When festivals, gigs, theatres and pubs are taken away, merry-making always go underground, writes Tom Hodgkinson
Last Friday evening I was sitting in the back yard with a bottle of Doom Bar when my peace was disturbed by the sound of a helicopter above. The machine seemed to be hovering directly above my head. It stayed there for about four hours, making an infernal racket, and only buzzed off at midnight.
The next day we discovered that the police had been breaking up a party being held in the car park of the estate next door (a council estate, not an aristocratic one).
I will not make a judgement on whether or not the cost of a police helicopter was justified as I do not know all the facts. However, the incident did make me reflect that when our usual forms of merriment – festivals, nightclubs, raves, pubs, theatres, gigs – are taken away, then the merry-making always goes underground. One obvious example would be Prohibition in the States, and the esteemed Ronald Hutton tells us that when Christmas was banned by the Puritans in the 1640s, hardcore revellers organized their own illegal Christmas parties. There were riots. Prof Hutton also says that while the early Church was against partying and sensual pleasure, the ecclesiastical leaders of the later Middle Ages actually encouraged dancing and boozing because they believed such merry-making brought communities together. The Church leaders also made money out of selling the beer – money which was used to build further churches. It was a win-win situation.
In recent weeks, illegal parties or “quarantine raves” have been popping up in warehouses, parks and even under motorway bridges in scenes reminiscent of 1989, as Sheryl Garratt’s excellent piece on the subject in the Guardian describes. And that is obviously because everything has been cancelled. It’s a bit like what Aldous Huxley said about rock ‘n’ roll. When the usual opportunities for dancing and getting into an intoxicated state are taken away by the authorities, the young people invent their own – and that is what rock ’n’ roll was all about, he reckoned.
Or, to put it another way, you’ve got to fight for your right to party.
We love being merry. When Charles II came back to the throne he was nicknamed “the merry monarch” because he wanted people to have fun again after the austere and bleak years of the Interregnum.
The Idler Festival at Fenton House, always a very merry occasion, would have taken place this weekend and will be back next year. In the meantime, our merry-making has gone electric: the Idler’s Thursday evening Zoom events are filling a gap and have the advantage of being free and available to everyone regardless of location.
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