Articles and Handouts
General Articles:: [Tips for Entertaining] [Demos for Children] [Masques and Masks] [Christmas Gifting] [Building Armour in these Current Middle Ages]
Historical Articles::[Do You Remember...] [Pen Gwynne War Monograph] [Southron Gaard's Glorious 10th]
I really should write more of my stuff down. I guess dealing with words all day in mundane life means that I'm reluctant to spend yet more time in front of a computer than I have to. This Website is an attempt to preserve some of my work, research, ideas and opinions. I usually end up writing something when asked specifically (spot the journo who prefers to work to a deadline).
I've toyed with the odd thought of submitting material to Tournaments Illuminated, but every time I've looked at their author release procedures and submission requirements they seem so convoluted that I haven't ever gotten around to it. Funny, but in...gak...20 years as correspondent, freelancer, columnist, broadcaster, media commentator etc, I think I might have signed maybe two releases where print is concerned and one for broadcast media, and two of these were student things where they observed all the forms which are ignored in the real world...but I digress....
A general listing of the handouts I've made up for various classes. Some of these can be found elsewhere on the site as part of the section documentation, but here are class summaries in one easy spot. They are PDFs set for printing as A4. Feel free to print and distribute, though I'd appreciate it if you could let me know if you do so (and please please cite the source).
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Entertainment at SCA Events - Tips for Stewards
These quick tips derive from years of organising entertainment activities and benefiting from the efforts of others, as well as from the contributions made by those who attended a Southron Gaard Entertainment Symposium.
(1) Match your publicity/announcements to your event
Entertainment can start right from the moment you announce your event. Consider how you are going to present the event to the populace, as that will affect their perceptions and expectations, and it can be used to heighten anticipation.
For example, the formal [Pas d'Armes] for Twelfth Night was announced with an equally formal challenge to the populace, which set the scene beautifully for how the stewards wished the event to be perceived - a chance to work within the traditions of high chivalry and pageantry. This distinguished it clearly, right from the start, as not being a basic tourney.
(2) Work with a theme in mind
Many Stewards pick a theme for an event, often relating to a time or place such as the Field of Cloth of Gold, or 12th-century Crusader. Consider how much you can relate to that theme, whether hall decorations, attendance tokens, presentation of the food, table/menu settings, background music. Themes provide a backbone, but you have to add meat, and even small touches in presentation can make an event much more enjoyable and memorable.
For example, the subtelties for our Beowulf feast were worked in with the excerpts from the Beowulf saga read out between courses - the severed arm, the melting sword, the gruesome head. The vegetable dishes were presented on a round platter in the form of a shield (peas and carrots quarterly, a cross and boss of mounded spiced barley). The tourney was in a holmgang format with shieldmen.
(3) Make sure you have the basics covered
Even if you're not interested in entertainments per se, there are some basic, readily organised things which you can easily do to help make an event, particularly a feast, more than just a fancy-dress party. These include:
- using banners to cover mundane items in a hall
- ensuring there is background music throughout a feast when appropriate
- providing a finger-washing bowl (eg rose petals, lavender, rosemary in warm water)
- having a herald announce the courses
Other things you might like to consider include:
- giving out simple attendance/payment tokens (eg a string of beads, a strip of ribbon, finger braid, a stamped plaster disk, a small candle)
- making table runners or menus reflecting the theme of your event
- providing dance music, particularly for the most common dances
(4) Delegate, and take advantage of clearly defined roles and responsibilities
It helps greatly if your can work with people who understand the nature and intent of the event. This is particularly important in the larger, more formal or multi-day events where various roles are played by different people (eg Head Steward, Chief Cook, Tourney Marshal etc).
If you do want entertainment as part of the event, it can be useful to have an Entertainment Steward who can co-ordinate activities, organise the related resources and, on the day, communicate between "front of house" (ie the hall for a feast) and "back of house" (ie the kitchen) to ensure that neither impinges on the other.
If you know someone is good at something, whether singing, making "stuff" or simply being helpful, ask them to help. People do like to be asked, especially if it is in an area where they have some skill or interest, and this can be much more successful in gaining a positive response than a blanket call for assistance.
(5) Keep scheduled entertainments short and relevant
Not everyone wants to participate in interactive entertainment or to listen to long sagas. Make sure your scheduled entertainments, whether quizzes or plays, quests or performances, do not dominate an event, unless it is clearly understood by all beforehand that that is the purpose of the event.
Some ways of ensuring entertainments remain entertaining are to:
- limit the number of actual presentation pieces and timetable them so everyone knows what is expected of them
- ensure that the type of entertainment suits the site (eg a quiet story-teller needs an intimate setting rather than a large hall)
- have clear "victory conditions" for quests or ways of ending them suitably at your will so they don't drag on or frustrate participants
- ensure that there is good communication between the various people responsible for an event (ie so the kitchen people know court is running late, or so that a fill-in item of entertainment is available if a course needs to be delayed)
- be prepared to abandon an entertainment or idea if it won't work; this could happen for a number of reasons - compacted timetables, inclement weather, ill health - so save the idea for another day
(6) Look for ideas and keep notes
The SCA has been around for 40 years, and many excellent entertainments have been developed in that time. Add to this records of period practices, historical novels, films, artwork, television documentaries, music, Scouting/Guiding manuals, craft books, Stefan's Florilegium, not to mention the boundless fields of the Internet, and there are myriad possible sources for ideas. Make notes, brainstorm with others, think laterally and you may come up with the event that brings people that much closer to the Dream.
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Do You Remember….
This was written for the first Southron Gaard Arts and Sciences publication. I was asked to provide reminiscences from my looong time in the SCA of those events which really stood out, but wanted to go a bit beyond that to explore why they had stayed in my memory, even after two decades.
We've all experienced events where we come away wondering why bother, but if we are lucky, every now and then we encounter something magical and get a glimpse of the Dream. For me, the stand-out events are ones where those involved have gone the extra step to try and draw us out of mundanity and into a different world. It is hardly surprising, given my enthusiasms, that the bulk of these have involved entertainment of some form.
So with that in mind, and with far too many years behind me, here are some stand-out memories of times past, with a weather eye to the future….
...being chased through the night by a giant
This was at the beautifully executed Rhine Maiden Quest run in the early days of the College, where a guy on stilts with a long cloak made a very scary, and shockingly fast, giant. Combine this with a candle-circled island, a set of scary snout-masked guards, and a huge dark park to wander in, and you had a magical event.
Quests can be a brilliant way of helping suspend disbelief, giving us a chance to act and play outside our usual selves, if we are brave enough and the environment supportive. And they are even better when based around an event or period theme with the odd obscure reference to delight those who know their literature or history.
…delighting in finding a hidden talent
I recall one youngling who related an excellent tale at the Night of Ghosts and Shadows (a sometime Bardic Circle event at the Hermitage), surprising a lot of folk who had not realised he had such a talent.
A diverse range of events give people a chance to shine in arenas not normally open to them, to learn new skills and to teach others. There is always a tension between those who see entertainment as something being forced upon them, and those who would be only too pleased to have such. Different styles of events mean that those different attitudes can be catered for.
…getting carried along by the stories of Bartholomew Baskin
At one stage, we had an on-going series of stories over a number of years relating the rise and rise of the villainous Bartholomew Baskin, following on from the spooky stories of James de la Salle. These were at their most evocative when told late in the evening around the campfire at the Lyonesse encampments, blending story-telling with persona details.
It would be great to see more attempts at persona development and better support for it. It's one of the things that can make the SCA much more than a fancy-dress club, which at times it appears to be. I also find having a persona helps provide a focus for my own interests, which makes it easier to define projects and thus bring them to completion.
…the ghosts of assassinated diners taking over Fool's Feast, and "herald says" at the St Thomas Market Day Court
In both these cases, we'd set up a structure for entertainment and found the "cast" taking over, with wonderful results. Surely nothing can be more gratifying than to have people run with your idea to produce a result so much better than you ever dreamed possible.
Now that's what I call an entrance!
…King John being carried on his shield into the Provincial Chambers
This was a gob-smackingly impressive entrance, and not just because of the setting, though that helped mightily. I think the elements of formal pageantry resonate very strongly with us, whether the oaths of fealty or the ceremonies around a knighting. They deserve to be dressed up and savoured in full.
The Provincial Chambers and the Great Hall, for all their faults as feast venues (the stewards deserve our sympathy still!), really added to that pageantry. It can be so much harder to get that sense of really being there in the more modern venues, for all their conveniences, which is why I think it helps to "dress" halls for both the eye and ear.
…singing the Boars' Head Carol when the boar's head was carried in for King Patrick
I've enjoyed being part of a feast crew singing the much-maligned Axe Time as a work song, or playing the harp with half a dozen recorders alongside at Canterbury Faire, and will listen to Lady Alys sing Karelia's Song over and over again, an she be willing.
I'm a (very amateur) enthusiast in music making, but enjoy taking part and listening, for the most part regardless of the musical "quality". I feel there is something about live music that makes it more worthy of respect than just another background track from the minstrel box.
And my pick of the more personal moments I treasure?
- seeing my firstborn swaddled in my lord's cloak and sleeping in the arms of various folk at the first Pen Gwynne War
- singing the riddle song I wrote for Ulf and Sebastian for their knighting
- hearing other people sing Dickon's Lament and how it subtly changes over time
- watching Dickon and Peregrin, on receiving their Acorns (Caid's children's award), bow before King Ivan, where they looked soooo small
It is these sorts of moments which make me persist with the SCA in the hope of encountering them again, or of being a part of making such a moment for someone else.
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Written to explain a tradition that had lapsed a tad. I had to encourage it, or the children would never have forgiven me! This article mentions dicing for gifts - I tried a different approach at the last Christmas Revel I stewarded. We had all the presents piled together with lines of red wool tied to each one leading out of the pile to form a circle around the gifts. We marched around the pile singing Oranges and Lemons and on reaching the chop off the head denouement, we stopped and each took up a thread to follow to the present. It was a lot quicker than trying to throw sixes!
The Southron Gaard Christmas Revel has traditionally had a gifting game, whereby people bring a small gift which is placed in a pile and then distributed on a random basis (traditionally by dicing). The gifts do not have to be expensive or elaborate, but it does add to the occasion if you come along prepared to participate and if you provide something appropriately "period".
Hoary old stand-bys are candles, candlesticks, platters or goblets - markets and school fairs are good sources for these. Suitably shaped spoons and knives are always useful, as are bottles (even without contents!). But you can do so much more....
It's relatively easy to make simple things - think of bottle bags, napkins, pouches (large and small), even juggling balls or mini-shields for the lists tree. A bit of paint, ribbon or embroidery can dress these things up nicely. Make a fabric or leather slipcover for notebooks or paste on a suitable paper cover.
Have a rummage around your notions section and see what you have that might be handy. Things like a set of buttons, some braid, feathers, embroidery floss, Aida cloth or linen. You might have enough to make up a little pack to brighten up someone's garb, or to make a small cross-stitch kit (add a simple design suggestion, with or without documentation!).
Minimal cooking skills are needed to make sugared almonds, sweetmeats or potted cheese (and most modern cookbooks have recipes for this sort of thing if you don't have Apicius to hand). Wrap dates or figs in waxed-paper, or soak fruit in brandy a week beforehand and pack in a small jar. These all look so much better than a foil-wrapped bar of chocolate and would cost the same (or less!). You can offer a sweet treat with some honeycomb from the local supermarket.
The Warehouse and the $2 shops can be cheap treasure troves, particularly if you think laterally. I've made up lots of dice sets out of a $2 bag of wooden craft cubes. Small teak boxes are often available cheaply, and the Asian warehouses often have inexpensive woven baskets which are great for the feast chest. Spotlight and other craft places have small boxes you can paint or cover with fabric, and keep an eye out for packs of beads, ribbon and other notions.
And for that final touch, do bear in mind that neon wrapping paper with surfing Santas on it is not period...This is a good time to get rid of fabric scraps - that left-over velvet or brocade can look great when used to wrap a gift and tied with a ribbon. Or make up a small pouch from fabric or leather to double the present! If you want to get fancy, hand-made paper with a wax seal looks very swish.
But most of all, don't forget to have fun in the giving...
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Pen Gwynne War Monograph
This doesn't really count as an article as such, but it doesn't fit in my printed section either, and this does seem the best place for it as a pseudo-article.
I collected all the correspondence which occurred as part of the build-up to the first inter-kingdom battle of the Southern Hemisphere, between the Kingdom of Caid and the Kingdom of the West, held December 5-6 AS27. The resulting booklet was sub-titled:
A monograph concerning the legendary Pen Gwynne War, including rare manuscripts and fragments of song and poetry never before collected in one place.
It was fun writing a semi-academic commentary for the various letters between Uther Pen Gwynne (aka Baron Thomas Buttesthorn) and the aggressor Robare the Rhos. The monograph concluded with the poems and songs written about the events (including Dickon's Lament, and a copy of the beautiful illuminated missive by Dafyd the Scribe which was sent to their Majesties Avery and Arielle announcing our victory in the war.
The style of the piece can be demonstrated by this extract:
The First Pen Gwynne War
Certain selected dispatches have fallen into the hands of our scribes and, in the interests of rightfully recording the true history of the First Pen Gwynne War, we have made careful study of these, preserving them complete with dried spittle, bloodstains and bite marks.
In order to aid understanding of those misty times, we have made some attempts to correct spelling and grammatical errors - any such remaining are a reflection of the high emotions and low intellects stirred by thoughts of War.
The true scholar will at once discern the often uneven nature of the discourse, no doubt a product of the many minds at work. Even more puzzling is the chronology of the events leading up to the war, as few involved appeared able to count sufficiently to render dating systems intelligible.
The War Unfolds
The first missive in the collection comes from the legendary Uther Pen Gwynne, about whom little is known beyond his leadership of the Antarctic Liberation Front and his staunch defense of the peoples of the Great Southern Land.
He addresses the then rulers of the aggressor nation, the Principality of Lochac, to the West of the Southern Reaches, obviously commenting on rumours that had reached the latter's shores.
Unto Their Highnesses Gerald and Alisaundre of Lochac, and to Their Populace, Greetings!
It has come to our notice here in the noble, peaceful, freedom-loving lands of the Southern Reaches, that there have arisen certain misconceptions regarding the fair, fertile lands to the South. These misconceptions involve the rightful ownership of those lands known to some as Antarctica, and the protectorate of the freedom-loving, fish-eating populace of that land.
For some time we were blissfully unaware that certain peoples within the Principality of Lochac were sadly in the belief that they, in fact, were the rightful guardians of these aforementioned peoples.
But then strange rumours of atrocities began to filter up from our Southern Lands:
- Of our fish-eating comrades being forced to carry their young about in pouches duct-taped onto them.
- Of being forced to say "G'day mate" every morning to a life-sized portrait of someone named Crocodile Dundee.
- Of being coerced into spreading Vegemite onto their fish before eating them.
- Of being made to hop about wherever they go.
- Of being made to cover their usual attire with short T-tunics that carry such strange slogans as "We Luv Oz", "Penguins for Lochac" and "Gerald is a Prince of a Guy!".
There is much more, but in the interests of good taste these will go unmentioned. Declasse is too kind a term...
It is obvious that these peoples have an affinity for their brethren in the Southern Reaches and not Lochac, as certain of them have seen fit to make their homes here in our islands. They are always impeccably well dressed, and it is well known that Lochac males in particular cannot be made to dress well, even at the point of a crossbow.
Further evidence can be seen in the choice of colours they choose to wear black and white, the colours of the College of Reannag Fhara right here in the Southern Reaches. Certainly none of them would be caught dead splashed out in garish and tasteless colours such as red, white and blue.
It must be said that, contrary to scurrilous rumour, talk of war did not originate here in the gentle, tasteful and peaceful Southern Reaches, but from certain crass war-mongering buffoons in Lochac. These same buffoons are so common as to make searching them out a waste of time.
Yet we know that as Their Highnesses of Lochac wisely wish to avoid the terrible consequences that would come from such a war, they will take all necessary steps to prevent the carnage that would surely ensue.
We realise that even the fighters of Lochac may have mothers and it is for them that we are concerned. We do not wish to be the cause of countless multitudes of mothers of Lochac fighters to go about with empty pouches.
It is not the desire of the peaceful peoples of Southern Reaches to see the Principality of Lochac become an empty wasteland. We would gladly see it remain a full one.
There should be no mistake that we, and those we protect in the freedom-loving lands to the South, stand in solidarity. But now that this matter has been cleared up to the satisfaction of all, we are confident that His Highness of Lochac will properly chastise all offenders, and all will recognise the self-evident rights that we of Southern Reaches enjoy, and having had these errors corrected, will take steps to ensure that this does not occur again.
We trust that this closes the matter.
Uther Pen Gwynne,
Antarctic Liberation Front
The First Salvo from the West
What reply Uther received - if any - from
Their Highnesses is not recorded. Certainly it appears that they did
little to curb the aggressive posturings of their populace, if the
following letter from a particularly savage subject is anything to
Unto the Beknighted Populace of the Southern Reaches, does Robare the Rhos, Servant of the Prophet Margin; Grand Master, Citadel Vulgus; Defender of the Ancient and Antediluvian Eminence of the Barony River Haven, Principality Lochac; send his blessing and worshipful succour.
I am not offended that you suckling scum have the galling affront to cowardly declare war against my Sovereign Principality of Lochac.
You are nothing.
You are merely fleas in the ear of an elephant. You are currish [sic]dogs of war baying in the wind. Soon you shall fetch my stick, and the sheep you herd will be mine. Or cringe from the kick of my boot.
So contemptuous am I of you bleating barbaric whelps that I will send an Advance Guard of hand-picked fighters and artisans to enlighten you cloddish dolts in the arts of war.
You will know my vast military and merchant empire spans the known world, and that I humbly serve the good and just Baron and Baroness River Haven, Master Everard de Brieuse and Mistress Johanna Wendover.
Further, you will know that I have arrogated and appropriated all islands east of the mainland of Lochac. Thus from these island fortresses my Military Arm has slowly but inexorably formed a protective yet envious mantle over your fair isles.
For some time past I have become vexed and waxed wroth at the oppressive yokes, contemptuous despites and the condescendingly roughshod familiarity with which you have extracted tribute from those you grind under your heel, suckingly impoverishing the milk-white breast of hope, from which all must drink.
How bravely you scum bear your burden of shame. How quickly you will fall beneath my armies should you whimpering cowards decide to oppose me. Bend your knee in acknowledgment of your betters while you may, or attempt to die honourably if you can.
Unto the long-suffering and enslaved populace of Antarctica, weeping in your chains, your saviour, Robare the Rhos, servant of the Prophet Margin, extends the outstretched hand of deliverance.
Fear and languish no longer, my brave, misguided and long-suffering friends, for about me gather a goodly number of Warriors pledged to free the Populace of Antarctica from the servitude of your Masters. When we occupy your shores, the grasping tentacles of the Oppressors of the Populace of Antarctica will be severed.
Those traitorous criminals who oppose us will bleach in the sun, raised up on anal spikes. Those who rally in our welcome will receive the warming balm of my patronage. You will receive instruction in armour and weapon smithing. We will demonstrate and pass on our skills in swordplay techniques so you may fight with renewed honour.
For myself I ask nothing, save a few trading and merchanting rights, lands, titles and treasure. For my companions I ask lodging, a little beer and women for warmth.
The moment is ripe, You must now act to break the oppressive chains of servitude. Let those of you who have the agates of courage rise up!
Brothers, Sisters, My Children, Share the Joy of the Prophet
Margin. TRUST ME!
Robare the Rhos
Grand Master Vulgus
No identified signature of Robare the Rhos has come down
to us, providing further evidence beyond the actual writings attributed
to him that he was illiterate.
…there was more, much, much, much more…
If you'd really like to see it all, here's the PDF of the whole thing:
Pen Gwynne War Monograph (PDF)
This is laid out to print as a quarto on A4 (ie four pages per A4, with a fold in the middle taking the final production size to A5). Four sheets of A4 are required, printed double-sided.
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Southron Gaard's Glorious 10th
From an article written for the tenth anniversary of the founding of the SCA in New Zealand. The general dating is 1982 for our founding, though I'm reasonably sure that the first meeting we had was at the end of 1981. The article was written in AS26
Across the years I call to you, recalling times long gone and people once known. Now does my memory fail under the weight of events, of feasts fared and battles fought, but some beacons blaze forth to light the way.
Well do I remember the first time our company gathered to share their culinary arts and entertainments. Who can forget the Viking in pink, his new-found skills at dyeing cloth still lacking in strength, and causing him such abashment that he failed to make a final riposte in the insult competition, losing to a pinker Welsh maiden?
Or the bunny-skinned barbarian from the heights of the Pyrenees? He gained fame in drawing a note of credit from where later men would house their codpieces, and handing it to an innkeeper in return for his feasting wine -- the shaken vitner dropped the note, exclaiming in horror at its warmth.
I recall the mangling Callum McLeod, newly made herald, made of my name. Twas but a simple honest Welsh name -- Penardim Derwydd Ynys Prydain -- yet his Scotch tongue could not get round it. His tongue served well later, crooning forth verse after verse of the song detailing the terrible deeds of the Campbells at the massacre of Glencoe. This he sang to make a latecomer welcome, although I do believe the Campbell was not amused as his countryman paraded around the table singing at length of the "noble" deeds of his ancestors.
And then there was the noble youth from Byzantium, clad in gold-striped velvet. Pleased was he to find a member of the Varangian Guard among our motley crew. The guardsman was not so pleased to find he had a master to serve all even, and serve well and long he was forced to do, despite the importunings of a young Yorkist lady.
Not amused also were two scribblers who came to write of our deeds and ended up on the slaver's block at the auction, going for but a paltry sum. Though their writings in the following day's broadsheet were not kind, yet we all enjoyed ourselves. Long may we continue to do so.
So long ago, ten years it was
Our shire first began
Underneath strange southern skies
That knew not ancient man
Here gathered we right full of youth
Reaching for the heights
Of mediaeval chivalry
No peasants we, but knights
Gone now are many, far gone they are
All lost by time and tide
Round t'table now are faces new
Daresay that some will bide
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Building Armour in these Current Middle Ages
This was a wee item I wrote back in AS29 for the in-house newsletter of BHP Steel. Would have been nice if they'd given us some offcuts in exchange...
The clang of a ballpeen hammer rings out in a suburban backyard as members of the Shire of Southron Gaard work hard at their latest armoury guild meeting. These members of a medieval recreation group are putting together various pieces of armour, some working on shaping helms and elbow cops (jointed elbow guards), others sitting by quietly "knitting" mail coats out of welding wire.
"It's more like crafting clay than breaking rocks," comments Belinda Sibly. In her medieval alter-ego, she is known as Lady Rowena le Sarjent, and she boasts a beautiful set of armour, with elbow and knee cops, breastplate and mail skirt, helm, gorget (throat protection) and pauldrons (shoulder protection).
The household group to which she belongs -- appropriately named The Steel Knot -- raised funds to buy sheets of steel ranging from 12 to 16 gauge. Lady Rowena did the bulk of the work by hand, and was startled to find how easy it was to stretch and shape the metal.
"It took a while to learn how a couple of little taps could make a huge difference," she notes.
The group's armouring activities are gearing up as they prepare to host national and international visitors at the annual Canterbury Fayre in February. The four days of tournaments, pas de arms, melees and archery shoots will ensure that the armour is well and truly tested.
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