I have frequently commented upon the streak of madness that simmers gently below the surface of English people. You might think, at first appearance, that the English are rational creatures. Polite, thoughtful, reserved: these are all characteristics for which the English are renowned throughout the globe.
However, I posit that it is all a ruse, or sham. For the English are actually mad as a nation of hatters. (This also goes for we who chose to make our home here. We’re drawn hither by the secret madness rays.)
I forget, sometimes, that this is the case. It can be easy among the picayune bustle of everyday life to lose track of all the things great and small that contribute to the spirit of boisterous eccentricity that is unique to this little gem of an island.
But then, then every once in a while, I am reminded. Like on Sunday, when I went to the Twelfth Night celebrations hosted by The Lion’s Part.
The kindly people of The Lion’s Part, among other things, host seasonal festivals celebrating old British customs, particularly those revolving around the Green Man.
The Green Man is the spirit which bursts forth with life even in the darkest hours. He is the ivy curling in at the factory window, beckoning us to put down our humdrum tools and dance through the fields and forests.
And we listened. (Well, it was Sunday. We weren’t in the factory. But go with it.) The Green Man and the Mummers led us on a merry procession through Southwark, starting in front of the Globe theatre. Flags were waved, drums were sounded, there was a stuffed donkey. And so much color. So much color, everywhere. Little ribbons pinned to tunics. Enormous cloaks trimmed in velvet. False beards. Banners.
Eventually we pulled up at The George, where we wassailed (there were instructions, despite which we managed to warble most ineffectively.) One of my friends asked what ‘wassailing’ actually was.
“Well,” said I, “Wassailing is an old British tradition in which you go round to the neighbors and drunkenly sing at them, demanding food and libations and threatening to keep singing or possibly break up the house until they give you some. Or you can sing to some trees.” There was some skepticism among my friends as to this dubious definition, but Wikipedia informs me that this is in fact correct: you can wassail to houses or to an orchard, and though painted with the rosy glow of nostalgia and Tradition, it’s actually associated with gangs of loutish rapscallions holding their neighbors hostage for drink. I really cannot think of anything that combines all the elements of English-specific madness than that.
As the evening wore on, the wassailing became more pronounced and The George very bravely ran out of mulled wine. Those who know me well might posit that my presence and the diminution of the wine were not unconnected but alas, on this occasion I was not the cause of its decline. Dancing and merriment ensued nonetheless, and a polar bear began to play the violin under the Kissing Tree.
You will think that I am taking liberties with the truth, but no, it all happened. And right glad we were for such an eccentric epiphany.