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!