Boxing Day Revels and New Year’s Day Smarties, or how I did it in public for the first time

Part the fourth – Boxing Day Revels and New Year’s Day Smarties; or how I did it in public for the first time.

First of all, dear reader, I want to apologise for the tardiness of this latest offering.  I won’t insult you by making excuses, suffice to say that the medication worked, the swelling has gone down and after a short course of therapy all’s right with the world again!  But seriously folks; life just has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions.  Anyway, here it is for what it is worth.

Cast your mind back, if you will, dear reader, to your family traditions on Boxing Day.  Perhaps you were driving round franticly trying to buy some more batteries for Johnnie’s new toy, or you were (quietly) celebrating the fact that the in-laws were going home, or maybe just nursing another fine hangover after yet another successful family Christmas.  If, however, you have none of these happy memories, maybe you were one of the 300 or more brave souls who made it to Willaston village green to witness the fine figures of the Mersey Morris Men carrying on their Boxing Day tradition.

For 21 years now, we have put on a show for anyone mad enough to stand around for an hour or so.  Not only are several dances, including some very good (if not a little strange) ones involving double-handled swords, performed, but the crowd also receive a complimentary and free cup of mulled wine and a piece of Christmas cake.  Of course after we’ve given them this we go and drag a few shekels from their mittened hands to donate to the cause.

I had very proudly carried the cake without dropping it (click to view this marvellous sight in the MMM Boxing Day image gallery) and then probably just got in the way until I was called to join in the last dance, Greenbanks.  I was very nervous and this was not helped by Squire Tony introducing me to the crowd as the latest recruit to the side.  I’d like to think I received what sounded like a round of applause, but thinking back it was probably just the sound of knees knocking as they shivered in the cold.

Well, the music started and off we went at a cracking pace.  I launched into the first figure (foot up and down twice – for those technically minded among you) with positive abandon and actually got it right.  I then flawlessly ‘sticked’ my heart out in the chorus.  I was really starting to enjoy myself as we entered the next figure (back-to-back) and off I went step-hopping like a seasoned pro.  Another chorus successfully negotiated without mishap or broken fingers and I was in the zone, as I believe it is termed these days.  The penultimate figure was again performed like I knew what I was doing, another chorus nailed and then the final figure, the hay.  Dear reader, I blush to recall it.  There was clearly a sudden short circuit between brain and feet.  I hopped when I should have stepped and stepped when I should have hopped.  I went out instead of in, up instead of down and generally cocked it up.  I was mortified, sick as a parrot and generally rather peeved.  My only hope was that people were thinking too much about a warming libation in the Pollard Inn to have noticed.

However, I didn’t half enjoy myself, even though I’d made a bit of a mess at the end.

Of course, my fellow dancers were all very kind and complimentary and the current Mrs King thought I was wonderful (and so she should) but I knew I had a week to think long and hard about it before my second public performance at the Plaster’s Arms in Hoylake on New Year’s Day.

So a week later most of us met again at the fine little pub called the Plasterer’s Arms for lunchtime.  Now if you don’t know it I can recommend it as they keep a very good pint and are well known for their folk music nights.  I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that a lot of their regular ‘folkies’ had turned up as well and after we had danced for an hour or so the afternoon turned into an impromptu folk jam session.  Most convivial!

Oh and the dancing went well, too.  This time I managed Greenbanks with no problem (well pretty much) and even had a go at a couple of other dances with reasonable success.  I still haven’t reached the point where the stepping ‘comes naturally’ but at least it was getting easier.

Oh, by the way, I still haven’t had a satisfactory explanation as to why double step is called double and not triple (see part 2).

Well that’s all for this instalment.  Happy dancing!

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