I live with a British husband, so I have daily reminders of how eccentric the British are. Which leads me to my not-so-secret hobby of collecting examples of British eccentricity. This habit is “not so secret” because it is largely used as ammunition against said husband. “Hey what would you know, you come from an island that DEEP FRIES MARS BARS!” (Actually that’s the Scottish, but I’m not too particular when I find a good example.)
So I couldn’t resist this item: the last bastion of feudalism in Europe has been toppled. The Channel Island of Sark staged its first election under their newly democratic government. This is the first change of government they’ve had since Queen Elizabeth (that’s I, as in Cate Blanchett, not II as in The Queen) made Sark a feudal fiefdom, no doubt to reward some loyal retainer. Actually, before that Sark was positively crawling with monks and pirates. One particularly nasty character was the pirate Eustace the Monk. Besides straddling both camps, the brigandly and the monastic, Eustace had a nasty habit of changing sides, depending on who was offering the best deal. He was an equal opportunity pirate who was alternately on the payroll of John of England and Louis of France, but mostly served himself (as pirates will). By the time Elizabeth came around to awarding Sark to someone, she had just one request of her new Seigneur: keep Sark free of pirates. Sarkians (or Sarkesians?) seem to have fulfilled this duty well, although I don’t know if they also cleaned out the monks. Since that time 450 years ago, a few families and the Lord have ruled the Island as if it were still the Renaissance.
Among the big changes: the Seigneur of Sark, or Lord Sark or whatever he’s called, will lose his privilege to be the only person on the island who can own pigeons and unspayed dogs. Apparently, now NO ONE on the island can own an unspayed dog. So there goes the Sarkian Dog Breeding industry. No word on the pigeons. I’m telling you, you can’t make this shit up.
I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad about the democratization of Sark. Despite having lived and travelled extensively in Britain, I’ve never been to Sark. Part of me wants to believe feudal Sark is like one giant Renaissance Fair full of people in caps and bells and velvet outfits singing “Hey Nonny Nonny” and Morris Dancing down the streets. Or maybe it is more like the weird pagan island in The Wicker Man. What will happen in Sark under Democracy? Will Sark become just another British area watching the slow infiltration of Tescos, Boots and chain stores choking out the family butcher, the fish monger and the public green where the happy villagers can graze their livestock? (Such places still exist. My in-laws live in one: Bures on the Essex-Suffolk border. The village still looks like something out of a Constable painting. If you eliminate the cars and traffic signs.)
I guess the globalization of communications, television, etc. has to homogenize us all. I’ve heard from travel writers that kids in Nepal know all the Simpson characters and catch-phrases. But I must say, the British have been particularly good at holding on to their insular, eccentric island sensibility. So Iet’s all shed one small tear for the end of one more bit of British strangeness.
At least they still have those deep fried Mars bars.
Photo of Ripon City Morris Dancers courtesy Google Images.