Stone the Crows’ very particular friends, Clerical Error, are 25 this year. When we turned 21 last year, we had a big celebriation (a cross between celebration and inebriation) and invited our lovely friends, including the aforementioned Denbighshire side, who helped us break a Guinness World Record on the Flag Market in Preston. I didn’t get a chance to blog about that even though it was very exciting indeed because Greg and I went on holiday the following weekend and when we returned and I’d uploaded all my photos to Facebook, it seemed a bit late.
Greg and I set off Friday lunchtime and managed to be the first Crows to arrive at the campsite at Trefnant Village Hall, which is a first in so many ways, so we claimed a pitch at the bottom of the field and then, remembering that heavy rain was forecast, we relocated to the top of the field and claimed that bit instead. I quickly set about pitching the tent all by myself so it could be just so. I was pleased with the result and by the time I had finished making sure everything was perfectly in place, Frances and John arrived and it transpired that we weren’t the first Crows there because they’d got there before us (and put a windbreak up at the bottom of the field to stake a claim [which John had to go and retrieve]). Greg and I had acquired a fire bucket and already had beers cooling in it. Frances added a bottle of wine and the obligatory photos were taken.
Crows kept turning up during the afternoon and we ended up sat in a circle drinking beer and wine (but not from the same tankard) and doing what Crows do best, putting the world to rights. A few of us decided to have our tea at the pub across the road and we did. Mine wasn’t a success because they’d run out of the obviously Vegan option, so I went for the veggie burger, which contained cheese. I used to really like cheese but it appears I don’t anymore, so I left it. When we got back to the campsite, we did that sitting in a circle and putting the world to rights thing again. I was getting cold though and I knew there was a session in the Village Hall, so Julie, Greg and I went to join in.
The session was one of those advanced jobbies and I felt right out of my depth but I joined in anyway, otherwise how will I ever improve? I also like to learn new tunes and the one from this session is The Galopede, which I will practice intensely over the next few weeks and which you can find here. At one point during the session I asked “Have there been any Cotswold tunes?” and Graham from Powderkegs started playing Valentine. I think he’d read my mind. Anyway, it was a good session and I stayed late enough that when we tripped our way back to the tent, I wished I’d brought a torch with me. The first night’s sleep was disturbed, mainly because the bunting fairy had hung some bunting on our tent and every time the wind made it flap against the sides, it sounded like a medium sized furry animal with a long tail was running up and down it.
We awoke to the sound of rain drumming on the tent. Not a good start to the day. However, I decided to ignore all the weather forecasts for the day (all variations on a theme: it’s going to piss down all day and you’re going to be miserable) and come up with my own, which I declaimed to my fellow Crows while the rain penetrated my waterproof coat (I need to rewaterproof it now). My forecast was: “It’s going to piss down until 10.00, when we catch the bus to Conwy, at which point it will ease to a light drizzle and, when we get to Conwy, the sun will break through and it will be glorious.” Actually, it was a damn sight more accurate than the Met Office and BBC Weather combined because it eased off at 09.52 and, although it did rain a bit in Conwy, it certainly did not persist it down.
There were three dance spots in Conwy and we got to dance at two of them: the Square and the Castle. Our first spot was at the Square, where we danced with our hosts, Clerical Error, Carreg Las and Ripley Green Garters. We started off with Ragged Crow and then did Black Widow when our turn came round again. When it was time for our third dance, we did Ashpole, where I had to pretend to be a man because we didn’t have enough (we normally have a 50/50 split). I think I did a reasonable impression, making low grunting noises and generally looking macho, although the other Crows did seem to be laughing at me rather a lot. I might have been more convincing if I’d had a beard but then I don’t think Greg would like me as much if I did.
After three dances, we made our way to the Castle. On our way, one of the Crows overheard a tour guide give the best description of a castle ever when he said, “This is a castle. it’s lovely, it’s very old and ……. Yeah.” We danced in the Cellar (now open to the elements), which has a gritty surface, is very slippery and managed to get nearly all the way up our trouser legs. We shared this spot with Ripley Green Garters and Wytchwood Morris. We danced STC (the space was perfect for it, even though the surface wasn’t), a double set of Upton Stick, where 12 Crows barely managed to keep on their feet (we could have called it the Upton Banana Skin Dance) and finished up with a White Ladies Aston, which I think was pretty brave of us considering our feet’s propensity to go sliding in different directions every time we took a step, before going off to find lunch.
Lunch was a bowl of chips, which I had to guard jealously from Greg’s rampaging fork, and then we went back to the Square again, where we were dancing with Powderkegs and Ripley Green Garters. Powderkegs kicked off proceedings with their version of Much Wenlock, while we were waiting for all the Crows to arrive, and then Ripley Green Garters danced, while we were still waiting for all the Crows to arrive. Arrive they did, in the end, and it was our turn to dance. I got a set up for Much Wenlock. I know Powderkegs had just danced it but we do it a bit differently, so why not? Powderkegs then did their version of Black Widow, which they do with eight dancers. We do it with six. We all had time to do three dances at this spot and our final one was Mr Benn, which is a particular favourite of mine, although it leaves me feeling like I’ve just tried to sprint a marathon. When I’d got my breath back, it was time to go back to the castle for some massed dances.
We did three massed dances: Bonny Green Garters, a Cotswold dance taught to us by Mad Jacks Morris; Gisburn, a North West Morris dance taught to us by Ripley Green Garters (with an unholy scramble for sticks beforehand); Tinners Rabbit was the Border dance taught to us by Graham from Powderkegs. Then, because we had not run out of time yet, we did another dance, a bottle Cuckoo’s Nest, where you use bottles instead of sticks, although Greg and I didn’t have bottles, so we used sticks instead.
Then we caught the bus back to the campsite and I went off to have a shower and get face paint all over Greg’s camping towel (naughty me). Then there were cakes and beer and then, once I’d ruined my appetite, we went into the village hall for tea. My tea was vegetable curry and chips and I couldn’t manage even half of it and I never had any of the puddings on offer. Then there was a game where a representative from each team had to do a cross between a treasure hunt and musical chairs. Why Stone the Crows chose me for their representative, I will never know. I’m very lazy and very slow and not particularly competitive (or too quick to give up if things aren’t going my way). I lost on the round where I had to get a man’s sock: it was Graham’s. It was a bit of a relief, although I could easily have won the next round because we had to find a bra and it would have been the work of a moment to sit in the chair and remove my own.
After that, there was the result of the quiz (we had all been handed quiz sheets earlier in the day) and prizes, the rather beautiful birthday cake was cut, there was a special dance created that same day and danced to a Black Sabbath medley by members of Box Hill Bedlam and Clerical Error. Then the tables were cleared and there was a band. We managed to stay for a few numbers but then Cat, our Squire, had to take her two young sons back to the campsite and put them to bed as they were worn out by their day’s exertions: it can be hard work dragging your father around Conwy and forcing him to spend his money on you. We couldn’t leave her on her own, so we stayed for another song or two and then left to keep her company.
We went back to doing the sitting in a circle and putting the world to rights thing while Cat would occasionally go back to her tent to arbitrate the odd squabble from her progeny until they feel asleep. It wasn’t long after that I decided it was time to hit the sack myself. Partly because I too was worn out by my day’s exertions (involving quite a lot of dancing and a smaller amount of beer) but more because I was getting cold and bed seemed to be the best place to warm up again.
It was warm but the mattress, which had not been properly inflated (I had not overseen that operation), had leaked air during the day and I was almost in contact with the tent floor. When Greg got in a little bit later, I nearly bounced out and spent the rest of the night trying to climb out of the trough that formed in the middle and then nearly rolling off the side. However, it was still more restful than the previous night because I was no longer under the impression that the local rats were using our tent as an obstacle course.
Sunday started in a more promising manner than Saturday because it didn’t start raining at the crack of dawn: it waited until the tents had had a chance to dry and then came down just enough to wet them thoroughly. We dodged showers, ate our breakfasts, performed our morning ablutions and then dropped the still wet tents. At about eleven we set off to Erddig House in convoy – well, a sort of convoy: it was a convoy of two cars – Mary’s and ours. We managed to get there without incident – Mary’s satnav is obviously better than ours – and rendezvoused with the other Morris dancers.
There was time for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps, despite a fire alarm going off, and then Clerical Error’s Squire requested the presence of an officer from each side to discuss the order of dance. I went along as I couldn’t see Cat just at that moment and I swear I paid attention but by the time I got back to the Crows the information I had absorbed was limited. We were going to look round the house first and then dance outside it second but the timings had completely escaped me. Fortunately Cat had returned and she decided that we would look round the house and meet up outside at 1.15.
Mark, Greg and I went to look round the house. I had Jeffrey on my back in his jet pack, so I was relieved to be relieved of him in the cellars, ostensibly to protect the priceless treasures in the house but probably because the National Trust volunteer could see me struggling with him. Her face was a picture when she took him off me and felt how heavy he is for the first time. We looked round the house and saw the lovely collection, including some stuffed animals depicting household pests, such as woodworm and deathwatch beetle, and met the other Crows outside at about 1.15pm as planned and watched the other sides finishing off their sets.
The order of dance was drawn up and we were to dance after Belly Fusion Dance Collective. Unfortunately another side had also been told they were going after Belly Fusion and there was nearly a very unpleasant altercation with shouts of “We were after Belly Fusion!” and “No! We were after Belly Fusion!” and “We haven’t danced yet!” and “Neither have we!”. However, we retired [almost] gracefully and as a member of the other side came over later and proffered an apology and olive branch, no names shall be named. Anyway, we got to dance and we did two sets of Ragged Crow. There was time for another dance, which was White Ladies with Greg and I leading and then there was a massed dance, which was Echoes.
I usually dance Echoes but I thought that this time I would play Jeffrey with the band. I always thought I knew the tune to Echoes but memory can be deceptive and I found out I was harmonising quite nicely but not actually playing the tune. No matter, I didn’t play too loudly and paid attention and I think that by the end I was playing a close approximation of the actual tune. One of the melodeon players for Powderkegs said afterwards that I seemed to have picked it up quite well, so I’ll take that as vindication of my playing.
After Echoes we had a group photo of all the sides taken on the steps and then it was time to depart. Graham and Anne had offered tea and cake in their caravan but Greg and I were keen to go home, so we set off to the car, our pace quickening with every step as the rain started to fall again and put Jeffrey and Greg in the car and I drove home.
It was a fabulous weekend and an absolute honour to be able to help such a wonderful Morris side to celebrate their 25th birthday. Here’s to many more!