I’m not sure where I found the following image but thought readers might be interested in it. I am pretty certain it is a Belgian trade card (for starch) dating around 1890. Depicted is a bagpiping shepherd from the Landes region of Gascony; although why he should be associated with selling starch is unclear. Presumably the pipes are meant to represent a boha, the traditional cornemuse landaise.
Today the Landes largely consists of
planted forest but originally was a vast infertile
expanse of sand and scrub. It was sometimes
referred to as the “French Sahara” although it
tended to turn into a huge marsh during periods
of rain. The shepherds who worked this
inhospitable area famously used stilts to get
around: partly as a means of keeping their feet
dry in the marshes but mainly to be able to better
observe their herds far across the featureless
plain. Graham Robb in his highly-recommended social history of 19th century France, The Discovery of France (2007), describes how they were able to achieve an impressive
walking speed of 8 mph upon these stilts. The shepherds also carried another pole which they used as a kind of shooting stick as seen in the following detail of another bagpiping shepherd taken from an old postcard.
These pictures brought to mind Jon
Swayne’s reminiscences in the second Blowzabella tune book of the early years of the group where he describes them also playing on stilts at various summer fairs. The following photograph showing them playing at the 1980 Rougham Tree Fair is taken from Richard Barnes’ book Sun in the East: Norfolk and Suffolk Fairs (1982).
Perhaps “Bagpipe playing whilst stilt walking” with Jon as judge would prove an interesting competition for next year’s Blowout.