How to be civil in a Civil War? Always have a lemon drizzle cake to hand…

When was the last time you smacked your funny bone? That’s an unfair question really, as I can’t remember when I last did it. Maybe you did it last week though. Or yesterday. There might even be someone reading these words right now and they are just about to reach out for a cup of tea and – wallop – the sharp edge of a table or chair goes right into their elbow joint.

I could write anything now, as they won’t be reading this at all. They will be grabbing their elbow instead, which will be fizzing with pain. The pain will slowly grow and steadily move up their forearm and into their fingertips. It will feel as though their entire arm has been attacked by twenty crazed cheese graters. Their face will be screwed up in agony and they will be attempting to recite all of the known swear words in the English language. Plus a few unknown ones too, for good effect.

There is one thing that is certain though: funny bones are anything but funny. Funny bones don’t tell hilarious anecdotes. Funny bones don’t play the make-yourself-dizzy game and then fall headfirst into a hedge. That is funny. So why are they called funny bones? Surely they should be called agony bones or arrrggghhh bones.

There are plenty of other things like this. The Pacific Ocean is regularly far from pacific, so it should strictly be renamed The Very Wobbly Ocean. Panama hats should be called Ecuador hats, as they were originally an Ecuadorian export. Spaghetti Bolognese, in my opinion, should be renamed Spaghetti Yuk and a Bank Holiday Monday in Britain should be known as Official Umbrella Day.

Also included in this category of misnomers should be the Civil War. Unless you class blasting cannon balls at maximum velocity at everyone’s heads as a pleasant activity, it was anything but civil.

For the civil war to be genuinely classed as civil, before any battle takes place, the opposing sides should be making polite conversation about their muskets, what ammunition they favour and discussing whether a bombardment or the starving of a garrison stronghold is the more effective tactic. All conducted over a nice hot steaming cup of tea of course, with a few homemade cakes within arm’s reach, for maximum civility.

When those topics have been exhausted, they would then move on to conducting a heated debate over which side should fire the first cannon. And in this case, all a ‘heated debate’ would entail is an endless cycle of, ‘After you… No, I insist, after you… Oh that is awfully kind, but please, be my guest…’

Imagine a Parliamentarian and a Royalist approaching each other. In a proper civil war, this is what would happen:

‘Now that’s an impressive musket, dear boy.’
‘Why thank you Sir, I just cleaned it this morning. I had a little trouble with the… er, hold on, are you for the King?’
‘Why yes I am! That’s very good of you to notice. And you must be a Roundhead?’
‘I certainly am. It’s the uniform that gives it away isn’t it? I say old bean, I couldn’t bother you to stand still for a moment whilst I shoot you?’
‘Most certainly, I’d be honoured. But please, let me save you the effort. I shall shoot myself!’
‘Well that’s awfully kind of you, but you really don’t need to. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we nip inside for a quick cup of tea to discuss the issue instead? There’s a fresh lemon drizzle waiting too.’
‘Lemon drizzle! Oh how wonderful, my favourite, thank you. So, have you heard the news? We’ve got a few thousand men hidden behind those bushes…’

Sadly though, the civil war wasn’t like that at all. It was all full of murder and killing and blood spurting. But a recently viewed document makes it all seem rather pleasant.

The document [ref: D1245/FF76] is a watercolour picture painted in 1786 of a country house surrounded by Civil War fortifications. It is entitled “North View of Phyllis Court house during the time of the Civil War” and was copied from an original that was found under panelling of the house in the painting. This copy is inscribed to Strickland Freeman, the owner of Phyllis Court at the time, and is part of the Strickland family of Deerhurst collection held by Gloucestershire Archives.

Civil war

‘North View of Phyllis Court house during the time of the Civil War’ – ref: D1245/FF76

Although the painting shows the type of fortifications used during the Civil War, it’s the style of the image that is most striking. It’s almost cartoon like in its depiction of the soldiers going about their routine patrols or manning the deadly cannons above the heavily spiked walls of the defences.

The colours are bright and cheerful, the soldiers appear content and happy in their work and the large house behind them looks very welcoming, with smoke billowing out of various chimneys. It evokes images of reclining in comfortable chairs next to the warmth of a cosy fireplace, all set within the charms of a peaceful and calm woodland, with flocks of birds flying around above them.

But the oddest thing is to be seen when looking at the drawbridge and entrance to the fort. There, stood next to one of the soldiers, and dressed in the same uniform, is a smaller person who only reaches the height of the larger soldier’s waist.

It must surely be a child, which is the last thing I would expect to see in a drawing of the Civil War. It begs the question just what they were doing there, and why did the artist include them in the painting?

We may never know the answers, but maybe, at this place at least, the Civil War really was civil, and even children were permitted to play around in the fortifications.

Until they accidentally smacked their funny bone on one of the spikes, and then ran off in great pain, never to return.


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