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Lines! by Banbury Bill - April 2001

The Tutti gets frutti

Where the morris leads, others follow. In the Berkshire town of Hungerford, Tutti men have been venturing out at Hocktide - in their case, on the second Tuesday after Easter - for some centuries past.

The two Tutti men go out with Tutti poles, and visit the homes of commoners demanding pennies from the men, and kisses from the women. They carry a ladder to be sure of reaching any window for the kiss. In return, oranges are given.

This year, however, equality finally struck home - for the first time, one of the Tutti men was a lady.

We're not told whether this was regarded as a good thing by the men who now faced demands for kisses.

Asked by BBC Radio Berkshire what she'd be wearing, the Tutti lady insisted that she'd stick to the traditional morning coat... and trousers. "I have to climb a ladder," she said, very firmly.

Tune in to Adderbury - the music's all around

Anyone strolling through the fine Oxfordshire village of Adderbury on certain nights in March or April would find the morris seemingly all around them.

In The Bell, pictures of both village sides adorn the walls. Last year the Hook Norton Brewery calendar featured the Adderbury Village Men performing their trademark drinking dance, with a row of pints lined up at the feet of the musicians.

The evening stroller passing the ancient tithe barn of a Wednesday night would hear the jaunty sound of the Adderbury Village Morris Men drifting out from within.

A few yards down the road, slower versions of the same time-worn tunes would declare the Adderbury Morris Men to be at home in the library - though they've now moved up to The Institute by the village green, after someone smashed one of the fancy new light shades with a high leap in a stick dance. The bill was well over 150 pounds, and with several other shades poised equally temptingly over the dancing area, it was decided that it was time to move on.

Strangely, the two teams seldom communicate, though a certain melodeon player might occasionally be seen sneaking from the tithe barn to the library.

And then, at nine o'clock precisely, one of the old morris favourites rings out across the entire village, as it does every Wednesday without fail. Bluebells Of Scotland is one of the seven tunes on the carillon, installed in the church tower a century or so ago.

Another of the tunes hammered out on the church bells by this outsized musical box is The Minstrel Boy, which has been adopted by the Adderbury Morris Men for a modern dance, called, in honour of both church and pub, The Bell.

The morris influence reaches even into the very fabric of the fine parish church: last year the village marked the Millennium by setting a Time Capsule into the church wall, containing a set of Adderbury Morris kit.

And once a year, of course, the whole village comes alive with the ancient tradition: Adderbury Day of Dance takes place each year on the last Saturday in April.

The Village men start off outside the cottage of Binx Walton, the last leader of the 19th century, tucked down an alley behind The Bell. The Adderbury Morris Men launch into Sweet Jenny Jones outside the old Wheatsheaf pub on the village green - Binx was once its landlord.

Through the morning, the two rivals sides work opposite ends of the village and meet up - though without dancing together - at The Bell, right in the centre. Then the two swap over and work the same ground again.

Last year, on the 25th day of dance, there was talk of six dancers from the original set performing together once more for old time's sake, but it didn't happen - the split at the end of the first year of the village revival in 1975 was acrimonious, and a quarter of a century on, one of the six dancers refused to go along with a temporary reconciliation. The side founders, Bryan Sheppard and Tim Radford, subsequent leaders of the rivals sets, did share a jig together later in the day.

An innovation last year was a brief dance spot in late afternoon on the lawn of Le Halle Place, the oldest house in Adderbury and the former home of Janet Blunt, the amateur folklorist who collected much of the tradition and alerted Cecil Sharp to its riches. Binx Walton gave morris lessons on the same lawn around the time of the Great War.

Come early evening, both Adderbury sides share a stand outside The White Hart in the west of the village, along with various guest teams - including, this year, Mr Hemmings from Abingdon.

Few teams have exploited the full wealth of the Adderbury tradition, outside the classic dances. The Day of Dance provides the best chance to see the full repertoire performed - in the vastly different interpretations of the two sides. The clap-songs, in which the dancers sing throughout, are a distinctive feature. The Village men follow the original practice of standing still in set formation, and sticking while singing the chorus; the other side actually dances and sings simultaneously.

If the thought of Adderbury's five pubs isn't enough of a draw, however, seekers after enlightenment can now experience a small part of the flavour of the tradition via the wonders of modern technology.

Steve Wass, one of the side's leading musicians, has recorded all the tunes (bar one jig) and stored them on the Internet, to be downloaded by anyone who understands these things better than Banbury Bill does.

Steve also does the singing - he assures us that his cold can't be transmitted electronically.

Adderbury Tune Bank
Wassail - traditional music, dance and drama in north Oxfordshire

Millionaire Dave's constant brilliance

Ask Dave Edwards about grackles and he knows the answer straight away. And if you were to ask him what a trunkle was, he'd have a ready response to that, too - but it would just be the flippant side of his character coming through.

The first of them helped him to win the top prize on the UK television programme, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Viewers had just seen him use up all three of his "lifelines" on the programme when asked the real name of Britain's Home Secretary, Jack Straw. After long moments of indecision, he plumped for John, not James. The answer won him 125,000 and a sigh of relief from the studio audience.

But then his next question looked impossibly obscure - though not to Dave, who gave up morris dancing when quiz tournaments started taking up too much of his spare time. He was asked:

What kind of creature is a grackle?

As soon as he'd read out the question, programme host Chris Tarrant asked Dave: "What are you grinning for?"

"Because I know this one," replied Dave, who correctly identified it as a bird and took his tally to a quarter of a million pounds.

He's an expert on trunkles too, according to Barry Goodman, bagman of Redbornstoke Morris.

Dave was a member of the side around 20 years ago when he lived in the Bedfordshire village of Westoning. He was evidently something of a character.

"He was very good at introducing dances, always with good stories," says Barry. "We had a succession of squires who weren't too keen on doing the shouting, so Dave took it on himself. No-one actually asked him to.

"He had a very fertile imagination, so he used to make it all up on the spot with stories about the dances we were about to do."

Trunkles was a regular in the side's repertoire, and the name was irresistable, says Barry. "He made up a thing about the Westoning Trunkle Hounds hunting the trunkles. When we danced Trunkles he would explain that these were small furry animals that lived in the brick pits and ate Brussels sprouts, because that's what we have in Bedfordshire.

"He also used to say that Constant Billy was about a kettle that never stopped boiling.

He would stay, 'This is a dance about so and so,' and it was all a lot of rubbish. We thought it was amusing and the audience was a bit nonplussed."

Good morning, Lords and Ladies, it's not the third of May

Here we go again. This time it's Frank Johnson, writing in Britain's Daily Telegraph:

"We traditionalists are all for Maypoles. A fine old English custom. It is treasonable for the multi-culturalists and the politically-correct brigade to smear Maypoles as xenophobic. If Labour gets back, Maypoles will be abolished. As William Hague might put it, let me take you to a foreign village green. No Maypoles. Morris dancers banned as racist."

Before Donkey readers start getting excited, this isn't a call for Tony Blair to revive his vision of something called Cool Britannia.

The piece - a Parliamentary sketch - appeared on 31 March, 2001, the day before word leaked out that Tony would not, after all, be calling a general election on May 3. The headline spoke of "dancing round a May poll"

All this talk of banning morris was just a bit of jocular banter, then, with no dark intent lurking between the lines. After all, nobody writing in the British press could be anything less than supportive of the native customs, could they?

But here's a thought: I wonder if the tabloids would show a little more interest, if they knew what really went on round the maypole?

A hairy moment for the pink press pack

The popularity of the morris in America's sunshine state is explained to me at last, in an article in the UK newspaper, the Independent on Sunday.

Jonathan Schofield was writing in the paper's March 25 edition about his experiences as a tour guide in Manchester. On one occasion, he was showing a group of gay travel writers from America round the UK city's celebrated Gay Village.

"On this day," he wrote, "we encountered a troupe of prancing, flower-bedecked, bell-jangling morris dancers. 'You didn't have to lay this on,' said one. I attempted to explain the ancient tradition of morris dancing but they weren't having it, saying: 'Look Jonathan, they've all got beards, we've got to get this back to California'."

Bending over backwards in the name of entertainment

It's a surreal old world, isn't it? I quote from another article:

"On Tuesday, a gang of giggling morris dancers instantaneously decided to start limbo-dancing after a mouthful of Jamaican jerk pork."

You could get that one made up into a badge (or button, in the States); unless you happened to be one of the morris dancers in question, in which case I imagine you'd rather forget it ever happened. Alternatively, you could have the words printed on the side of a sick-bag.

Or how about this: "Ladies and gentlemen, a new dance called, 'On Tuesday, a gang of giggling....'." I think it has potential.

The quote came from an article in The Independent, in which writer Christopher Hirst bemoaned the increasingly bizarre stunts used to spice up the BBC's Food & Drink show. Apparently it had gone stale.

We're not told the identity of the morris dancers, but I'd like to remind everyone that Britain is a free country and one of the wonderful things about it is that people are free to depart from strict social convention pretty well whenever they like, even when there isn't a television camera pointing at them.

If it weren't so, what fate the morris?

My personal policy regarding the Jerk Pork Limbo is to keep the curtains drawn, and let everyone else use their imaginations. If others want to be a bit more in-yer-face (but not in my face, thanks), then good luck to them, I say.

I promise I'm not making any comment at all here. Really. I love that sort of thing. It's just that I can't get that scene from Toy Story 2 out of my head - the one in which the Barbie dolls are having their own limbo party, repeating the same gormless chant:

"How low can you go? How low can you go? How low...."

2001 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers

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