Whereas Jane Austen remarked in a September l796 letter that their current hot weather was keeping her in a continually inelegant state, Thomas Hood complained in a more robust manner of parched feet and burning eyeballs, asking why then should he be joyful at the return of June? Subscribers to our newsletter will doubtless nod in sympathy, given today brings this latest eyescorching issue, hot-foot off the keyboard.
A particular favourite is the annual election of the Mayor of Ock Street, in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, on the Saturday on or before the 20th of the month. Only residents of the street can vote, and candidates for office are restricted to members of the Abingdon Morris Men, of whom the mayor becomes leader by virtue of his office.
After votes are counted, the newly elected mayor is chaired by the morris men from pub to pub down the street. The procession is led by a man bearing the pole on which a magnificent pair of ox horns are mounted, while the mayor holds a sword and goblet as symbols of his office. As well as the Abingdon dancers, other morris "sides" perform during the day to add to the celebrationary atmosphere.
The custom grew up, so it is said, as the consequence of a dispute at an ox roast in l700. According to the story, a fight broke out between those living in Ock Street and a another bunch from a different part of town. A cudgel-wielding Ock Street resident, Mr Hemmings, took possession of the horns and carried them off in triumph. Why the horns were such desirable items I have yet to discover, but in any event these trophies of war were mounted on a wooden mask of a bull and the faux bovine head attached to a pole.
Through the following generations, members of the Hemmings family not only served as mayor numerous times, but also single-handedly kept local morris dancing alive until scholarly interest in the form revived morris and it again flourished. There is a splendid photo taken about l9l0 of two of the Hemmings, one of them in mayoral regalia displaying cup and sword and holding the horns here http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/gif/morris-espernc1.jpg
The real mayor of Abingdon figures in another interesting custom, to wit, throwing buns off the roof of the old county hall. This jamboree is however spasmodic in nature, since it's usually held to celebrate royal or important national events. The practice supposedly dates back three centuries, when free loafs were distributed to the populace in l760 in celebration of the accession of George III. Whoever had the idea of throwing Hanoverian Hovis off the roof or when buns were substituted I haven't been able to establish, but buns were flung to the winds in l820 to mark the coronation of George IV, and since then have fallen manna-like to mark various royal weddings, the l00th birthday of the Queen Mother, and the gold and silver jubilee anniversaries of the accession of Elizabeth II, who was also treated to a special bun throw when she visited the town in the mid l950s. There's a collection of them in the local museum.
The event begins with a procession by the mayor and various office holders up to the roof. After the ceremonial mace bearer has led three cheers for the current sovereign, the mayor throws out the first bun and the rest follow.
However, if you are the mayor of High Wycombe, in nearby Buckinghamshire, don't eat too many buns! Each year the mayor, aldermen, and councilors are weighed -- individually of course -- in a chair attached to a tripod scale, to check to see if he or she has grown heavier at taxpayer expense, the various officials having been weighed right after taking office. The results announced by the corporation's mace bearer. Weight is stated as being so many pounds "and no more" if it's remained stable since the previous year or so many pounds "and some more" if not. The crowd responds with good-natured catcalls or cheers as the occasion warrants, unlike former occasions when offenders were likely to be showered with mouldy fruit. As with many such customs, medieval origins are claimed. It is certainly old, having been revived in the late l890s, discontinued during WWI, and reinstated in l9l7.
Since ceremonial regalia is worn during the weighing, the chains of office certainly weigh heavily on this occasion!
You can see some photos of the ceremonies via the ABPA awards page: http://www.azbookpub.com/awards.html
Mary and I both joined the MWA back when we first met the professional qualifications. Later, we decided that a double membership was somewhat redundant for married writers, so we let my membership lapse, but I still carry the faded and expired MWA card in my wallet. Belonging to the MWA is pretty cool. So is having belonged...
When I was a kid I was a card-carrying member of the Horseshoe Club. That card was more colorful than the MWA's. Mystery writers could improve their MWA cards by hand coloring them with crayons, which is what we did for the Horseshoe Club. Gold and silver is an especially impressive combination. Impressive enough even for a professional author, I would think. Creating our official credentials was one of our major achievements.
It was a by-invitation-only organization. Actually by-my-invitation-only since we met in my parents' basement. My friends and I had come across a rusty old horseshoe out in the barn, which was as good an excuse as any to form a club. Kids love to organize as much as adults.
I can't recall what the club's goals were, or most of what we did. At our first meeting we drew up rules for an election, at our second we held an election. At our third we wrote a history, because by then we had a history, i.e. "At it's first meeting the Horseshoe Club drew up rules. Officers were elected at the second meeting." Then we drew up more rules and held another election, to see who would succeed me as president. (Well, remember, it was my parents' basement) This meant that the history had to be updated. We also ate chips and Cheese Curls and drank soda.
At some point we drew those membership cards. It's hard to remember everything, we had so much to do.
One subject that I recollect came up repeatedly was the Giant Slingshot of Destruction. We'd discovered in the woods a "Y" shaped piece of limb about two feet in length. It was immediately obvious that if we attached a deflated spare tire and mounted the limb in our treehouse we'd be able to fire bricks with deadly force across half the length of the lawn. An appealing notion indeed. I don't know who, exactly, we expected to be attacking our treehouse, but they wouldn't make it past the middle of the lawn.
This great weapon turned out to be more exciting to talk about than to construct.
At some point, however, we formulated a project which we actually carried out. We buried the club history and other artifacts in a time capsule (a zip-log bag) at the edge of the swamp, a half-mile up the railroad tracks, ten paces from the big stump. We did it for posterity. About eight months later, having become posterity, we dug the time capsule up.
The papers were waterlogged and the ink had smeared but the preservation committee managed to get them unfolded and dried out and encased every item in protective saran wrap, in case posterity wanted to examine the "Vote Eric - Experience Counts" campaign button or peruse our discussion of where to obtain deflated spare tires.
I kept the contents of the time capsule for many years but I'm not sure what happened to them or how the Horseshoe Club finally ended.
Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ There you'll find the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a list of author freebies, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to visit Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/