Sunday, 29 November 2009


I deeply regret describing the Fens as a land without scape. It is true that the nearest we have to scenery is a cloud formation and our Far Horizons are further than anyone else's. But there is much to celebrate. The Fens have illustrious children. Oliver Cromwell who was so sensible about Christmas. He banned it; Tom Paine, the font of common sense; John Clare, my favourite poet, Dorothy L Sayers; Edward Fitzgerald of the Rubyiat; and W G Sebald, author of “Rings of Saturn"; John Coke, the father of modern farming, after whom a hat was named. He declined a peerage saying, “There are many peers but only one John Coke of Norfolk”. And Horatio Nelson and Hipkin. Nor must we forget Hereward the Wake, a name that is a poem in itself like the McGillycuddy of the Reeks, the Moncreife of that Ilk and my own late stepfather-in-law The Menzies of Pitfoddle.

The list of Fenland Festivities is endless. It is as if people were escaping from the drab anonymity of endless meadows.

In the Peterborough district alone there are nightly dancing classes in most villages. Nothing unusual? These are Molly, Morris, Appalachian, Scottish Country, Sir Harry's Sword, Clog, Longsword, Welsh and Scottish Border, English Rapper and French dancing.

More traditional festivities?
A blaze of Christmas lights went on here in March last night. To paraphrase an unhappy broadcast of pre-war days describing a Review of the Home Fleet, “The whole bloody town is lit up.”

Nor are we alone. Almost every town or large village in the Fens is ablaze with Christmas lights. Others may illuminate their houses, in the way that Al Gore is said to illuminate his mansion, but no village in the kingdom celebrates Christmas more than Thursford (pop. 400) across the border in Norfolk.

Forty coaches a night bring spectators from all over Fenland and beyond to a Christmas show in a giant converted barn which outdoes the West End. Choirs galore, tableaux vivants, comics and a line up of a hundred lissom show girls.

In Whittlesea, on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first Monday after Twelfth Night), a farm labourer dressed as a 'Straw Bear' and danced for money or beer and food. In 1909, an over-zealous police inspector forbade 'Straw Bears' as a form of cadging but the custom was revived in 1980. Over 250 dancers and musicians perform 'Molly', 'Morris', 'Clog' and 'Sword' dances. There are American style 'Appalachian' dances, street performances and Mummers' plays and a decorated plough pulled by a local Morris side. On Saturday the 'Bear' makes an appearance before the 'Bear Burning' on Sunday.

On the Isle of Axholme (which isn't an isle), where little more than a century ago a sheep was hung for stealing milk, there is an even stranger custom. The Haxey Hood is a annual event held in the eponymous village in North Lincolnshire. A leather tube is fought over by a large unorganised rugby scrum and taken to one of four pubs. The official story is that in the 14th century when Lady de Mowbray, wife of landowner John De Mowbray, was riding, her hood was blown away. Thirteen farm workers chased it. The worker who caught it, being shy, gave it to another worker to hand back. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood. She said he had acted like a Lord. The worker who had caught the hood was a Fool. She donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.
In the weeks before the event the Fool and the attendant Boggins tour nearby villages. Traditionally, they sing a number of well-known folk songs, including John Barleycorn, Drink England Dry and The Farmer's Boy. All wear their full festival costumes, the only exception being that the Fool's face is not marked.

The Hood Game is played every Twelfth Night. The Lord opens the event. The Fool leads the procession to the Field where the game is played. He has the right to kiss any woman on the way. The Boggins grab anyone who tries to escape from the scrum and throw him back.

On the green in front of the Parish Church the Fool makes a speech of welcome, standing on an old mounting block known as the Mowbray Stone. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him. ‘Smoking the Fool’ is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a bonfire was lit beneath a tree. The Fool was suspended over it and swung back and forth. He was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could. The Fool finishes his speech with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are:
"Hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock 'im doon, but doan't 'ot 'im."
(This translates as: House against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him hurt him.) On the field four teams representing local pubs fight for possession of the leather log
That is The Sway and the winner is the team which gets the Hood back to its parent pub.

I have lingered lovingly over this because I covered the game as a young reporter and am the only Honorary Boggin. So I can tell you that the whole thing is a pagan fertility rite and the 'Hood' is a phallus. Though honoured to be a Boggin, I don't do the singing bit following a nasty experience. I sang with the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir for a TV programme. They begged me never to sing in public after my first notes threw the entire choir out of tune.


The University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit has been hacked and some embarrassing emails released. One of the most damning comes from Dr Jones, the Head of the Unit. Jones appears to discuss a method of overlaying data of temperature declines with repetitive, false data of higher temperatures.

An Earlier scandal in September cast a shadow over a number of peer-reviewed climate papers. At least eight, purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times, may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC’s assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the University of East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors.
The controversy surrounding the global warming e-mail scandal has deepened after a BBC correspondent admitted he was sent the leaked messages more than a month before they were made public.

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Can no one see why nondescripts have been chosen for the Top Jobs in Europe? Germany and France rule the EU and they ain't about to create their own opposition. They had to unite because they cannot afford a repeat of the mass destruction both countries suffered in WW2. Since Bismark created Germany and Napoleon put some backbone into France, both countries have strived and failed to conquer Europe. They think they will have a better chance conquering by stealth.

What started disguised as a Coal and Steel Federation has succeeded. Four out of every five laws are Made in Europe. Parliament exists to rubber stamp EU diktats. Indeed, we were only allowed into the Club when it became obvious Great Britain had died in two world wars on the battlefields of Europe and had demonstrated its ineffectuality afterwards. It is the dregs of that brave generation and its slimy progeny who have sold us into what will become slavery.

If I were forty yeas younger I would form a Maquis. As it is, I can only console myself with the knowledge that my Empire died in the noblest cause of all the empires in history. We may have lost the fight for freedom but at least our Empire died fighting for it.

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