Isle of Man highlights – (5) The magic roundabout

Well, not magic really, but definitely quirky. The roundabout on the children’s playground at the Isle of Man’s Silverdale Glen is powered by water flowing from the nearby boating lake. Shifting the lever releases water which drives a waterwheel, which in turn powers the carousel. The roundabout is the only working example of its kind in the British Isles.

Silverdale Glen was developed as a visitor attraction in the last years of the 19th century. The site included a boating lake, café and a park for games and walking as well as roundabouts, and is a legacy of the Isle of Man’s growth as a tourist destination.

The waterwheel that drives the carousel originally came from the nearby lead / silver / zinc mines at Foxdale. When the mines were closed in 1911 the wheel was transported to Silverdale and reinstalled near the lake to provide the power needed to drive the ride-on horses. The link below will take you to my short YouTube video of the roundabout in action.

The roundabout has undergone numerous renovations in the century since it began operations. In 2007 the wooden horses – which were acquired second-hand from a steam-driven funfair in England – were removed and replaced with fibreglass gallopers and rowboats. One of the originals has been restored and deposited at the excellent Manx Museum. You can view the catalogue image here.

Postscript – while researching the history of Silverdale Glen’s magic roundabout I came across this fascinating post by WordPress blogger Pat English. Written way back in 2010, when we were younger, more innocent and had never heard of Coronavirus, Pat’s post explores the history of roundabouts. It includes lots of colourful carousel horse designs, one inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Definitely worth a look.

Anarchy in the UK – the crazy world of Ashbourne Shrovetide football

November 1976 saw the Sex Pistols – the dark princes of English punk rock – release their debut single, Anarchy in the UK. The Pistols were wild and wayward, and maybe just a little bit bonkers, but even in their maddest dreams they cannot possibly have imagined the crazy world of Ashbourne Shrovetide football. Like the Pistols themselves, Shrovetide football isn’t for the faint-hearted. Anarchy rules, OK.

Unless you’re English you’ve probably never heard of Ashbourne. To be fair, even if you are, the chances are that this quaint little market town of around 8,000 souls nestling in the Derbyshire Peak District has passed you by. It oozes bucolic charm, and is therefore memorably forgettable.

A few years ago a former Ashbourne resident, writing on the student website The Tab, described it as “the most backwards town in the country“. Seems a bit harsh to me, but it has to be said that unless you’re very easily excited, the place won’t set your pulse racing. Except, that is, on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, when football comes to town.

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PHOTO CREDIT: “10-P2183459” by Jason Crellin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Shrovetide football bears scant resemblance to any other form of football. The Ashbourne game comprises two teams – the Up’Ards, born north of the local River Henmore, and the Down’Ards, born to its south. The number of players is unlimited, and can exceed a thousand on each side. The goals, where the ball must be touched down to register a score, are three miles (five kilometres) apart.

The game begins in the Shawcroft car park in the centre of Ashbourne, where an eager crowd of thousands gathers. They belt out the national anthem as if their lives depend on it. Then silence falls and the excitement builds, everyone waiting impatiently for the fun to begin.

At last, with the tension close to unbearable, an invited dignitary or celebrity standing on a brick-built podium “turns up” the ball – lavishly painted, filled with cork for added buoyancy and about the size of a Halloween pumpkin – into the expectant horde of pumped-up masculinity. Testosterone hangs heavy in the air, so thick you could butter toast with it. No rules prevent women from participating, but good sense persuades most to take a back-seat and let their menfolk do the hard graft and risk the consequences.

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PHOTO CREDIT: “05-P2183439” by Jason Crellin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The objective of the game is straightforward. The Up’Ards must carry the ball to Sturston Mill, south of Ashbourne, and “goal” by tapping it three times against a millstone. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The only problem they face is the thousand or so Down’Ards who are blocking the way and baying for blood.

Meanwhile, the aim of the Down’Ards is to carry the ball to Clifton Mill, north of the town, where they also must “goal it”. Inevitably, they find their passage blocked by at least a thousand incensed Up’Ards, whose ambition is to prevent this happening by means both cunning and brutal.

As you will have worked out by now, Shrovetide football has no designated pitch or playing field. The game is played through the streets of the town, and the sprawling farmland beyond, occasionally spilling into the freezing river. It is the original “game without borders.”

Proceedings are boisterous, chaotic and occasionally violent. Shopkeepers close their businesses and protect their premises with wooden boards and shutters, car owners move their vehicles out of harm’s way and paramedics are on standby. Schools close for the day, lest students get caught up in the mayhem. Injuries are common, although fatalities are mercifully very rare.

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PHOTO CREDIT: “21-P2183512” by Jason Crellin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Play begins at 2pm on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and finishes eight hours later. Battered, bruised and bloodied, the players limp off home to lick their wounds, only to assemble the following day at 2pm to do it all again. Despite 16 hours of play, it is rare for more than two goals to be scored in any year. Sometimes, the result is a nil-nil draw, and every year the broken limbs, bruises, sprains and strains outnumber the goals scored.

You can count the rules on the fingers of one hand. Players must not enter churchyards or cemeteries, and must refrain from hiding the ball or attempting to carry it on a motor vehicle. In addition, murder is frowned upon. But with these few exceptions, pretty much anything goes.

“Mob football”, as the Ashbourne game is classified, has a long history – dating back at least to the 13th century – and was once widespread in rural England. Inevitably the mayhem it caused was resented by the wealthier and more refined types, those who had the most to lose from mass outbreaks of anarchic behaviour.

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PHOTO CREDIT: “02-P2183425” by Jason Crellin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Eventually these elite groups got their way, and mob football went into serious decline in the nineteenth century after the 1835 Highway Act banned the playing of football on public highways. But it clung on in Ashbourne, and a few other places including Workington and Sedgefield in northern England, and Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

Shrovetide football remains a much-loved tradition amongst Ashbourne people, a demanding endurance test for all the participants, and also a rite of passage for lads wishing to follow in the hallowed footsteps of previous generations of men in their families. Many former residents return to the town every year to take part or watch from the side-lines, and tourists visit in droves to see what all the fuss is about. For two days every year, Shrovetide football ensures that Ashbourne has a national – and even international – profile.

And now to the question that’s been on your mind as you’ve read this post – has the Platypus Man ever played Shrovetide football? The answer is an emphatic ‘no,’ and although Ashbourne lies just a few miles from Platypus Towers I’ve never attended as a spectator either. Frankly, life’s too short and my body is way too fragile to risk the frenzy of the mob. Have a look at this short video, on the Guardian’s website, and you’ll understand everything!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that this relic from our country’s medieval past hangs on in deepest, darkest Derbyshire. But I’m glad too that, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can read about it and watch YouTube videos of the highlights in own home, secure in the knowledge that there are several miles and a very sturdy brick wall between me and the madness.

A little bit of Anarchy in the UK isn’t without its appeal, but only when viewed from a safe distance.

GUEST BLOG: The world according to Milky Bar

When I started this blog one of my first posts was about Milky Bar, a cat who visits our garden most days.  I’ve been quite busy since we got back from New Zealand, what with Christmas coming up fast and me not having bought a thing yet for Mrs P, so I invited Milky Bar to write this week’s post on Now I’m 64

But just to be perfectly clear, I take absolutely no responsibility for anything he says.

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Hello everyone, my name’s Milky Bar!

Hello everyone, my name’s Milky Bar.  At least, that’s what Old Man Platypus calls me, but what does he know, eh?  Him an’ his missus are weirdos, that’s for sure. They gives names to all the cats what visit their garden, call ‘em after types of chocolate!  That’s why I’m Milky Bar, see. An’ then there’s Malteser – he’s a good pal of mine, knows who’s the boss – as well as Minstrel, Oreo an’ Mars Bar.  Not to mention Toblerone, of course.

Me and Malteser. He knows who’s the boss around here: me!

Toblerone!  I ask you, what kind of person calls a cat ‘Toblerone?’  Poor little mouser, no wonder he don’t show his face round ‘ere no more.

But what’s in a name anyway?  Old Man Platypus thinks callin’ me Milky Bar gives him power over me, thinks if he shouts out my name I’ll come runnin’ like some lapdog.  But I won’t. Cats don’t do that sort of thing, not this cat anyway. 

Here I am, planning how to catch a goldfish. Malteser watches the master at work!

Like I care about him, which I don’t, obviously.  I just sit an’ watch him makin’ a fool of himself.  Laughs at him I do, all this “Ooh, what a lovely cat you are, Milky Bar” an’ “Ah, what a little cutie you are, Milky Bar.”  Yuk!

I think he secretly wants me to move in with him at Platypus Towers, like some mistress or his bit on the side.  No way, José. I mean, if he’s serious about this relationship he needs to work at it, buy me stuff an’ all. You know, he’s never once opened a tin of tuna for me, or bought me a packet of Dreamies!  The man’s a total waste of space, that’s what I say.

Who’s a pretty boy then? Ah, that would be me, the one and only Milky Bar

One time he accidentally drops some pellets what he feeds to the goldfish in his pond, then watches to see if I’ll gobble ‘em up.  Maybe he reckons I won’t even notice, that I’ll think them pellets was meant for me. Me? Fooled by some lousy fishfood? I don’t think so!

I’m tellin’ you, Old Man Platypus ain’t got a clue.  If I was writin’ his end-of-term report I’d put “Must try harder” an’ give him a D-minus.  But only if I was feelin’ generous, like.

Sometimes, when it rains, I have a “bad hair day”

What makes it worse is he can be a good bloke when he wants to.  There’s this rabbit what lives in an ‘utch at the bottom of the garden.  Ugly thing it is, ears like a donkey. But Old Man Platypus thinks it’s wonderful, calls it Attila the Bun.  Attila the Bun, get it? No, neither do I.

Attila the Bun. Ears like a donkey, but Old Man Platypus reckons he’s wonderful

Anyway, Old Man Platypus is always out in the garden talkin’ to that rabbit, tellin’ him what a fine fellow he is.  Like the rabbit can understand him, I mean rabbits ain’t clever like cats, are they?

An’ every day he gives this Attila a massive pack of fresh food.  I tell you, that rabbit eats like a king … if kings eat carrots an’ kale an’ cabbage an’ cauliflower an’ celery an’ spinach an’ sprouts an’ watercress an’ lettuce an’ beetroot an’ broccoli an’ rocket an’ apples an’ pea shoots an’ pears.  Not to mention mixed leaf salad, whatever that is.

That rabbit eats like a king, but does Old Man Platypus ever give me tuna? NO, NEVER!

So that’s why I don’t come on too friendly with Old Man Platypus, ‘cos he ain’t serious about me.  I mean, if he was serious like, he’d cut back on stuff for that wretched rabbit an’ give me a nice big bowl of tuna.  Or salmon, of course. At a push I’d even put up with cod, but no, even that’s too much trouble for Mr Parsimonious Ratbag Platypus.  Fishfood, that’s the extent of his generosity where yours truly’s concerned. Huh!

Madame Platypus ain’t much better.  Always creepin’ up on me and pointin’ her camera in my face she is, tellin’ me not to move an’ to look straight into the lens an’ to tilt my head on one side so I look extra cute, an’ never, ever to blink. 

I like to hide under trees and bushes, an’ keep a lookout for them Mice-With-Wings

Sometimes her camera lens is clickin’ away like a flamin’ flamenco dancer playing the castanets. How’s a cat supposed to sleep with all that goin’ on? I tell you, if I had any credit left on my cell phone I’d ring up the cops an’ get her arrested for disturbin’ the peace.

OK, I admit it, she said I could have some of her photos for this blog.  Good job too, means you can see what a fine lookin’ feline I am, most ‘andsome mouser in the neighbourhood.  So Madame Platypus has her uses, only don’t tell her I said so. I mean, we wouldn’t want gettin’ above herself, would we?

One day I climbed on the special table where Old Man Platypus feeds them Mice-With-Wings

An’ to be fair – me, I’m always fair, of course I am – Old Man Platypus has his uses too.  He likes watchin’ them Mice-With-Wings, puts out food for ‘em on a special table, even has a water bath for ‘em. 

Here I am on a bad hair day, drinkin’ from them Mice-With-Wings’ water bath

Typical, ain’t it, food’n’drink for his little feathered friends, and nothin’ for yours truly. But I forgive him ‘cos I loves drinkin’ from that water bath, I do.  On a good day you can taste ‘em in the water, them Mice-With-Wings!

Old Man Platypus don’t do much gardenin’, says he’s got a bad back, but really it’s just ‘cos he’s an idle bugger.  So, ‘cos he don’t cut back the bushes there’s places for me to hide an’ watch the Mice-With-Wings.  Luck me, eh?

Sittin’ on the water bath, watchin’ out for Mice-With-Wings

I caught one once I did, big as a rat it was, more like a Rat-With-Wings.  I tell you, there was feathers everywhere. Tasted OK too, though ‘cos I’m a cosmopolitan kinda cat I prefers tuna.  But that day I felt real great, goin’ back to my roots, showin’ the world just how it’s done. Milky Bar, King of the Urban Jungle, that’s me. 

I’m the King of the Urban Jungle. Here I am, roaring (or maybe yawning?)

Anyway, I’m gonna stop now.  This bloggin’ business is hard work, so I needs a snooze.  An’ some tuna. Are you gettin’ this Old Man Platypus, do I have to spell it out, I needs tuna.  That’s right, T-U-N-A … TUNA!

An’ I needs it now, so be a good chap an’ nip down to the shop an’ buy me some.  About a dozen cans should do nicely. Until next week, that is.

Here I am, the most ‘andsome mouser in the neighbourhood. I’m very modest too. An’ I LOVE tuna!

Postscript: If you’ve enjoyed The World Accordin’ to Milky Bar, please click on “comment” and tell Old Man Platypus. If enough people tell him they like what I’ve written maybe he’ll let me have another go! With love from your new Best Friend Forever, the cat what always gets the cream (but never any tuna), the one and only Milky Bar. 😺

And now, a message from Old Man Platypus: Milky Bar isn’t the first cat to claim ownership of our garden, although he is the rudest. Old Man Platypus indeed! Click on the link below to find out about Sid, a much politer cat who used to visit.

Keeping the zombies in

Watching wildlife always plays a big part in our holidays, but I wouldn’t want you to think we’re one trick ponies.  We like to mix it up a bit: history, scenery, architecture and gardens all feature in our itineraries. Moreover, Mrs P is a notorious Captain Quirk, always on the lookout for the unusual, weird or downright bizarre to add a touch of the exotic to our expeditions in the UK and overseas.

And when we’re talking about quirky, you’d find it difficult to beat these mortsafes we found in a graveyard at Cluny in Aberdeenshire, on our way back from Shetland earlier this year.

Four mortsafes in Cluny Graveyard, Aberdeenshire, in front of the mausoleum of Miss Elyza Fraser (1814)

Mortsafes were a 19th century invention designed to prevent body snatchers stealing corpses and selling them to be dissected by students at medical schools.  They were impregnable cages made from heavy iron plates, rods and padlocks, and were used to enclose coffins for a period of about six weeks until bodies had decayed sufficiently to render them unsuitable for dissection. 

When the danger had passed the mortsafe was removed and could be reused to protect another coffin.  It is, incidentally, comforting to note that in these far-off times recycling was alive and well, even if the deceased were not.

Close-up view of the mortsafes

This is the official explanation of the mortsafe phenomenon.  However in the 21st century our society seems to have an uneasy relationship with the truth, one in which all propositions are true for a given definition of the word “true.”

If you think I’m being unnecessarily cynical in this assertion you should check out the nonsense that’s circulated on social media regarding the link between autism and the MMR vaccination.  To say nothing of the way certain world leaders deny the evidence for mankind’s role in climate change because they find it politically expedient to do so. 

And as for some of the nonsense spoken in the name of Brexit, don’t even go there.

The era of fake news plainly provides endless opportunities for mischief. With this in mind, I’d like to point out that although no-one is much troubled these days by the prospect of body-snatching, many of our more suggestible fellow citizens seem to live in fear of an imminent zombie apocalypse. 

That being the case I propose that the real purpose of a mortsafe was not to keep the body snatchers out, but rather to keep the zombies in.

All propositions are indeed true, for a given definition of the word “true.”

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