I’M reading a wonderful book – a birthday present from a good friend – that’s a compilation of letters to a well-known country magazine.
They date from the late 1800s to the 1940s and reveal a Britain that has all but disappeared.
A few of the old customs still remain down here in the West Country, from the terrifying cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire to wassail in Somerset. We also still burn the ashen faggot in a village not far from us.
It’s a lot more innocent than it sounds to 21st-century ears. It simply consists of chucking a log bound with withies – willow wands – or a bundle of stout sticks tied up with ash wands into the fire.
It’s supposed to guard against bad spirits – and a fair few shots of good spirits are sunk as each of the bindings snaps as it burns.
The custom doesn’t feature in the book I am reading – maybe no one down here thought to write in – but a great many others do.
I am not sure the tradition of enrolling young boys in the Royal Navy should be revived – at least at the tender ages suggested by some correspondents – and I do question why you’d want to take a sheep on a lead when rattling your tin for charity.
One letter asks whether it’s possible to keep meerkats as pets while another is seeking the best diet for a kinkajou. There’s one who swears by cider as a remedy for rheumatism, claiming doctors prescribe it. Writing in 1899 he says he’s not inclined to trust medics due to an unfortunate experience. And the wretch does not tell us what that could be.
Suggestions are made on a cure for warts – rub them with slugs – and suitable uniforms for maids. Apparently red dresses with white aprons would fit the bill and caps are essential.
It made me wonder what customs we could invent for future generations to puzzle over – or what things that we do now might be considered quaint in 100 years’ time.
No doubt the widespread use of plastic for everything will make the 22nd-century people roll their eyes. Well, I hope they wonder why on earth supermarkets wrapped a humble root vegetable like a swede in swathes of impenetrable film.
They’ll probably also see our reliance on the car as crazy, especially when they see pictures of single commuters stuck in traffic in vehicles designed for families of six or more. Hopefully London will be well rid of the giant 4x4s that clog the streets by then – why do people think they need them when they travel at 5mph?
We could claim an ancient tradition of throwing people out of the train’s “quiet carriage” if they look at a smartphone or deploying a scold’s bridle if they start an over-loud conversation about their Christmas shopping list.
“Like” can become, like, the worst, like, swearword – and that goes for the l***s on social media.
We can tell future generations that it was our 21st-century custom to eat tripe and jam sandwiches on the Saturday before midsummer and that buying Advent calendars with chocolate – or anything else but pictures – behind the tiny doors was punishable by the offender being made to watch every episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys back to back.
Ferret-walking Fridays would have been observed in every town or village with a name starting with “F” – I am sure we could edit pictures of Frenchay, Frome, Fivehead and Freshford to nail the myth.
We can tell them that chilblains were once a real affliction and that we needed to heat our homes from October to April. We will say that tomatoes only thrived outdoors in exceptional summers and geraniums had to be treated as annuals.
They won’t believe a word, of course, as they will be globally warmed. But – maybe, just maybe – they’ll observe ferret-walking in Farrington Gurney in 2118.
No doubt the widespread use of plastic for everything will make the 22ndcentury people roll
their eyes. Well, I hope they wonder why on earth supermarkets wrapped a humble root vegetable like a swede in swathes of