If you’d asked me two weeks ago what I thought about people dressing up in historical costumes and recanting battle scenes for a hobby, I would have said it sounds like a sure way to stay off drugs and alcohol. People didn’t really do that sort of thing, or so I thought. Last Sunday, I attended Chalke Valley History Festival. It’s the historical dress up alternative to Glastonbury, absent of the iconic rock bands, half-naked drunken carnage and violent mosh pits. As a first-timer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have never been a history lover, but I’d just discovered Game of Thrones and thought I’d go along on the off-chance, I’d spot a Dwarf or witch.
I imagined the festival would involve a talk or two on WWII or King Henry VIII’s poor wives, or maybe the odd show and tell with a few silver coins from a museum. Not really my bag, but seeing as I was trying to kick my online Scrabble habit, I thought the fresh air would do me good. I did get very excited when 10 minutes into the festival, I thought I’d spotted a dwarf from the House of Lannister. No, I was mistaken. It was merely a Viking toddler roaming around with a plastic spear. Had a not seen a nappy poking out the top of his mini trusses I may have been convinced.
I didn’t imagine I’d bump into a Roman soldier while queuing for a coffee. Or a 19th-century French soldier for that matter. I certainly hadn’t envisaged I’d be watching Vikings and Saxons lounge on animal skins while they exchanged 8th-century Saxon-Viking banter. I was hastily informed that all skins were ethically sourced – very uncharacteristically Viking. I was waiting for someone to blow into a horn and announce a beheading. Despite the fact I was basking in cultural experiences and collecting as many freebies as my greedy little hands to gather, I couldn’t help but wonder if this festival was a little bit fetish.
Well, if a few middle-aged men in helmets enjoying the company of 13th-century Damsels is the worst thing that happens on a Sunday, I’d say the world’s turned a corner. I met Eadburg of Thurston, who was nearly offended when I naively asked if his outfit was Game of Thrones inspired. He was, however, delighted to explain why his tunic was ruby red and the significance of the hand sewn embroidery around the cuffs.
It turns out; not much has changed with the concepts of fashion from the 5th century to the 21st century. We continue to buy overpriced things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. If Eadburg of Thurston had the luxury of technology, I’m sure he would have posted a mirror selfie on Facebook to show off his new man tunic and dainty pig leather shoes. Instead he resorted to parading around his village with his chest puffed out. While embroidered man tunics have not been fashionable for a few hundred seasons, we are still in the habit of flaunting our purchases in our perpetual pursuit of approval.
I was surprised to discover how much we had in common with the thousands of generations that lived before us. Sure, we shower more frequently than our predecessors and now class beer for breakfast as a ‘drinking problem’, but otherwise, humans haven’t changed. We’re quick to brand the past as dead and gone and to only focus on the ‘now’. Our Curious minds continue to puzzle over the ways of the world and the why’s of war and tradition. If we could step back into the past, even just for a day, we’ll remember that we’re not the only generation that existed. Perhaps it’s arrogance or maybe ignorance that leads us to dismiss our world’s rich history as ‘irrelevant’. We couldn’t be further from the truth.
If history isn’t your thing and ‘old stuff’ doesn’t interest you, forget the boundaries of your comfort zone for a day and call upon your inner geek. Go where you have never dared ventured before. I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself, or at the very least, learn a fun fact or two you can whip out amidst a heated game of Uno to distract your opponents. One thing is for sure; we must continue to preserve our world’s rich history now and in the future.
Originally written for Trust Magazine. Find out more about Chalke Valley History Festival here.
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