Vikings and Others

SITE p97-98

Personally I liked the Vikings.

I remember taking particular notice of my first one. Well, it remains comparatively rare to see, in a Suffolk field, a cross-gartered man in a helmet, wearing a byrny, and a broadsword. Clive explained, hoisting Xanthia around to his other hip.

"They do the gate and the security," he said. "And perform pitched battles with charges and blood-bags. Very unAlbionic." Ah well, each to his own, old mate. I was never quite as pacific as you at the best of times. By its nebulous nature Albion was capable of being all things to all men and I used to find the Vikings vaguely endearing as they grew bloodier and more bandaged over a long weekend of tourneys and ambush. Especially that tall streak of a feIlow with the full sandy beard and the incipient pattern baldness who always used to win the yard of ale contest.

Victorian Oaksmere. That majestic tree avenue heavy with leaf, a hot-air balloon inflating and one of Sheka's daughters a press-ganged quarter of the Square Dance. It seems a long time ago. In terms of Sacred Time, it was. That was the same Sheka who was a backcombed barmaid in North London in 1968. If you crashed on her floor you woke up with a large and somnolent python curled up on your chest. For the warmth. And a decade later in East Anglia would blossom a temporary travelling coincidence of jugglers, musicians, vegetarians, non-animal circuses, heavy horses, painted caravans, tipis, alternative capitalists, naturists and real beer freaks. Like some impossible dream dreamed in the Summer of Love. For to the locals did mix with the hippies and it was good. A jolly fat lady shaking every roll with laughter as Pete Robinson danced across the tussocks in white tie and tail, chatting up his dummy partner and the rest of Cliffhanger streaming out behind him like the tail of a kite. Unalloyed happiness in the river at Bergholt or under the trees at Rougham. The same gang of rustic bikers in the same corner of the beer tent but the cast rotated to a different leg this year.

"Tib and fib?"


The big lady, with the face paints asked how I wanted to look.

"Like a friendly lion."

"1 don't think you need anything done" she said.

But we all carry the seeds of mutability within us and anything that governs itself is subject to change. Palfi's face appeared in The Guardian like the first knell of hubris. Then it seemed like there were fewer manes and more spiked mops in magenta. More politics, less ritual. Damaging exposes and dwindling attendances and the Eastern Daily Press boosts its circulation but does the Waveney Clarion? It's just the old order changing of course, and ageing hippies getting hidebound and reactionary. "Grunt. Harumph. Now when I was a young dropout..."

"Did you know you're known as the man with the Big Knife and the Beautiful Blonde?" asked Siggers. "And could you force down another Greene King without making yourself feel bad?" Siggers is very sable in the poll now and Wheatley's dead and I'm not getting any less grizzled. The Solingen is in its cedar case on the shelf in the study and the beautiful Blonde has turned back into a frog or whatever it is they do and I go through my photo files and watch the snow swirl over the serrated city rooftops and think of past summers.

Chris Challis. Leicester