Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Devil be gone. It's pancake day!

It's Shrove Tuesday today. AKA pancake day, the last day before Lent. This is your chance to indulge before it’s all over for 40 days and 40 nights. You feast then you fast and have a little think whilst you do it - at least that's the idea.
But what about tossing? What's that all about? Well, as well as being the traditional time for penitence and reflection, for going to church to confess your sins, Shrove Tuesday is also a time for using up all your rich and fatty foods (eggs, milk, sugar). And that can only mean one thing: pancakes! The tossing part of the story tells of a lady from Olney in Buckinghamshire who lost track of time whilst cooking her pancakes in 1445, heard the church bells and dashed out of her house with her frying pan still in her hand, running all the way to the service. And so a tradition was created. It also explains why men wishing to take part in pancake races are usually asked to don an apron and headscarf. It’s a housewife thing.
Shrove Tuesday has other curious traditions besides tossing pancakes. In many places, villages played massive inter-community football matches to celebrate ‘fat Tuesday’. A few, like at Haxley, continue today. Shrove Tuesday is also known all over the world as Mardi Gras, the last day of carnival season.



Closer to home, at Clovelly in Devon, there is a little known ritual that would have died out if it were not for the persistence of the people who live there. Clovelly is a village that is owned wholly by an estate. Most of the houses in the village are rented by local people which means that the village - unlike so many which have been blighted by unnaturally high second home ownership - still has a beating heart. That, I would argue, is a rare and precious thing.
The ritual is called Lansherd and it involves all the children of the village racing through the cobbled streets trailing tin cans on lengths of string. The noise is meant to drive the devil out of the houses, down the steep cobbled streets and into the sea. Apparently it was a big deal at one time, with biscuit tins, kettles and cans – and even an old tin bath – being used to scare the devil himself out and away where he can do no harm. Basically it's a noisy procession through the streets that finishes when the children get to the harbour and throw their cans into the sea (don’t worry, they get them in the morning).
Lansherd is a lovely thing to see, and it’s even better to know, as the kids rattle off down the narrow car-free streets, that one of our weird and wonderful British seaside traditions is being kept alive.
Sounds fun? Meet me by the fountain at five fifteen and I’ll show you. Bring string and an old tin bath.
After that, of course, it's home in time for tea. Or, more specifically, pancakes.




From 'The Camper Van Coast: Cooking, Eating, Living the Life'. Due to be published on April 12th 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Haha! I'll bet this doesn't shut the kids up for the rest of the year. They're always noisy, so a day when noise is called for must be heaven! Bless 'em. I'll turn my hearing aids OFF! X¬D

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