On Saturday 29th September 2012 I, with some other reenactors, took part in an event for the Viking day in the Church Square, St. Helens. I had a great time showing Viking games to the public, being thrashed all day by children at 9 Men’s Morris. It was fun.
When the day was over and I had packed up my tent and equipment into the car, we (I was with my sister-in-law Rachel, who had been demonstrating tablet weaving and embroidery) set off to our next appointment in North Wales. On the way I stopped in the Tesco Extra in St. Helens to buy some bread and milk.
I don’t usually get changed after an event. I don’t see the need, and it’s fun going out in public in Viking kit. But here is my word of warning. Even if you don’t get changed, make sure you always divest yourself of any weapons, knives, etc. you might be wearing as part of your costume. I forgot.
As I confidently strode through the entrance of the Tesco extra I heard a voice behind me ask, “Is that a real knife sir?” I turned around, confronted by a nervously smiling security guard. I looked down, and there was my seax, hanging from my belt, still in it’s sheath. Oops.
So I draw it and, with an apology, explain that it’s a blunt reenactment knife, but he’s quite welcome to hold onto it while I do my shopping, which he does, pointing out the security desk where, he says, I can collect it when I have finished my shopping. Phew, I think, problem averted.
I do my shopping, but on the way through the till, I notice a couple of policemen by the security desk. I start to feel a little worried. I pass the security man, who is standing about half way down the tills, and he smiles and chirpily reminds me that my knife is waiting for me at the security desk. I thank him and head off to the desk. The two policemen (actually, one is a police woman) ignore me as I wait by them to collect my seax. The security man manning the desk is on the phone, so I wait.
He puts the phone down, looks at me and smilingly says, “You can have your knife back now.” I reach out for it, but stay my hand as a female voice behind me says, “Can I have a word, sir, before you take that?” I turn around, and there is the police woman, smiling up at me. Uh, oh, I think.
She looks at my waist and asks, “Can I have a look at that knife at your belt please sir?” I look down. Oops again. My eating knife, which is very sharp, is still hanging from my belt, in its sheath. I take it out and hand it over saying, “Careful with that, it’s very sharp.” The nice police woman doesn’t look impressed.
“You do realise, don’t you sir, that I really ought to confiscate these knives.” My stomach starts to feel queasy.
I turn my not inconsiderable charm on her, explaining that I was on my way home from an event and that these knives were part of my costume. I had been wearing them all day and simply forgot that I still had them on. After a little discussion, with much apology from me and an admission of how silly I had been to not take them off, she decided that she would escort me to my car, where she handed my blunt seax and sharp eating knife back to me. The funny thing was that she was quite happy for me to just resheath them and head off. However, I explained that I would do what I should have done in the first place, and removed the offending items from my belt and put them in the weapons chest in the boot of my car.
So, the moral of the story is, don’t go into Tesco, or any major supermarket, armed to the teeth, even if you are in period costume. Always remember to remove your weapons and keep them in a safe place when in public and not actually at an event.
A couple of things occurred to me after the encounter. The first was that I really must be less forgetful and disarm at the end of an event. The second is that, if I had walked into Tesco with a large file sticking out of my belt the security guards would probably not have batted an eyelid. but, because the particular piece of steel I had at my belt happened to be in the shape of a knife despite the fact that, as it was completely blunt, it was no more dangerous than the hypothetical file, the security guards insisted on removing it from my possession for the duration of my visit. And they called the police.
Very luckily for me the lovely police woman was quite sympathetic to my situation. She even commented that my forgetfulness was quite reasonable, as my seax and knife were no more remarkable to me than the dangerous pieces of equipment that dangled from her belt were for her. But we both agreed that it would be better if, in future, I remembered they were there and removed them when I had finished an event. I say very lucky because she was quite within her rights to confiscate them, as many reenactors have had the misfortune to find out in the past. Some police officers have even confiscated properly secured weapons from the boot of cars of people quite legitimately on their way to or from a historical event.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation my only advice is to be as polite and pleasant as possible, and explain why you have the weapons. Then keep every finger crossed and hope that you are addressing a reasonable human being, which most police are. Lucky for me, my police woman was and I still have my seax and eating knife because, as any reenactor will tell you, my weapons are very dear to me, and I am very glad to still have them.
Of course, the even more sensible course of action is to make sure you never find yourself in that situation in the first place, and always make sure you disarm after the event. Not only might you find yourself in trouble with the police, and have all your lovely weapons confiscated, but cause problems with reenactment in general. There are sad people out there who would like nothing better than to see our fantastic hobby banned, as they are very nervous about people walking about, even at an event, armed to the teeth. The last thing we need to do is to give them the ammunition to get their way. I don’t think my fellow Vikings will be too happy with me the next time I see them.