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Arkell's Ark: Simple Pleasures

...Impaling’s had a bad press. And for many of the residents of the castle it was a fun time. Sort of grab the wife and kids, pack a picnic lunch and get there early while there’s still space. Maybe have a beer and meet up with some old siege buddies...

Ian Arkell contemplates ruthless days while visiting castles in Germany.

We’re visiting Germany for a few days, arriving just ahead of the rain. Barely had time to liberate the contents of a local white before the first heavy drops fell.

The sky rested, shroud like, just above the treetops with swirling black clouds threatening us. We were sitting outside on the veranda as the first flashes of lightning had us scrambling to disconnect the laptop. Then it rained. And rained.

I have been to Germany before and have visited several castles but tomorrow we are to see a special one that has to be the mother of all foreboding castles. It’s privately owned at the moment and boasts an impressive list of occupants over the last seven hundred years.

I’m looking forward to finding out more about one of them, who was remembered, presumably warmly and with affection, as Philip the Handsome. Not the ‘ok looking’ or ‘the cute blonde one’ but the unequivocal, Philip the Handsome’.

I know of a couple of other Philips, from Belgium. There was Philip the Good, once again, firm positive stuff; not Philip the Reasonable or Philip the ok when he’s not drunk, but Philip the Good.

And there was Philip the Weak. This is harder to misconstrue. Not Philip who’s had a bad day, or Philip the under pressure, but Philip the Weak. Hard to live that down in a small castle I guess. I think there was a Philip the Cowardly in France somewhere as well. Try and see if that accolade disappears over the centuries.

But there was a time at this castle I’m going to see, about the fifteenth century sometime, when things were not so peachy keen. Well for some that is. For others it was the best time of their life. Anyway the guy who ran the place at that time was Wolfgang, called, for reasons which will become obvious, the Cruel. Once again a relatively decisive if not subjective, term.

Now Wolfgang was quick to take offence and threw people in the cells quicker than you could grovel for mercy. And judging by the punishment you would have had to have been very quick indeed. Wolfgang would have been popular with many present day regimes around the world. Dick Cheney would probably love him.

Wolfgang didn’t waste time on lengthy incarceration or anything as mundane as beatings, starvation or flogging. He wasn’t even partial to blinding or disfigurement. No, the guy was an impaler.

Impaling’s had a bad press. And for many of the residents of the castle it was a fun time. Sort of grab the wife and kids, pack a picnic lunch and get there early while there’s still space. Maybe have a beer and meet up with some old siege buddies.

The guy to be impaled, and to give Wolfgang his due, this was gender specific, was spread eagled to a frame which lay just above a long sharpened stake. Isn’t this fun?

Another guy, someone with no computer skills and dependent solely on his strength and indifference to suffering had the task of turning this large ratchety thing which raised the stake an inch or so at a time. This was hard work as the stake was several inches in diameter, made of stout oak and just plain heavy.

There must have been some sort of non return catch or something as the pressure on the ratcheter would have been intense if it were to slip back. And the pain associated with possible blisters shouldn’t be discounted.

So the stake inched between the guys legs, (are we clenching cheeks yet?) until he started screaming. I don’t know but it’s possible there was some sort of half time pause, when the marching girls came out and the lucky door prize was drawn. And the villagers could wander off for a beer or two before racing back to their seats for the second half. Gees, these guys knew how to enjoy themselves. I think we’ve lost that capacity for simple pleasures, don’t you?

Sometimes, Wolfgang tired of the event and had the stake lowered and the stakee, if that’s the correct term, released then dragged apart by either horses or wild bears. Either way the villagers had a great time. And people became very, very wary of bad mouthing Wolfgang.

I don’t know. Running a castle, fighting wars, battling with the church for the citizenry’s money…it had to be a pressure time. But Wolfgang the Cruel?

It’s easy to be judgemental.


Do read Ian's novel, Who Your Mates Are. Click on http://ianarkell.wordpress.com/


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