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.
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.
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.