This is the first of a series of interviews with event stewards.
Who are yer?
I’m the Honourable Lord Guy de Dinan, a 15th century Breton seeing out his retirement in the university town of Cambridge circa 1473, and serial offender in the organising game, currently the seneschal of Insulae Draconis.
So, what got you into running an event then?
Well, back in the mists of time, I organised a wargames show, aged 14, and have been creating events ever since. With the SCA, it was a case of beefing up local socials in Thamesreach into revels and getting more confident in using the many local venues around the city.
How early into your SCA membership did you start?
Pretty early. Viscountess Constanza and I lived fairly close to the regular Thamesreach revel venue – a community hall in Islington – and it made sense to be the point of contact for that venue. At first it was hit and miss, we sometimes had a poor turnout – 2 to 3 people in a hall – but sometimes, we would see 30 to 40, depending on the activities.
What is your idea of a perfect event?
One that does not try to do too much. A weekend event is in reality just the Saturday for activities, so carting yourself across half of Europe only to spend it in peerage meetings is a waste of money and time. Similarly, know what is happening with a schedule and a meal plan/feast menu published as early as possible will make for a more relaxed event. I want to come away from an event energised by seeing friends, accomplished from participating in activities whether that’s archery, fighting or crafting, and full of tasty tasty food and drink.
What do you enjoy the most about running events?
A sense of adding to our community. The SCA has events at its core, so creating opportunities for great and small gatherings is like having a successful house party.
Improvisation is an art, what is the craziest/funniest situation you have faced when things got sketchy?
Two come to mind. The “kitchen” at Lunt Fort which turned out to be nothing more than a kettle and a work-surface, the venue staff eating nowt but pot-noodles. This led to a hurried borrowing of a microwave, a camping two-ring gas stove, and myself and Lady Eleynora de Allesleye cooking at her house until 3am the night before. We still delivered an 11-dish Roman feast for 35 people.
The second insanity-level sketchy moment was the feast at the Merchant’s House in Warre, Hertfordshire. HL Amphelise and I were cooking for a Thamesreach-On-Tour Revel and had been assured that the kitchen was equipped. We had done some prep at my flat, and one of the pie dishes was still too hot to handle when the taxi showed up. I used my heavy-duty frying pan as a cradle to carry it. Just as well, as we turned up to find that the kitchen had crockery and cutlery, but no pots and pans. Some very rapid re-arrangements of the schedule, as well as adaptations of recipes from stove-top to oven, and stewing to frying occurred. The only complaint we got was there weren’t enough sauces for the meat dishes. Funny that, without a saucepan in sight.
Early feast or late feast?
This is a difficult one. An early feast at lunchtime is a lot more inclusive for day-trippers and certainly allows for post-feast activities. If the food is the focus of the event, an early feast is especially effective. I am often too full/merry to dance in the evening, but on balance I prefer a late feast. For the cooks, it means a longer preparation time is available, and for the guests, it is a capstone to the day of activity. I would not want all events to have a late feast, the options either approach create variety and benefits, so if you’re pondering this as an event steward, go with your gut (pun intended) and what is best for the flow of your event.
Who does the washing up?
The mad dashes to the kitchen after a feast are an epitome of gallantry, and our Royals are often found working in the kitchen as we are that considerate a Kingdom and Principality. However, I would strongly urge an event steward to appoint a clean-up gangmaster as soon as convenient before the event. Close liaison with the cooks, and an understanding of the kitchen and facilities is a must. The best scenarios I have seen are when the kitchens are big enough to have one or two volunteers dedicated to cleaning pots and pans as the preparation for the food is ongoing. Often a feast cook has paid as much money as the guests at an event to stay in the kitchen for most of it. I think this is unfair, and especially unfair if the feast cook is having to clean up. The other washing up peeve I have is provision for guests to wash up their crockery. Please make sure you know where you are putting the washing up point in advance, not as an after-thought. Also, make sure your clean up crew know to regularly change the water, I have gone and washed my plates in the gents due to cold, murky rinse-water too many times.
What three tips or tricks do you have for your beginner self?
A) Plan early and talk to people. Pull your event team together early and meet often – KU2020 online was ready to roll a month early and our team meetings were mainly updates and banter. There have been one or two events when I burned myself out at the last minute trying to cover off tasks that were not anticipated or forgotten. Make sure your team understand what and why you are asking for them to do something, and check in on them regularly. If someone’s gone quiet on you, don’t wait, just ask if they’re okay and how you can help them. This is a game, and real life is always the priority. Say thank you a lot more than you think you are doing.
B) There is no such thing as too much publicity. People need to plan time off for events, and beat the travel price rises. Everyone has different interests and expectations, so use your event components as a focus for publicity. That feast menu is a big draw to getting people to lick their lips, or anticipate allergy issues. Tournaments, competitions, classes, they are all hooks to hang your messages on. Don’t rely on Facebook alone – that’s burned past-me a few times. Make sure your website has up to date information.
C) Pace yourself. You too are a volunteer and here to enjoy the SCA. It is not a job. It is good for learning and you pick up a lot of organisational skills you can take elsewhere, but there are only so many weekends in a year. People do not want to see you fail, and are willing to step in to help out – just let them know in advance!
Do you have any events lined up this year?
Organising them, no. Being Seneschal is eating an awful lot of my time, and I will be needing a bit of a break afterwards, but I can see myself helping run some events here and there, especially in support of our smaller branches wishing to put something on to attract new people. I’ll be attending events here and there too, the next one being Bourn Again at the end of May in Flintheath.