Thursday, 15 July 2010

Driving morris men to drink

I know it's not like me to be silent for long. But the fact of the matter is, I've been busy. At long last, our builder ran out of excuses (his words, not mine) and, for the last three weeks, I've been helping him to rip out one of our bathrooms and replace it with a lovely new one. Now, this may sound like a long time to do a bathroom, but we did rather complicate things. We wanted a radiator where a basin used to be, a basin where a radiator used to be, a toilet where a toilet used to be, but at a different angle, and a shower where nothing used to be at all. All of this involved yards of extra pipework, the partial removal of two walls and a considerable dollop of plaster. We now have an extra large shower, shiny tiles, and a posh toilet that I'm loath to use. Regular readers of this column will recall that DIY and I do not lie comfortably together, but nevertheless I have become, if not adept with chop saws, routers and electric planers, at least familiar with their functions and would be able to wield them at a pinch. Were it not for this dodgy back. We start bathroom two on Monday, so there's a couple more weeks of noise, dust, and constant clearing up to look forward to...

You'll probably be glad to hear that my new job as unpaid builder's labourer hasn't kept me away from the morris dancing. Since we last spoke, there have been sessions in Pevensey, Lewes, Eastbourne and a few little villages in the surrounding area. It may not surprise you to learn that most of our performances take place outside pubs -last night it was the Blackboys Inn in the village of Blackboys (named after the men who used to make charcoal in the nearby woods) - indeed, the Long Man Morris Men are sponsored by Harvey's Brewery. Beer and The Morris have a long association. But I wonder for how much longer. Moves are afoot to lower the legal alcohol limit for driving, which would make anyone who drives with more than just a trace of alcohol in their body into a criminal. This is likely to have a considerable impact. Many old and beautiful Sussex pubs are miles from anywhere and accessible only by road transport. If people stop driving to them, they will go out of business very quickly. Of course, would-be customers could go by cab; I did this myself in January when attending a dinner at the Trevor Arms in Glynde. Glynde is nine and a half miles away from my home. A return cab fare cost me forty pounds. How many people are going to spend forty quid (or more) to go out for a couple of drinks? But let's suppose for a moment that a few pubs do remain open, and a few customers decide to stump up the necessary cash for a cab to and from. How are we to get the morris side to them, and still enjoy a drink ourselves? The answer is obvious - we design and build a Morris Support Vehicle, or MSV.

The MSV would be similar to those police vans one often sees at public order events. You know the type - reinforced windows, a metal cage to protect the windscreen, and a stack of equipment on board. The MSV would have a green and yellow stripe down the side (LMM's colours) and sufficient seats on board for all the dancers. At the back would be storage for sticks (for the stick dances), a stock of fresh 'wavers' (as morris handkerchieves are called), a sewing box for running repairs to breeches, shirts, etc, and a comprehensive first aid kit for MRIs (Morris-Related Injuries). There would also be space for a barrel of beer. This would be cleverly mounted on three or more gimbals to counteract any yaw, pitch or roll of the vehicle. In effect, at the van moves in three dimensions, the beer remains still. No one likes cloudy beer.

It is to be hoped that there might be a few pounds left to fit a couple of luxury items to the MSV. A video recording system with slow motion playback, which would be used to film the dances and would act as a valuable training aid during debriefs. And a customised satellite navigation system. This would have a special 'morris route plotter', pre-loaded with the location of every pub in East Sussex. Thus, the Designated MSV Driver Of The Day would simply punch in a start and finish point, and the satnav would calculate a route that takes in the maximum number of pubs on the way. The satnav would also be 'Sussex Intuitive'. Let me explain. Let's say the MSV is parked in the town of Lewes. The driver programmes the satnav to take him to The Wheatsheaf in Willingdon Village. A warning beep sounds and the machine exclaims, 'Ah! If you're going to The Wheatsheaf in Willingdon I wouldn't start from here if I were you!'

The Designated Driver would also have another function, and an extremely important one; that of Gentleman Surveyor of the Morris. He would be required to attend every proposed dance venue, and carry out a survey of the dance area, reporting back on the type of surface (tarmac, loose gravel, grass, bare earth), terrain (flat, undulating, steeply sloping), and hazards (poor drainage, fixed pub umbrellas, rabbit holes) to the Squire of the side. The Squire would examine the report, and carry out an appropriate risk assessment, allowing the venue if it affords sufficient safety to his dancers. Any venue with an excellent survey result, and where the landlord is particularly well disposed to morris dancing, would be given the option of becoming a DMV - Dedicated Morris Venue. If s/he desires this status, the Squire will cause the dance area to be marked with a large white letter "M" enclosed in a white circle - somewhat in the manner of the helicopter landing sites one sees at hospitals.

All this talk of MSVs and specialist equipment is, of course, a dream, unless one of us wins the lottery. But what will become of the morris? Perhaps sides will become more local, attracting members from within walking distance of a particular pub. I suppose other businesses could start sponsoring dance sides - we might just see The Skinny Latte Morris Men capering outside a coffee shop, ("This next dance is called 'The Caffeine Overdose'")or The Burger Bar Border Boys performing a stick dance in front of a takeaway. But I just hope I'm not around to see it.