Probably most towns had their civic cohort of Giants, at one time Chester boasted four. Their demise is scarcely recorded but it's likely that the Commonwealth finally extinguished any that survived the Reformation. A number of close relatives of giantkind did survive: Jack in the Green, hobby horses, morris dancing beasts, and darker figures, such as the Dorset Ooser, Skimmities and Mari Llwyd. Many of these, and Giants too, are associated with bands of 'rough musicians' disguisers, and even witchcraft.
Whilst British Giants went into decline, those in the larger world have thrived. There are Giants in virtually all European countries, the former USSR, Latin America, India, and similar forms exist in much of Asia.
Giants are bigger than any of us, they are not just moving statues, they are a focal point. Some are warriors proclaiming defiance in the face of a hostile world, others are dignitaries carrying a burden of civic pride, but most are never happier than when at a party, festival or fair. They are one and all exuberant symbols of the vital forces and mankind's joy in living.
Petal – Giant of the Hills
Petal is the first of her kind that we know of in Australia – she has been built to resemble Helen 'Petal' Lyons – who was instigational in creating the English Ale. Helen was a 'gaintess' in her own right!! Petal is a 12 foot Pageant giant carried by one porter and is attended by her minders – the Guisers (dancers and drummers in rag and tatter coats and painted faces). Anyone can be a Guiser – all it takes is imagination. Petal lives in the Adelaide hills and looks forward to her appearance at theEanglish Ale every year. This year will be marked by the second giant Rufus, who will make his first appearance with Petal in the parade.
Other Pageant Beasts
Beasts may be hobby horses, dragons, fish, birds ... The list is as endless as imagination. In the British Isles many beasts are associated with teams of morris dancers. Beasts are various, often strange or weird, but always wonderful.
Giants/Guisers of the Hill's is the group established to parade and maintain Petal our pageant giant. Anyone is welcome to become a member of G.O.T.H all you need to do is make a rag coat, paint your face, make noise and raise energy as the porter carries Petal.
The *porter's* job is the easiest to describe, the porter carries.
The porter of a giant or beast has a very restricted view, and usually has no way of detecting overhead wires, street furniture, erring children, incontinent dogs and the like, so there must be a giant guide.
The *giant guide* is the eyes and ears of the giant, the porter MUST obey the guide at all times. A good guide will make the porter aware of any difficulties ( irregular surfaces, kerbs, windy gaps between buildings etc) before they arise. A good guide should give the porter rather more information than the porter thinks is necessary! The other main task of the guide is to keep the giant secure. The guide should circle the giant at intervals to ensure that nothing is loose, and the guide must always be alert for a stumble, or a sudden gust of wind that may require a quick steadying hand. If possible the guide should take hold on the upwind side of the giant in emergency. On occasion the guide may need to steady the giant with a guy rope, in this case there may often be a need for a second guide to secure the downwind side of the giant.
It is very tempting to try to double the giant guide's duties with some other musical or character role. Except in ideal circumstances this is a mistake, anything which tends to distract the guide, or occupy his or her hands, is dangerous.
In many gianting situations the crowd are sufficiently close that it will be necessary for someone to walk on the opposite side of the giant from the guide; usually downwind, as the guide will be on the weather side. This secondary *minder* will be attending to security on the 'blind side' it is often possible to double this role with, for example, drumming or dancing. In very crowded situations a minder will also be needed behind the giant; why do some people delight in pulling at giant's clothing from the rear?
In crowds there will usually be a need for someone to make a path for the giant. The *sweeper* will lead the giant, and perform miracles of crowd control.... actually the best trick is often to play a VERY LOUD MUSICAL INSTRUMENT in the ears of slow moving spectators, or shout a lot. The sweeper needs to be thick-skinned and imperious! The sweeper must especially guard against intruding press photographers and 'camcorder man' often they can only be shifted by standing immediately in front of the lens.
It's the sweeper's job to know the route, and to clear an appropriate path; in some cases this even includes clearing large or slippery litter. You can never have too many sweepers.. a drum-corps is great!
So what is the minimum crew?
Most giants will require a minimum crew of four, guide, porter, minder and sweeper. In dense crowds each giant may require three sweepers and three minders as well as the guide and porter.
The guide is in charge of the giant, and effectively in charge of the crew. When there is a parade captain, he or she will normally direct the sweepers, and co-ordinate the various crews.
When giants dance. there will usually be a suitable space already cleared, or freshly swept. Musicians, and non-dancing giants will form up at the rear of the dancing space, and all other minders and sweepers will be involved in crowd control; the larger the space cleared, the longer the perimeter, and the more people can see what is going on without pushing forward...
According to the nature of the dance, the porters involved may or may not need assistance with positioning, and judging turning points, but in any case their guides MUST be close at hand, and able to assist at all times. Usually the guides will shadow the giants on the 'blind' side; the side away from the bulk of the spectators, but they must not hesitate to step forward when needed.
* If you are interested in being a minder/sweeper/guiser contact firstname.lastname@example.org *
*information taken from B.I.G.G.