Sunday 14 September 2008

An Outbreak of Paganism in Carshalton

So there I was, walking along the high street, minding my own business, when I became aware of the sound of music - well, the banging of drums, the tootling of pipes and the squeezing of squeeze boxes - drawing near. I waited on a corner and into view hoved a walking haystack, followed by a procession dressed in various faux medieval and faux celtic motleys, with leaves in their hair. One character, stripped to the waist and painted, was prancing about making mischief, while the rest marched on with an apparent sense of purpose. Shaggy grey beards were, of course, de rigueur (at least for the men). Several of the processants were playing instruments, banging on things, and giving the occasional excited cry. Such shows of enthusiasm, as Hardy observes somewhere, are sure signs of a faked or resurrected tradition - observers of a genuine living tradition invariably evince total boredom. Whatever this 'tradition' was, it was a new one on me.
On closer inspection, the walking haystack appeared to be a walking oversized stook of corn, so presumably this was some kind of harvest home, celebrating the safe gathering in of the abundant corn from Carshalton's fields (hem hem). This was disappointing, as I had of course beeen hoping it was a local variant of the wicker man ceremony, and a huge pyre was waiting in Carshalton Park.
Anyway, as bemused onlookers scratched their heads, the procession made its way to the other side of the street, with the prancer prancing merrily about in the stalled traffic (in a fine display of forbrearance, nobody ran him over). Outside the motorbike shop, the Corn Man became stuck - to amusing effect - between a lamp post and a parked motorbike, and had to be maneouvred for several minutes to get him going again. The procession then passed on, who knows whither - I wasn't going to follow, as it was clear no human sacrifice was on offer.
I suppose this was an outbreak of respectable suburban 'paganism' - it's alarmingly popular, I gather, in the affluent suburbs, where the disaffected bourgeoisie like to kid themselves they are in touch with elemental forces. I remember the 'new' rector, back in the 90s when he arrived here, saying that he'd concluded he was among tree worshippers. It seems he had a point...


  1. "minding my own business"

    This doesn't sound like you, Nige. Surely you were trailing a moth or giving eye to an errant owl.

  2. Back in the days of yore, when I knew Carshalton intimately I often thought "wicker man territory"

    When I say intimately..............

    Or I would have thought that but for one insignificant detail.. the movie hadn't been made yet.

    In truth I thought it very posh, after Tyneside even Grozny is posh.

  3. This is a great post, Nige. I do wonder what the mobile cornstalk and pals were up to -- a protest of global warming maybe?

  4. i wouldn't say observers of a living tradition need be bored senseless. We used to have regular Bonfires on the castle hill near where i lived in my distant youth: i thought they were great and other people didn't seem bored senseless. Perhaps it's because i'm not from London: Londoners seem perpetually bored or aggressive, with nothing in between...

  5. Living as we do in the Scottish borders and having known the area for many years (50). we are by now used to the local wickermannonites or riding of the bounds as the natives call it. There is nothing in Western Europe more tribal than this, involving horsemen and women patrolling their town boundaries, although not stopping at intervals to pee I might add. What the horses do is an entirely different matter. A rollicking good time seems to be had by all, with a "do" in the evening, the horses are not invited.
    Each town picks its own "braw lad" and "braw lass" to lead the riding, Mel Gibson style, some of these are braw indeed ! Outsiders are well advised to stay indoors.

    "There's no anybody here called Rowan, sargent"

  6. My Mother and Father who got married in Carshalton Parish Church (All Saints) would be horrified!

  7. Malty, When we went to the Selkirk Common Riding a few years back I was truly amazed by the whole affair. It was like we were in a foreign country...

    The Duns Reiver and event is slightly less exciting but the Saturday ride out, which comes past our house, is very grounding.

  8. Yes indeed Richard, Selkirk is the real ancestral home of the Klingons, and David Steel, Holyroods ex chief usherette who took unto himself a very nice pad (Aikwood Tower), a bit odd that for a bloke who never had bugger all.

  9. Malty, the Steeple Chase was developed in Ireland for much the same reason as the riding the Bounds and end up with much the same result. I think what Nige is on about is a bit earlier, same result though.

  10. Malty, I actually saw D.Steele at the Selkirk Common Riding...clever chap that.