A Morris Man of Little Egypt

Seeing off the Horkey
The author watches with proprietorial pride as Little Egypt celebrates the Horkey, 1998

Being the full and complete Memoir of John Aldous, Esquire.

[Editor's note: what follows are the memories of a Morris Dancer presented to the website for publication.
The only editing has been to divide the text into sections.
It is a sad fact that, from the days when you had to take photos to the chemist and pay for their printing, there are far fewer pictures than there might be today in this digital age.
And some of the earliest digital pics aren't much to write home about either. Apologies.]


When did it start?

I suppose at Newmarket Secondary Modern School around 1962 or 3. Apart from trying to teach me Maths and English, we had Folk and Morris dancing lessons, Folk dancing being half an hour lesson a week with the girls (always a rush to get the best looking ones); Morris dancing was one hour lesson with Mr Ford (who I can only describe as a small man with hairy hands who look like a gorilla from “The Planet of the Apes”) whose only way to instil the Great and Honourable Art of Morris Dancing was to bash you with a stick if you got it wrong.

I suppose with the lessons and bruises, Morris dancing must have got placed in the back of my brain (gone but not forgotten) after I did manage to escape from school and enter the great world of the employed.

 

After several years, a marriage, and young family, we were out shopping in Sudbury where floating around the corner came this haunting tune that reignited the far and distant part of my brain.
There, after rounding the corner, I came across a bunch of men waving sticks and hankies with ringing bells on their legs. I held back for a minute or two when the sticks were being waved (memories of said Mr Ford!) but then noticed the small man playing the melodeon was Ray who I worked with.

“I didn't know you were a Morris man,” I said, “I used to do it a school.”

“Why don't you join us?” he said, “We practise on a Monday night at Belchamp St Paul.”

Don't know what it was, but there I was at Belchamp the next Monday.

 

So now started my world of bells/sticks/hankies and beer (a fair bit of the latter), also many stories. Here are a few I can recall - the time we camp out at the Walton folk festival and Bernie turn up with a settee tied to the top of his minivan.
“Why?” you may ask:

“I didn't want to miss my home comforts” was the answer.

Then the time he asks to have a go with one of the Musician's fiddle whereupon he took it around the corner and after a short while there was an almighty crash.
Bernie came around with the fiddle in two bits. The face of the fiddle player turn quite pale, then got redder and redder.
Bernie then broke into a big smile and produced the said fiddle still in one piece: he have found an old fiddle and broke that (cruel but funny).

The time he asked someone if they knew anything about Digital Cameras as he had just found one he then produced a traffic camera, to the amazement of the rest of the side (it was only a replica he had made).

 

The stories continue.

  • A weekend camping trip to Cromer and surrounding villages where we manage to collect 140 which we spent on ale the first night (unable to dance out on Sunday due to massive hangovers).
  • A twinning trip to France where I was billeted with a Deputy Mayor who within an hour of us meeting had taken me on a tour of all the shops in the town where we were given a large glass of wine in each establishment. After about the ninth shop, we bump into the town mayor who insisted we had two or three Irish coffees.
    That afternoon we went on to perform in a street they had named after Sudbury, but after my whistle stop tour of the shops I can’t remember too much about this. The next evening, we were invited to a gala lunch at a catering college 6 courses and wine aplenty: so again, vague memories about this night!
  • My very first Thaxted day of dance where sides go out in coaches around the local village pubs in the morning then all dance in Thaxted High Street in the afternoon.
    It was decided that as our first stop on our bus tour would be a “dry stop” (pub not open). Three others and myself would purchase some ale the day before, so it was left to me to get 24 pints from a local brewer.
    We drank these pints before we left to get on the coach, and then found out the said pub was open - so more ale was consumed. Rest of the day was a bit blurred.
  • There were many other days out and many pints drunk.

 

How things change for Belchamp St Paul Morris

Things change for Belchamp Morris on another Thaxted day of dance. We were on a bus tour with a black-faced Border side called Silurian Border Morris Men from Ledbury, Herefordshire, who I can only describe as a slightly mad fun-loving side, who loved to perform and drink.
They had a big influence on us: it was quickly decided to us would like to give up Cotswold Morris and have a go at Border Morris, so we invited them down to Belchamp to teach us some Border Morris.

So, after a while getting kit /dances and music set up we were ready to be let loose on the unsuspecting public.
Don't know if it was the black face paint that had a strange effect on us but we began to get a bit of a bad boy reputation: can’t say too much but females would grab us just to get their faces blackened.
But it was all done in wholesome fun and for it all, we never offended anybody.
There were other misdemeanours but these are best left untold.

 

I can remember a trip to Rochester Ring Meeting. It was in Phil's VW camper van: there was me, Phil and Steve, plus a couple more (can't remember who). I remember I have never laugh so much at Steve’s stories of his love life.
How he was making love to his large girlfriend on the top bunk of a caravan and he burnt his bum on the light bulb.

Also, he once had this girlfriend who would only make love if he was wearing a snorkel and flippers (Wonder where he or she is now).

We went down a bit of a storm in Rochester and I think we had our picture in one of the big newspapers.
Also a young lady whose mother in law and husband volunteered her to have a photo taken with us: she had a few black marks on her when we had finished .

 

Also on one of our trips to West Germany on a twinning trip we were taken by our host on a trip to an East German town which was still badly damaged from the Second World War.
We were taken on a tour, and finish up in a Church which they had just finished doing up.
The East German guide made it very clear that the English had bombed it, also the town as well, but never mentioned it again when somebody said, “What about Coventry?”
We also found out it was where they build parts for the doodlebug - that's why we bombed it

 

How we became TV stars

Sitting at home one evening the phone rang: it was Brian the Bagman:
“Guess what,” he said, “we have been asked to appear on EastEnders “
“You’re joking,” was my reply. “No,” he said, “the woman who does the makeup lives at Borley and they want a Morris side for a Mayday programme and she has suggested us. One of the producers are coming to see us next week “.

So along they came and, apart from a slight concern about our black faces, which we said could be explain somehow on the show, they were happy for us to appear. They were willing to pay for a coach to take us to Elstree Studio (twice) and pay the side 400.
Sometime in March we boarded the coach to film the outside scenes.
We were not allowed to say anything due to Equity, so they got an actor to explain the dances and why our black faces.
We had to dance in the square then peel off into the Queen Vic (which was only just a front held up by wooden beams, as were all the house in the square.
Sorry it’s not real: even the bird poo was painted on.

The inside scenes were filmed in another studio.
We return two weeks later to film the scenes inside the Vic were we would come in and grab a pint of ale from the bar and drink it. Now they usually use cold tea but we insisted that we had real ale so for once the Vic actually served alcohol.
We had also learned a new trick: we were supposed to come in and down about half a glass of ale, but if something went wrong they would shout “CUT” and we had to do the scene all over again, so they would have to fill the glass again - so you can imagine there was many mistakes (a lot intentional), so much so I was given my ale to the camera crew to drink (lots of happy people on the set).

One of the scenes was Phil Mitchell was to place Bernie's hat on Sharon Watts’ head (something to do with fertility) after the scene Sharon (Letisha Deen ) said: “That's a lovely hat but what's that in the head band?”
“Oh nothing, just something I picked up” said Bernie,
“It’s a dried cow pat.”
Let’s say her face was a picture.
So, in May we all gathered in the pub to watch the episode, also all my family and friends and workmates were watching in their homes.
Got a bit of stick from workmates: think it may have been a touch of jealousy.

 
This boosted our star rating in the Morris circle so much we were asked to do the star turn at the next Thaxted day of dance. So let’s say after drinking all day and with hundreds of people watching us things didn't go quiet to plan: it all started with inebriated Ray (melodeon player) playing the wrong tune then several of us forget the steps, but we got applauded when we finished: may have been for pity or for the comic element. 

After about a year it came to a point I was finding it hard to carry on with being a Belchamp Morris Man. The family were growing and money was a bit tight, so |I decided that I would give up Morris dancing (little did I know how wrong I would be). One evening I received a phone call from Fred Saunders asking if I would help him teach some men from the village (Glemsford) to do Morris dancing for the church roof appeal.
I agreed - which now leads me on the next episode of my Morris history.

 

The Birth of the Morris Men of Little Egypt

On a dark Tuesday night, I went along to the old school where I met this motley bunch of village men. Some had already done a bit of Morris a couple of years ago, the rest were what Fred had either tricked, begged or press-ganged into it.
We managed to get them into shape, well just enough to let them loose on the unsuspecting public. We dance outside the Black Lion on a Saturday and Sunday for the church roof appeal.
I say “We” as Fred had managed to get me to perform. We as well even got the local Rector (forgot his name – Adrian (ed.)) to dress up with a Morris horse (not too sure whether he quite understood about the pagan myths associated with Morris dancing). After this we held a meeting in the Black Lion and it was decided it would be great if we carried on.
Peter Ford said we could practise up at his farm. So, The Morris Men of Little Egypt was born.

 

The first
The first public appearance of the Morris Men of Little Egypt, 1992

Neville Parry was voted as Squire (BOSS) (which turn out to be a permanent post); I took on the role of bagman (secretary) for a couple of years and was much relieved when (the late) Derek Southgate took over the role.
Although Fred played the tunes at the beginning he stated that he didn't want to carry on full time so we purchased a squeeze box (think Bob Farmer pick it up) and Roger Newman decided to take it up. In time, we pick up Martin Barrett and Mark Mikurenda plus many like-minded musicians.
Also, we picked up some dancers through friends, associates and people that Neville managed to trick into joining (Neville had a knack of getting new members - must be his charm and honest face).
They came from all walks of life Farmers /Antique Dealers /Factory workers OfficeWorkers/Electricians /Thatcher / Firemen / The boys in blue / and Trevor Newsome (he tried his best but had no sense of rhythm).
So, all kitted up /clean white hankies and sticks (obtained by Peter Ford and myself from a local wood) + a couple of blown up dried pigs bladders I got from work (another strange Morris tradition) we launch ourselves on the unsuspecting public.

 

The following events and happenings may not be in the right order - I'm just writing them down as I think of them plus the old grey matter isn’t the same any more.

After a while I think that I suggested we could have a day of dance and hire a bus to travel around the local villages. I don't know what happened but after one of Little Egypt’s meetings which as usually last for hours /lots of alcohol, it was decided that we would do a Tractor and Trailer trip. So, Peter-Chris- Roger and I spent a couple of evenings doing up one of Peter’s trailers.
Our first trailer trip out started in Clare then onto Cavendish, finishing in Glemsford.

An early trailerr trip
The traactor and trailer, 1999.

Peter reminded me of one trailer trip to Hartest Crown when we travel back in the dark of night singing and playing music on the way home the people of Boxted must have wonder what the hell was going on.

 

Now the first social event (party/piss up) I believe was a barbecue around Peter’s: the thing that comes to mind was a game I learnt when I was with Belchamp called The Dam Busters where you had to place several 10p coins between your legs then place your hands over your eyes like goggles then you tightly grip the coins between your legs and make your way to a pint mug (which was placed on the ground) and see how many coins you could drop into the mug.
Now there is reputedly a picture of the then Chairman of the Parish Council (Chris Britton) doing the Dam Busters with his trousers around his ankles, also not only men, some of the females had a go: so I said to John Proffitt “Why don't your wife have a go? “Don't think she will.” he said, “Her gran’s German and she got flooded out when they bombed the Mohne Dam” - stuck my foot in there.
Next came Burns Night (any excuse for piss up) this started with Me /Neville /Peter spending all afternoon peeling neeps and tatties and boiling every conceivable make of haggis you can think of. The evening went off well and ended with the the unforgettable sight of Mr Saunders (Fred) and Mr Ford (Peter) dressed in kilts doing their interpretation of a Highland sword dance.
Not quite sure of dates and times of parties but another one that springs to mind, and not sure where the idea came from, was the night we dressed up as Druids (“Why?” you may ask)(celebrating the pagan Beltane fire festival – Ed.) and had a big fire at Peter’s where we all stood round, and James Meek came charging out of the field dressed as the Green Man. Peter’s neighbours must have wondered what the hell was going on.

 

In between these - shall we call them drunken get-togethers? - were the early morning May Day dances at Peter’s farm as the sun arose over the Stanstead hills. May I say in his farm yard facing Stanstead is one of the best views in the village? Then off for breakfast firstly at the farm after a couple of years onto the “Black Lion” then lastly at the “Angel”.


May dawn over the Glem Valley

I think we held our first Barn Dance in Peter’s old black barn with a band made up of L E Morris musicians with Mark Mikurenda and Me calling (properly the start of another string to my bow).



Grainy images of that first Barn Dance

After that we moved to Clare town hall for a couple of times, one being with the Hoingker German Dance Troupe (more about them later) and lately in Glemsford Village Hall.

 

Next let’s go to Christmas. First the Christmas Meal first held at the “Horse Shoes” at Cockfield then onto other venues. There was always the traditional judging of the Christmas Hat (which I never won. No hard feeling here) also many Squires quizzes - One question being “Who didn't get their spaghetti?” Ask Neville: my lips are sealed but I think most people know except one).



Also there were sometimes initiations of new members who were grilled thoroughly on Morris-related questions.
Jolly japes for cheery chappies. It's Christmas!

Then there was the birth of the famous Stour Valley Mummers, a load of budding Thespians - well Me /Steve Clarke /Marilyn Clarke /Tommo Thomson/ Geoff Monk and I think John Proffitt who did a whistle stop tour round several local ale houses to entertain the public who thought “Oh they’re good” or, “What a load of idiots” or “What the hell’s this all about” but we enjoyed doing it.


Mumming in 1995 - the Black Lion

They now only perform on Boxing Day with a different cast (the old Thespians now retired), but the crowds are now spell-bound by the sight of Dave Jukes massive bendy weapon and all the other cast who give it all - most having their lines secretly hiding in the most peculiar places.

Yet again Jukes shows off his bendy weapon

Boxing Day dances and Mummers play were firstly performed at the “Black Lion”.
Then it would be an invite back to the Squire’s for more alcohol and grub.
Boxing Day, 1995: festivities commence

One Boxing Day still comes to mind was when my good friend Peter got a bit worse for wear (Boxing Day just happened to be his birthday), it was getting late so I rang my wife to come and pick me up and also decided to give my old mate a lift home. Knowing what sort of reception he might get, we just aimed him at his back door and left him.
Apparently he just walked in straight pass his friend who had come to wish him Happy Birthday and went straight to bed (let’s say Jackie ( Pete’s wife) wasn’t too happy).

 

Bonfire Parties
Sadly no photographic evidence has come to light. Boots probably refused to develop them. Ed.
Fred Saunders agreed to hold the bonfire parties at his place (though me and Peter all ways thought it was an excuse to get his garden cleared). The first one started off as a normal bonfire but turned into a Galleon. Neville had the great idea of dressing up as an old sea captain and stand on the deck while I provided masses of smoke from my mate’s disco smoke machine (which keep blowing Fred’s trip switches in his house). Neville would then disappear just as the fire was lit. The memory of that night was seeing Neville dressed as an old sea captain swaying up Plum Street on his way home late in the evening.

The next one was built as a pyramid. Neville would dress as a Pharaoh and stand in the doorway to the pyramid while a fiery ball was sent hurtling towards him he would make his escape through a side entrance just before the fiery ball struck the pyramid which he executed well because he’s still here. The next bonfire party I can recall was at Neville's Pub. Neville was in charge of setting of the fireworks.
Now my kids were crying in the street as they were hit by empty mortar and spent rocket cases. Pete had one hit him on the head, there were fireworks going off in all directions one I seem to remember about head-height. You also have to remember that the pub and some surrounding houses were thatched.
Neville has been a good mate and friend for many years, many a drunken night and trips out together, even been on the back of the Harley a couple of times, but if you get him near any fireworks his eyes light up and he turns into a pyromaniac.

 

The Horkey. Don’t quite know where the seeds of this started but I do know that Steve Clarke dug up a lot of info and I can only say is to go to The Little Egypt web site and look for Little Egypt Horkey Gear as Steve has explained it in more detail.



Two aspects of the Horkey - Dance and Bough

 

Little Egypt goes east over the sea

The first trip to the Haverhill twinning town of Ehringshausen, which is a small town in the Hessen region in Germany was to meet the Hoingker dance troupe, don't think the Haverhill twiners wanted us to travel on their coach, so we decided to hire a mini bus which Steve Clarke and Neville decided to take it in turns to drive. Now let’s say when Steve drove on the autobahn lots of vehicles passed us, but when Neville drove we passed everything.
After arriving and getting billeted with our host we were invited to a party at their local Schloss (Castle) much wine and beer consumed.
Next evening we were invited to a get together with the Hoingker, the Haverhill twiners and hosts plus the Ehringshausen dignitaries.
The highlight of the evening getting everybody plus the Lady Mayor of Haverhill standing on their chairs singing “We’re Going Up Sunshine Mountain” plus a rendition of “Singing in the Rain” (songs I learnt from my time with Belchamp). [Ever the gentleman, the author has decided against recording with whom he shared a room on this trip. Ed.]

The next trip to Germany, we hired a coach supplied and driven by Arnold Dayton, a good friend of Peter’s (well actually the one who was at his house when he went home drunk on Boxing Day/previous story). This trip I took my daughter Kelly with me: it was her first trip on a ferry and I spent most of the trip over from Dover to Calais standing outside the ladies’ toilets while she was being sick .Whilst on the coach me and Dave Jukes decided to play Crib for very high stakes - his house and car, which I won. I have given them back now: I could not see Dave without his house (which he has sold now) and his beloved flash cars.
On the way to Ehringshausen we stopped of in Cologne to dance in front of the Cathedral. I was quite impressed with the way Arnold swung the coach around the tight streets and with Mary and Trevor speaking German to get directions, we arrived at the in front of the Cathedral. We danced in the square. Don’t know what the Germans thought of us - I think they enjoyed it, either that or they thought in probably a good idea they didn’t invade.


Dancing at the Dom
Now one thing impressed me more than anything was when we went into the Cathedral there was a picture of Cologne taken after our bombing raids during the war everything around it was flattened but the Cathedral was still standing in one piece either bloody good aiming or just lucky. After our stint in Cologne we travel onward to meet our hosts. Me and Kelly stayed with a lovely lady and her husband, whose son have vacated his room for us. I remember that she found out it was Kelly’s birthday the next day, so she went and got her a cake and present what can you say about that someone you had just meet and they do that. The next night we had a party in their Schloss (Castle) where like last time ale and wine plus Schnapps ran free .The following night we went to Ehringshausen to a get-together with the local dignitaries. We were told to be on our best behaviour. We performed a couple of dances on stage followed by the Hoingker dance troupe, then a bunch of scantily-clad young ladies. I seem to remember Dave Jukes joining them on stage (photo or video somewhere). It all went to pot after this the young ladies started standing on the table swinging their beer mugs so we thought “Sod it,” and joined in. It finished with the Germans playing football with large pumpkins. Can’t remember if “Singing in the rain” was performed, but I must have done it sometime on this trip because when the Hoingker came over to visit us and we held a do at Clare town hall it was something they requested.

 

Little Egypt Morris goes west

This was the first trip to Ireland (1999? - Ed.)and sadly the only one I did.
We flew from Stansted to Knock with Ryanair. On the plane going over John Bangs was chatting (mooting) to some people who he found out were going to a wedding.
Nothing more was thought of it after we landed and made our way to Galway.
Now before I carry on just a word about Knock airport it was then built in the middle of a field: the fuel bowser was a 1950s Leyland Bison and your bags were thrown though hole in the wall but the Duty Free was cheap, well the Jack Daniels was The airport was built for the Pope’s visit.
The story unfolds.
The next day we went on a trip to Connemara - we decide to stop in an out-of-the-way place between the hills and lakes and do an impromptu dance. Just as we started an old Bedford Bus came over the hill and to our surprise it was the wedding party that Bangsy had been speaking to on the plane, plus Bride and Groom.
So we did a dance for them, kissed the Bride and they went off to their reception (very weird that).


An Irish Wedding - what else?

After a good visit to Connemara we decided to stop in the in the middle of nowhere on the way back: the moon shone over the hills and lakes and all was quiet until we heard this faint singing which got louder and so did the Honda he was riding (no exhaust).
He just carried on passed us weaving all over the road (Happy Chappie) must have got home as we never saw him anymore - thought might find him in a ditch.
On our journey back to Knock airport I recall that “a certain Unnamed Morris lady”, from Stanstead, up the hill, wanted a wee - and so did the rest of us.
So we pulled up next to this small meadow where J**** bobbed down in the middle of the pasture, while the rest of us formed a ring facing out.
It must have looked like some magical fairy ring.

 

Little Egypt - late for a funeral

Sometime in my Little Egypt years I seem to have managed to gain the tittle of Dance Master perhaps after my years with Belchamps. So labelled with this new title I thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit of Molly Dancing (local to our area and the fens). With that I contacted Cyril Papworth (legend in Molly dances and tunes) to come and teach the side. Let’s say they tried their best but never quite got the hang of it.
Now the story goes that sadly, after a few years, Cyril passed away, so it was decided to go to his funereal. So Tommo organized it and on the said day we travelled to the village were the funeral was to take place - only to find it empty, so somebody went into the local shop and say who we were. The shop assistant then said “Oh you should have been here last week, the place was full of Morris sides for Cyril’s funeral.”

 

Now this next tale was recalled to me from Peter. It was about the time one hot summer’s evening we were dancing out in Barrow (village about 7-8 miles away). Neville stated that he was going to travel there on his Harley. We arrived at the Horse Shoes and waited the arrival of Neville. After about ten minutes we heard the thunderous tones of a Harley Davison. There we were met with a rider dress in Morris whites covered from head to toe in black fly. Luckily it was dark when he went home.

A little Morris trick I used for years was to find out what Morris sides were dancing at local Steam Rallies; so if I wanted to go I would put on a white shirt and place my Morris hat on the dash board pull up at the gate and say so and so Morris (whoever was due to dance there) and get in for nothing.

Over the course of my Morris career I have bumped into people I’ve known or worked with at Pubs and Rallies. Most enjoyed what I did but some would say “Why do you want to go around dressed like that?”, my answer was “How much did you pay for that pint or how much did you pay to get in – I paid nothing!” But it wasn’t just that: I enjoyed it and also the friends I made doing it.

 

Sadly, the old Heart said “Whoa!”. I had to give it up, but they say every cloud has a silver lining and from the Morris it led to the Barn Dance calling which surprises me how I got away with calling the same old dances for 12 years.

Well that’s all I can think of.

All I can say I’ve drunk some good ale; have been places I would not have visited; enjoyed every minute of it but most of all the friends and Good Mates I’ve met along the way and still Good Mates to this day.

 

In all his finery

Huge thanks to John Aldous for all the trouble he has gone to to compile this memoir. It has been fun to put it online. We hope you enjoy it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Steve Clarke
October 2017

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