Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Fallout: Home Counties - Material and Domestic Culture in the White Horses

This was purpose designed as a narrative; an instructional day-in-the-life story. Perhaps not exciting, but useful.

It’s a cold October afternoon. The fields are being tended by serfs. The fallout has left this part of England fairly intact, but some vegetables are still unearthed bloated and tasteless, fit only for animal feed. Generally the crop yield is more than sufficient for the Brethren and serfs of this manor, enabling them to make the export tithe demanded by the Brethren Council for sale in London. The fields are regularly reseeded and rotated with the seasons, which requires the backbreaking labour of the serfs. 

The serfs wear either pre-war overalls or rough smocks from the London looms in Shepherd’s Bush. The coarse clothes are about adequate to keep them sheltered from the piercing wind, but they still feel the chill.

By contrast, the Castellan’s men watching them are well dressed. They have heavy padded jackets and flat caps. Over this they wear stiff armoured vests, often bearing the mark of a rearing white horse, and belts, with clubs and side-arms hanging from them. The automatic rifles and shotguns in the holsters on the quad-bikes behind them are not needed at the moment, but the raiders may come at any time. If no more, the long guns are a potent reminder of the Brethren’s power over the serfs. The Brethren take different tones of command with the serfs, either speaking with all the choler, spleen and dreadful sarcasm of a Drill Sergeant or the sardonic, amused tolerance of the aristocrat. The civilian-garbed Brother Ploughman monitors the work with wrath in his voice for the slothful.

Those of the Castellan’s men not overseeing the fields are up in the outposts of the manor, monitoring the perimeter. Two figures can barely be seen at the top of a tower, one with a rifle with a powerful sight; the other with a field scope and a flare gun. The edge of the manor is protected by tall earth banks and palisades; adequate to slow raiders at the least. The few gates in this are bulky things perhaps eleven feet high made stronger with ruined cars filled with earth. These were recently refreshed last month by Sister Sapper and a band of serfs. The next project the Sister hopes to complete is a set of telephone lines out to the towers to assists with early warning signals.
Inside the main building complex of the estate, the Seneschal and the men and women under her work through the cold afternoon. It is easier to tell their profession from their garments; Brother Lawspeaker and the teachers wear formal brown Brethren robes. Brother Apothecary and Sister Surgeon wear long white aprons over tunics and britches. Brother Baker, being the hands-on sort, wears something similar as he pitches in alongside the kitchen serfs. Brother Smith, by contrast, is happy to oversee and review the work of the younger Brethren under him and the forge serfs.
Across from the forge are the stables and the powerful destriers ridden by the Brethren. Post-war equines, they have all the bulk of a pre-war plough horse with the proportions of a racer. Sister Farrier looks after them, though they are hardy animals not much in need of care, having developed a larger, stronger hoof that rarely needs to be shod.

In a squat building off the serf barracks, the laundry is being done. The serfs give up their clothes for fresh ones, yet to be stained by the weeks work. The washing is done in great cauldrons, made foamy with pre-war washing powder – an increasingly rare commodity, though enterprising individuals in London have started to try and produce their own soap, even if it has so far proven to be frequently low quality.

Freshly dressed, the serfs collect mess tins and cutlery, and then tramp towards the food hall.  The dining room in the main manor is set for dinner, with a varied collection of pre-war enamelware and porcelain. Any complete dinner services are carefully hoarded and a complete tea set can fetch a hefty price in the London markets, as can the tea itself.

The serfs and Brethren from the fields come in for dinner in the gathering dusk. The guards on the outposts have been relived by freshly-fed men and women. Both groups eat similar meals; vegetable stews and bread, both from the fields of the estate.  The difference between to two meals lies in quality. Serfs have coarse bread and somewhat oily stews. The manor is lucky enough to have an old Nutrient Preparation machine which, when supplied with organic material, spits out squares of tasteless beige foam apparently offering half the necessary minerals, proteins, vitamins and suchlike needed for a human adult.  The Brethren have bread made of fine, export grade flour with fresh butter. The stew might, perhaps once or so a week, have a little meat in it.

Both butter and beef come from the animals of the estate, of which there are a few, for the crops are the priority of the Brethren.  The cattle are divided into Milchers for dairy produce and the Oxoes which are raised for meat. As with the Destriers, the two breeds have had their bred-for traits exaggerated by the effects of the Atomic Wars. Pigs either come in the docile and placid Field-Pig or Snuffler and the Hedge-Pig or Tusker. The Hedge-Pig is a spiny, hostile, heavily tusked beast, and is hunted by the Brethren in the game of ‘Pigsticking’.  Such game must be carefully checked for taint before consumption. Chickens, however, are still chickens.

Midway through the meal, the Warden and his riders return from their progress. They’ve been riding the bounds of lands around the estate, checking in on the extra-mural communities and free serfs. They were long coats of waxed cotton and wide hats to keep off the rain. Their destriers are swiftly stabled and the tables set for them. The Warden takes his meal with the Castellan and the Seneschal in the Council Chamber; somewhat antisocial, if common enough when business must be discussed.  
After dinner, serfs and Brethren retire. The serfs often live in the longhouses in the Barracks; crowded places, which families or individuals will divide up into sections with curtains and partitions. Some serfs reside in shacks out on such scrubland as exists in the bounds of the estate, created with materials purchased by an extended indenture. Some of these have been long occupied by serf families who have never quite paid off their indentures.

The Brethren occupy their own chambers in the manor. Families will have perhaps two rooms to themselves for parents and children. Young men and women will often sleep two or three to a chamber in gender-segregated rooms. The rooms of the Three Officers – Seneschal, Warden and Castellan – have attached studies to them and are perhaps the most luxurious in the house.
On the subject of plumping, water must be drawn from the well and purified in great boilers in the kitchens, then taken to the rooms for washing using jugs and washbasins. Within the manor, chamberpots are the rule. Without, outhouses and the like are usual. Long tubs are provided for the serfs for washing once or so a week.

Such a washing will take place in the morning; for tomorrow is to be an occasion. The clean clothes of the serfs are the best they possess as Sunday best. The Brethren, by contrast have a number of options. While the long robes they wear will do for formal ceremonies, this is a party. A number of the young Brothers and Sisters from a nearby manor are to visit for a dance, and this will allow pleasant conversation, meetings between young men and women and all the other benefits of social interaction. The journey between the two manors is not a hard or dangerous one, but the some of the Warden’s rangers are now monitoring the route, hard men and women in camouflage ponchos with rifles, knifes and silent, deadly longbows.

Those Brethren lucky enough to own pre-war suits or gowns will don them. Those without wear clothes of good broadcloth from the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush in London. Such new suits tend to lack lapels or ties. Many layers are general; waistcoats and jackets, for central heating is by no means guaranteed. They have britches and boots cut for riding rather than slacks and dress shoes. Such apparel is like to remind the historian of 18th century costume, but emphasising athleticism and the equestrian and worn (especially by the young twenty-something’s) by both sexes. Post-bomb gowns are not unknown, though they are worn mostly by pregnant women who would find britches uncomfortable or (presumably once-pregnant) matrons who have not the years or will to ride.
The serfs are allowed to share in this endeavour. They will prepare a meal for the visitors and make up the guest rooms in the attic. This done, their own party is put into place: an Oxo is roasted on the spit. There will likewise be dancing and this manor is lucky enough to have serfs with handed-down instruments.   In imitation of the Brethren and the hunting-fishing – riding-shooting they enjoy, feats of strength and aggression such as boxing, wrestling and the quarterstaff will take place. This is frequently betted on by the serfs, using the stamped tin exchange tokens issued at the discretion of individual Brothers and Sisters. Such a token may be exchanged for goods or time of the indenture with the Seneschal. It is quite worthless otherwise.  Such gambling is frequently monitored by the Brethren. A few talented and abstemious prizefighters have made enough in their time to pay off the indenture, but this is difficult and having left the protection of the Brethren they must leave their friends and families to go into unfamiliar and hostile surroundings.

The Brethren that arrive will be greeted with that most precious of drinks: tea! This will have come from the Gardeners of Kew at great cost. Alcoholic beverages will be served throughout the evening; cider from the orchards, beer from the Fisher Kingdoms via London and spirits. Wine is uncommon, as is whisky. Pre-war liquor can be most valuable. Most manors distil some form of rotgut for the serfs – generally of a sort safe to drink; unapproved distilling could result in stuff of unknown potency and toxicity. The serfs drink grog that at least won’t send you blind. A few talented serfs have made themselves important and comparatively wealthy by brewing concoctions actually derisible for their taste, making a form of gin from such botanicals as available. The Brethren, naturally, love it.

With such fuel, the night looks to be good one; the few tapes the Seneschal has of dance music will be played, the old piano wheeled out and the talented induced to sing. A splendid time is anticipated.  The next such event will be a Yuletide, in the Festival of Darkness on the Earth. This has rather more spiritual significance to it; Brother Lawspeaker will draw marks in soot and ash upon the faces of the Brethren prior to the Rising of the Sun. The Seneschal is already worrying about parts for the Mystery Play; Brother Alfred and Sister Gytha will doubtless once again play Brontologion and Pyrologion, the Spirits of the Bomb, but who is to play the doddering, short-sighted City Father?
At the end of the night, couples will have slipped away. Serf must barter or blag their way into free spaces and alcoves for privacy and perhaps intimacy; some enterprising individuals rent out their shacks for a fee. Chaperonage, largely unofficial, is rather better known among the Brethren. Nevertheless, a stroll in the moonlight is not frowned upon. The use of unoccupied rooms by the young is common enough. However, to ride out of the manor is foolish at best and drastically irresponsible and culpable at worst.

Marriages may be conducted with pomp among the Brethren or perfunctory ceremony by the Castellan among the serfs. Children among the former will tend to have an established and recorded surname; among the latter they tend to take patro- or matro-nymics depending on circumstances and preference. Contraception is largely unknown or inaccessible.

Thus it continues, this strange admixture of cultures: a Late Medieval level of resources with anachronistic 20th and 21st century features with something like an Early Modern result. 

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