shoes beats out modern clothes by a mile!

You may question your sanity by spending a solitary night in an Iron Age theme park with only a flock of savage sheep for company. But 'Period Rush' is momentarily ignited with your first attempt at making fire from flint and straw. And your experiences among the Romans, Vikings, Tudors and American Civil War re-enactors will only serve to confirm that Your time is now.

As a newcomer, you will discover why thousands of people regularly immerse themselves in the past. For many, it's an escape from the daily grind and a chance to rediscover the lost art of repairing things.


But, It's hard to see the appeal of re-enactments for women though. Mostly tagging along with their husbands, they're usually consigned to supporting roles as cooks or serving wenches. Until you get to know them. Then you discover, they are the deep vessels of knowledge and skills, and willing to share those hard won talents with us dumb men! And they are gorgeous to look at! Sigh...those hairdo's and dresses...


Brooks Medieval Faire 2015


But for the men, the attractions are clearer. Re-enactments offer 21st-century boys the chance to jettison all pretence of political correctness and to wallow in fighting, filth and flatulence.

It won't be long before you are seduced by this outpouring of testosterone. As a Roman soldier, you may set about kicking Gaulish ass. Or: you may join a company of full contact Vikings whose battle cry is "we maim to please".



Later, with whoops of boyish delight, you may fire volleys from a 13th-century trebuchet in an Medieval castle.

The shock and awe of battle is all very well, but the more mundane aspects of period life will expose your woefully inadequate preparations. Your role as a chamberlain in a Tudor manor will be seriously compromised by your inability to speak the Queen's English - as spoken by the first Queen Elizabeth. And it sure as hell won't help, having a smart-ass 12 year old bugging you because she can speak it perfectly!

Your immersion in all things yesteryear may reach its zenith in the wilds of the camping experience, with a zero-tolerance approach to modernity epitomised by preferred mode of sleeping: canvas tent, and a portable bed/tic.

And at some point you have to accommodate your greatest fear: dying before you were born.


(Overheard conversation in a tent camped nearby) 'Good news,' says an old-timer, 'Just seen an eight-foot black king snake back there, so I don't think we'll be bothered by much else.' This apparently takes into account the thumb-sized ants you can  see scuttling about on the nearby tarpaulin that will be your bed for the next four nights, if not the ground-hornet nest you now located a few paces behind your haversack pillow. 'Watch for that if you need to visit the woods in the night,' someone says, though you long since vowed to preclude any such excursion by the simple expedient of wetting yourself if need be.

I do have some serious points to make, notably that just about every period in history prior to our own was nasty, brutish and shit. For this reason, you may be happy to adopt the mantle of the reluctant re-enactor - the poor bloke in the Iron Age or the American Civil War who would quite happily have taken a period rush into the twenty-first century.

Even so, I must conclude that re-enactors may be pioneers for the rest of you! As the earth's resources run dry and many more seek out simpler, more sustainable ways of life, people will look to those who have been there and done that. In our efforts to recreate the past, us re-enactors may actually be ahead of our time. So come join us! Building the cornerstones of the future, with the rubble of the past!


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