First stop, Royal Gunpowder Mills for the English Civil War event. Surprise, surprise, Kate, Simon and co were at the pub... They were talking about kitting me out and putting me in the pike block. The only reason this didn't happen was that I thought they were taking the piss and ignored them!
Once actually back on site, the battle display was pretty impressive - lots of musket and cannon going off and big pike scrums. Had a fun time talking to people afterwards too, learning a lot more about a period of history I hadn't read about in a while. Most entertaining bit was talking to the artillery boys to check what Kate had said about having loaded cannon with dung in the past. Yep. Lots of detail about that - different types of poo apparently have different characteristics when fired... Also got asked at least half a dozen times if I'd be back to take part!
The Gunpowder Mills site was pretty amazing too: All these buildings which were abandoned, became overgrown and are being slowly restored after being carefully checked for explosives.
Once we got to Beltring (slightly frustrating journey for me as Simon's Land Rover was about 10-15 mph slower than I could go at), putting up the tent was "fun" - ground was rock hard, we had to borrow a hammer from the site marshal to get our tent pegs in! Was certainly glad I'd done a test pitch of the tent in the back garden - the tent came with no instructions. If nothing else, I'd checked that the tent I'd bought was indeed the navy blue version, not the hot pink one. I can't think of a good time for me to own a hot pink tent but camping amongst a bunch of military re-enactors is possibly one of the worse ones! My observation that our area seemed to have a lot of dessicated dung, along with my discussion with the ECW arty guys led Kate to comment I appeared to have an obsession with poo. Apparently this field was pretty good compared with the usual for ECW musters i.e. the dung wasn't fresh...
The following week was basically a cycle of wandering round stalls, drooling over military vehicles of various sorts and consuming way too much beer in various UNIT outfits. It was quite amusing the effect the UNIT gear had - a few people recognised it, others were trying to figure out what unit we were supposed to be and some just came and asked so we played it deadpan, talking about it being a UN agency with troops from member nations seconded, controlling spread and use of weapons of mass destruction, traffic in illegal aliens etc. One militaria dealer even pressed me to ask where we got the badges from and if I could get him some and even gave me his card!
- International cuisine night aka Ration Roulette, as Kate put it - we tucked into UK, US and French ration packs for dinner to compare them. Our conclusion was that British ones won hands down for a couple of major reasons: they're more filling, cheaper (£5 for 24 hour pack vs £5-10 per meal for US MREs), taste better generally and contain fun things like Screech (lemon or orange flavour drink containing lots beta carotene) - 1 litre of this stuff was enough to make us all hyper all night! Determined to get a wider selection for next time. Hmm... wonder if my cousin can get me some Singaporean ones ;-)
- I'd packed my old ARVN (South Vietnamese army) Ranger kit and popped down to the Vietnam war area to see an old friend. On establishing I had the stuff with me, they plied me with beer, biscuits, badges and offers of a weapon and free ammo if I'd join them in their arena displays - seems the ARVN stuff still makes me a unique commodity as I had lots of camera men buzzing around, both at compound and in the arena, even got interviewed by some guy working for one of the militaria magazines! Quite frankly though, none of the inducements would have been necessary... On top of all this, the organiser *thanked* me for taking part :-) Also, the expressions on the faces of the guys doing the oriental eye and in-country tan makeup when I got to the head of the queue was priceless ;-) They now want me to join them at other events. Only slight down side is there's now some sensitivity over whether I camp with them or the UNIT guys at next year's Beltring!
- Miller Night - a 1940s-themed night with the John Miller band, Glenn Miller was his uncle (as he kept reminding us all the way through), and 1940s-style food (looked like it had been made from rations...). Good music (but the Jive Aces during the day were better), passable food but a very interesting experience. Hadn't packed anything formal so it was ARVN Ranger gear again. At least it was funky and unusual. Kate commented that, as we were both heading to the loos past the dance floor, I apparently had a look of complete terror when she jokingly suggested we should dance...
- Still, while we concluded Miller Night had been worth doing but not necessarily repeating, we decided a mess or formal dress night was indeed a good idead. While the others were discussing what British Army or RAF uniforms they might go for, I started wondering how I could play the ethnic card once more. Dunno, maybe an ARVN or 1930s/40s Kuomintang dress uniform might be fun. Nonetheless, couldn't help sniggering at the thought that we were all discussing Number 1s and Number 2s in great detail ;-)
- Once again, my sister and parents were way ahead of me, current affairs-wise. Got an SMS from my sister asking if I was OK and that was how I learned about the second wave of London bombings
- Shopping - I already had a British general staff officer's jacket (red collar tabs). I now have the staff officer's peaked cap, a Sam Brown and Brigadier's cap badge and rank insignia. A UNIT/Brigadier outfit is nearly within reach! Also acquired a bigger tent - the original one was a tad short so I could only sleep in it along the diagonal. And the new one is olive drab green :-) Anyone (especially short people) interested in a lightly used 2-man festival-type tent?
Only real downsides were expensive beer and the rain on Sunday which turned the roads into muddy quagmires, especially after they'd been churned up by tanks and other vehicles. I'm in fact rather surprised and impressed that Simon and Kate actually braved the rain to watch me in the Vietnam Tet 68 event in the arena, given they'd already seen it the day before! Driving out was pretty grim though - was slipping all over the place and spraying mud all over the car. Kate, who I was giving a lift back to London, was making terribly helpful observations like "There's a big dog turd sized blob on your rear passenger door!" So who's got the poo obsession?
One other thing: for the Stargate fans amongst you - there were an awful lot of people selling very cheap (and nasty) Chinese airsofts, including an electric P-90 model for, in one case, as low as £25 (£40 seemed more typical)!
- Need to take a pair of flip-flops. The shower block floor can get very muddy
- This year there wasn't a single central camping site for all of us which we were sometimes a tad unco-ordinated as we were scattered around the site. Also meant we didn't get as much use out of the UNIT posters as we might have hoped. Also meant we didn't get round to watching the Galactica season premiere. So much for my act of willpower...
- The one time I think I'll leave my laptop behind, I get calls about job interviews and project work. Sigh. Never again
- I'd forgotten how much fun this re-enactment lark can be. I was getting scarily comfortable with waking up in the tent by the end. Will definitely be back next year. Still not sure about the ECW stuff but I have rather agreed to go to an event and give the pike block thing a try (damned if I'm splashing several hundred Pounds on a musket on the offchance I might like it!)
- Alcohol intake levels through the roof again. Apart from the beer, Simon was in the habit of adding a shot of vodka to our coffees int the morning. I drink far more at a con but that's just 2.5 days, not a week!