Dancing outdoors over the Christmas and New Year period is always going to be a bit risky weather-wise, but Hook Eagle Morris Dancers were lucky this year. We avoided the worst of the pre-Christmas rain, the winds of Storm Henk, and (so far) the snow, to enjoy dancing out on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and at Hartley Wintney’s ever-popular and famous Wassail.
Boxing Day at the Coach & Horses in Rotherwick produced the usual crowds of people out to work off the turkey (or dodging the in-laws) with a queue for the bar all the way out to the car park.We did two sets of dancing and got the crowds involved with two sessions of the Dilwyn Stick Dance, with participants of all ages getting in the spirit.
We were back at the Coach & Horses for the start of our New Year’s Day “Hair of the Dog” Tour. In previous years, we’ve done the pubs on the western side of Hook before reaching the Crooked Billet. This time we went the other way, taking in the Leather Bottle at Mattingley. Once we’d cleared a space among the patio tables and planters, we had a very good dancing session and a joining-in session that was only limited by the space available. On reaching the Crooked Billet, we met up with Tim Maynes, long-time Hook resident and one of the side’s founding members from back in 1991. Despite having given up dancing many years ago, he was persuaded to give it a go and produced a very enthusiastic “Click Go the Shears” that showed today’s dancers how it is done with style and panache. Afterwards, everyone was pleased to relax in the warmth of the Crooked Billet and to hear about the early days of Hook’s Premier Morris Side.
After Twelfth Night comes the Wassailing season — a very old English tradition of blessing the orchards in midwinter to drive off evil spirits and ensure a bumper harvest in the autumn to come. First up was Hartley Wintney’s Wassail. We normally start outside the Waggon & Horses but due to the pavements being dug up, we had to move a bit further along the High Street. There was an excellent crowd and the Parish Council and Scouts seemed to have ordered a bumper load of flaming torches for the parade up to the Vaughn Millennium Orchard. To demonstrate the success of the Wassail, the trees have grown so high in the past 20-odd years that we had to choose a small one with low branches to allow the children to reach up and put pieces of toast on the buds, an integral part of the blessing, along with splashing cider on the tree roots, and having a good old sing song.
As well as our usual crew of press photographers and videographers, we were also pleased to find that Robin Hood and his Merry Crew (from EYELarp action role players) were there in force to join in the fun. Needless to say the Morris Dancers vs Merry Crew version of the Dilwyn Stick Dance was a real hoot. We then managed another go to allow the small children to have their turn.
By the time you read this, we should have defrosted after the Butser Ancient Farm Wassail up on top of the South Downs (19th January) and the For Earth’s Sake Wassail in Shamley Green (28th January). After that, it’s back to practicing at the Elizabeth Hall in Hook. Our new dancers are doing well and our first public dances of the season at the Oxford Folk Festival and St George’s Day in April are approaching rapidly and every practice will be crucial to making their first appearances a bit less nerve-wracking, ahead of what will be another packed summer season.
Jonathan Buisson (aka “Ninja”)
Foreman of Dance, Hook Eagle Morris