That wonderful, weird and wacky Winter Watch, by Maria Owen

Maria Owen has kindly shared her tale of the much loved Winter Watch parade.  Here it is….

That wonderful, weird and wacky Winter Watch

It’s that time of year again when things go a bit strange in Chester’s streets. The Winter Watch Parade is a spectacle of weird, wacky and slightly Gothic characters drawn from the myths, legends and imaginations of past and present. Its origins date from Medieval times, when the City Watch – early bobbies – ensured that the city was safe from intruders, in readiness for the Christmas festivities. Once the Watch had ensured the city’s safety, parading and banqueting began in earnest.  These days, it’s more a celebration of the Winter Solstice than Christmas, as there’s a notable absence of anything biblical going on here. A local Christian group always makes their point by holding placards bearing quotes from the Bible, watching with dour faces as this loud and animated parade of skeletons, devils, jesters, Victorian cooks and other bizarre characters thumps, dances and shouts its way past them. However, for those of us who take part, and for most of the spectators, the Winter Watch is unashamed fun!

I’ve been taking part in the Watch Parades for a few years now and am a bit blasé with the dressing up and the face painting and the stomping through streets to the tribal-esque beat of our local samba band. I absolutely love it, but my long-suffering other half still doesn’t get it.  ‘You’ve got to be a bit odd to do that – you know, a bit eccentric. You’d never get me doing it’. I suggest that he might enjoy it if he gave it a go. ‘No way! I’m not that daft’. ‘You calling me daft?’ He’s digging a bottomless pit here.

It has to be said that explaining the Watch Parade to folk who’ve never heard of it, as well as those who know about it and think it’s all a bit crazy, can cause confusion and some odd conversations. On the night of the first parade, last Thursday, I stayed behind after work to apply face paint in readiness for my transformation into the Partridge in a Pear Tree. Emerging from the Ladies with a face full of twigs and leaves, I wandered back through the office to collect my coat. Our open plan office, normally a sea of heads and PC monitors, was now occupied by just a few scattered staff. One or two glanced up as I went past, before resuming normal business. One colleague was curious enough to ask the obvious, to which I replied that I was in the Winter Watch Parade. Blank but curious stare. ‘Noisy Christmas Parade through town?’ I added. ‘I’m the Partridge in a Pear Tree, and my manager is serving up Christmas Dinner’. He’s puzzled now. ‘Oh… where are you having your Christmas dinner?’ Me: ‘No! No! I mean, she’s a Victorian cook in the parade, serving up a severed head on a platter!’ He’s amused but baffled now and a brief explanation is called for. Suitably intrigued, he promises to take a look at the parade on its second trip next Thursday.

5.45pm and it was time to go and join the rest of the participants and collect my outfit, which consists of an enormous jangly tree attached to a robust backpack affair. It’s lightweight enough to bop around in to ‘animate the character’, but can be tricky in windy weather. Thankfully Thursday was cool and dry, but calm!  The height of my tree means ducking a bit to ensure none of its lofty branches attach themselves to the festive garlands on the way out to the Square. With just enough space between the stalls of the Christmas Market, and the temporary removal of the bollards, we emerged onto the main route and were off! Plenty of camera wielding folk lined the streets, though the second week is always busier, being closer to Christmas.  As always, the placard carriers were in position on The Cross, and a car alarm blared at us as we passed the parked cars in Bridge Street. For some reason, there’s always at least one alarm trying to compete with the Samba Band!

All over, and it’s back to base to de-tree and adjourn to a nearby hostelry for removal of face and to enjoy a well-deserved beverage or two. We are met by more colleagues who’ve served in a more official capacity, like coordinating, stewarding and removing bollards. Bollards!! (A silly but long-standing joke in the office). My other half joins us, and is, as ever, ribbed for not taking part in the parade himself. ‘Oh, no way! You have to be a bit loopy to do that, you know, a bit crazy….. ’ Familiar words. He’s been in this well-dug hole before.

Maria Owen Dec 2014

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