Sunday, 1 September 2013

Don't drink and trombone

We cracked open a bottle of co-op wine today. It carried a cautionary note on the label: 'If you drink, do not drive, operate machinery or play sports.' But curiously, there was nothing on the label advising you not to play the trombone. Who writes these warnings?

Life goes on pretty well as normal here at Hale Villas. Walls have been painted, floorboards replaced and redundant garden plants have been uprooted. There seems to be a never-ending round of tasks that need completing. When we viewed the house in 2008, I somehow managed to convince Mrs H that 'it's just cosmetic; a lick of paint here and there will do the trick.' Four years and a twenty gallon lick of paint later, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And this time it's not an oncoming train.

Fatsia Japonica. Sometimes called the false castor oil plant, it has big, glossy leaves not unlike a fig, and a tendency to grow into a monster. And this is what it did, very quietly, in an unregarded bit of the front garden. By the time we decided it ought to go, it had grown almost out of control, with a trunk that would have done justice to a reasonably sized tree. So, I set to work, snipping, sawing and digging. And during the course of these activities, it seems I grazed my leg on the plant. I thought nothing of it until, a couple of days later, I found my leg had started to blister. And over the next couple of weeks, the blisters got bigger and nastier, eventually necessitating a trip to the local 'NHS Walk In Centre'.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a Walk In Centre. It does what it says on the tin. You walk in, you give the reception your name, you sit down and you wait. And wait. And wait. And after four and a half hours of waiting I was ushered into the doctor's surgery. The doctor wasn't particularly chatty. I think he'd been probably been planning a day on the golf course, but received a phone call at 7am, telling him to get into work sharpish as his colleague had gone sick. So you can understand his unwillingness to engage with yet another time wasting patient too hopeless to self medicate and too bone idle to look up the symptoms on the internet. He poked and prodded at my leg a couple of times, then said, 'And what do you want to happen?' I was rather surprised by this question. I thought for a minute, then replied, 'Actually, I'd quite like this dodgy leg thing to go away.' Eventually the doc wrote me a prescription and I toddled off. Not the best encounter I've had with the health service.

That was a few weeks ago. I'm still taking the tablets, but the scars are still there and I'm pretty sure they will be there for good. But at least I can dance again (albeit some of my fellow dancers might disagree). And I do my level best to keep a healthy distance between me and the nearest Fatsia Japonica.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bampton Bells

Yesterday was Whit Monday. My generation and older still remember it as Whit Monday. Sadly, this old, traditional name has been quietly shelved, replaced with a corporate-sounding Late May Bank Holiday. Historically, Whitsuntide was a time for celebration, when feasting, ale drinking and games took place on the village green. And, fortunately for all of us, there is a place in the Cotswolds where Whitsuntide still means something.

Bampton is an impossibly pretty Oxfordshire village, just a few miles from Brize Norton RAF station. Lockheed TriStars and VC10s scream overhead, competing with the robins and blackbirds that proclaim their territories in the old churchyard. The houses are of honey coloured stone with neat gardens and stone troughs overflowing with cottage flowers. Business is brisk in the four pubs (there used to be sixteen) in the village centre. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear the jingle of morris bells. For it's Whitsun in Bampton, and Whitsun means The Morris.

By all accounts, they've been dancing in Bampton for four hundred years, albeit the first mention was in 1847, when the Reverend Giles complained that the quality of dancing wasn't what it used to be. Back in those early days there was only one morris 'side'; now there are three, and all of them dance the distinctive 'Bampton' tradition. I got chatting to a couple of local youngsters, who told me there had been a 'falling out' many years ago which resulted in the original side splitting in two and going their separate ways. They likened the event to the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, where a previously homogenous group of freedom fighters split into The Judean People's Front and The People's Front of Judea. Whatever, happened, the (now) three sides happily coexist.

The members of the Traditional Bampton Morris side are scattered to the four corners of the kingdom. But they regroup the night before Whit Monday to practice and revise their dances. On the Monday morning, dancing starts at nine sharp and follows a well worn route through the village, and includes the back gardens of some of the houses. I'm told that the deeds of some of these ancient houses require the owners to give access to the dancers, and, in at least one case, insist that the householder supplies the (always) thirsty dancers with ale. There seemed to be a great deal of support from the locals. In some places, to be dressed as a morris dancer is to attract sideways glances or ridicule. Indeed, to admit to membership of a side in those places would be akin to admitting a spell in a psychiatric hospital. But not so in Bampton. They take their morris dancing seriously. 'We have to do it,' I overheard one dancer say, 'It's the tradition'. And in a world where home grown Tradition is seen as an anachronism by people who would happily travel thousands of miles to watch Russian folk dancing or listen to a Balinese gamelan band, it's a tradition I'm happy to see continuing (judging by the number of young dancers I saw) into the next generation.

Dancing continues until 6pm, at which time other morris sides, which have travelled to Bampton by special invitation, join in the festivities. This year I and my associates of Long Man Morris were one of the sides fortunate to be invited, and we were pleased to dance our own Wilmington Tradition in the village square and outside the aptly-named Morris Clown public house.

Bampton's a long way from Seaford; around a hundred and forty miles and a six hour round trip.  So, why did I go? To be part, if only for a few hours, of a centuries old tradition. The world turns. Generations come and go. But in Bampton, there will always be The Morris.