Archive for Christmas

Dance out at the Continental, Preston or the one where I clicked on BOLD a lot

Posted in Dance, Folk Traditions, Morris Dancing, Music with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2012 by Jester

One of our regular haunts for dancing and drinking beer is The Continental in Preston. Situated on the banks of the River Ribble, with the railway bridge (with invisible trains) just yards away… No! This is not a review, this is a blog about Morris dancing. Sorry. Anyway we like the Continental because they don’t mind us dancing there and scaring away the locals and you can always get a good pint there. We like it so much that one year we had our Christmas Party there and therefore, also, the opening night of our Mummers play.

Last year was particularly memorable because somebody forgot the sticks. Well, I’m going to be pedantic here. Nobody who was actually there last year forgot the sticks: the problem was that the sticks were with people who weren’t there and they weren’t even in a place where we could go to collect them (if I remember rightly, one bag of sticks was with a person who was at Lands End and the other with somebody who was in Timbuctoo). I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this but one of the distinctive features of Border Morris is that we dance exclusively with sticks (well, we dance Upton Hanky but we’re a rebellious bunch, us Crows). Turning up to a dance out where nobody has brought the sticks is a bit like realising too late that there is no toilet paper on the roll – not good at all.

Not that there weren’t any sticks: some of our members have become extremely attached to certain sticks and take them home with them. There is one lady who dances with us who can paint crows on sticks and varnish them – a particularly nice touch – and these decorated sticks also go home with individual crows, so I think we had about seven in all. I know it was an odd number because our foreman borrowed a broom from the pub to make an even number, so the dance out went ahead. Although not without some major grumbling from me.

Crows sunning themselves with the railway bridge in the background

Now, it’s a common misconception that lightning never strikes twice in the same place and absolutely everybody who went to the Continental this Thursday thought “at least we won’t have the fiasco that we had last year” and absolutely everybody was absolutely wrong. Yes, for the second year in a row, nobody brought the sticks and with a horrible sense of déjà vu, we all stood around saying things like “I can’t believe it!” and “Oh no, not again“. Fortunately, this year, somebody had forgotten to bring the sticks or had thought he didn’t need to bring them because somebody else was bringing the other bag and so he went home to get them – about a 40 minute round journey. Even more fortunately, we were able to cobble together enough individual sticks (including a couple of positive cudgels) to get two sets of Ragged Crow up for the first dance. I availed myself of one of the cudgels and joined one of the sets.

For the second dance, I nominated my own STC and we got eight up for it and it wasn’t at all interesting in the slightest (for those not in the know, I use the word interesting to denote when a dance has gone horribly wrong in one or more of the figures – mine usually goes horribly wrong in the hey) and I think it looked pretty good, which was very nice for me because some of Greg’s and my friends had come to watch including a very new friend I have made in Burlesque classes and there’s nothing I like better than impressing people. There were a couple more dances with the cobbled together sticks and then the stick man turned up with the bag of official sticks and I threw my cudgel down gratefully (causing a minor earth tremor in doing so [and now I have dispelled the rumour that they were fracking for shale gas in Preston on Thursday]) and got myself a slimmer, more svelte stick.

Chris and Greg dancing Upton Stick framed by musicians

We did a couple more dances and then we had a beer break, which is absolutely essential when you are dancing in warm sunshine (the weather for once had decided that the joke of making it impossible for us to dance by putting down six months’ rain every five minutes every Thursday evening was wearing thin) and Greg went off to buy me another half of that light ale that I  really liked, whose name escapes me completely, that they were serving in the Continental that night and I went and chatted to my friends. Once the beer break was over there was more dancing, including a Black Widow, which I didn’t dance (but should have because of what happened later) and a Loxley Barrett, which I did. During Loxley, a very small boy, clearly a big fan of Border Morris and a potential future dancer himself, wandered into the dance area and as I turned round at the end to come back to the centre (I’m making it sound more complicated than it is, here – good) I came face to face with him. I was not overcome by the temptation to scare him, as I usually am with small children, and so I smiled and said “Hello” in a friendly way. Next time I looked he was back with his dad and therefore less likely to be trampled by a large, gangly Border Morris dancer (I have a particular large, gangly Border Morris dancer in mind here).

After more dancing, including two audience participation numbers, Tinners Rabbit and Much Wenlock… Actually, we’ll have a word about the two audience participation numbers here. One of the rent-a-crowd Greg and I had brought, Ally, is a regular participant in Tinners Rabbit and, although not an official Border Morris dancer, she knows the moves and can swing a stick with reasonable accuracy. With her was her partner and his two youngest sons and they (the two youngest sons, not the partner, who had a doctor’s note) were press-ganged into the two dances. I danced Tinners Rabbit with Ally and found myself opposite one of her partner’s sons in Much Wenlock. I have to say it, he was really rather good. His stepping was better than most civvies’ and he remembered to move his stick to his right shoulder for every body-swing. His Pee on the floors might have resembled more closely an Aitch on the floor but I’m not going to nit pick, he was good. To my right were Ally and Greg, with Greg just managing to keep up with her (she does enjoy dancing with us).

Our final dance was Crow’s Nest, which went without a hitch until the figure known as Double Cross, where for some reason unknown even to me, I decided to dance Spider’s Web from Black Widow (hence, why I should have danced that one, although I might have done Double Cross during Spider’s Web). This resulted in the evening’s most memorable quote, “Sharon, where’re you going?” To which the reply was “I don’t know!” It was spectacular but if you’re going to make a mistake that you can’t cover up, you might as well make it spectacular and make yourself look as clueless as possible, thereby making it comical. I think I managed to do that.

That was the dancing over for the evening and at that point, a bloke from work came over to us. He had been playing hockey in the field next door to the pub and had heard us but had not seen a single dance. No matter, we offered to get the sticks back out and dance a Tinners with him but he graciously declined the invitation and returned to his friends. Not long after, Greg and I returned home. Another dance out with an unpromising start had turned out right, despite a major boo-boo during one of the dances and we hadn’t even got wet. I think that’s what I call a success.


The Mummers Play – a New Experience

Posted in Dance, Folk Traditions, Morris Dancing, Music with tags , , , , on January 2, 2012 by Jester

Let’s go back a few years – to 1972 to be precise. My junior school was putting on a production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” I was in the third year (now more commonly known as Year 5) and it was a chance for me to shine, so I went along to the auditions. I was bitterly disappointed: I didn’t even get a small speaking part but was cast as an extra. I was to be an orphan in the workhouse. Undoubtedly my meagre frame qualified me well for the part but I had hoped for one of Fagin’s urchins or even an adult part (I was tall for my age). It was to be the first of many such disappointments.

Now I’ll bring you to the present day. Well, a couple of months ago, when we were discussing the Mummer’s Play with our foreman. Now I know that Greg always enjoyed acting so I was putting him up for it when it was suggested I could be in it. I pooh-poohed the idea: all those knock backs in my early years had severely dented my self-confidence. Still, Greg would want to be in it, so I suggested we go to the planning meeting. This was to decide on the content of the play, as we keep it topical and this year it was to have two new characters, Signor Bert Lesconi and Rupert Burdock. Greg was asked to do an Italian accent and was immediately picked for the part of Lesconi.

A week or so later, our foreman again suggested I play St George. I was flabbergasted, I had already explained I can’t act and so I told him again, “I can’t act”. “No problem” he said. “I have failed every audition for every play in my school career”, to which he replied “You’re perfect for the part”. I felt a bit like Jack Lemmon at the end of “Some Like it Hot” and so said I would give it a try.

We were handed the script and I went off home to learn my part. We went to a read through of the script about a week later and by then, I had pretty well learned my lines. However, when it came to reciting them, I found myself mumbling. I was very nearly vindicated in my assertions that I could not possibly be in a Mummers play. However, a couple of members of the cast, who are seasoned pros, took me to one side and explained that I need to speak my part slowly and loudly.

I took this advice to heart and continued to learn my lines and practised shouting them slowly, mainly in the car on the way into and home from work. I also decided that I wanted to play St George as a principal boy and went and bought a few things I thought I would need: some knee boots, some warm beige tights (to wear under my fishnets) and some shorts (to save my blushes). St George was going to be leggy this year. The following Thursday we had our first rehearsal… with props. I had taken to heart the advice I had received and had even managed to get a degree of hamminess into my performance, which I hoped would be appreciated. It was and I was given some more advice – don’t address your fellow actors but address the audience.

A Border Morris Santa Claus

The world premiere of the Mummer’s Play coincided, as it always does, with the Stone the Crows’ Christmas party, this year held at The Gables, Leyland. For some reason, I had decided that, instead of the dark blue shorts I had bought to wear as part of St George’s outfit, I would wear my pink Leopard skin shorts. These were to double up as my party outfit, so I went into the toilet to change into them. I was then asked frequently if I was warm enough in them. My beige tights were very warm, however, so I was fine. Before our performance, we all received our secret Santa presents from our very own Father Christmas. I got a Christmas cake in a bag, which I will thoroughly enjoy making next year.

Then there was the very, very exciting world premiere of the play, which went very well indeed, even though Rupert Burdock forgot to bring his axe and had to chase me with a meat cleaver (a real one and sharp – thank goodness I had my mobile phone shield with me). I remembered to shout at the audience (Oh no you didn’t! Oh yes I did!) and I was complimented afterwards on my performance by some of the non-combatants. We went outside for a dance, where I discovered that my beige tights were not as toasty as previously thought and, after a few more beers and a few more dances, went home.

The world tour of the Stone the Crows Mummers play was on the 23rd December. It started at the Dog Inn, Whittle-le-Woods, where we had to have a stand in for Rupert Burdock because he was still trying to find the pub while we were acting inside it (that’s satnavs for you). Then we moved onto the Roebuck, just down the road, where it was very crowded and noisy and the audience was not as appreciative as we would have liked. After that, we played the Red Lion in Wheelton, where we were joined by a fellow Crow and finally we ended up at the Top Lock, also in Wheelton, where we were joined by more Crows and Slasher traumatised Greg by revealing during his death scene that he had gone commando for the evening. Of course this would not have been a problem had he been wearing trousers but he was in fact wearing a kilt. His good lady, who was also the doctor in the play, gave him a good dressing down for not giving her prior warning of his lack of underwear. I would like to add that the play got better each time we performed it that night.

St George defeats Rupert Burdock yet again in Croston.

We went home flush with success and I was raring to go for the final performance in Croston on Boxing Day. We were joined that day by Greg’s sister, Sarah, professional Morris team audience member, and two of our friends, Kevin and Kathy. We started proceedings with some Morris Dancing, quite uncomfortable for me because I had two pairs of tights on under my trousers. After that, we changed into our costumes and the final performance of the Mummer’s play 2011 began. I was now, finally, quite confident about my acting abilities and strutted about doing my stuff. I even got booed at one point (when I tell the audience I’ve their wife and I’ve had their daughter – they’re obviously quite touchy about that sort of thing in Croston). Everybody else got booed, cheered and laughed at in exactly the right places and at the end of the play, I even got to lead the singing (well, our usual leader of singing wasn’t there in an executive capacity, so somebody had to do it). We got cheered and then got to dance once again, this time in our outfits.

Well, I think I’ve finally laid to rest any remaining fears I have about acting. I’m just looking forward to next year. Who knows, I may even get to play St George again or maybe something will happen in 2012 that will produce the perfect part for me, just as the Euro Crisis produced the part of Bert Lesconi for Greg. I may even have to stand aside for new talent but it has to be said that it was a great experience for me and I’m really glad I’ve done it.

Croston Christmas Fair

Posted in Dance, Folk Traditions, Morris Dancing, Music with tags , , on January 2, 2012 by Jester

Our second Christmas Fair in 2011 was at Croston. It was on Sunday 11th December and Greg and I were accompanied by Greg’s sister, Sarah, who is a professional Morris team audience member. We had been given our very own parking zone in the car park of the local high school, which we found surprisingly easily and from there we set off into the heart of Croston.

We had been allotted two dance spots outside the church and we were to meet up before the first for mulled wine or mead (or unalcoholic drink if so desired) and Christmas dainties at the house of one of our number. We managed to walk straight past her house, even though she had put a (model) crow in the front garden to mark the spot, as it were. Never mind, we made it back there in good time and the mulled wine was very good – much, much better than warm blackcurrant squash – and the Stollen, Mince Pies and Ginger Biscuits were excellent too. Then we set off en masse to the church to do our first dance spot.

Church Street, Croston with a Drummer Crow leading the way to one of the dance spots.

We had to wait, though, because a lone piper was doing his lone piper thing and there was no way our musicians could (or would) compete with his bagpipes. Eventually, he brought his skirl to an end, potentially because of some brandishing of sticks in his general direction. Then we started with Ragged Crow, our Signature Dance. The ground was slightly soft underfoot but not so much as to make dancing difficult. Then there were other dances, which, thankfully for anybody who might stray onto this blog and (perish the thought!) read it, I cannot remember in any detail. All I do know is that we danced STC, my very own dance, and it went much, much better than at its previous airing. Well, it did on the second attempt: the first I will gloss over and just say it was interesting. It was so interesting we abandoned it during the first figure and started again and it went very well. I also found out that if I call the dance properly, the dancers dance it properly.

After we had finished our first spot one of my fellow team members called me over as somebody in the audience claimed to know me and indeed she did. It was Helen, one of my colleagues from work, who had been threatening to come and watch us for some time but had not been able to make it until now. She had turned up just as we finished and had missed the dancing. I reassured her that this was not the only spot we would be doing and told her when the next one would be. I also called over Greg, who was trying to extricate the rubber foot thingy from his stool that had come off in the very soft ground where he had been sat playing his drum (and sinking into the ground), and introduced them.

We then all went our separate(ish) ways to look at the fair or find beer. Most of us went looking for beer in one of the two most central pubs and it appeared that everybody else in the village had had the same idea. I whiled away the hours (okay, minutes) at the bar waiting to be served by encouraging a young child to be naughty and embarrassing to her Dad. Fortunately, he was mildly amused rather than annoyed with me. After all, he only needs tell her that if she behaves in the way I suggested, she would end up with a black face, raggedy jacket and a silly hat: an entirely plausible theory to one so tender in years.

We then went back to the church to do our second dance spot and we did STC a second time, so Helen could see it. It was decidedly not interesting at all this time and I think we danced it perfectly. Helen took a number of pictures and videoed us doing two of the dances. The band was stationed in a drier and firmer spot, so Greg did not lose any more parts of his stool. The second dance spot completed, we went next door, where there is a nursing home, and danced a few of our dances for the residents.

Upton Stick outside the Wheatsheaf

We then made our way back to the pubs in the centre of the village and got some more beers. After that and after some of our number had purchased and eaten some of the excellent comestibles available and after the silver band over the road had finished playing and packed up, we had an impromptu dance outside the pub. By now, it was dark so the Christmas lights in some of our hats came into their own. This time, I sat (or stood) some of the dances out, so I could get some photos taken (usually, I’m too busy dancing to get any).

When we had finished, some of us went to have a look at the church and to wait for the torchlit procession, which always concludes proceedings at this particular Christmas fair. The church is beautiful, about 900 years old and mixture of medieval ecclesiastical styles – just don’t ask me which. It was also considerably warmer inside than out. We had slightly mistimed our visit, however, and after about 20 minutes, we left and waited for the procession to come up the road, which it did eventually, not long after we had been told not to stand in the road by a policeman who looked even younger than my son (which made me feel very old indeed).

After that, we all went our separate ways. We took Sarah home and then came home ourselves to remove our make up, have some tea and finally put our feet up. It was a very enjoyable day only marred by the fact that Greg never did retrieve the missing part of his stool, which despite a Time Team style excavation by him and one of our melodeon players, remains buried within the environs of St Michael and All Angels, Croston.