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St Teilo’s Church

May 2011

Bladderblog 2: Slimy Trials and Smelly Errors

Posted by Sara Huws on 9 May 2011

Reader, I blew it.

It took a bit of practice but the Learning Department now has in its possession a brand new bladder football. At the end of the Misrule! weekend, it was tested rigorously by some of our 5 and 6 year-old visitors, and found to be satisfactory. Over the three days, we had some failed attempts; some almost-worked attempts; and finally, a fine, egg-shaped ball which made a satifying, basketball-like 'donk' noise when bounced on the floor.

Tudor Sport Demo, May Misrule!
Here's me passionately explaining how normal my job is. Not really, it's me holding a pig's bladder!

Now, this installment of Bladderblog comes a bit later in the process than I anticipated, because it is hard to live-blog something while dressed as a Tudor. As you'll see above, under my skirt is the only place I can hide anything, and I'm sure you couldn't get a computer under there. So, despite the new/old technology hiccup, I hope you'll enjoy this latest foray into sporting history...

The bladders themselves arrived frozen, in an ice-cream tub. A natural by-product of slaughter for meat, the bladders would be discarded otherwise, as they are not very appetising. Once out of the tub and into brine, they remsembled big poached eggs. To touch, they were slimy, slippery and quite tough - not dissimilar to sausage casing, but perhaps a bit thicker and harder to swallow! The farmer said that 'of all the strange requests' he's ever received, this was the strangest. He also said we were 'all mad', but was happy to see his pigs get put to a variety of uses after their slaughter. The meat, I am informed, has gone to make posh salami.

Blowing the 'practice bladder' up at home using a very long curly straw worked well. I cured the ball with salt, sanitized my hands and then slapped myself on the back: I had successfully avoided having to lip-lock with any part of a pig (a good job as the bladders came with a few stray hairs).

A pig's bladder football hanging on a washing line
Here it is, drying in the sun!

Then it burst, mid-demo, on Friday. I plundered my (very well-hidden) Aldi bag for another and spent lunchtime making the ball with the tools I had at my disposal: salt, string and a feather. Now, trial and error is usually a fine way to learn. On the other hand, bladdersplashback is something to be avoided at any cost. Using the bottom part of a feather as a straw, I attempted the Tudor way of blowing up a bladder. It was really quite unpleasant. Really, really unpleasant, actually. But it was over quickly.

Pig's bladder football
The finished football, complete with wiry hair!

I was keen to explore the 'nose to tail' ethos of Tudor farming and manufacturing, and so talked to all sorts of people who are still using these traditional techniques and principles in their work. Amongst them was Peg the skinner, who had an array of skins and historic animal-derived products on display last weekend, from hedgehog brushes to Tudor prophylactics. I will be posting about what I found out in the coming weeks. Some very beautiful, and probably more traditional uses for animal products can be found in our Making History 1500-1700 exhibition, too. I was particularly enthralled with this pair of leather gloves from around 1600: each part is silk-lined (another animal by-product!), and embroidered with detailed, erm, animals. I chose the squirrel detail today because, well, because I like squirrels.

Gloves, Making History 1500-1700
Detail from leather glove, from Llanfair Hall, near Caernarfon. They are made from leather, lined with silk, and embroidered with silk and metal thread.

I hope you'll join me for the next installment of Bladderblog - and let me know if you fancy a kickabout in the meantime!

Update: Two more articles popped up last weekend seemed to complement our bladding-about, so I'll leave them at the bottom here, so you can have a look!

The Lure of Eccentric Sports on BBC online.

BoingBoing's Mummifying Chickens for Fun and Educational Profit (not as grim as it sounds).

Making History - The Acts of Union

Posted by Sara Huws on 5 May 2011
Just a quick note to let you know that something special is afoot at St Fagans.
Keep an eye out on Wales Today, BBC1 Wales, at 6.30 tonight for more information!
The Acts of Union
The Acts of Union
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