diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 02, 2010

May Day. The streets of Rochester. Sixty teams of morris dancers, cavorting with big sticks and hankies. What's not to love? [photo]

Jack-in-the Green at Rochester GuildhallThey kicked off at dawn on Blue Bell Hill. A gathering to see in May morning. A dance to awaken the Jack-in-the Green. A cloak of leaves, topped off with a flowery ring, and inside a space where a man might stand. They gather again in the High Street before noon. The Mayor of Medway stands outside the Guildhall, surrounded by tradition. His short speech over, the feathered men lift their tower of foliage to the edge of the kerb. Then they gather round in primary-coloured pairs, and spin, and beat, and flap. The 30th Rochester Sweeps Festival is underway. [photo]

The event has its roots many centuries back. A springtime celebration by local chimney sweeps, now echoed in modern revival. Many of today's dancers black their faces as if speckled by soot. It's facepaint, it's disguise, it's Goth meets Black and White Minstrel meets Dick Van Dyke. Some go the whole hog and wear black from plumed hat to hobnail boots. Others wear brighter colours throughout, but with ink-smeared faces. And the rest eschew black altogether for their usual Morris costume of purple, gold, green or red. Traditional fancy dress rules. [photo]

The entire High Street is a field of dance. Every fifty yards another troupe lines up in the middle of the road, ready to perform. The musicians kick in with fiddles or accordions. Twitching feet spring to life. Silver bells ring and tassels fly. Pairs advance and retreat. Wooden batons swish together with a rhythmic click. Arms interlock and bodies spin. Some sing, some yelp, most grin. Some will be knackered by the end of it, others not even out of breath. Each performance so very different, yet underneath so very similar. [photo]

Boley Hill from the CastleRavensbourne Morris, Bishop Gundulfs Longsword, Old Palace Clog - they've come from far and wide to perform here today. A motley collection of Englishfolk plucked from the everyday. Hearty men, beardy men, men who could easily be someone's art teacher. Stern ladies, flowery ladies, ladies who are probably retired librarians. Hats with badges, headbands with posies. Some of the groups are elderly, others fired up by exuberant youth. There's no maximum age for a May maiden, no minimum age for playing the fool. Everyone's an extrovert, even if only for the day. Anyone can Morris. [photo]

When each team's dance is over, another takes its place. There's plenty of time between performances to drink, and eat, and drink again. Pewter tankards and plastic tumblers froth with ale. Hog roasts and fresh-grilled burgers are the menu of choice. Old friends quaff together, new friends swap tales over a pint. As the day goes on the atmosphere gets noticeably merrier. The centre of town has become a hedonistic pseudo-pagan social club. And they'll all be back on Sunday, and again on Monday, as Rochester's Maytide mayhem continues. Pray the rain holds off.

Other things to see in Rochester
Rochester Castle: Now this is a proper castle. A multi-storey Norman keep whose walls are in surprisingly good repair [photo]. A series of spiral staircases and passages permits vertigo-inducing exploration, from the deep cavernous cesspit to the rim of the castle ramparts. From the battlements there's an excellent view across town and the Medway Valley [photo]. And the top floor's even higher than...
Rochester Cathedral: England's second oldest cathedral (founded 604AD), with a bold Norman nave and a fine Romanesque fa├žade. It's a friendly place, complete with crypt and blossom-rich cloister garden, although not especially enormous. [photo]
Guildhall Museum: A collection of Rochestery and Medwayish artefacts, which turned out to be rather more interesting than I first expected. There is, of course, a lot of information about Charles Dickens - who spent his childhood and later years living nearby and based many of his novels on life in the city.
Six Poor Travellers House: Rochester's Tudor almshouse afforded a one night charitable stay to passing pilgrims. Charles Dickens visited once and wrote a short story about the place, which is reason enough to open the ground floor and garden to the public today.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream