[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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
So, after a while getting kit /dances and music set up we were ready to be let loose on the unsuspecting public.
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.
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 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.
How we became TV stars
Sitting at home one evening the phone rang: it was Brian the Bagman:
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.
The inside scenes were filmed in another studio.
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?”
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Dancing at the Dom
Little Egypt Morris goes west
This was the first trip to Ireland (1999? - Ed.)and sadly the only one I did.
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 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.
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.