An e-mail correspondence over the past couple of days with the painter Graham Ward has raised issues of Green Men and their like. Which brings me back to Tretower and how I kept myself occupied while spending long days in that tiny custodian’s hut.
Before I met Peter, after which time with his encouragement I began to draw and paint in my ticket-seller’s shed at Tretower, I made masks. I first modelled them in clay. Then my friend Derek, the retired custodian of Treower who lived with his wife Pat in a pretty little bungalow next to the monument, made fibreglass moulds of the clay originals in his workshop. When a mould was ready, I’d oil the inside and layer into it brown paper gum-strip torn into tiny pieces and moistened on a wet sponge. As the gum-strip dried it formed a thin, hard laminate that took every last detail of the mould. After being eased free from the fibreglass the mask would be gessoed and gilded, or brushed with pastes of metal powders and pigment to mimic bronze or corroded iron. For some I made crowns of paper laminate leaves… again from moulds provided by Derek… and these were bound and glued to wires that in turn were wrapped with damp gum-strip and attached to the masks. I made ‘green man’ masks and funeral masks from ‘invented’ cultures. There were polychrome masks adorned with beads and silk tassels and masks that looked as though they’d been snipped from sheet lead and beaten into shape.
It was work I could do in a tiny space and it kept me busy when the monument was empty and all my other duties were done.
I made the green man mask illustrated above in the likeness of my father, Trevor. (I had to wait for him to fall asleep in his armchair before drawing him, as he was a man far too busy to hang about being sketched!)
After his death I was asked to provide a mask for the ‘Jack’ to wear at the Hastings Green Man Festival, and thereafter for a couple of years Trevor’s likeness was at the centre of that magnificent spectacle, an honour he would have delighted in.
Peter and I travelled to Hastings in the hope of witnessing the Jack wearing my mask as he emerged for the festival from a shed down by the sea. But we arrived late and there was no sign of anything going on. The place felt abandoned. Then from a distance came intermittent blasts of drumming, rising and fading. We hurried down narrow cobbled streets toward it. The drumming grew louder and there were other percussive instruments, bells and gongs and the sound of a great crowd. Other pedestrians were appearing from side streets, drawn by the music. I started running. I remember hearing Peter calling me, but the beat was like a powerful heart and it was easier to give myself up to it. Suddenly I was at the tail end of a procession. Troupes of Morris dancers of all persuasions were performing in serried ranks. Smoke and firecrackers and the taste of cordite, sharp at the back of the throat. Mummers in costumes astonishing and varied milled about or romped and leered at the crowd. All the onlookers had green smears across their foreheads and I wondered whether there might be vendors selling these marks of Cain so that one could acquire a green flash and blend in with everyone. But I couldn’t see anyone peddling green daubs. Then far ahead where the crowd was densest, I spotted the Jack, as tall as two men, bucking and rearing and covered in ribbons and laurel leaves, a crown of gold and red flowers on his head. I forced my way through the throng, an urgent need to be closer to the action making my chest swell. Fine tall men with wild green faces and flying snaky green locks strode as outriders to the Jack, their bodies and limbs covered in leaves. Fierce as Beserkers they snarled and roared to clear the way. Suddenly one caught my eye. Towering above lesser mortals, he’d stopped in his tracks and was watching me through the crowd. To my alarm he broke ranks and headed straight at me. I backed into a shop doorway but there was no escaping those blazing eyes, alarmingly red in all that green bearing down on me. Before I could duck he’d raised his arm and struck my forehead a glancing blow with the palm of his hand, turned and raced back to take his place as a guard of honour. I’d stumbled under the force of the green man’s hit-and-run, seeing stars as I landed on my backside in the doorway. As I recovered and stood up I caught sight of a reflection in the glass of the shop window. I grinned back at myself, marked with a green blow across the brow.
Bearing the marks of the Green Man at Hastings. Peter escaped being ‘greened’!
Finally I caught up with the Jack. And there, inscrutable among the leaves, my father’s likeness staring above the heads of the crowd, a wine red rose dangling from his lips. Later at the castle the Jack would be torn apart in a ritual slaying, leaves from his person claimed as trophies. The organiser of the festival made sure he got the mask, though the following year he was not so alert, and it went to someone faster and stealthier. I sometimes wonder where it is now.