Dr Neil Rhind AKA Samnogamus Perygyll de Cluaracaun de Guelph, amateur ethnologist and Group Organiser of the Beltane 2016 Faerie Porters, explains the presence of The Neep (AKA a turnip, professional foodstuff and prop of the Beltane 2016 Faerie Porters) in the Porters’ pre-festival activities in the form of an interview that never took place. Almost a month after the event, this information is finally released to the public. Caveat lector…
Interviewer: Good evening, Samnogamus Perygyll de Cluaracaun de Guelph. Or can I call you Sam?
I: Good evening, Samnogamus. And thank you for coming along today.
S: My pleasure.
I: Now, the reason we wanted to talk to you today is because some unusual photographs have come into our possession which raise some interesting questions…
S: That girl was treated humanely, and the donkey was over eighteen.
I: …Photographs of some unusually dressed people, including yourself, cavorting on the Grassmarket with an unidentified vegetable, believed to have been taken around mid day on the 30th of April. What we want to know is… Why?
S: Good question. We couldn’t do it any earlier, because we were meeting the Lord Provost of Edinburgh at Greyfriar’s kirk. We even missed the Incorporated Trades at Mary Erskine’s grave just to make the Grassmarket for twelve.
I: Interesting, but what puzzled us wasn’t so much the timing…
S: Well, the reason we chose the Grassmarket is that it’s Edinburgh’s premier Event Space. It even says so on its Wikipedia page, and we had signs with us to prove it. There have been markets there for at least five hundred and fifty years, not to mention public executions.
I: Public executions?
S: I asked you not to mention them. And that was before the council spend five million pounds on a recent makeover. But that wasn’t the main reason we were there.
S: Well of course, as you know, we are Fairies, and one of the surest facts about our kind is that on the quarter days – Beltane, Lammas, Samhuinn and Candlemas – the Fairies walk the roads weighed down by our possessions, moving house between our seasonal homes. The Grassmarket is simply the place we moved into on Samhuinn, so we had to walk from there to Calton hill to move in before Beltane sunset.
I: Ah, that explains the giant mushroom in a wheelbarrow.
S: Does it? Well I’m glad something does.
I: So you were packing for the move, and I assume had trouble fitting the unidentified vegetable in your luggage…
S: No, no, no. As I say, we had a long journey ahead of us, all the way from the Grassmarket to Calton Hill. There was some disagreement as to what was the shortest route – via the Meadows, or Dean Village, or the summit of Arthur’s Seat – but we all knew it would be a tiring day, so warmed up our spirits with a traditional ball game first.
I: Ball game? From the photographs it looks quite chaotic. One of the fairies appears to be playing snooker, while another is dancing an Argentinian tango…
S: It’s not football as you know it. But it’s an ancient and well loved game, nonetheless. Variations are played up and down this island and beyond, where whole towns unite to score a single goal and there are generally no more rules than that.
I: Ah, like in Unseen Academicals.
S: I was thinking more of Scone. Or Orkney, where the Kirkwall Ba’ is kicked clear across town by more than three hundred locals. Or Jedburgh, or Roxburgh, Duns…
I: I’ve not seen any of those on Sportscene. Are they part of the Premiere League?
S: No, they’re one off games held on special days. Different dates for different towns, but generally Christmas or New Year. In our case, New Year is Beltane.
I: It’s like a party game?
S: No, no. In the words of Jock Stein, football’s not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that. Dr Emily Lyle of Edinburgh University – one of those Academicals you mentioned, and now I think of it it’s been a while since I seen her – has a theory that the game’s all to do with sharing luck as well as celebration. It’s as if there’s only so much good fortune to go round in the year ahead, so different factions compete to get more of the luck when it comes. That’s why the teams tend to be split by area and so occupation, with folk from the shore, fisher folk, playing folk from inland, farm folk, and so on.
I: And how did the Fairies split? Good Fairies vs Bad Fairies?
S: Don’t be Seelie. We didn’t split at all.
I: The how does someone win?
S: They don’t. Why take someone’s luck away from them? Much as the Association of Autonomous Astronaut’s Three-Sided football is designed to demonstrate the nature of class warfare and disrupt the capitalist ideology of the Beautiful Game, the Fairy form of Grassmarket ba’ represents a post-scarcity utopia of socialist libertarianism.
I: And the “ba’” itself, what does it represent? Seeing as it’s a vegetable.
S: Oh, the ball is fairly irrelevant. The Kirkwall Ba’ uses a leather ball. The Jethart Ba’ uses an Englishman’s head, although lately they’ve went leather too, for some reason. The Gloucester Cheese Rolling is really just a game of ba’ with only one team and a ball made of cheese.
I: So the vegetable wasn’t symbolic?
S: No, it was a Neep.
I: A what?
S: A turnip.
I: But did it stand for anything?
S: No, it tended to roll away. Makes for a good ball. That, and you can eat it afterwards.
I: And did you?
S: No, I went to the Sheep’s Heid Inn in Duddingston for a more civilized meal. After the game we gave the neep to a mortal passing by as a prize for identifying us. We were pushing our mushroom up the Royal Mile and someone turned to his companion and said “It’s only some Beltaners.” So we awarded him a Neep in recognition.
I: Was he pleased with his Neep?
S: He said “Thanks, I know a Vegan.” Clearly a charitable soul.
I: Thankyou Samnogamus, this has been most enlightening.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this interview, for God’s sake don’t tell Dr Neil Rhind, or he’ll spout amateur ethnology at you.
Photo of a Faerie Porter (not Dr Rhind) with The Neep, by Martin McCarthy