Life may not be all that harmonious at the moment, but what binds us together is our unique eccentricity. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than when we’re at leisure with all of our strange customs.
Enter documentary and portrait photographer Orlando Gili and his new book, Trivial Pursuits: The English at Play. In this publication by London-based Gili, he shows us at our best and, at times, our worst. There are the usual suspects including that most elite level of Englishness, the country show. Only at these events can you have your marrow judged, compete in a three-legged race and get tipsy on a home-brewed beverage of your choice. We also have the latest Royal Wedding, England in the World Cup and various music festivals.
But the collection, published by Hoxton Mini Press, really comes alive when Gili discovers some of the more niche leisure pastimes such as cheese rolling, bottle kicking and woolsack races. Sadly, the World Black Pudding Throwing Championship in Ramsbottom doesn’t feature, but if the author is planning a sequel any time soon, this event would surely be worthy of inclusion.
That said, the book would have benefited from a few more of these curious activities. There’s a strong focus on the more obvious destinations tend which feels a little disappointing.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Gili’s offering. For the most part, it showcases the diversity of the country but still manages to capture the fact that our pursuit of pleasure is a shared love. This is done brilliantly by placing contrasting pictures cheek by jowl. Take, for example, the straw hats of Henley Regatta opposite the urban wear of the Notting Hill Carnival.
It could be argued that we are a reserved society which is why we tend to really cut loose at any given opportunity. Give us a hint of a royal celebration and we are out in the street, dressed in red, white and blue and eating more cake than Mary Berry.
Of course, the weather is an ever-present enemy of English outdoor festivities. This book wouldn’t be complete without two stalwarts under their umbrellas determined to have a good time no matter what happens. That’s the British spirit, right?
Reading the book during a global pandemic makes one wistful for a time when we could all congregate in a crowd, whether to enjoy a music gig or a football match. Even the aftermath pictures of SantaCon, where participants don their Father Christmas outfits and embark on a pub crawl, seem of another time.
What the book definitively illustrates is our need to belong to a tribe, whether that’s England fans cheering their team on, gig-goers dressed as their favourite Spice Girl, or a heavily costumed Miss Haversham at Broadstairs Dickens Festival in Kent.
Our tribal gatherings will return but, for the meantime, this book is a poignant reminder of good times. It’s also a call to arms; a cry that, as soon as it is safe to do so, we should don our football shirts, fairy wings and Batman costumes and seize the moment.