It’s dark in the car park. Well of course it is… its four forty-five in the morning. I spot half a dozen other cars and an old single-decker bus but there’s no sign of any people. There’s no sign of people anywhere which must mean they’ve already made their way up the hill. And that’s not good. I cut the lights, grab my torch and get out of the car. Then immediately I get back in again. Am I sure I really want to do this? I ask myself. No. I’m not. I consider my options. A: Drive home and go back to bed. B: Stop being a wimp and do my job, a job, which as a freelancer, I only get paid for if I actually deliver (Editors can be very pernickety about that.) I think back to Niles’ call.
“Miranda was very specific. She wants something Ye Olde England…you know the kind of thing. And aren’t you now living down in the sticks somewhere? Bound to be some of those old May Day traditions still practised”
“I am not in the sticks!” I’d retorted.
“If it’s not Shoreditch then it may as well be” He said before ringing off.
I get out of the car and before I can change my mind, shove my keys in my pocket and flash my torch about. The moon is still up. It’s a crescent but I’ve no idea if its waxing or if its waning. And it is beautiful but really I think I’d rather look up at it from the security of my garden. Or better yet from behind my bedroom window. I start as suddenly from somewhere very close by comes the plaintive hoot of an owl, presumably on a last swoop around before retiring. Then a blackbird pipes up informing the world that he’s up and doing. Night and day shifts cross. I know which rota I’d rather be on. The light from my torch picks out a path leading upwards through the trees and I take it… I don’t like it but I take it.
It’s even darker here and quite a climb. Where is everyone? I wonder when, from somewhere above me, I hear a faint tinkling of bells. I follow the sound.
Dawn rises to reveal mist wreathed hills and I smell damp leaves and a deep-down freshness. In the trees the blackbird and all his pals join together in a magnificent chorus but I can no longer hear them for they can’t compete with the insistent beat of the drum… or an accordion for that matter. Here at the summit five men and three women clad in white shirts and trousers with red jerkins, clutching sticks laced with coloured ribbons face each other in a loose circle. The accordionist, a stout man with flowers encircling the rim of his boater, ups the volume of the squeeze-box and that’s when the charging begins. Back and forth and round and round the Morris Dancers go, intent but smiling broadly, as they hop from foot to foot shaking and clashing their sticks in rhythm with music that sounds almost as old as the hills surrounding us (Well maybe not quite). I find myself shuffling my feet in time with the drum (and not just because they are cold) but because there is something infectious about the dancers’ enthusiasm. If its Ye Olde England Miranda wants well then here it is.
The troupe take a break and a hip flask gets passed around. Minutes later and fully fortified they start up again. And that’s when the warbling begins. No that’s unkind but I think the accordionist should probably just stick to his instrument because singing isn’t really his thing. But he is clearly enjoying it. And so are the spectators. All five of them. A solitary man with one of those rat-on-a-rope type dogs, an elderly couple in matching fleeces, a woman in her sixties with her hair in plaits (plaits? In one’s sixties?) and a skinny guy with a nose ring and dreadlocks. Actually, on reflection, he looks more bemused than appreciative.
“I bring you a branch of May” belts out the accordionist as the dancers shake their handkerchiefs at one another.
“Arise Arise you fair pretty maids”
I catch the elderly lady in the fleece and Plait Woman exchange a smirk at this. And its delightful the way they light up. Its charming and it makes me want to feel like a pretty maid too. Oh, for goodness sake this is not some fairy tale I tell myself. This is 2017. I am not a damsel in distress (not built for the part for one thing) and there sure as hell isn’t a knight on a charger anywhere in sight. Dreadlocks does not look the rescuing type.
Clambering into their bus the Morris troupe invite us all to join them for a Full English in the café at the base of the hill and there, over coffees laced from the hip flask, they tell me about the tradition of dancing in the dawn and Going a Maying, a ritual that dates back to pre-Christian worship apparently.
“What’s the significance of the ribbons and the sticks?” I ask remembering that I do have an article to write. The hip flask goes around again as they explain and I can’t help but wonder which of them will be driving the bus home.
TO BE CONTINUED
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