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Plus ça Change ...


As interest in our local history - and particularly in our medieval past - increases, the public appetite for newer and deeper insights into the world we have lost shows no signs of abating. Local historians Pår O'Keall and Mettél de Têkter think that this is, at least in part, a reaction to the televisual media's over-exposure of the so-called foundational European cultures; that mainstream which stems from the great civilizations of Egypt, Rome, Greece and East Cornwall. This, says O'Keall has led, in turn to a deep sense of ennui as ordinary citizens struggle to compare life in - say - 21st-century Fishpond Bottom with that in Egypt 4,000 years ago. [Not that difficult [Ed].] "Far too many cheap and nasty Channel 5 documentaries purporting to offer never-before-seen footage of mummies, thrupieceons, temples, triremes and early Stone Age knitting frames has dulled our enthusiasm for these foreign stories and sent us off in search of something closer to home; something more iconoclastic, more obviously English and, accordingly, more locally resonant and meaningful", de Tekter adds.


Be that as it may, it is clear from recent surveys that, taken as a whole, the Dorset population wants to know more about its own more specific origins and in particular about life in Dorset during the Middle Ages when so many of the rituals, habits, assumptions and pandemics still operative today were first established, refined and codified.


Perhaps the single most important insight into the life of everyday Dorset folk comes from the work of early West Country poet and novelist Geoffrey Chiswell [c1340 – 25 October 1400] whose most famous work the Canford Magna Pilgrims is one of the earliest accounts of a Dorset-based package tour holiday to be found from any source*


*Not to be confused with the Reverend Audrey Hepburn's Sir Gordon and the Green Engine - a similar but less philosophical account of a chartered Bank Holiday special from Corfe Mullen to Canford Cliffs. Though undoubtedly an important work in light of the dearth of alternatives, no one reading the Reverend's description of the incident in the Lost Luggage Office at Alton St Pancras is liklely to be fooled into thinking he/she/ze is reading a masterpiece!


The Canford Magna Pilgrims - detail of one of the many drawings made for the illuminated manuscript found in the walls of the Old Priory Melbury Abbas in 1968.

Geoffrey Chiswell's case is an altogether different one and had it not been for the quick footwork of a Cistercian abbott [believed to be Brian the Penitent] who secreted the manuscript in the walls of the Old Priory at Melbury Abbas at the time of its dissolution, we would know so much less about the types of character who peopled our region in and around the 13th century. As literary historian Dusty Folio has written, "had it not been for the quick footwork of a Cistercian abbott [believed to be Brian the Penitent] who secreted the manuscript in the walls of the old Priory at Melbury Abbas at the time of its dissolution, we would know so much less about the types of character who peopled our region in and around the 13th century".


The Melbury Abbas Manuscript now in the Amanda J Threadbone Library, Bishop's Caundle. The two highlighted characters are The Local Government Officer and the CONTRIK-69 Special Constable whose tales are the comic highlight of the series.

The tales - which involve hilarious accounts of delayed flights, missed connections, passport issues, unfinished hotels, terrible meals, plagues and infestations [not featured in the brochure!] as well as language difficulties, rip-off merchandise and "holiday nookie" - are surprisingly fresh and relevant even today. Certainly no-one reading Professor Thrupiece's marvellous updating and racy adaptation can fail to be struck by the parallels with our own times. [The Local Government Officer's Tale with its side-splittingly funny account of the plague-affected family that wanted to break out of house arrest in order to relieve themselves and buy a chicken only to find the CONTRIK-69 Special Constable banging on their door seems strangely familiar!]




The Threadbone Press's lavish edition of Professor Thrupiece's revised text of the Tales can be purchased from any good High Street bookseller [Threadstones are currently offering click-and-collect and a free 3cc sanitiser with any order over £250]. Anyone who went to a state school after 1970 and is thus unable to read will be delighted to know that an unabridged version of the tales read by none other than Mrs Amanda J Threadbone is available from Threadbone Audio Books.


Lest anyone escape, even the illiterate can catch up on the doings of ordinary medieval folk thanks to Mrs Amanda J Threadbone's bracing recitation.

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