Tag Archives: england

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 58
Occupation: Storyboard Artist
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 5, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 56
Occupation: High School Substitute Teacher
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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 Legend of The Beast of Bodmin Moor

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: In the 1970s there was a rumor, legend, whatever, that there was a beast on Bodmin Moor in Devon. The moor was isolated and creepy and people became afraid to go there because of this beast. You need to know there were a lot of sheep on the moor that had been found mutilated and chewed by something. And there were reported sightings of a huge panther like thing with yellow eyes and a big black cloak. Then in the late 1970s people said somebody found a huge cat like a lion or a tiger or something. The rumor said it had been released from a nearby zoo or private owner, someone like Jo Exotic.
Other people said it was some sort of paranormal beast. Nobody ever got a picture of it. But THEN, and I think it was the late 1970s, somebody found a tiger or a panther skull on the moor.

Interviewer: So wait there actually way a panther on the moors?

Informant: Ah but! They sent it to the museum in London and it was indeed the skull of a panther, but the way it was detached from the rest of the body it looked like a rug. It turned out somebody had chucked out an old ratty rug and it rotted away leaving only the skull. So the mystery has never been solved.

Interviewer: Do you think it could have been someone just wearing the rug as a costume and messing with people?

Informant: Might have been, yeah. Could have been.

Interviewer: But I don’t know how they would have disemboweled the sheep like what you described.

Informant: Yeah. There weren’t wolves around there in 1978, I don’t think, so it couldn’t have been them. But it might have been foxes or natural wildlife, or a big dog.

Context: I asked my informant about what stories she knew about as a kid growing up in England. This was the first thing that came to mind.

Thoughts: There are pictures of a black cat when one searches for the beast which definitely coincides with my informants description of the creatures. I wonder if once upon a time there was a large cat in the area or if it really was just a large dog.

English Recipe

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: English Recipe

 

This was told to me by my friend Liv, who’s grandmother was born and raised in England.

 

“My grandmother was born in Wimbledon, England and grew up during WWII. Her father worked for the British Army putting out incendiary bombs with sand and her mother did not work, so they did not have a lot of money. Because of this, my grandmother and her siblings would often eat mashed turnips or rutabaga to fill up their stomach as they were growing children. On special occasions though, their mother would make them Shepards Pie, a recipe that is still his favorite many years later. The recipe has been passed down from her mother to my grandmother, to my mother, and finally to me. It is pretty simple as it just uses the ingredients for mashed potatoes for the top, and a lot of different fresh spices, vegetables, and ground beef for the filling.”

 

Background:

 

Liv’s grandmother passed this recipe down to her, and it is one of their families favorites. Liv likes this recipe because not only is it delicious, but has a cultural connection to where her family came from and their heritage.

This was passed to Liv’s grandmother by her mother, and it continues to be passed down through the generations, and gets brought out for family gatherings and holiday celebrations.

 

Context:

 

The present day context of this recipe is not the same as what it was used for back when Liv’s grandmother first had it, but it is still used in the same sense. It is brought out at family gatherings because they all have the same ties to the culture and heritage of England, and her family’s recipe is something she holds close to her.

This is a common recipe found with microwave options and even variations at restaurants that put a modern spin on a classic dish. The origins though are English, and the traditional recipe is something unique to different families from the region.

 

My Thoughts:

 

I’m personally a fan of Shephards Pie, and remember my favorite being sold by a street vendor I passed after surfing one day. I’ve never had a traditional Shepherd’s pie, but I hope some day to try the recipe Liv has been taught by her grandmother.

Boxing Day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: European American
Age: 68
Occupation: Professor
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/27/2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: “The day after Christmas is Boxing Day. And…uh…it used to be that the people who had more would, on this day, give some of the food that was left over from Christmas to the poor, so some of the food would be boxed up and taken to places where poor people either lived or went for food. The original purpose of this day was not fulfilled when I was a child. It was probably that way 100 years before I was born. It was a holiday in England where people would get together and have another lunch with other relatives or friends. So usually on Christmas day, one would have…um…lunch with your immediate family and you’d open presents. On Boxing Day, you’d usually go to another relative’s or the relatives would come to you. So two big meals- one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.”

Background: The informant believes that because Boxing Day became a national holiday, people forgot about it’s original purpose. Instead, people like to celebrate because no one has to work on Boxing Day. He says it became insulting to take food to the poor on Boxing Day and there were no longer places to take the food, anyways. The informant’s family would celebrate Boxing Day with relatives and friends. The informant enjoyed “the company, another nice meal, and the spirit of Christmas because the decorations stayed up.” Boxing Day was celebrated with a late lunch of the Christmas Day leftovers and afterwards, he was able to play with the presents he’d received on Christmas.

Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.

My Thoughts: Perhaps since England has become a much wealthier country, its holidays have become financial sources of marketed celebrations. Instead of the original charitable intention of Boxing Day, it is now a reason to use Christmas leftovers for another celebration. I find it interesting that it is actually taboo now to share leftovers with a less fortunate community. Similar to the ways Appurdai explains an Indian interpretation of leftovers as forbidden, England has adopted a culture of impoliteness surrounding leftovers. I remember my own interpretation of Boxing Day as another gift box(!) as it was celebrated in my home. Boxing Day traditions remain as a continued celebration with family and friends, engaging in shared meals and gift exchanges.

Woburn Abbey Ghost Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 50
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Beverly Hills, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

TK: Did you ever see a ghost?

LK: No but they moved all the bathroom doors and wardrobes open and everything.

TK: Wait explain.

LK: I went to see my friend he lives in Woburn Abbey in England (was a house to priests or monks or something) for the weekend. I left after one day, I couldn’t do it, it freaked me out. (stuttering) It’s a house a family owned, it was an abbey, now it’s a public inn; not sure what it is to see all the stuff. It is known to be haunted. My mom’s friend grew up there and always saw ghosts growing up as a child. Mind you, he only told my mom this much later.

TK: Who’s they?

LK: Robin, aka Lord Russell. We went for dinner and spent the night. Robin was in his room, I was in my room and who else went with us? I don’t know, a couple other friends? Robin told us stories about when he was a kid when he grew up it was haunted.

TK: What was?

LK: The house. It freaked me out and I couldn’t believe we were out there stuck, two hours away from everything, couldn’t get back, and had to spent the night there. It was a residence on the top floor. They gave me a room that had three wardrobes, one on this side, one on that side and one with the TV. The bathroom door was over here (gesturing). I left the bathroom door open and all the wardrobes were shut

TK: Were you in the room alone?

LK: Yeah, everyone was ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL. So I was watching television and the TV kept popping in and out like a switch (acting it out) Meanwhile his mom came in to give me a pill to calm me down because I couldn’t handle it. I guess I finally fell asleep with the TV on and woke up to find every single wardrobe door open and the bathroom door was shut and the door to the bedroom was locked.

TK: Then what?

LK: I freaked out a little bit. I got up, I closed the wardrobe drawers, went to the bathroom and unlocked the bedroom door (laughing, thinking, nodding head) um…all the stuff in the bathroom and the toiletries were on the floor, toothbrush, toothpaste, everything that I had used to shower and everything.

TK: So then what?

LK: Picked everything up. I would say that was about three in the morning-ish. I opened the bedroom door to see the hallway, you know, I was freaked out.

TK: How did you go back to sleep after that?

LK: I sort of laid there. I thought Robin was playing  a trick on me, you know, so I actually walked down the hall, now that I think about it and walked all the way down the hall to see if they were up and didn’t really know which room they were in for sure and decided not to go all the way (shaking head) I didn’t want to see anything I was petrified. So I went back to my room put the TV on and I guess eventually fell asleep again and that was it. I woke up in the morning.

TK: What happened in the morning?

LK: I asked them if they had played a joke on me and they said no, oh come on, laughing, they go not at all. It was freaky. We were having breakfast and I said that’s it we’re not staying here anymore and his parents were laughing.

TK: Who were you with?

LK: His parents live at the house and his younger brother and I went there with Robin. And that was it.

THE INFORMANT: The informant was my mom. She was family friends with the Russells who were occupying the estate, and this occurred in the late 80s. This was the only time she experienced a ghostly visitation and the way she describes it makes it clear that she was disturbed by the incident although the family did not take it very seriously, possibly because they had dealt with the ghost before.


ANALYSIS: Woburn Abbey has long been known as a place haunted by ghosts and spirits, much like other English estates with a long history and many previous occupants. According to the website Ghostly Rooms, which catalogues ghost sightings in homes, “It is also said…there is a spirit that haunts the private chambers of Woburn Abbey. This spirit manifests itself by walking through the lounge, without being seen. The door will open on one side and the sound of footsteps move across the floor as the spirit passes through. Once on the other side the other door would open and then slams shut as the spirit leaves. In the 1960s this ghostly activity became so frequent that the Ducal family had to move their television to another room so the could watch the television without the chance of being disturbed.” This seems eerily similar to the experience my mother had, in which she was in one of the private chambers and noticed doors opening without explanation as well as a disturbance of her possessions.