JACK-IN-THE-GREEN – 2023
MEMORY AS THE PAST REWRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MEMORY
Thursday 16th November 1995 and our 13th Bedding Anniversary - Leila, my lover and mother to Eden Rintoul McMillan Kötting - our daughter and already seven years old - unexpectedly seven years old, but seven years old nevertheless. Her life expectancy had never been good - But here she is, here she’s stood - 34 years and counting….
That by way of a backstory.
It’s here in my diary; November 16th 1995, meet with Keith Leech and his Bogies (whatever that means) in the Royal Standard in the Old Town, Hastings. Apparently he will tell us all we need to know about the Jack-in-the-Green.
We had been travelling for over three and a half months, circumnavigating the whole coastline of Great Britain using A roads, B roads and the odd C road.
Travelling in a camper van, clockwise from the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. Gladys, my 84 year old Grandmother, Leila my lover, Eden my daughter and me. (Nick, Gary and Doug, the crew, don’t count as they weren’t yet family….)
Anyhow this was almost the end of our journey. We had been making a film called Gallivant, a road movie and antidote to that other road movie Thelma and Louise.
I’m straying from my ambition to write this, which in hindsight has become the mission.
Embark on a journey and let the Angels-of-Happenstance work as compass.
Reverse engineer meaning and order after the event….
So there we were; Friday 17th November 1995, the Royal Standard, Old Town Hastings and Keith Leech did turn up and some of the Bogies, part man, part bush and after just ten minutes part beer…. Andy Hemsley devoured the drinking, led the dance and inspired the drumming as we decamped across the road to the black huts. I had been given a potted history inside the pub but this was fast becoming just faded memory. I loved the chaotic anarchy and the channeled hauntology…. I loved the re-invention of a tradition and the reported threat of a Jack ‘coming alive’…. But little did I know that all these ever-so-many-years later I would be sat here in a garden shed revisiting my own Jack-in-the-Green story.
Facts have gravitas although in this instance the illusion of facts will suffice because in our hunger for all things true we make facts irrelevant and as my own time line unfolds things have a tendency to fall into that foggy no man’s land of mismemory….
Oh the joys of having been born.
Here goes, a potted history in which as you will see the Angels-of-Happenstance continue to watch over me….
We moved from Deptford to St Leonards-on-Sea on Tuesday 6th April 2004.
Eden’s 16th birthday.
Within two years of the move we had reconnected with the Jack-in-the-Green.
Andy Hemsley, Keith Leech and all the Bogies.
It felt like a homecoming and joyful re-union as Leila myself and Eden joined the procession.
A reality-based celebration of all things folkloric, resplendent in its own shoddy glory.
And little did we know that it would grow inordinately….
And little did we know that every sound that we make is a little bit more of our autobiography and backstory.
We thus dig into the past and find therein proof of our having been.
And sometimes we stumble across The Magical Thinking.
The reinvented folkloric as antidote to the Regressive Progressives who are keen to eradicate all that has come before.
Like Pol Pot and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Tearing down and throwing away all that is deemed inappropriate and uncomfortable.
The obsession to target those small grievances.
Poised to complain out of a disdain for that which is not of the same….
But the past is the past.
A vast ocean of learning.
And yearning for the trying-to-have-gotten-things ‘right’.
Appropriation and thereafter a regurgitation with very few of the ‘original’ ingredients intact.
Exhibitionism of needs and a desire to celebrate all that is NOT cynicism.
NOT A Perfidious Albion
More an attempt at an illumination or an understanding.
So hope holds up her head and hopes that this ‘tradition’ will continue to morph in and out of itself with all of its flaws in tact, never pristine and never sound of mind.
More of an approximation….
And as if proof were needed look to the ongoing as pictorial equivocations of my shoddy state of mind:
And the following words are taken from the Gallivant film transcription and a message that Keith Leech left me on Thursday 16th November 1995 the day before our meet:
“I can carry on forever about the Jack-in-the-Green character I really could…. if you were to make it later…. if you made it in the evening then I could probably get some of the others so you could probably have three or four of us sitting around in green faces, banging our drums and things…. if you like….
And a year after that the crowd surged in on Jack-in-the Green and tore it to shreds to grab a flower, a leaf, a ribbon, anything…. and what they had actually witnessed was the birth of a tradition….”
So there you might have had it but in 2006 and continuing on from the belief in the real as the imagined, a new Jack was reborn in Deptford.
Samuel Pepys territory.
Our territory, and only two years after we had gone a new folkloric procession had begun.
Inspired by the character of Tired Tim and a photograph portraying him in all his glory, the Fowlers Troop and David Aylward, friend of the family set about reigniting this ancient urban ritual through the busy streets of South East London.
A new Jack was/is alive….
Bastard brother or sanctimonious sister….
No matter, identity has always been a fragile phenomenon….
So ever thereafter we process twice a year, because in Deptford we march on the 1st May regardless of which day whereas in Hastings it’s always the May Day Bank Holiday Monday…. Except for this year…!
Who knows what might become of us?
Plot erected like scaffolding is torn down but what stands in its place is the thing itself….
NB – This essay was originally commissioned for to 40th Anniversary of Hastings Jack in the Green 1983-2023 publication by Lorna Crabbe email@example.com BUT due to the overwhelming interest and thereafter contributions for the commemorative publication there was no longer room for such meandering ramblings although a page of photographs and some blather was included which can be found at www.hastingstraditionaljackinthegreen.co.uk
Andrew Kötting - March 6th 2023 – Unit 5 - Ponswood Estate - St Leonards-on-Sea