I Believe in Yesterday: My Adventures in Living History by Tim Moore
|I Believe in Yesterday: My Adventures in Living History by Tim Moore|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Life as a Roman soldier, Burgundian cannonier, and violent Viking in the East Midlands all come under the remit of Tim Moore, who turns his entertaining eye for detail to the lifestyle of those people who partake in historical re-enactments.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: October 2008|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd|
Common opinion has it that the television programme Time Team did a lot for the public image of archaeologists – bringing them out of their holes in the ground, and making them seem like exciting, interesting people with a good way of putting their knowledge across. However it was clearly a much harder task when it came to those background artistes they have sometimes, walking up and down in Roman centurion gear, or living the historical lifestyle as a re-enactment.
Seeing that there seems to be 45,000 historical re-enactors in the UK alone (a figure I cannot believe is true for the particular wet Monday November morning I am writing this on), Tim Moore has brought it upon himself to see what living their life is like. Who is it doing this? What made them start, and what do they continue to get out of it? And do they all end up with tremendous BO as a result?
Hence Moore starts off living for a couple of days in an Iron Age roundhouse, part of surely the UK's most singular and uninspiring tourist trap. He's not always as alone as you might assume – and I don't mean the sheep that break in. There is a 'colleague' for him to share his days and nights with – one very overtly living courtesy not of his Ray Mears-styled survival skills, but on Kelloggs', Silk Cut, Somerfield and Grolsch. A visit from the Australian Judith Chalmers is not a great success, for anyone.
Did you know Romans took pastis to Denmark? Well, a band of holidaying Frenchmen, forming their own small Roman soldierly unit, do when they go and get mauled by Gauls in ways history never recorded. Tim Moore joins them, and more.
You cannot completely denigrate the lifestyle of the re-enactors, as they do help real life knowledge. There's the instance when common thinking about roundhouse chimneys went literally up in smoke, and the fact of just how versatile the skills needed of a Roman soldier had to be comes across well. Nothing on that last regard beats the 'Jew' in a mock-up in a European castle Moore visits, quite explosively, for a few days, until the heights of realism are met in the USA (and I don't mean the 21 Roman legions their shores play host to).
And Moore does not try to denigrate the people he meets. Visiting them and mucking in as you would hope – and I would never choose to do myself – he goes some way in his few, long chapters to get under the chainmail, sack-cloth and surreptitious thermals of the regular participants, and brings them all to us a very nice, jovial way. The comedy of the book really comes to life for me in the scenes with Vikings set just outside Leicester (and before you scoff, a lot of Leicestershire place names have Viking roots). Here the eye for a charming, quirky or dangerously revealing quote is superlative.
I did miss a sense of the mission about the whole exercise that someone like Dave Gorman or Danny Wallace would have brought to the whole thing – here there is no sense of Moore being goaded into his research by anything much – he just drops himself and us into the fait accompli that these people are out there and must be met. As such the start of the book isn't quite as friendly as it might have been, but beyond that the read is most comfortable, highly entertaining, and very recommendable. And when considering the depth of factual detail concerning both the real-life olden days, and their contemporary revisiting, I am glad Moore was our guide.
A few things stand out as common, whatever group Moore pops in on, and from whatever timeline they inhabit. There is universally a debate about half of the re-enactors blatantly smoking 21st century cigarettes. Twice Moore sees some similarity with Glastonbury – but with work – and at least three times he finds the traipsing around in semi-realistic garb more than a bit Monty Python. I won't say the Python sense of humour is shared with this book, but with his evidently witty eye for detail Moore proves the analogy is correct.
So, has he done what Tony Robinson et al have failed to do – could we take a re-enactor into our homes (given a good shower scrub-down first) and love one? I think the jury is still out, with no offense to the many that partake of this hobby. This book still seems a completely bizarre choice for someone to set out to write, but I am sure that many who don't want the re-enactor lifestyle bug to take them over will be grateful Moore has.
You can read more book reviews or buy I Believe in Yesterday: My Adventures in Living History by Tim Moore at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy I Believe in Yesterday: My Adventures in Living History by Tim Moore at Amazon.com.
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