“I’m wearing one with my dickie bow”

Angela is taking me to meet the Brixham Berserkers this afternoon, and Laura is coming along too. I’m not sure how much she is able to glean about my working method, I hope it’s worth her while. Angela leads us through the charity shop and out the back door where her little car is parked. Once inside she briefs me on the Berserkers. “They are a live action role play group,” she says. “About eight years ago Casey – the Canadian guy you are about to meet – went on a role playing weekend up north and came back raving about it. He then started the Brixham Berserkers down here.

“They are all volunteers and have set up a not-for-profit group. Its basically fantasy gaming where they create their own characters and have a set of rules they play to. They do a lot of work with kids at community fun days and in schools.

“For the Challenge the group set up a project called Forgotten Crafts which was about encouraging people to take on traditional crafts like leatherwork and chain mail. They wanted to make their own weaponry out of foam and latex, life-like looking weapons that look dangerous but aren’t at all. Today we are going to call in on their weekly drop-in session.

“They are a lovely bunch of people,” says Angela driving us further and further out of town. “What you would call, salt of the earth. Most aren’t working, some have health issues but they are the happiest bunch of people because they are all doing what they love. They were one of the six Challenge winners and are on the cusp of creating something big – maybe setting up a social enterprise – and that is making them nervous.”

We’ve turned off the main road, taken a right and then a left and are now heading uphill with housing on either side. “This is the area of highest deprivation,” Angela is saying. “But you wouldn’t think so looking at some of the lovely bungalows. On this road in particular many of the families have a lot of services supporting them.”

Laura says that when she and Ntembe were looking for social housing they were offered a place up here. “I turned them down,” she says from the back seat. “I told them I had a baby in a pushchair and no car. Why would I want to be this far out of Brixham, stuck on a hill?”

I haven’t seen a local shop yet but we do go past what was once the local primary school. “It’s been closed because of falling roll,” says Angela. “But there is an adventure play park – Indigos Go Wild – which worked with the community to reclaim a scrap of land and now there’s a fairy cabin, a fire pit, totem pole and a little amphitheatre.” This is where Rachel will be running some of her sessions and I find out later that it was Angela and a friend who set it up. Angela’s 21-year-old daughter, Millie, is helping out here this week.

We’re at the Chestnut Heights Community Centre now. It’s nothing special. A two-storey brick building attached to a block of three-storey flats. There’s a decking area outside with two or three wooden picnic tables. Although we passed no one on Chestnut Drive coming up here, inside there are a dozen or so people engaged in different activities with plenty of banter flying across the room.
Against one wall is a table top set-up of a Second World War battle surrounded by photographic flash lights. I’m told it’s a recreation for some war gaming magazine. Across the room, on a table against another wall, someone is joining metal rings together with a pair of pliers to make chain mail. I take out my tape recorder.

“And how many rings does it take to make one suit?” Actually it’s more like a waistcoat.

“About 40,000.”

“40,000! How long does that take?”

“The first one I ever did took me about a year because I was doing other things, this one will take me a month because I’m on it more or less full time. There are machines that will do it now.”

“Would you sell them? For how much?”

“You could get anything up to £250.”

Casey and Angela come over and he puts a completed waistcoat over his head. “What would this have stopped, in a battle?” I ask him.

“Sword strikes basically. This would stop it cutting into you but you would always wear a gambeson underneath. Like a padded jacket which absorbs the blow and stops it being as devastating as it might have been.”

“A gambeson?”

“Yeah. I’m wearing one tonight,” says Casey, “with my dickie bow.”

More from the Berserkers on Monday

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