Advent 19: Mummers, Wassailers and Yulesingers

Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton
Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton

Wassailing, an ancient custom from Saxon times to give blessings of good health over the twelve days of Christmas, is making something of a come-back.

Traditionally, livestock, crops and farm machinery were blessed as well as people. Blessings were taken from door to door. In Scotland and the North of England this is known as First Footing in the New Year.  The Lord of the Manor would give food (figgy pudding) and drink to peasants who worked on his estate in exchange for their blessing and goodwill.

Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense
Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense

P1130610This was the forerunner of carolling – considered too rowdy to be done in church and also the forerunner of trick-or-treating in America, as Halloween was the original New Year’s Eve in the Celtic calendar.

“Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too;

And God bless you and send you

a Happy New Year”

Another example of a carol originating from wassail is “We wish you a Merry Christmas” (see Advent 15)

In the Southern shires of England – apple wassail blessings were to ensure a good crop for cider, especially in Kent which produces the best apples for commercial cider, and in the south-west for Scrumpy.   English writer Thomas Hardy wrote about wassailing in his books and short stories set in Dorset ensuring that the custom has never died out there. The proceedings for apple wassailing are led by a Wassail King through the orchard, toasting trees and pouring cider on the roots:


p1100943 Hampshire Wassail Rhyme:

Stand fast root, bear well top.

Pray God send us a good howling crop

Every twig, apples big. Every bough, apples enow.

Hats full, caps full, Tall quarter, sacks full.

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Cider is drunk, songs are sung and drums, sticks, rattles and bells are beaten to drive away bad spirits and encourage the trees to give a good harvest.

Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas
Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas

Mummers plays, about the Good fighting off Evil, are often performed at apple wassails too. These were known throughout the UK and Ireland and were even taken to Newfoundland with The Pilgrim Fathers. Though kept in much of Wales, the festivals elsewhere gave way to Morris dancing in England, sword dancing in Scotland and pantomime (see Advent 8) just about everywhere. Raggedy characters (literally in costumes made from rags) introduce themselves in rhyming couplets:

Policeman Plod: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ello. In comes I, Policeman Plod.

Jack the Sniffer: You’ll never catch me you silly old sod. (He exits)

Betty Bertha: He’s gone off and scarpered all hurt and affronted 

You’ve poked your nose in where it’s not wanted.

Mummer-characters have been Christian crusaders versus Moors, St George (Prince George or King George) and the Dragon, Beelzebub, Dracula, Robin Hood and the Sherif. But secondary characters kept in these plays included Olde Father Christmas and The Fool. These were obviously continued in our pantomimes.

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Dipping toast in the wassail bowl to put on apple tree branches at Manor Farm

Wassail also refers to the spiced-cider punch in the wassail-bowl. There are many recipes, which you can find online, but I use beer (left-over and flat) along with fizzy cider and a small cup of brandy in a slow-cooker. Throw in some brown sugar, the juice and rind of a clementine or two, a squirt of lemon, some apples quartered (pips & stalk removed) and Christmas spices such as ginger, cloves, cardamom and a few sticks of cinnamon. It makes the house smell lovely and is a warm welcome for guests coming in from the cold.

All photos © Southampton Old Lady

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Vomit Etiquette

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student vomit on a wall of a residential block

Horrible isn’t it?

But this is what residents in university cities face on a daily basis. I took this photo (above) of a wall of a residential block of flats, which means that no-one from the block will come and clean the offending spew, nor will the town council – so it might be there for well over a week. Thank heaven for British rain – but hell if it freezes over.

It has been freshers’ week and I have had to clean up three lots of the stuff. One lot on the pavement, one on my door step and another from my recycling bin. Recycled sick?  Come on guys I can feel the subconscious guilt – the well-meaning gesture, but no-one is going to re-use your puke!

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Fortunately while you are young your body take the abuse of alcohol and junk food
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behind the bush

Students are basically jobless alcoholics, but their parents are proud of them.

Well, it is a rite of passage, we have all been there. (Yes even me).

Fortunately, most students are at an age when their bodies can take all the abuse of alcohol and junk food. I am not giving advice on your choice of life-style. But you would do well to learn that this is not cool as there is in existence:-

Vomiting and Litter Etiquette

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A typical British street scene the night before bins are due to be emptied in a university town.

If you feel a need to chuck up, and it is better out than in, then it should be offloaded into the gutter, preferably on double yellow lines.

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Ideal place to chuck-up

No cars can park on them and these are usually cleaned by the Council each morning. This enables, say, a working mother to get her kids off to school and get to work in the morning, totally oblivious to what has happened the night before. If the chunder falls on her pavement, she’ll end up muttering “bloody students” under her breath and the chunks won’t be rinsed until she has time to do so in the evening, if she finds time at all. This also means that anyone passing the foul-smelling matter will also think: “bloody students” which does not make for good student-resident relations.

It is similar to litter. If you cannot bear to hold on to your left-over take-aways and drink cans until you find a public bin, then we would rather you used our bins than throw it at our front porch or hide it behind a bush in our green spaces. But please use the ordinary green-lidded rubbish bins, not the recycling ones.

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Squashed chips better off inside the bin

Find out from your council’s website what the recycling policy is in your neighbourhood. Students can also arrange to have their old mattresses collected cheaper or free in some areas, so you don’t need to dump them on parking spaces.

If you accidentally drop your take-away chicko-land & chips, then try to kick them into the gutter. This will prevent them being trodden on and squashed, and any that the gulls don’t breakfast on will be swept away in the morning.

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Too good to use?

Okay. I realise that not everyone who makes a mess is a student and that not every student trawls around the streets at night screaming drunk. But you will be stereotyped, unfortunately, as it is predominately students who do this.

I know that coffee shops, ice cream parlours and shisha lounges have become more popular in student areas and open later now to meet the demands of the alternative life-styles. The pendulum seems to swinging more towards an addiction to healthy green drinks and gyms these days.

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ice cream parlours open late for students

But until I stop having to check my bins for contamination, I will give my pennyworth.