Nic wing has been on the fringes of Woodside for around a decade now, having even attended a few practices! But mostly Nic's involvement has been turning up during the day on May Day or on the odd other occasion to take in the Morris, though he does have other folky credentials to his credit. A change in the air in 2008 lead Nic to take a May Day plunge in order to further immerse himself in the art, with a promise of more to come. So how did he get on?
It is a tradition in many parts of England for Morris Dancers to dance in the dawn on May the 1st and it’s one that I have traditionally slept through. This year however I decided to brave the early start so I set the alarm clock for 4.00am and retired to my bed early.
For those of you who don’t know what 4.00 am looks like I can assure you it’s very dark and with the rest of the house still slumbering I padded about getting dressed and just risked a mention of a pinch and a punch to my recumbent ‘lady wife’. Having made my way down stairs and gathered all my things I realised that I did not have the 2 clean white hankies which are every Morris Dancer’s (even a total novice like me) stock in trade. I made my way quietly, I thought, back up stairs and still in the dark found the required equipment to some fairly pithy comments from the now not very asleep Memsahib.
And then out into the night and the short drive to Cassiobury Park in Watford where the rites are traditionally performed. It’s strange to find that there are cars on the road at this ungodly hour and I found myself looking for give-away signs from the drivers: flower covered hats or cross garters, surely everyone must be one their way to a ritual of some kind otherwise they would be safely tucked up in their beds.
It’s important to realise that with the roads so quiet, all the speed cameras are still hard at work but eventually I found my way to the appointed parking spot and saw a cars headlights. The feint jingle of bells over the dawn chorus told me I was in the right spot and we headed off deep into the park where I was relieved to see a small group in the dull light and hear the musicians warming up. They were please to see me too as I had a substantial flask of sloe gin which is an excellent ‘sneck lifter’ on a chilly spring morn.
The first dance was started still in the dark and with members of the ‘side’ still appearing out of the gloom the group was growing and even had a small group of supporters and on lookers.
I had imagined some extraordinary dawn effects with red sky and a spectacular sunrise to mark this start of the May but on a still cloudy morning the light just gradually improves and the dancers warm to their task. A couple of bemused cyclists passed on their way to work and a group of joggers waved as they passed. I was pressed, with two of the other supporters, to join in the final dance with it’s ‘traditional’ sung introduction "Here's to the ladies, we love them so well, Though some are regular tartars. Here's to their stockings, and here's to their shoes, And here's to their bonny green garters".
It was all over by 6.45 and we headed back to our cars and on to a great breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs and bucks fizz. The side will go on to dance at a local school and then at a pub at lunch time and by then they will probably have moved onto beer. But I’ve got to get off and do some work but I think this is a tradition which now I’ve started I may continue with. The day seems so much longer when you rise at 4.00am, well mainly because it is!
We are delighted to say that since writing this article, Nic has taken the plunge and is now dancing with Woodside Morris Men!