Husband has not been invited to this year’s Court Leet, the men-of-the-village-only dinner that’s been going on continuously since the thirteenth century that he was so proud to have been invited to for the last two years. He thought P. was just winding him up when he asked him if he had received his invitation yet, but it turns out the invites really have gone out and one has not come through our door. He is more upset about this than he’d like to admit and has come up with several conspiracy theories by way of explanation, including the fact that we hang out all the time with our gay weekender friends, R&R — if this is really the case I tell him he should be proud to be excluded — and that he made the faux pas of wearing jeans to last year’s event. In a fight over the weekend I tell him it’s because he has developed a reputation for being loud and obnoxious and everybody in the village can hear him screaming and yelling at me. Despite my assertion I feel bad he’s been excluded, like the mother of the only kid in the class not invited to the birthday party.
I too have my own exclusion worries. On Thursday my company announced they were laying off 12% of my division, not totally unexpected. I tell myself I am not in the bottom performing 12% and other rationalizations meant to reassure, but on Saturday night I wake up at 1AM and can’t go back to sleep for the stress. Read Rachel Johnson’s hilarious book about her first year as editor of The Lady to calm myself back down. All she was asked to do was lower the average age of readers from 78 to 40-something and double circulation in the middle of a recession to prevent the magazine from going under, which helps put my job stress into perspective.
Saturday we went to the hardware superstore in Cheltenham where we picked out kitchen cabinets for our new London shoebox and “flame” winter violas for the hanging baskets at Drovers Cottage. On our way home we stopped in to the Wheatsheaf where our local bon vivant, M., was hosting the opening of his new food-themed exhibit, including a print of his personal gastronomic map of Britain. There husband met Giles, owner of the animal crematorium at Fosse Cross, the last stop for beloved local equine pets. Giles told the story of how an Irishman tried to buy the horsetails for use in his rocking horse business. Giles declined, explaining the owners of the horses expected every last bit of them to end up in the urn, although I rather like the idea of a tail being used on a rocking horse as a tribute to a cherished pet.
We acknowledged Remembrance Sunday by attending the local church service. Two plaques commemorating the dead of our town from WWI and WWII are mounted on the wall to the right as you enter the sanctuary. Above them hangs a vintage British Legion flag, and below, a wreath of paper poppies was laid by two elderly gentlemen wearing medals on their lapels.
Afterwards, Jacques, our resident Frenchman (something I highly recommend for every community) approached husband to discuss the upcoming Court Leet seating plan for which Jacques is responsible like some kind of unlikely bride. The all-male Court Leet dinner has been held annually since the thirteenth century in our Cotswold town, and husband is flattered to have been invited back this year. While we talked Jacques bemoaned the very un-French habit the men have of buying a bottle of wine which is jealously guarded at each man’s place, unshared with others, and sometimes swigged straight from the bottle. I suspect it’s a habit that might date back as far as the Leet itself.
After some cajoling, town elder G. came through with the promised ticket to the Court Leet for husband. It was held on Thursday night and, being female, I was banished to dinner at the Inn across the street with several wives/partners of the attendees. Joining me was one half of the doppelgänger couple who considered the proceedings next door rather sexist. I, on the other hand, have been married long enough to be grateful for a little time off. I suspect other wives feeling just like me have played a vital role in keeping this tradition going for the last 700-odd years.
When the menfolk arrived at the Inn just after midnight, they were weary from the speeches which by all accounts were a bit average this year in everything except duration. I was pleased to hear our neighbor, D., had been elected the new High Bailiff. I like him because he is nice and often wears a coral coloured Benetton sweatshirt with a cravat and without irony. M., the sometimes barman who is known for his lack of self-censorship, is less readily charmed by a cravat. He thinks D. the most boring man in town, which doesn’t bode well for next year’s speeches.
Earlier in the week in London, husband and I had dinner with B. and R. who were down from Boylestone as guests of the Lord Mayor of the City of London at his annual show. B. regaled me with tales of sausages flung from swords, a Roman army, and a cat still resident in the Mayor’s office, an unbroken tradition from the time of Dick Whittington. Normally I would have chalked up this account to the potent combination of B.’s creativity and my gullibility, but after a look at some of the pictures of the show online I was convinced he was telling the truth, mostly. He didn’t even mention the various livery companies who marched in the procession, including The Worshipful Company of Paviors (professionals involved with roads and pavements) who presumably rode on a float where they stood around drinking cups of tea while traffic backed up.
The thirteenth century was a busy time for charter granting in England. London got one in 1215 that allowed it to elect a mayor, with a caveat that he had to travel to Westminster each year to pledge allegiance to the Sovereign. It is this procession which begat the annual show that B. and R. attended. Twelve years later our Cotswold town got its charter for a market, thus necessitating the tradition of the Court Leet to elect a High Bailiff to oversee it. As much as I enjoy the opportunity to tout the Cotswolds and disparage London, it seems the Lord Mayor’s show came up trumps over the Court Leet this year. Tradition, I begrudgingly admit, is not the sole provenance of the countryside.
Today as I was wedged underneath a London conference room table unplugging my laptop, a man popped his head in to ask if I knew where so and so was. With my ass still in the air I called out that I did not know so and so, but this man seemed to know me. He enquired if by chance I had been in a butcher shop in our Cotswold town over the weekend clad in lots of lycra and a bicycle helmet. I had. What are the chances of being caught in two compromising situations in one week by the same person?
It turns out I am not the only employee of my company to have discovered the charms of our lovely little Cotswold town. T. has lived there for 16 years, commuting into London every day. We exchanged lots of gushing about our town, things like the joy of walking out your front door to pick blackberries for a cobbler. Then he started telling me about an annual town dinner called “The Leet,” and it clicked that this was what G. was describing to us the wine bar a few weeks prior.
My vision of a Cotswold cult was wide of the mark, but this is a case where truth is better than fiction. It’s the kind of thing that an American eats up about living in England. Even husband was charmed by the revelation.
The annual Court Leet dates back to 1227 when King Henry III granted our town a charter entitling it to a weekly market. The town’s men have an unbroken record of meeting for the Leet annually since the charter was granted to elect honorary officials to oversee the market. Their duties include making the rounds of the local pubs and reporting on the quality of the brews. The Leet is a sort of democratic state of the union, only about important things like beer. Children get in on the action too, roaming the streets banging tin cans. When they knock at your door you are supposed to ask them who the new High Bailiff is and give them a coin for their can, a capitalist version of Halloween.
An invitation is a tricky thing, fraught with sensitivities. Some men who have been resident for years have yet to receive one. If G. pulls it off for husband it will be a coup. I’m not banking on it as G. is prone to bluster, but, for the blog’s sake, I hope it comes through.