Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Thumbs Up For Tattershall Tom

A bear hug for you all this Folklore Thursday!

First off, a thank you to all who came to the Waverley in Edinburgh a week ago today for our Scottish debut, where we got away with doing Molly Whuppie with all the accents. Maybe a Thursday lunchtime isn't the best time for any kind of gig, but we were outnumbered by the audience, which is some kind of achievement at the Edinburgh Fringe.

We have exciting plans for Halloween and Xmas in Bath, and three interesting shows coming up in September: candlelit folk evenings in the North Somerset area, as you can see from our LIVE page – but we do have yet to confirm a Welsh date for this year, and having performed in England, Kernow and Scotland, we INSIST on a gig in Wales before 2019, so if anyone out there has any ideas, and fancies a storytelling session, PLEASE get in touch! Or we'll be busking in Cardiff's Millennium Centre…

Now – if you want a folktale involving teeth and bodyparts, fitting today's Folklore Thursday theme, it can only be the nasty tale of SIGURD'S HOWE and the disembodied head whose big teeth gnawed him to death… but, well, we've done that one, so if it's bodyparts you're after, how about we finally cover one of England's finest folktale heroes, with a THUMB?

Most of our 77 tales were discovered by us anew, and we felt they were worth reviving – the adventures of Tom Thumb were thoroughly soaked into us from childhood, both from books and one very evocative talking book which we're unlikely ever to hear again. But it was a great pleasure to rediscover his biography, and retell it for a new generation – from his parents' lamenting a lack of a child, through to his ennoblement with a pin by by King Henry VIII.

And as our book provides tourist guides for every one of our stories, Tom Thumb has been a particularly pleasing one to add, because although there have been a few people of smaller stature to use the Tom Thumb name in history, the Lincolnshire village of Tattershall really went for it, and declared themselves the true birthplace of the real Tom Thumb. If you look to the roof of this building below, you can even see the little fellow's home…

And there in the Holy Trinity church, is Sir Tom's grave marker – though no archaeologist has yet dared disturb his bones and find out if there really is a thumb-sized skeleton in a matchbox under the flagstones…

One thing the book's editor did point out was a preponderence of poo in Tales of Britain, which we did go some way to reduce – it never struck us as an over-abundance, and certainly wasn't a tiresome attempt to add extra scatology 'for boys' – that kind of gendered nonsense is a real bete noir, as if only male kids enjoy a bit of bogey-flicking, and as if they only respond to that kind of writing. But poo, and indeed sick, do play crucial parts in Tom's journey from bullied little schoolboy to royal servant, and you'll find all that filthy business intact in our retelling – it's not a tale you'd want to read while having your tea. Especially if you're having salmon and peanuts followed by plum pudding. 

We're still awaiting a release date for the book, and it feels like soon we will have blogged about every single one of our 77 stories. But as collecting and reviving these dusty old tales has now become a lifetime's job, don't worry, this campaign is a journey we have only just started to take. Thumb a lift. (Sorry.)


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