Monday, 26 November 2007

Trust me, I'm a Morris Dancer

Well, I was once.

Even in the Folk world, Morris Dancers are viewed as the ones at the shallow end of the gene pool. What male in his right mind would dance around with flowers in his hat, hitting others with a pig's bladder or waving hankies about? Female dancers have a certain grace about them and are, in the main, photogenic. Morris men? Well, they have as much grace as a hippo in a tutu.

This was my opinion for a long time. I used to be having a whale of a time dancing at Ceildhs with my 'dos si dos' and my 'boxing of the gnat' when suddenly the dancing would stop and a Crash of Morris Dancers would emerge, do their stuff and shuffle off again. A Good Time to fill up or empty was the general opinion from the dancers.

Anyhow, for a number of reasons, this happened to me at one particular Festival and I got chatting to the boss man (the 'Squire') whom I knew from a previous life and suddenly found myself a week later in a village hall in Hurst in Berkshire 'just to see what it was like'. A series of winter evenings later, a bit of help with the costume (the 'kit') from a sympathetic female (sewing not being one of my strong points) and I was let loose on the public the following spring. Believe it or not, it was good fun. The healthy aspect of 45 minutes cardiac exercise was somewhat mitigated by the obligatory tankard or two of something cloudy, but we toured the pubs, we got invited to festivals around the country, to an Army Barracks to entertain Officers in their mess (with the fine dining and drink that that brings) to Killeshandra for the Folk and Powerboat festival (interesting combination, but Guinness helped blur the confusion) and, after I left, the side even went to America following an invite.

One of our invites and, very memorable for me for not quite the right reasons, was Broadmoor. Broadmoor is a High Security Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Peter Sutcliffe, the so called 'Yorkshire Ripper' is arguably the most famous detainee. One of our team worked there and she arranged the visit for us where we would perform some dances for the residents.

We were given very specific instructions about behaviour, looking after the equipment, staying together so on and so forth and were looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, I had to be on business in Manchester that day, so kit packed in readiness for later and an early start had me up there working to get the job done. These things, however, take longer that expected and by departure time I was already late. A blat down the M6 from Manchester got me to Birmingham. No M6 Toll road then, so I crawled round Birmingham at rush hour. I finally clear and put my foot down along the M40, drop down to the M4, across to and through Bracknell and into Crowthorne, checking my scrap of a map and finally finding the signs to Broadmoor and hareing into the car park.

Out of the car, strip off (your need for preservation of dignity disappears as a Morris dancer, changing in all sorts of places) and a brisk walk across to the massive security room. Through the toughened glass window you can see enough keys to keep the most enthusiastic guard happy.

"Yes, sir. Can I help?" "I hope so, I'm with the Morris Dancers.." "So I see, Sir" "...and I'm supposed to be dancing with them". "Sorry Sir, I can't help, you need to be escorted across to where they are performing and there's no-one available, they are all watching the display and keeping an eye on the inmates". Whatever I said, he couldn't help and wouldn't budge.

So, there I am, banging on the door of Broadmoor Hospital, saying "Let me in, I'm a Morris Dancer". Now, if there was any justice...

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