The end of the practice season and the start of the summer season; or why am I up at this ungodly hour?

Part the fifth – The end of the practice season and the start of the summer season; or why am I up at this ungodly hour?

I can’t believe I have done my first summer season of Morris dancing!  And survived virtually unscathed!  So much has happened and I have been very remiss and not kept you, dear reader, up to date with what has been going on.  As penance I will beat myself with sticks wrapped in hankies!  In this instalment I will take you through till the end of May as although I know you hang on my every word, dear reader, I don’t want you to have too much excitement all at once.

So what has been happening? I hear you mutter.  Well since my last instalment, which went up to New Year, I suppose the most important news is that I am no longer the newest Mersey Morris Man.  That dubious sobriquet now sits on the shoulders of Bob – seen here at about 5.30am on May 1st (more of which later).

Bob, the new New Boy

We have also been joined by Sarah who has added to our orchestra with her wonderful fiddle playing.  This is she.

Sarah the fiddler

Incidentally, she is also a vet so comes in very handy when one of us gets injured.  Although it took us a little while to persuade her that ‘putting him down’ is not always the best answer.

Both Bob and Sarah joined the side in January as we continued our winter training.  This basically meant re-doing what we had done up to Christmas, with a few refinements.  I was finding it easier to double step with more regularity and I was even remembering where to go and what to do when I got there.  I was still not very comfortable with the hankie dances – I was finding I could either wave the hankies properly or do the stepping properly but not both at the same time.  I much preferred the stick dances and was getting used to the various choruses – which are when you hit each other with the stick.  Well you should really hit the other sticks rather than then each other.

The first event of the summer season was our annual Ceilidh held in Neston on the last Saturday in April.  This was a great evening of country dance with around 120 people enjoying the evening.  We did a couple of dances as well and I’m glad to report I did them more or less right.

On the 29th of April we had our first evening dance out at one of the many wonderful pubs that can be found on the Wirral.  It was freezing!  There were a few very hardy souls who managed to stand outside and watch us do our thing, but it was a close thing as to whether the landlord sold more beer or hot soup!

Two days later was the first of May.  There is a tradition within the Morris world of what is known as Sun-Upping which involves finding a suitable vantage point to watch the sun rise over the horizon and to dance to welcome in the lazy, hazy days of summer.  This meant getting up at about 4.30am, gathering at the car park of the Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm in Bidston and walking to the top of Bidston Hill ready for sunrise at just after 5.30am.  We were joined in this mad pursuit by the good ladies of the Mockbeggar Morris (www.mockbeggarmorris.org) and a few local insomniacs who had nothing better to do.

As you can see from the photo of Bob above, it was somewhat chilly.  After about an hour of dancing we returned to the car park and made bacon sandwiches!  It is true to say that this event went straight in at number four of the 10 Most Stupid Things I’ve Done In My Life (So Far) – but it was great fun and quite an honour to think that I was part of an event that was happening around the country and indeed around the globe.  You can see more pictures of the day on our facebook page where you can also find lots of pictures of most of our performances.

This meant I had been dancing on three of the last four days – my feet were killing me!!

A few days later it was the first May Bank Holiday and to celebrate we had a tour of Parkgate, starting at the Old Quay public house, then The Ship and finally The Red Lion.  What a difference a few days makes to the weather in good old England!  It was a really warm afternoon with lots of people out enjoying the sunshine, having a stroll along the historic quayside and perhaps an award-winning ice cream from the famous Nicholls Ice Cream Shop.  All in all it was a chance for the family Joe Public to have a lovely time.  And then a bunch of strange people with bells on rolls up to spoil their reverie!  Actually it was a great atmosphere and a good day out.

We continued our Monday evening tour round the various pubs as the evenings got longer and warmer – well longer anyway – with the highlight of the month being Nev’s birthday.  To celebrate the 80th birthday of our oldest member, a new dance was written by Richard our Foreman.

I can do no better than to quote the citation from the commemorative certificate: “This dance was written for Neville Moulden who spent his second childhood as a dancer, musician and Liver Bird with Mersey Morris Men. In the Mersey Tradition, it was written to celebrate his 80th birthday on 22 May 2013 and is set to one of Nev’s favourite tunes, Speed The Plough.”

There was a competition to name the dance among our members and Kev won with his suggestion of Duck’s Delight.  The name is obvious when you see Nev’s hat.  Here it is:

Neville - Ducks Delight

The dance received its world premiere at The Fox and Hounds, Barnston and has now become part of our repertoire, thus proving that Morris dancing is a living tradition.

As the weeks progressed I was finding the dancing was if not getting easier, at least getting less difficult.  I started to find the stepping was becoming more natural and I was concentrating more on some of the refinements, such as the twisty back-steps, the galleys and the hooky-legs.  I was also becoming bolder, as I was prepared to ‘have a go’ at dances that I’d not tried before.

Perhaps most importantly, I was still really, really, really enjoying myself.

The next instalment, which I promise will be on these pages in the blink of an eye, will tell of days in the forest with dragons and of days with dolphins among the cowpats!

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