Farewell to 2018…

New Year

A happy New Year to all out fans! To those we have delighted, infuriated or bewildered this year, we wish the best and brightest 2019.

 

What a year it has been for dancing! The Prime Minister, Theresa May, became front page news by throwing a few moves on her African tour, a feat repeated when she danced on to the party conference stage to the tune of Dancing Queen! In the ballroom, the Strictly Circus roared through another triumphant series. While once again, the hills and valleys of Surrey rang again to the cheerful sound of Morris bells and the rhythmic clash of sticks interspersed by the occasional staccato expletives of the Foreman. In short, ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a brilliant year.

 

And bringing it to a triumphant conclusion was a glorious December. Our good friends at Black Swan Morris invited us to an evening of dance at the Hope. This has to be, even by the standards of morris dancing, one of the most surreal events on the calendar. In the first place it would be hard to imagine a side more different from us than Black Swan: they do Border, we are Cotswold; they are a young side, we are older (I think I’ll leave that slightly ambiguous!); they wear a ribboned and ragged black, we are neatly-pressed white. You could almost forgive the onlooker who asked if we were about to do Swan Lake. Almost… Nevertheless the friendships between the two sides become ever stronger each time we meet.

 

This particular evening a new wonder presented itself: a side whose name I’m afraid has been lost but whose impact will remain, despite having only two dancers and one musician on the side. It looked like border, but somehow managed to make even that look tame by comparison. The sticks flew furiously, several were broken, and as both dancers wore black masks that completely covered their eyes it was a wonder the sticks were all that was damaged. The final dance involved both dancers wearing an inflated ball, the size of an exercise ball, that completely covered their heads down the neck. It was, apparently, loosely derived from norse legends; but somehow a variation of Spock’s oft-repeated observation to Captain Kirk came to mind, “It’s Morris, Jim, but not as we know it…” When our next dance was announced with the introduction, “And now to restore some normality, here’s East Surrey Morris,” I knew we were in trouble: when normality depends on us you know we are in the outer reaches… But it was a cracking, hilarious and boisterous evening to end the season’s shared dancing with. It was not the end of the season, though. The following week saw us out Carol Singing.

 

Every year, and it often happens at the Woolpack, Banstead, we meet some local youths who seem to have been sitting listlessly awaiting an invitation to join in a song. They bellowed the words, standing on the chairs with arms around each others necks and cheering loudly as each Carol reached its glorious conclusion. If it conjured the laddish cheer of the shepherds more than the majestic adoration of the Magi, all we can say it that this, ladies and gentlemen, is the energy that Morris summons forth and it is a wonder to behold, a veritable star with royal beauty bright.

 

Our reception at the Woodman, Woodmansterne may have been less rowdy but was certainly was no less warm. The barman – God bless his pumping arm – had laid on a feast for Christmas revellers: breads, cheeses, crudités and crackers to cheer the heart and nourish the limbs. Strengthened and invigorated we pressed on to our last stop at the a White Hart, Chipstead, a place we had not danced at for many years. The crowd was smaller here, but the welcome no less enthusiastic from both sides of the bar. It was good to be back and their generosity overflowed from their welcome to their wallets, meaning that by the end of the evening we had raised over £200 pounds for our chosen charity. This year it was The Children’s Trust, Tadworth, and they kindly sent a couple of their representatives to join us in the singalong.

 

But even then the season had one last trick up her sleeve. On Boxing day the East Surrey Morris Men once again performed the world famous Mummer’s Play. Well, I say ‘world famous…’ Jon knows about it and he lives in Spain now. The BBC did a production of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native just before Christmas which uses verbatim quotes from our Mummers Play… or do we quote theirs…? Anyway, the show must go on. With several new players taking the roles our first tentative but lively production at The Fox, Coulsdon went on to rapturous reception at The Harrow, Caterham. And then, ears a-ringing with applause, heads a-swimming with festive cheer, we rolled down the hill into Godstone for our final hurrah of the year at the Hare and Hounds.

 

And suddenly, it was all over. As the crowds dispersed back to their Christmas domesticity, and the bar became swollen with thirsty dancers, musicians and Mummers, as though it were a dam holding back the Tigris, the dancing year came to an end with many happy memories, new friends and that still unanswered question: “The lines haven’t changed in centuries, will they ever blinking well learn them…?”

 

Well… there’s always something to improve for next year. May it be a happy one. Thank you to all our fans, whether you’ve just accidentally bumped into us or you’re family and you’re just too kind to say you’re not really that into it, we appreciate your support and look forward to meeting you again in 2019. Happy New Year!

 

Feeling Chipper in Chipperfield

Well, it comes to something when even the local vicar comments on how well everyone gets on. We should start an argument about something, or she’ll be out a job: anyone want to discuss how to start a Bampton dance….?!! On a less surreal note, our links with the illustrious Greensleeves Morris who host this annual event go back over many decades. So it is no wonder that once the dancing is over, the food and ale are spread before us and the jokes, old stories and competing memories come out that there is a spirit in the air as rich as any peat-soaked single malt.

It is a privilege to be invited to attend an event where we are welcomed not just by Greensleeves but by the whole village. This year, where the prolonged summer weather has led to it been contrasted with 1976, we may admit to the level of dancing occasionally wilting like the flowers in a window box but the pleasure was as ripe as ever. Leaving us, as I say, feeling rather chipper in Chipperfield

Ramping it up Royally with the Roosters

Competition came into play tonight as we danced with our new friends, Dorking-based Rampant Roosters. With England playing Belgium in the World Cup the stark truth that more people were inside watching it was slightly diluted by the person who commented, “Right now the Morris Dancers are more interesting than the football!” Outside there was drama aplenty as the Roosters mix of borders and Cotswolds battled it out with our own dances and a few that we managed together in what turned into a good natured war of attrition. But the only victory we were pushing for of course is that by the end of the evening we’d definitely won some new friends.

Refreshments were obtained at the friendly Royal Oak. There is indeed a majestic oak just outside it. England has come a long way since royalty had to hide in oak trees, of course, and who wouldn’t be glad of that? It’s just a shame we have not come far enough to stop us losing to Belgium…

Top Form Atop the Surrey Hills

A regular and popular evening on the agenda, tonight’s visit was bathed in glorious sunshine, as seen by the sunlit common in the background of the some of the pictures.

Our first visit, at the Sportsman, had us dancing some old favourites starting with an Upton Stick dance, normally one we save for later in the evening when the blood has started flowing (and, let’s face it, so has the ale!). The energetic start set the tone for the evening as man piled in to be part of the action we actually had enough for two sets at one point.

We always get a friendly welcome at the Sportsman but it would have to be said that the evening was finished off in the grandest of styles at our next stop, The Tree on Box Hill. Now, we do usually get warm welcomes from most of the pubs we visit, sometimes a free drink or something to eat. Few landlords stretch to achieving what the gallant Kyle did at the Tree and come out from behind the bar and join in. I’ve attached a video of what was a remarkably proficient effort given that he’d never seen Morris Dancing before. (I should say in his defence, he doesn’t normally serve drinks in this attire, he was actually working outside when we arrived). Thank you to Kyle and Becky for being such great hosts.

Now here’s a thing…

You might be tempted to think looking at us that Morris Dancing is for (to use the delightful phrase from the Book of Common Prayer) “Such as are of riper years.” I mean, let’s face it, I’ve been asked to run this account as one the younger members – and I became a Grandfather last year!
But let us not forget that many of us started as young men and traditionally it is a young man’s sport. We had a great reminder of this recently. It was an utter joy to find ourselves joined by two men from the Buckland Shag Morris Men at the Skimmington Castle, and when they offered to do a jig…well, we certainly weren’t going to stop that kind of enthusiasm.
With their permission we gladly show the video here, and hope it serves also an invitation, for such as are of less-ripe years. Please feel free to come along, get in touch, try it out…
And thanks to John and Sam. Buckland Shag are best followed through their Facebook Account if you want to see more of them.

Christmas Carolling

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Yes! It’s that time of year again! Join East Surrey Morris Men as they hit the road for another festive fiesta of traditional and customary Christmas songs. Venues this year are:

8 pm The Ramblers Rest, Outwood Lane, Coulsdon, CR5 3NP.

9 pm The Woolpack, 186 High St, Banstead SM7 2NZ

10 pm The Plough, 11 Church Road, Redhill RH1 6QE

This year we will be collecting for the charity the Stroke Association. As ever it is one that is close to our hearts for personal reasons, but our aim is to help you settle into the festive season with a riot of music. It may be more hearty than arty, but we need your help to make it happen. Come and join us for as many venues as you can make.

P.S. Looking at the dictionary definition we seem especially short of those who can warble – all warblers welcome!

 

 

 

Give it a Go & Cotswold Workshop 7-9.30pm Monday 23rd October

Why not come down to our GIAG & Cotswold Workshop on Monday 23rd October at our practise venue;

Christchurch Hall,
14 Christchurch Park,
Sutton SM2 5TN

The format for the evening is as follows:

7 – 8pm – GIAG for inexperienced dancers, (who are welcome to stay on and observe). 

8 – 9.30pm – Cotswold Workshop for experienced dancers, (who are welcome to come earlier).

9.30pm – Finish and retire to the Hope for some well-earned refreshment.

If you are planning on coming, please email bagman@esmm.org.uk so we can get an idea of numbers.

See you there!

College of St Barnabas Annual Fete

Old Tom Takes A Tumble – Video

Ah! It is that time of year again. We find ourselves privileged to be invited once again to dance at the fete of the College of St Barnabas, a home for retired gentle-vicars in the heart of the Sussex countryside. In we walked. A blazers-and-straw-hats jazz trio, comprising banjo, trombone and sousaphone, were playing in the marquee; the retired clergy were entertaining visitors with witty anecdotes that ended in uproarious laughter; the ladies in the tea tent were armed with a resolute cheerfulness and an apparently endless supply of cream scones, victoria sponge and chocolate cake served on china plates with carefully folded napkins, and tea served in cups with handles too small for fingers swollen by years of being thwacked with sticks; the hobby horse was unharmed and had recovered his composure if not his dignity after falling off the miniature steam locomotive that ran, temporarily, over the croquet lawn; and the dancers had just finished a handkerchief dance that was first recorded over a century ago in the Cotswold village of Fieldtown. It was, in short, as though in this election week Britannia had stepped off her wild chariot of political upheaval and for this brief moment was clutching us tightly into her strong and stable bosom.

 

Man of the match must surely go to Ray today for not only the imagination to see what the train would look like with Old Tom on the back of it and the courage to try it out, but also the perseverance to get back on again once he had fallen off once! For safety reasons I should add – Do not try this at home, it must only be done by trained professionals: I did ask the train operator and no one has actually done a risk assessment for a horse on the train. The expression on the girl’s faces is priceless, as though when they had woken up that morning they had absolutely no inkling this was a position in which they might find themselves during the day….! 

Thank you, College of St Barnabas for another memorable day.