The Blessing of the Beasts 2022


by

CJ Stone

&

Gerry Atkinson

(All Photos by Gerry Atkinson, unless otherwise stated)


It was weird. It was wonderful. It was surreal. It was strangely satisfying.

I’m talking about the Blessing of the Beasts 2022, Sadie Hennessy’s second foray in the realm of animal based entertainment.

Sadie as a Sea Urchin, photo by Tim Topple

It was raining when we first began to assemble, with ominous looking black clouds hanging over Sheppey, but the rain soon cleared to make way for a spectacular sunburst on this magical full-moon evening.

I was dressed as Jack Crow, in a mask made by Christine Walton, with feathers in my hat and a shoulder cape made of feathers, carrying my 6,000 year old English bog oak staff.

Jack Crow

A few of us ducked into the shelter above the tennis courts, hiding from the rain while waiting for the event to start. It was already filled with teenagers boozing it up. One or two of them were being very loud, calling us weirdos and nonces, amongst other things. Something struck me. At our end of the shelter there were a number of younger children, wide-eyed with wonder at what was unfolding around them, at the strange costumes and the larger than life characters bustling about in the space, while the noisy elements amongst the teenagers were disparaging the whole spectacle, exerting social control over their peers with savage cynicism. What struck me was that this is the time when magic is driven out of our lives, not when we become adults, but earlier, in that time in between, and not by the machinations of the political elites, but by our own peers, who demand that we conform, and who will ruthlessly pick upon anyone who appears even slightly different.

Growing up is the process by which we learn to be magical again.

Once the rain stopped we were able to leave the shelter and take up our places at the foot of the stairs by the tennis courts.

Sadie said a few words to the crowd, which was assembled on the beach, welcoming them, and mentioning the Queen, who as an animal lover who would have approved of our event. She was followed by Christine as Krampus and Anita Meyer as a wild animal spirit, with a bull skull mask – hereon-in to be known as the Handmaidens of the Apocalypse.

Sadie with the Handmaidens of the Apocalypse

After that she handed over to Greg Elvis who was to be our compère for the night. It was at this point that Jack Crow was supposed to have emerged from over the top of the sea wall, only, just as he was being announced, a bunch of late comers arrived along the alley and insisted on going up the steps, so instead of Jack Crow the crowd got a bunch of surly citizens, only a few of whom were in fancy dress. An almost audible sigh of disappointment arose from over the wall.

But eventually, after a second announcement, Jack made his appearance.

The strange thing about wearing a mask is how liberating it is. People can no longer see your expression, so all the usual tricks you employ to win favours are no longer of any use. Your face relaxes into a blank expression. People take the mask to be you. Very quickly you become the mask. I found myself absorbing the character, cocking my head and looking around in the way I’ve seen crows do, quizzically, artfully, occasionally menacingly. I wanted to dance like a crow, my arms out, my fingers rippling like feathers; which is how I appeared as I came over the wall, fully immersed in the character of by now:

Jack Crow with Greg Elvis

After this the Silent Companions emerged over the wall, a marching band consisting of saxophone, ukulele and tambourine, one of them wearing a skull mask and another a bear suit, playing Bring on the Bears, while two bear-headed people rocked to the rhythm. The band kept up a relentless animal based series of songs for the rest of the procession. I remember The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and Monkey Man as two of the highlights.

The Silent Companions, with a companion

And so began the procession, led by Jack Crow with the Handmaidens of the Apocalypse on either side, closely followed by three men in a Turtle costume, who spent most of the evening squabbling amongst themselves:

The Squabbling Turtle

First stop was just along to the next groyne, where we were treated to a lively and skilful display of acrobatics by Margo Selby and the Tail Flickers, doing flip-flops and somersaults and cartwheels and other aerial moves along the ten foot mat laid out on the beach, to the sounds of Crazy Frog playing Popcorn.

Margo Selby and the Tail Flickers

Next up was Finley Gausden as Elvis Pigsley, in his Elvis onesie with a pig’s nose, sitting on a groyne eating chips while Arthur Askey’s Seagull Song played in the background.

He was joined by Lee Carter, who popped up from behind the groyne dressed as a seagull, and began circling in order to steal his chips, which led to chase across the beach, as we all knew it would.

Lee Carter dressed as a seagull

After that we had Steve Graham dressed as an Oyster reading the Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll:

Steve Graham reading the Walrus and the Carpenter

This was followed by Nicola Harrison singing an ethereal number called In Praise of Starfish, a strangely moving evocation of starfish as sea-bound representatives of their celestial equivalent in the sky.

Nicola Harrison: In Praise of Starfish

Further along we had Ned and Bert from the Crab Museum (Margate’s newest and arguably strangest tourist attraction) giving a lecture about crabs; then Lee Carter and Andesh as a couple of fish at a fishy tea party, doing wonderful, round-mouthed fish impressions.

Lee Carter and Andesh as a couple of fish at a fishy tea party

This was followed by Matthew Robins and Tim Spooner with three songs about soil based animals delivered from a beach hut, played on a harmonium in an obvious tribute to Ivor Cutler. The songs were very short. There was one about a mole and another about a worm, and the set turned into four songs in the end when we were told that they had an encore prepared.

Next up was MA POLAINE’S GREAT DECLINE, a guitar and bass duo, who played a couple of Jazz numbers, including a take on Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher, called Minnie the Poocher.

MA POLAINE’S GREAT DECLINE

The finale was the Posh Club Dance Club from Hackney on the beach doing Dancehall Flamingos. There were eleven of them altogether and they were dressed in pink, with one pink sock over one arm, with an eye and a beak, to represent the flamingos, and pink flamingo floaters around their waists. It was a gloriously eccentric dance, backed by reggae sounds, led by one nimble fellow with a wiry, sinuous frame who looked like he might have been a professional dancer in a previous life.

The Posh Club Dance Club from Hackney

After this the crowd was lead to the blessing, at a ready made shrine in a boat on the beach, which was festooned with flowers and icons, including a large bowl of water. Jack Crow was flanked by the Handmaidens of the Apocalypse, Krampus on his left and Anita’s animal spirit on his right.

The blessing

And so the blessing began, as follows:

  • We are gathered here together, dear ones, to remember and give thanks to our fellow creatures on this earth.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • The furry ones, the finned ones, the feathered ones, the four-legged ones.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • The small ones. The large ones. The scaly ones. The warm ones.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • The clever ones. The foolish ones. The playful ones. The crazy ones.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • To all the creatures who share this planet with us, whose journey through life is as real as our own.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • Who know love and loss just as we do. Who know savagery and kindness. Who know fear and hope and grief. Whose dreams are as real as ours. Who know peace better than we do. Who know life better than we do. For the beasts are here to heal us. The beasts are here to teach us. The beasts are here to guide us. The beasts are here to be our friends.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • For the beasts are everywhere that we are. In our parks and gardens. In our living rooms and parlours. In our walks and in our reveries. In our collective dreaming.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • For we are only beasts ourselves. Beasts with words, nothing more. Our nature is their nature. Our world is their world. Our future is their future. Our life is their life. Without them we cannot live.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • In the winter they will warm us. In the spring they will adventure us. In the summer they will exercise us. In the autumn they will walk us home.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • In our isolation they give us friendship. In loneliness they give us companionship. In sadness they give us solace. In grief they give us love.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • For they are creatures of love just like ourselves. They know us and love us. They care for us as we care for them. They give us their love as we give them ours.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • We give thanks to all our beastly friends. And remember: we are only really beasts ourselves.
  • Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts. Blessed are the beasts.
  • In the name of the Father Sun, the Mother Earth and the Breath of Life.
  • Forever and ever.
  • Ah-beast.

The crowd were invited to join in with the repeated refrain. It was meant to be quite solemn, in contrast to the rest of the evening, but became increasingly amusing as Krampus was using her whip to spray water over the crowd, growling out the blessing in an angry and aggressive tone. Jack was getting splashed while he spoke, which led to him laughing. Not that this detracted from the occasion, there being a spectacular sunset taking place across the estuary behind them.

The fashion show

After this there was a fashion show along the jetty.

The winners

The evening drew to a close with a pet disco with full PA and lights, by DJ Mark’s bangers & mash-ups.

Jack Crow did a disappearing act at this point, only to re-emerge as Chris Stone at the bar by the caravan park at the end of Island Wall where he got nicely merry with his friends.


Photo Gallery

by Gerry Atkinson

(Click on images to enlarge)


More pictures available here: https://marcusclackson.smugmug.com/Blessing-of-the-Beasts-Whitstable-2022-C-Marcus-Clackson-/n-fhVLSC/

The First Blessing of the Beasts:


About CJ Stone

CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.

Read more of CJ Stone’s work here, here and here.


About Gerry Atkinson

Training as a photojournalist, I started recording  political protests in London in the 1990’s. I spent 18 months volunteering with CWERC, an NGO in the Philippines, recording the lives of indigenous women for an audio-visual ‘Weaving our own Dreams’. I moved on to New Zealand for 4 years working for newspapers. On returning to London I organised a collaborative project with people with mental health problems to produce ‘Through the Lens’ documentary photography exhibition.

My MA research in 2010 resulted in a book ‘Shades of Other Lives’, a series of windows at night, developed in reference to Labour Party comments that “We are all middle class now”. In 2011-2012, I spent 10 months in Greece, Cape Town and New Zealand working on documentary projects. Recent community projects are ‘Our Work of Art 2018-2019’. I have an NUJ Photojournalist Press Card and am currently discussing new ideas and collaborations.

I studied at Leicester University, the London College of Communication and the University for the Creative Arts.

I have extensive solo and group exhibition experience including the British Museums landmark exhibition “Rice and Life in the Philippines”.  My work has been published in newspapers, books and magazines and is held in private collections.

Photo by Glen London

To see more of Gerry’s work, please go to: https://www.gerryatkinson.com/


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