Author Archives: teaganwe

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Modern Practices of The Winter Solstice

Informant: I researched it and made it our own, and it changes constantly every year, but that’s to be expected. I’ve always done solstice when we were out here (America) because we were otherwise going back to England for Christmas and we didn’t want to go schlepping (moving) all the presents back, so we starting celebrating this.

Interviewer: So what is it that you do for the solstice?

Informant: I go out in the late afternoon and I pick Bay Leaves, Oak Leaves, and Ivy Leaves and I wash them and then I put them out to dry in the last rays of the sun. Traditionally I’m making pork and prunes on that day, so I put that on to cook. It is the first night we light the yule log. I build a fire in the fire pit, using what remains of last year’s log. We start around the fire making wishes with the leaves I left out to dry and throwing them into the fire. When we come in to eat, we eat take a light from the fire and light a candle then carry that light to the table where we’re eating. You are bringing light into the darkness. My husband also made me a yule log table decoration with fire candles in it for the five of us in the family.

Interviewer: You mentioned wishes with leaves, what kind of wishes do you make?

Informant: I can show you, I have it written down.

[Informant returns with a red book]

Informant: This is where I record all the big events that happen to my family every solstice. Here’s the wish list.

[Written information on a standard white piece of paper]

These leaves have been washed clean and dried in the last rays of the sun. Splash them with whatever you’re drinking and drop them into the fire with a wish. This is a time of giving so your wishes should not be for yourself but for the good of others.

IVY
For friendship, fidelity, and affection

OAK
For luck, also strength, endurance and vigor

BAY LAUREL
For health and Protection
This is also a time for letting go, making amends or saying farewell.

PAPER
Write your regrets and resentments on a slip of paper and toss them into the fire.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

The Joke A Dog with No Nose

Informant: It’s a very short joke.

Interviewer: That’s perfectly fine. Just tell it how you know it.

Informant: Okay. A dog with no nose, how does he smell? — Terrible!

Interviewer: You don’t wait for someone to ask how?

Informant: Not usually. Usually everyone knows the punchline so we all say it together.

Informant: Who’s the we? Where did you learn this?

Informant: Well I think I learned it from my father, he was always making silly jokes like that. Everyone learned it so quickly that it’s a bit hard to say. I remember hearing it during a big party at a small house. It must have been a Sunday because Sunday was when you went to see your family. I remember that because it was something everyone used to get hysterical about, everyone would roll about laughing.

Background: The informant believes she first heard this joke from family. She was not sure if she heard it from her father or older brother who was in the army. They were very close so it’s difficult for her to say who came up with it first, or if they heard it from someone else.

Context: I was asking my informant to recount things she remembered from her childhood and she remembered a few songs and this joke specifically.

Thoughts: It appears to be more of an inside joke but every British person I’ve interacted with appears to know it, but they always play along if they’re asked. It is probably incredibly popular because it’s an easy joke for children to remember and is incredibly easy for them to share to other kids.