The annual Fools and Beasts Unconvention was held in the luxurious surroundings of the Red Lion Hotel and Conference Centre, Wath upon Dearne, at the end of October. The meeting is a sort of instructional, supported and advertised by the Ring, and open to fools and beasts from Ring sides. I say a sort of instructional because, of course, fooling and beasting do not lend themselves to "instruction" in the same way as, for example, jigs or music. Fools and beasts are proud of their individuality and cherish the spontaneity that makes their performances work. Woe betide anyone who tries to tell them how it "should" be done!
The format of the weekend varies from year to year, but it is usually a mixture of open discussion involving the whole group, and short presentations or workshops led by those who think they have something important or interesting to say. This year, the emphasis was on the discussion, and everyone got a chance to chip in, either with questions or with answers.
There was much talk about the problem of badly behaved members of the audience - mainly children - and one or two of the men reported incidents that were very near to criminal assault. Beasts, in particular, have a problem as they have such a restricted field of view, and children can sneak up behind them.
An interesting comment from the Squire of the Ring, Gerald Willey, was that perhaps we have brought some of these problems on ourselves. It is probably the case that both fools and beasts have a much higher profile and are much more active in performance than was the case a few years ago. As we are moving further from our "traditional" role, and (physically) further from the dancing set, perhaps we are exposing ourselves to a greater risk of "attack", and removing ourselves from the "protection" of our sides. There was no suggestion that we should therefore revert to a more "traditional" approach, but we should be aware that developments in one direction often involve problems in another.
John Edwards of Stafford led a discussion on the importance of not being too frightening when beasting. By the cunning application of higher mathematics, he was able to prove that an eight-foot-tall beast in front of a three-foot-tall child is like a twenty-foot beast in front of a six-foot man. Imagine how you would react to a twenty-foot-tall beast, he suggested (at a mere five foot seven, I was reduced to a trembling wreck and am still suffering nightmares).
I led a session on "quiet fooling" - a subject for the teaching of which I am singularly ill-suited by experience and reputation. My argument was that it is better to start a show in a friendly, unaggressive manner, gauge the reaction of the audience and develop the performance accordingly. Many inexperienced fools do a lot of shouting and arm waving, perhaps to boost their own confidence, and perhaps because they feel that it is expected of them. It might work nine times out of ten, but on the tenth occasion, it could provoke complaints or even violence. Not everyone agreed, which is as it should be, but the general point stands that there is much to be gained from a subtle and varied approach, rather than doing everything at full volume and full throttle.
Roger Comley of Letchworth demonstrated the ancient art of bladder blowing. As a vegetarian, I am unable to go into detail on this one. You'll have to send Roger £5 for a fact sheet or something! Whilst this was going on, the beasts had one of those discussions that only beasts can have and only beasts can understand. Send Gordon a bag of hay for a fact sheet! (I took the opportunity for half an hour's kip.)
All in all, it was a great weekend, with something for everyone. Thanks to Eric Pressley (T' Grand Convenor) for organising it all, and special thanks to Mary and Geoff of the Red Lion for once again being excellent hosts. Next year, it looks like we'll be meeting in Holland.First published in The Ring and reproduced with the author's consent
©2000 Mike Wilkinson, Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers