Posts Tagged ‘Society for Creative Anachronism’

Today, I learned from a comment on my blog that a friend had killed himself. His name was Gary Wadham, but I always thought of him as Daffyd ap Moran, his name in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

We lost touch years ago, but there was a time when Trish and I considered Daffyd one of our closest friends. We were living a few blocks from him in New Westminster, and frequently saw him several evenings a week. On weekends, we often saw him at SCA events, where he served as a marshall during fights and played his guitar at feasts. He had a thin voice, but enthusiasm and a large repertoire of SCA songs more than made up for it. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, playing “Duke Paul,” the “Sam Hall” parody about Paul of Bellatrix,” and, later in the night, the off-color “The Ball of Ballinor,” and, more reluctantly – because he hated the song for its mediocrity despite its local popularity – “Lions Gate the Fair.”

In fact, we were close enough that he presided over our medieval wedding in Druidical green. Although not a pagan, he took his duties seriously, fasting beforehand despite (if I remember correctly) being borderline diabetic, and taking the trouble to pick the exact marble goblet for use in the ceremony. I still have that goblet, enclosed by the wooden ring used in the ceremony.

However, even then, we knew he had troubles. He had a taste for greasy spoons and seedy rented rooms, and his engagement fell through partly because of his moodiness, although it lasted long enough to get him into a marginally more upscale apartment. But he seemed to take a stubborn pride in living, not just simply, but on the edge of squalor.

Even more seriously, he was a mostly functional alcoholic. He did manage to hold down his job as an engineering designer, although he sometimes arrived at work hung over and his idea of breakfast was a couple of beers. But in his own hours, he often drank steadily. I remember one evening in particular when he left our group at the Simon Fraser University pub without saying anything, and a half dozen of us spent an anxious hour or two in the cold night, wandering the campus trying to find him – only to find him, eventually, asleep in his own bed with no memory of how he got there. He was never a nasty drunk that I heard, but his binges often alarmed his friends.

Trish and I lost touched with Daffyd when we moved and quit the SCA; in the circles we had moved in, if you weren’t in the SCA, you didn’t really exist. But from the rumors that reached us from time to time, he continued much as he had been when we knew him, but going slowly downhill, increasingly withdrawing and increasingly ill. In the last few years, I gather, he had largely dropped out of the SCA, and was going blind.

I regret, now, that I never got around to looking him up. Not that I suppose for a moment that I could have done much for him – if anyone ever had their fate written on their forehead, it was Daffyd. But I’ve learned a little about being solitary in the five years that I’ve been widowed, so the feeling persists that I could have done something. But the fact remains that I didn’t keep up the connection, and I lost the right to mourn him long ago, no matter how sorry I am that he died alone.


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We never told our families, but Trish and I had three weddings. After proposing to each other, we jumped a broom. Then there was the civic wedding and our medieval wedding – or, rather, the marriage of Ullr Eriksunu and Morag Nic Fingon, to use our medieval names. Of the three, the medieval wedding is the one we enjoyed the most and spent the most money on.

The festivities were at Coyote Creek Campground in Surrey, in the height of the summer heat. We had worked for weeks beforehand to prepare, sewing new costumes for ourselves and planning bits of theater to enliven the proceedings.

Shortly after sunset, we started the event with the bride barter. As a Hebridean widow, Morag claimed the right to barter for herself. She sat in her high seat by the fire, surrounded by female attendants, while I marched up with my attendants to announce my attentions and my gifts.

I had gone to some effort to keep the gifts secrets while I was making some of them. But, on presenting them, I downplayed them in a mimicry of modesty designed to draw laughs. For her part, Morag examined the goblets and rabbit skin purse, checking their construction and passing them to her attendants, many of whom made risque remarks. The final gift was what swayed her: phials of saffron, a luxury spice of fabulous price in our medieval period.  After consulting with her attendants, Morag rose and formally handsealed the agreement, making it a formal contract.

Surrounded by torches (and more remarks), we moved in procession to where the local bard, Daffyd ap Moran (aka Gary Wadham) was waiting in his green Druidical robes. Although not a practicing pagan, Daffyd took his role seriously, fasting for a day before the ceremony. We had a literal handfasting, with our hands tied loosely together by a leather chord, and a ceremony that included us grasping a wooden ring while exchanging vows and copper bracelets made by our friend Jaqueline and drinking at the same time from a marble cup full of mead.

After the mead came the gifts from friends, and singing late into the night. Finally, we retired, with our attendants guarding the tent to prevent the otherwise inevitable chivaree.

Then, just as everyone was falling asleep, a muttering cry of, “Grendel, grendel, grendel,.grendel!” went through the camp. It was Bolverk of Momchilavich, the foremost women fighter of the local medievalists, playing the monster from Beowulf.

Our attendants refused to let us stir from the tent, but we were told that she had wrapped some old furs around her, and had trundled through the camp bent nearly double. She was met at the pavilion by her husband Sir Seamus, who was playing the role of hero. I suspect that the actual Beowulf never greeted his victory with, “I got the mother!” but the next morning there was a giant arm pinned to the pavilion to mark his victory.

The next day, we slept late, and oversaw the final cleanup of the site.. At home, we seemed to require endless trips from the parking garage to our apartment. Most of the boxes we left in the spare room for later storage.

“So that’s marrying done with,” I said as we collapsed on our bed.

“It had better be,” Trish said, and before we fell asleep, I remember thinking that the last twenty four hours were a good memory to have.

And they still are, although the pictures are grainy and damaged, and  we haven’t seen most of the people who  were there for years.

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I don’t smoke. So far as I know, nothing is wrong with my breath, and I am fastidiously clean. Often, my worst anti-social tendency is the occasional outburst of self-righteousness. But I have to admit to one personal habit that is so socially unacceptable that it can send even close friends screaming from my vicinity. Without pre-meditation or warning, I have been known to produce parodies.

This is not a habit under my control – the lines just bubble up from the tar pits of my unconscious like the skeleton of a mammoth or a smilodon, and before I stop to think, I recite them.

As a child, I showed what I now recognize as early symptoms. In the last few years of high school, I developed a taste for lyrics-oriented music, often scribbling down the words to my favorite songs. In my final year, I taught myself poetry and meter, and sold my first poems.

However, the urge to parody did not emerge until I started attending Society for Creative Anachronism events during my second year at university. Shortly before Christmas, tired of the endless parodies of carols like “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I started writing what I called pagan carols – songs whose humor was based partly on their lack of Christianity, but chiefly on the fact that they were full of an exaggeratedly violent references completely alien to the spirit of the originals:

A long time ago in Jotunheim,
So the Elder Edda say,
Loki’s girl-child, little Hel,
Was born to rule the day.

From Norroway and Danemark,
And places further west,
To seize your lands and dwell in them,
Oh, this is now our quest.
And if you won’t let us have them,
Your destiny’s manifest.

So much for Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child” and for “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” and much the same for “Away in a Long Ship,” “Deck the Halls with Bowels of Christians,” and a dozen other equally forgettable tidbits. Once the basic idea was in my head, I could write one of these carols in about fifteen minutes, and I frequently did. I wince at many of these now, finding the cheery violence less funny that I did then – although remembering how Americans objected to the reference to Manifest Destiny, and produced an alternative verse still irks me.

However, by this point, the rot had set in. Stan Roger’s “Barrett’s Privateers” became “Stoat Coyle’s Privateers,” after the persona of a friend. Humorous songs from The Corries became the template for poking mild fun at local medievalists. When the White Tower Medieval Society defeated the SCA, I commemorated the event with “The Twenty Second War,” set to the “Wyndham Fight,” an account of the famous boxing match in 1811 between Tom Cribb and Tom Molineaux. My version began:

Come you mercenary swords,
All hungry for a meal,
When you’re quite drunk, come gather round,
And hear Lord Ettrick’s spiel:
For glory and for spoils of war
The White Tower’s to be fought,
And bring what ransom is at hand,
Just in case we’re caught.

Shy of my own accomplishments (as I saw them then), I usually urged my partner to sing them for me in public – in order, I said, to give myself a head start.

I committed my share of filking at science fiction conventions, too, although my sources were often obscure by most people’s standards, since I ignored with a sniff most of the popular music of the 1980s and 1990s.

But then parrots came into our lives – creatures who are fascinated by singing, especially when it is directed at them. None of the birds who shared our lives escaped. “England Swings” became a summary of the flock, while “The Popular Wobbly,” which I heard on a Utah Phillips recording, became the life history of our only hand-fed bird. Others were more generic:

The moment that you waddled through the room,
I could see you were a bird of distinction,
A real class parrot
Hey big squawker,
Preen a little while with me.

Birdy you’re a boy, make a big noise
Screaming on your cage gonna be head bird one day,
You got gunk on your face,
A big disgrace,
Regurgitating all over the place,
Singing we will, we will flock you.

I even managed six or seven verses of “The Parrot of Shallott,” ending with:

But what is this? And what is here?
What screaming phantom flappeth near?
Beneath the sounds of royal cheer,
They stick a finger in each ear,
All the knights of Camelot;
But Lancelot preened there a space,
Said, “Get your claws out of my face,”
So she sat and chewed on his collar of lace,
The parrot of Shallot.

Fortunately for those around me, imitating Tennyson is too much like hard work, and I doubt I will ever finish that effort. Fans of Tennyson and Loreena McKennitt can rest easy.

I do fewer parodies these days, having a blog and paid writing to do. But I doubt I’ll ever abandon parodies altogether. Just the other day, I found myself extending a version of “Chantilly Lace” called “Genteelly Bored” that described my last office job, and transforming “Mr. Tambourine Man” into a celebration of my parrot Beaudin. They come to me without effort, often when I wake in the morning, and then all that’s left to do is to call for mass evaculation and bring in the rescue workers.

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I never did accept my Award of Arms in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Doing so would have been out of keeping with my persona as an eleventh century Icelandic farmer. In the end, Cathal Sean, the seneschal of Seagirt, had to print it as the back cover of a newsletter so he could report that it had been delivered. My one regret about my sacrifice for dramatic consistency is that I would have liked to see if I could register a personal motto. (I suspect not)

Mottoes seem to have originated as war cries for families. Some sound like declarations of faith or loyalty, but the more interesting ones sound vaguely ominous. For example, the Gaelic motto of Macdonald of Clanranald translates into English as, “Gainsay who dare.” Others are hallowed, but obscure. For example, the MacAlpine’s motto urges its speakers to “Remember the death of Alpine,” although exactly why anyone should became obscure centuries ago – probably it referred to some treachery that was the stuff of blood feuds extending for generations.

Personal mottoes, though, are another matter. My partner Trish, for example, thought long and hard about hers, and came up with “Loyalty to honor.” To her, the meaning was perfectly clear: the loyalty of her persona was honorable people and causes, so long as they stayed that way. Those who didn’t understand it, she used to say, were unlikely to be people to whom she ever gave any loyalty.

My own motto was based on my personal myth of triumphing via persistence, and on the fact that my boyhood martial fantasies were more about heroic defenses than wild charges. Since my character was supposed to be living in the England of Athelraed Unraed, it was in Old English: “Ich dreoge” – “I endure.” It, too, said something about the sort of loyalty I offered.

Unfortunately, I never really got much of a chance to use it. Shortly after the Awards of Arms, we left the Society for Creative Anachronism for the White Tower Medieval Society. The White Tower was far more fun, and I once immortalized its triumph over the SCA in a song called, “The Twenty Second War,” but somehow mottoes were not a large part of its activities.

For a while, I used to sign letters with “Ich dreoge.” However, that stopped when Avram Davidson (whose own letters tended to end with, “Yoursly,”) asked me what I meant by “I drag,” and asked if I was confessing to an urge to transvestism. Utterly outclassed in wit, I quietly dropped the habit.

Still, I can’t help thinking still that a personal motto is more useful than a personal mantra. If nothing else, it gives its owner something dramatic to live up to.

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Last week, as I took the last of the Christmas decorations down, I found myself singing a mummer’s song I learned long ago from a Steeleye Span record:

“Christmas is past
Twelfth Night is the last,
And I bid you adieu
Pray joy to the new.”

I also found myself thinking of the one and only major Twelfth Night celebration I attended while in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and how it turned into one of those trips from hell.

At that time, the local SCA was part of a much larger group centered in Seattle. That year, a local had won the tourney to become the next prince of the region, so more people than usual were determined to attend the coronation ceremony at Twelfth Night in Seattle. Personally, I didn’t care who was prince, but rumor made the celebrations worth attending, so we decided to go.

When carpools were organized, our driver turned out to be a new member we didn’t know very well: A hulking teenager who towered over me, and carried at least fifty extra pounds around his middle.

The first omens should have tipped us off: He proposed riding down to Seattle in his jeep. There was barely enough room for everyone, and, while Trish got the front passenger seat, our friend Niall and I had to perch on our gear in the back. And did I mention that the jeep was unheated, and only a thin plastic top separated us from the elements? Still, we wanted to go, and this was our only transport.

Except our driver (whose name I no longer recall through the dim mists of time) didn’t seem to want to get started. He delayed for trivial reason after trivial reason, and we started three hours later than we had planned.

By the time we drove the ten miles or so to the border, regret was already hanging around us like a cloud of smoke. Our driver was a self-centered, non-stop talker, with nothing to say that a bunch of medievalists might want to hear. Like sandpaper, he was coarse and abrasive – and proved it by arguing at the border, so that the US customs guard almost had us haul our bags out and open them on the pavement.

Somehow, we missed that, but the journey was just beginning. Despite our protests that we were already late, our driver insisted on stopping to eat in Bellingham, a few minutes south of the border. That was bad enough, but he insisted on strapping an outsized replica of a horse pistol to his hip when we walked in. Alarmed patrons called the police, and our driver lost us more time as he demonstrated to a local law officer that the gun was incapable of firing. Our driver seemed puzzled that anyone might be made nervous by the sight of it.

For the rest of the trip, the driver monopolized the conversation. The rest of us soon went numb, partly from the cold, but also from the utter banality of his conversation. He had the hoarse intonations you sometimes hear in Canadian taverns, the one that echoes generations of hockey commentators while making the “eh” at the end of every sentence an assumption of agreement. Before long, Niall was visibly cringing when our driver spoke. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was feeling vaguely complicit because I was too polite to tell our driver to shut up.

We had hoped to drop our luggage at the house where we were staying, but we arrived much too late for that. We went directly to the event, which was held at some church hall. We had to drag our luggage in with us, and find a corner to stow it, the neighborhood not being of the best and the jeep providing no security. When the three of us had a chance to confer, we all agreed that we would find another driver for the trip home. Almost anyone would do.

After all our expectations, we were too busy trying to find another driver to enjoy the event – or, for me, to remember it after all the intervening years. But, at 3AM, we headed out to the house where we were going to crash. The drive was enlivened by him asking me to take the wheel so he could do something unnecessary – a request that almost caused us to go into the ditch, because I was so focused on the sketch map of directions that I took a moment to respond.

We knew our driver was going to be an embarrassment to our friends who owned the house – and he was, from the moment we arrived. I wanted to cringe, and to apologize for bringing the driver into the house, which was new and our friends’ pride.
Before we slept, we pleaded desperately with another guest to let us drive home with him. We would wake early, and leave our driver to find his own way back. The way he talked, we figured he wouldn’t miss having an audience.

Satisfied with the promise of escape, we slept soundly – awaking to find that our new ride had left without us. So had Niall.

With only two of us to bear the brunt of our driver’s conversation, the return trip was far worse than the outbound one. Besides, we knew what to expect.

The mileage signs were starting to show the distance to the border, and we were anticipating finally being free of our driver when he insisted on stopping at a smorgasbord. Why? Because he always stopped there. For ten miles before and after, he kept explaining what a good deal the place was.

Somehow, neither of us screamed, and we finally came to the parting of ways. We never saw our driver again, and never quite forgave our alternative driver or Niall for cutting and running, either. We’ve had our share of nightmarish trips – driving down to Portland in a gray Maverick with one rear light and repeatedly just missing being run over by truckers trying to make up time in the middle of the night comes to mind – but none came close to this Twelfth Night trip for mind-numbing boredom and banality. And now, every time I hear mention of Twelfth Night, I remember our ordeal and wonder whether to laugh or shake uncontrollably.

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