The annual Wassail at Barrington Court has undergone something of a change in recent years. In the past it was open to the public and was quite a big event, with drumming bands, mummers plays and lots of entertainment... and Morris dancers, still you can't have everything. However, some of the recent evenings have been less than successful, mostly due to dreadful wet weather, but also with the National Trust management showing about as much enthusiasm for promoting the event as your regular vegan shows when offered a tour of a local abattoir. So this year, Matthew Applegate, the much venerated Visitor Services Manager at Barrington decided to go for a small, intimate, invite only evening, and his plans paid dividends. The weather on the evening of the 17th was far better than it had been for some years. It was dry for a start, piercingly cold and the threatened snow was at least six hours away.
Matthew had set up an area by the garages out the back of Strode House (the Jacobean pile right next to Barrington Court) and there was a brazier blazing away and adding warmth and welcome. From his own garage Matthew and his lovely wife Sue were serving warm mulled cider, normal cider, apple juice for the kids, and home made cider apple cake, which was made with Matthew's own fair hands and was delicious. About 30 people had been invited and it was lovely to see such people as Jo and Blue Walshe from Shepton Beauchamp post office, and Paul Jessop and his fiancee, the lovely Marion Lewis both from Barrington Pottery. We began the evening with me doing a reading of The Gloucestershire Wassail, followed by Matthew's friend, the aptly named Dick who led us in a singing of "Here We Come a-Wassailing" and the "Somerset Wassail" songs. After this and a fair bit more cider we then processed round to the orchard and gathered under one of the mature apple trees. Here Dick poured cider over the roots to feed the tree, cider soaked toast was placed in the branches to encourage birds into the tree, and then we all made a load of noise, hollering shouting and whooping, followed by two loud blasts from a shotgun, to help scare away the evil spirits that might ruin the cider harvest. Wonderfully pagan and great fun. We then staggered back to the welcome warmth of the brazier. Matthew, bedecked in his fine slightly grotty looking bowler hat, was by now very merry indeed, and had noticed that the wood supplies for the brazier had grown low, and he was much vexed by this. He disappeared for a while, before returning with an almost comically long lump of wood in hand, whilst brandishing a huge saw in the other hand. Several people approached him and suggested with the amount of cider that had been imbibed, that the introduction of very sharp sawing implements might not be the best idea ever hatched. I left shortly after this, but heard nothing of any lost limbs or fingers.
Sometime over the next few hours, a snow white blanket descended on Somerset and many other south western areas. I awoke on the Friday morning to find Crewkerne submerged beneath a heavy fall of snow. Luckily I had no where really to go that weekend, and so I just battened down the hatches and continued to check the wine levels in my drinks cabinet. They were fine, but getting gradually lower. Not sure why...
This morning saw me up and out the door bright and early for a trek down to Devon and another annual visit to Blundell's Prep School in Tiverton. I have always enjoyed my visits to this school, and this year was no different. The sainted, and wonderfully named Stef Jeffs is long gone, and so to sadly is former Somerset opening batsman Nick Folland, so I can't pick his brains any more about the true horrors of facing Curtley Ambrose on a "bit of a sticky". Instead I was in the safe hands of the very welcoming Steve Hirst, dressed again as a sort of psychedelic jester. We had a great day with a lovely group of kids, about 30 of them, all in brilliant costumes. One young lad was in an executioners costume that his mother had made, and it was of such high quality that many a full time re-enactor would have been proud to wear it. Well done, Mum! The morning shot past rapidly amidst much laughs and Tudor nonsense. After a fine lunch of meat balls and rice, we were back in the hall for a grand joust finale. This was quiet to begin with, but like a snow ball running down hill, it started to pick up momentum, and by the final it was quite deafening. The final itself was a one-sided affair, where a much fancied ladies team was trounced by the gents. This brings our score for the year to:
GENTLEMEN 10 - 13 LADIES
So there IS some hope for the lads after all.
It is another local gig tomorrow with another return visit to a lovely school - Birchfield Junior in Yeovil. I always look forward to this day as well, so lets hope we have a good one.
Oh, and the picture at the top of this blog - it isn't me at all silly! I knew that all the way through. It's actually my identical twin brother. Handsome devil...