GREENHORN TURNING BLUE (Part 2)
Life as a new recruit in the ACWS
In my last article my husband Greg and I had only just joined the society and I was, to say the least apprehensive as to how I would take to re-enacting, more importantly how I would be in a tent? Well I'm proud to say I survived, and enjoyed every minute of it. Why did I wait until I was thirtysomethingish before discovering this wonderful hobby?
Our first foray into this strange realm of the re-enactor, was that of Kirby Hall. However due to work commitments we could only make the second day. I was overawed by the huge spectacle that is, or should I now say was, Kirby Hall. I couldn't get over all the participants who were gladiators, Vikings, WW1, WW2. You name a period in history, there was someone representing it.
I did have my doubts as to whether this hobby was for me. I don't do well without my luxuries, such as indoor plumbing, and I don't like being cold and damp (I can hear you all saying 'Why is she doing this then!!!). At Kirby Hall it was very damp and very muddy. It was everywhere, as I'm sure remember all who were there will remember. I was relieved I wasn't camping at this event.
I'll admit I did feel like a fish out of water at times, but to the credit of the Society, the members we met were really friendly and helpful and I soon felt part of the gang.
Greg's highlight was his first battle, where he managed to "die" on the bridge. It would have been a short lived debut were it not for two fellow 2nd Wisconsin, who were heard to say 'It's his first battle he can't die just yet, and dragged him back to "life". My highlight was the parade of all the re-enactors. I found my self with Debbie (from 69th) and friends, who carried a "Salvation through temperance" banner. It was the most surreal, and hysterical situation, to find myself marching through a guard of honour of Vikings and Gladiators, trying to imbibe us with their tankards of mead. I managed to abstain, but Debbie succumbed to the charms of one Napoleonic soldier who offered his flask of brandy.
Our next event at Tynemouth meant I would spend my first ever night in a tent, actually two nights, but who's counting. Let me just say this for all those who, like myself, are new to camping, earplugs do not work. They are a complete waste of money. Our first night was spent listening to a gentleman in the tent behind us, snoring so loudly I was convinced we were on the runway of Heathrow airport rather than the very attractive site of Tynemouth castle. The following night I was so tired a 747 could have landed and I wouldn't have noticed.
At Tynemouth I achieved many firsts: first time sleeping in a tent (I wondered how soldiers lived in such close quarters, then realised they didn't pack coolbags, sleeping bags, camp beds, bags of clothes, extra bags of clothes in case it rains, camping stoves and so on, and so on), my first time drinking wine from a tin mug (sorry Mum), and the first time I ever made a camp fire, thank you Howard (69th) for showing Greg and me how to do this, even though it was 6am.
I also did my first ever re-enacting role. During the battle on the second day I was to play screaming woman #2, along with an injured Linda Birtwell who played screaming woman #1. Our role was to hang around the camp, and when the confederates tried to "rape and pillage" we were to throw pots and pans at them. All very exciting and dramatic. Tom, our Sergeant Major, asked me if I could scream. I replied no, acting was not really me but, I said I'd give it a go. When hoards of rebels came running, boy could I scream.
By the end of the weekend I was exhausted but happy. As we were packing up the tents, another first, I started to feel quite sad. This was our last event of the season, our holiday meant we would miss Sheffield. It seemed such a long time until April.
Our only salvation was the training weekend at Fort Paull in October. However the forces of nature were against us, we were hit with the force ten gales that swept the country. It meant firing a weapon safely was impossible, resulting in the cancellation of the battle on the Sunday. A huge disappointment for Greg, but I felt for those who'd travelled for hours, some on public transport. Such was the dedication that Mick Lloyd and Terry from the "South" had to scale the barbed wire fence in the middle of the night to get into the Fort (the wrong keys for the gate had been left by mistake). They even had a box of Milk Tray with them, I kid you not.
Re-enacting has been a steep learning curve for me. I always believed I was the kind of person who had to have home comforts, but I've discovered that I'm not like Margot out of the Good Life. I'm tougher than I give myself credit for, I can rough it. I will never, ever go camping for a holiday, I will always opt for en-suite every time. BUT, and its a big but, I've realised that what I get out of these weekends far outweighs the inconveniences; of getting dressed in a 6x6 tent, not washing my hair for 3 days, and stinking of smoke, sweat and gunpowder. I'm so taken, (I know, it will not last), that I've even changed my membership from a noncom to that of Private. I'm planning to get my black powder and shotgun licence ready for next season. I'm going to be what every man dreads, a woman armed. I've scoured the events calendar, planning how many days leave I'll need to take, so I can attend as many events as possible. Don't think I'm using all my leave, we've still booked our holiday, all en-suite of course!
I learnt quite a lot during last season, the following I thought were the most useful to any new recruit:
- Spend the week before going to bed at 9pm each night to prepare for the lack of sleep at the event itself.
- Don't invest in earplugs, but do invest in thermal underwear
- Canned stew doesn't taste as good as it looks on the tin, but then again it's quick.
- Wine is perfectly acceptable in a tin mug.
- Don't worry about cleaning your pans too well, the fire will kill the germs.
- Take antiseptic wet wipes for use in the portaloo (Can I just say this at this point: I do hate the portaloos, never have I seen something so disgusting. I wonder what possesses certain people to be so slapdash! Would you leave your own bathroom in the same state?! I realise I'm setting myself up here but for pity's sake could an effort be made to keep them fairly decent?)
- Ask your fellow soldiers as to how to prevent your braces falling into said portaloo
- Be wary of the kind offer of food from said fellow soldiers, especially if the words chilli or curry are part of the culinary delights on offer. (Otherwise batten down the hatches and prepare for tornado season on camp)
- Observe how ladies with large hooped skirts manage to squeeze into the portaloos and emerge immaculately, then realise you have to hang the hoop over your shoulders when you try it (Obviously this is for the ladies, but I'm sure some men have tried it sometime).
- Be prepared for the smell in your car as you make your way home.
Supplied by Paula Mountain-Agar, Non-com. 2nd Wisconsin
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, February 2003