Mayday, Mayday

I have a confession to make.

When I was at primary school – a quaint little village school with 3 classes and about 40 pupils – our headmistress had an unusual take on school sports.

Autumn and winter terms, fair enough, we played football.

But come summer, we didn’t play cricket, or even rounders. We did maypole dancing!

That’s right. We had a bloody great maypole erected in the middle of the football pitch and had to dance around it once a week, clutching brightly coloured ribbons.

(If that sort of thing happened today, I can only imagine the outcry as over-involved parents complained about everything from health & safety to gender stereotyping to not liking the colours of the ribbons.)

A few years later, I can also recall being taken up the road by my parents to the local pub to witness the arrival of the morris dancers – truly a highspot in the village calendar.

Here my memories were of some elderly, but surprisingly energetic men, dancing around with bells on their legs, waving hankies or cracking sticks together. I think one of them (Morris maybe?) even got to wear a sort of half horse costume for part of the show. Or maybe I imagined that bit.

Show over, they got to kick off their bells and get slowly pissed on Brakspear’s bitter.

It is fair to say that those memories had been safely filed away in the darkest recesses of my mind until yesterday when I chanced upon a gathering in the grounds of Lewes castle.

Wondering what was going on, I eased my way inside the ramparts and there it was. A fully blown May Fair, complete with mini maypoles, flower girls, juniors doing a strange do-se-do type dance and, you guessed it, a full squad of morris dancers.

The obvious response would have been a detached, too-cool-for-school cynicism, but you know what? I loved it.

To see the obvious joy in their performances, the spread of ages, the care that had gone into the costumes and the sense of camaraderie, I found myself with a new-found appreciation of Mayday traditions and even a slight twinge of envy as I watched the morris dancers head off to the pub.

Maybe next year I’ll see if I can link up with morris and his merry men for a bit of pre-season training.

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