In the Name of – Part 02
Real people have archenemies too. Mine is a nemesis vanquished by my ancestors. Killing dragons with might and intelligence is one thing, but the inherent mastery over a particular species of animals is another. The Saint Patrick snake allegory is apocryphal – the ice age being responsible for the lack of snakes in Ireland – but consider the proof for the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The German legend is of a town overrun by rats in 1284 whose Mayor flippantly offered to pay a travelling piper, dressed in multicoloured pied clothing, who claimed to be able to rid them of the vermin single-handed. The Piper then enchanted the rats with his pipe-playing and led them all into the Weser river. When the Mayor refused to pay the Piper he returned to the town with great vengeance and furious anger before turning his magical pipe on the town’s children and leading them away to the mountains, never to be seen again.
Just a fairytale? In was in 1300, give or take, that a stained glass window was installed in Hamelin Church depicting the events. The church was destroyed in 1660, but a detailed copy of this has survived. And then the earliest written record of events is from the Hamelin town chronicles, in an entry from 1384, which states: It is 100 years since our children left.
And so we finally come to my ancestors who, like Thomas Unsworth and the Pied Piper before him, rode into a small hamlet in Northumberland to find that the place was overrun and the locals were being terrorised. Not by rats this time, and not by dragons either, but a much more frivolous monster. Pigs. Lots of pigs. Wild boar to be precise and my family gained local fame by coming to the rescue.
And so, from my ancestors, I get my name; from the Old English, meaning one who tricked and enchanted the wild boars into drowning in the river. I may be a vegetarian, but I’m haunted by the sins of the fathers, being the last in a long line of pig murderers.
They were heroes. Two villages are now named after them to this day. I know this as I’ve been there. They were given their just desserts, without the need for retribution. I should probably be the King of there now, or something, but there was no tickertape parade for me. They vanquished the evil pigs and gained wealth and celebrity whilst I have enough trouble just trying to get my own money out of my own building society.
That couldn’t exactly be described as warm, welcoming, and customer friendly as from outside the cashiers are concealed from view in a building with darkened windows which make it always appear as if the lights are off and that there’s no-one home. On one visit, when I’d successfully navigated their heavy fortifications, in desperate need of withdrawing some money to prop up my ailing bank account, robbing Peter to pay Paul, they actually tried to guilt-trip me by asking me if I really wanted to take some money out. The answer was yes, obviously, as I’d gone all the way there especially to do so.
On another occasion I had the man behind the glass tell me that the driving licence I’d proffered for photo ID was out of date. I umm’ed and ahh’ed, hardly grateful for this none-news, as after all I wasn’t trying to use it as a driving licence. As I just stood there he then repeated this, as if I were somehow stupid and hadn’t understood him first time around.
“My face is still the same”, I told him. “I haven’t changed it recently”. In reality I don’t think I’ve changed my appearance since I was five.
A blonde woman appeared to back the man up, perhaps worried I was about to kick off and go postal, and I explained the above to her in clear and concise language, as if they were stupid.
Na-Na-Na-Na-Not listening! was effectively her reply. No bank would take this as proof of ID, she said, and my face was no longer any good and they weren’t allowed to even so much as look at the picture. Last year it was perfectly good, but now Father Time has stolen my identity and somewhere he’s off using it to buy cigarettes, cider, and to rent Robocop from the local library.
Another visit saw them fob me off with some such guff about their machines not working and they directed me to another branch. I ended up having to go all the way to the one in Manchester. The next time I returned with my begging bowl they again made excuses to try and hold on to my money by demanding to see extra signed identification from me because of “suspicious activity” on my account as they’d detected that someone had been withdrawing money from another branch.
Despite trying to explain all this to the woman behind an inch of plate-glass she told me that all this was “for my own protection”, but seeing I was taking money out as a cheque in my own name I guess it was only really saving me from my local namesakes: the cage fighter and the gay air steward.
Admittedly if either of them were set on a life of crime, despite the fact that they’re the one’s holding down proper jobs, and they had mastered my signature, and they had got hold of my pass-book, then yes all this kafuffle would have prevented this perfect crime.
When I read stories in the local paper of people going into my building society, possibly mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore, and then holding the place up; well I certainly couldn’t condone their actions, but you can see where they’re coming from, can’t you?
It’s all a bit of a comedown for a fabled pig killer of legend. I don’t even like going into a butchers so I guess I’m the weak link in the family tree. Whether this story is true or not. Say what you like about Saint George and his fairytale yet according to the BBC’s Domesday Project interviews with local Unsworth people showed belief in their dragon. Maybe the nineteen-eighties were a simpler, happier time.
In researching the dragon I turned up a book from the eighteen-eighties – The Parochial Registers Preservation Bill, 1882: The Preservation of Parish Registers – whose author travelled to the Bury area and described witnessing not just the dragon-carved oak table in the Unsworth family, but all FOUR carvings that were produced. Ignoring the table he made drawings of the other three, now preserved for posterity, so at last the Unsworth Dragon from history is revealed to us.
The school-taught destruction of the carved table, not mentioned anywhere else, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny when at the flick of a switch I can now pull up the whole cargo inventory for the RMS Titanic to find lots of odd things from shelled walnuts and hosiery, to tennis balls and hairnets, but absolutely no tables. So I can now begin to believe that maybe it’s still out there, somewhere, which is more than can be said of the locals interviewed in 1986, those with faith in their local dragon, as they also went on to speculate that possibly it could actually only have been a wolf, perhaps a bear, or maybe just a wild boar.
Again with the wild boar appearing in my life. Is it a coincidence that I’ve ended up living down the road from the site of my ancestral nemesis’ lair? Every dog has his day though and perhaps, with frequent news reports these days of captive farmed boar escaping into the wild and forming breeding colonies, it’s now time for me to take a stand.
Maybe I’ve inherited the genetic traits to charm them out of the forest, maybe I can speak boar, or maybe the whole story’s all just one big fairytale. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never so much as seen one; they’re thought to have gone extinct from Britain in the thirteenth century. The same time, I note, when the Piper was ripping up Medieval Hamelin. The same time, I also note, as the first recorded incidence of my surname.
King James the first tried to reintroduce the wild boar in Windsor Park during the seventeenth century; latterly so did his son Charles in the New Forrest. These and all future attempts in the eighteenth and nineteenth century failed, and Charles ended up having his head cut off, although I’m not sure the two events are linked. Who can say what role subsequent generations of my ancestors had to play in any of this, protecting the country from the tyranny of the wild boar, like Asterix and Obelix.
But now they’re back. And ready to step up and do my duty I stand shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts of my ancestors as I go into battle; the family motto as our battle cry – semel et semper – which, in this day and age of prominent historical celebrity child abuse cases, translates from the original Latin as: “Just like the Pied Piper except we never touched any of the kids”.