When John and I decided to attend Guid Nychburris (Good Neighbours) festival that celebrated the 1395 Royal Charter for the Burgh of Dumfries I was anticipating a medieval-style pageant and the horse ride and John, being a sociologist, was thinking of a much publicised Dumfries Charter 14 by the Stove Network.
I was curious about the ceremony and the feudal quirkiness of the annual tradition of proclaiming the outdated Charter aloud to the public. That Charter once allowed the town to flourish and conferred on its citizens the right to elect their own town council, run their own affairs and raise their own local taxes.
As opposed to this antiquated but still empowering ritual of granting rights, John was interested in its modern counterpart when groups, organisations and individuals living in Dumfries had a chance to formulate their own values and take charge of the town’s future. Members of Dumfries community were invited by the Stove Network to write their own people’s charter, amend, sign, stamp and seal it, and to take a copy home for free.
As a ‘feel good’ document contributing to the spirit of Guid Nychburris celebrations this endeavour encouraged considerable public participation. The message ‘Dumfries is what we all make together’ was favourably received by the Dumfries people of all age groups, especially kids, and therefore was a success. But I bet that mid-nineteenth century chartists who struggled so hard to distill their core revolutionary political demands into the People’s Charter and collected three million signatures in support would turn in their graves if confronted with ‘Everyone wants to see a beautiful sunset’ proclamations of the modern Dumfries Charter 14.
What a triumph of civic pride coupled with toothless individualism! (P.S. I have to make a point here that John doesn’t share this and thinks it’s more about democratic romanticism characteristic to artists rather than politicians).
The proceedings were infused with some radical flavour by ‘Just Add Water’ participatory activities. Blue banners were installed around the main fountain that contained secret messages. To reveal the latter people had to throw water-filled sponges and hidden letters turned white from the contact with water. It was good fun for kids and their parents allowing them to be naughty officially. I enjoyed the physicality of the process and was amazed by the tenacity with which the message was watered continuously to keep it visible for hours!
Just a few festival attendees were a bit disgruntled that they could not enjoy the fountain in its usual pristine condition but hey, it was a temporary activity and there is no way to please everyone…