Entertainment: Tudor style

It would appear none of you listened to me last time when I told you to cease and desist emptying the shops of food and loo roll. I understand that some of you might have struggled to take Boris Johnson at his word when he asked people to stop panic buying and exercise more control in their social gatherings but what I find astounding is the number of you who ignored me. I’m very, very disappointed in you all. I want you to go away and think seriously about what you’ve done. You can tell your mum to expect a phone call later – on Mothers’ Day of all days! Do you think she’ll be proud of you?

Obviously, the implications of your actions are clear. Upset and broken by seeing yet more year 7’s arrive to school with apples and (and I can’t believe I’m having to write this), bananas in their lunchboxes instead of chocolate cake and doughnuts because the shelves continue to be emptied of these treats, schools this week have taken the very difficult decision to close. It’s for the best; the kids need time to recover the social humiliation of having no one willing to trade lunches with them, and teachers need therapy after finding cornucopia’s worth of rotting apple cores stuffed down the backs of radiators and mashed banana between the pages of textbooks. Hang your heads in shame, people.

A whole host of people are now going to be stuck indoors, possibly with small children (hopefully their own), for the foreseeable future. I may be one of them, because unfortunately my efforts to escape isolation with my family by hiding behind a big shelf of tinned tomatoes when we were out shopping was thwarted by the fact that people kept stockpiling the bloody things, so my husband and daughter found me pretty quickly.

So, here I am: in the house, awaiting emails from school to see if I’ll be called in to care for those who need support or whose parents are key workers heroes. So far, I’m not rota-d on for next week, which means I’m faced with the alarming prospect of having to do some Actual Mothering.

Fortunately, my child is too little to have a clue what’s going on so I’m spared the difficult conversations of explaining what’s happening or alleviating any fears or anxieties. All she knows is that we can only see grandma and grandpa over the computer and that if she smashes her fists into all the buttons on the keypad at the same time we can’t even do that anymore. Unfortunately, this means that she’s not of an age where she can entertain herself for any reasonable amount of time. Finding activities to fill the hours has therefore become something of a specialty.

The rainbow idea? Lovely! Heartwarming! A true show of community spirit in difficult times. Whose idea was it, and how do I contact them to pay for the dry cleaning to remove 7 different paints out of my carpet and off my walls? What about films? My daughter will snuggle up under a blanket and watch a movie as long as that movie is no longer than 7 minutes, contains only talking tractors and has a jingle she can shout at the top of her voice for several hours after it ends. She’ll clamour to watch it 3 times in row and will then have the mother of all tantrums when asked if she wants to watch it again. Nothing holds her attention apart from everything, immediately, and her skills at tidying up after herself leave much to be desired:

Scenes like this one have been achieved within in 10 minutes. Please, I am not joking: send help.

My husband and I have resorted to hiding under the stairs whenever we hear her coming. It’s the only place we can eat anything without having to share it. It’s not quite big enough to accommodate both of us and the Hoover and ironing board, so there’s always a bit of a Hunger Games tussle between us where one of us ends up sacrificed to the Insatiable and Ever Present Toddler, but today I managed to eat a half an Easter egg, a left over sausage and can of Diet Coke in blissful uninterruption, albeit in the pitch black (the light would give me away.) True, she was waiting for me when I emerged with an accusatory “chocolate?” but it was already gone.

I’m therefore having to temporarily change the focus of this blog. There will still be meals and snacks made of the historical kind however, with a tiny force of nature to care for more often than before, and with fewer and fewer ingredients on the shelves, it’s not possible to research, prepare and cook things that might not be able to be eaten by 1/3 of the household on a regular basis. With that in mind, therefore, I’m switching today’s focus on entertainment in Tudor England. What did people do to keep busy? Can I replicate any of it? Is there a precedent for sending my daughter off with a travelling theatre to tour Europe for several months so she can earn some money for us and ease our childcare woes (probably not, for multiple reasons.)

Before I began to transform all our free time into a plan of Tudor activities (a teacher without a timetable is a rudderless soul), I ran the idea past my husband, who has (mostly) suffered in silence while I’ve fed him dubious meals and cared for him according to pre-NHS standards. He was only too happy to share some of his misfortune with our daughter; “I don’t see why not – if she’s been spared most of what you’ve been up to so far it’s high time she experienced a little of it now”, was his response.

First up was dancing. This was a past time enjoyed by pretty much every strata of Tudor society, from formal choreographed dances enjoyed by the rich, to spontaneous drunken jigs danced by the poor. It seemed a good place to start the Timetable of Tudor “Fun”.

It’s a source of constant amusement to my family that my husband, who has two parents who were both professional dancers for much of their lives, has two left feet. For our first dance when we got married we employed the timeless cling-on-to-each-other-and-sway-aimlessly technique rather than risk choreographing what would just inevitably become an elaborate tumble into the wedding cake. Imagine my husband’s delight when I told him we were going to prepare a dance routine as our first activity.

I took my inspiration from this Key Stage 2 lesson which showed several people, all splendidly dressed up, very seriously glaring at each other as they hopped round in a circle and wagged their fingers to lute music. At one point they did a move that involved throwing their hands up (seemingly in despair), turning round and sort of skipping away a bit. Since this move was reminiscent to one I do whenever I try to reason with my daughter, I thought it would be perfect.

We stood in a circle, but since there was only three of us, it was more of a triangle, and held hands. My husband and I attempted to keep straight faces and my daughter wrestled with us as she sought to free her sweaty palms. At first, I had planned to just play the video on the TV so that we could copy the moves and use the music, but it became very clear that Tudor music wasn’t my daughter’s jam. We had to use Baby Shark instead.

There we were, holding hands, moving in a slow circle, stopping and clapping, while Baby Bloody Shark serenaded us. One of us couldn’t contain herself and broke rank to act out the moves to Baby Shark, whizzing round the room screeching ‘Mummy shark! Daddy shark!” as she did so. I tried to wag my finger at her, but I only ended up copying yet another of the ridiculous dance moves by accident so she didn’t take it seriously. Meanwhile, my husband had slightly twisted his ankle trying to replicate one of the twiddly jumps (or was he trying to run away?) and was demanding a break. It felt a bit silly to continue without her and with one of us injured (and besides, I think the neighbours across the road had spotted us through their window at his point) so we stopped.

Next up was hunting. This was a big thing for the rich in Tudor England, with larger animals such as deer being popular animals to hunt. For Henry VIII, hunting was a way to show his power and sporting prowess. In 1519, the Venetian ambassador commented that Henry VIII “never took that diversion without tiring eight or ten horses” and Henry considered hunting so important an past time to him that he ordered many hunting lodges to be built across England, including one in 1543 at Epping Forest, from which he could see the deer on the chase.

Obviously, hunting was something we couldn’t overlook if we were going to do this Tudor entertainment thing properly. However, we did have just a few teeny tiny ethical qualms – not least of which was the idea that rushing around our local town centre brandishing kitchen knives and catapults made of rubber bands might put the public in more danger than it already was, thus defeating the point of our social distancing. It was decided that a game of hide and seek would have to do instead, and my husband dutifully donned a pair of Rudolph antlers left over from Christmas to get into the mindset of a Tudor deer before going to hide upstairs, in the bed, under the duvet for half an hour.

Whilst rich people could hunt big game, poor people had to make do with fishing in certain areas (not everywhere, as the king still controlled many of the lakes and ponds in England, for which permission had to be sought to fish from.)

It’s a very special type of panic buying, semi-hysterical Tudor themed pet shopping is. The lady in the pet shop remained very calm when I told her I was looking for a goldfish “such as might have been kept in the ponds of Tudor England.” She implied quite heavily that it would be a pretty serious crime to use pet shop fish for fishing and that we couldn’t ‘just build’ a pond in our back garden by the end of the day. What we could have, however, was a starter tank with 6 little fish in and an aquatic plant, so we did that instead. I asked my daughter what they should be called and she just shouted “Bosh!” over and over again for a full minute, so we assumed that’s what she wanted them to be called. All of them. I have since learned that the 15th century artist Hieronymus Bosch, who painted at the time of Henry VII and Henry VIII, was famed for his scenes of doom and pestilence. How very fitting, and unnerving of my daughter.

Okay, so maybe the hunting and fishing was just an excuse to have a nap and go and buy some new pets. But that still left one more thing to try: dice.

Dice games were exceptionally popular in Tudor England. I suppose after a day of bashing your ankles together in dancing and getting gored by deer you’d want to do something that was primarily focused on sitting down. Between 1529 and 1532, Henry VIII lost £3,243 5s 10d because of gambling, showing how fond and popular gambling with dice was. By 1604, there were so many legal cases being brought that centred on the issues of loaded and false dice that legislation had to be brought in to prevent their manufacture and sale.

A dice game that could cost us thousands? That had the potential to lead to a law suit? What could go wrong? The High German game Glückhaus, known as Lucky Pig in England during Tudor times, was just the sort of game we needed. Once my daughter was in bed, we drew up the board and began to play.

A Lucky Pig board

We took it in turns to throw a pair of dice. If we threw a 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 or 11, we had to place a coin on the King Space, the empty one with a crown on it. We settled on £1 coins initially, because we didn’t use our maths skills to see that most of the time we’d be placing coins on the King Space, before downgrading the £1s to any old coins, since it was all coming out of our joint piggy bank anyway. We decided that the winner would get to pick the takeaway for the evening. If we threw a 7, the coin was placed on the 7 space. This space was known as the Wedding Space. If we threw a 2, the Pig Space, we got to take all the coins on the board apart from the ones on the Wedding Space. If we threw a 12 then we got to keep all the coins on the board, including the ones in the Wedding Space. So really, this game should have been called ‘Lucky Pig, Greedy King’, but you’d probably have lost your head.

By the end (10 minutes or so) I was the winner with £3.47 to my husband’s £1.15. I picked Chinese.

Times are a bit rough at the moment and I still don’t know how to entertain my daughter any more than I did at the start of the day. Tomorrow my Tudor diary’s suggesting falconry followed by bear baiting, but I’m fairly sure they’ll be cancelled as they always attract a crowd. Back to drawing on the walls and eating lunch under the stairs it is, then.

Stay safe.

E x

2 thoughts on “Entertainment: Tudor style

  1. I do not envy you. But I admire your candour-with-humour approach to the chaos of toddler-rearing. Great post, as always. You have a real talent for very funny observation.

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