Tag Archives: dance

Swansong of the Windsmith

Aveldra and Merlin get up to mischief outside Bath Abbey

Aveldra and Merlin get up to mischief outside Bath Abbey

Last weekend saw the farewell performance of our Song of the Windsmith tour which started last Autumn in a castle in Scotland (The Castle of the Muses, Argyle and Bute). We were scheduled to perform on the final day of the Bath Fringe, in the amazing setting of the Masonic Hall (the Old Theatre Royal, built in 1750). Here, on a stage graced by the talent of Sarah Siddons – famous Regency actress – and frequented by the great and the good of Society (Royalty, literati, aristos, politicians and sundry bigwigs) we were joined by the talents of Miriam of Munich, dancer extra-ordinaire, and Sean McBride of SanFran on flute and sax. We made the most of the main temple space – projecting images onto the walls, and performing in proscenium fashion, amid the front rows. To drum up business we went around town on Saturday and some of Sunday, handing out flyers and giving folk a flavour of the show with our windsmithery. This was quite fun, if eventually tiring in the glorious sun. A pint at the Coer de Lion, Bath’s smallest pub, with my old friend Marko was most welcome after a day of barding about. There were two performances – matinee and evening – and both were filmed for posterity. We hope to release a CD or DVD eventually. The second performance really clicked – the magic happened, I felt – so it was a great note to go out on. Windsmiths, I salute you!

This way to the future! The Steampunk Theatre Company out and about in Bath

This way to the future!
The Steampunk Theatre Company out and about in Bath

The venue - Bath Masonic Hall

The venue – Bath Masonic Hall

Watch out - Aveldra's about!

Watch out – Aveldra’s about!

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Raising the May

Padstow May Day

Obby Oss and Teaser at Padstow by K. Manwaring 01.05.10

There is no better place to be in England on May Day then Padstow in North Cornwall, where every May 1st for many years (no one knows exactly how long it has been celebrated here, but it is probably a couple of centuries at the least) visitors are greeted with a spectacle both exotic and quintessentially English – locals dressed all in white, and either red or blue neckerchiefs and sashes, process through the streets following what is called either the Old Oss (red) or the Peace Oss (blue) – virtually indistinguishable to all but the trained eye –  both manned by a frisky local wearing a round black skirt of waterproof material topped by a black pointed head-dress decorated in an African style, who wheels and jigs through the packed crowds, lured on by a ‘teaser – usually a local girl wielding a phallic ‘bladder-stick’, accompanied by a hypnotic drum-beat, accordions, whistles and singing. The atmosphere is at the very least merry – although at times it becomes wildly unBritish, something you might see in a Mediterranean religious street festival or one in say India. The narrow streets of the small fishing village are festooned with foliage and flags. There’s a fun fair and the pubs do a roaring trade. Thousands of visitors descend, causing the tiny village to gridlock. Yet the ambience remains pleasant. After the winter, especially a hard one like we’ve had this year, there’s a palpable sense of ‘easing off’ as we celebrate the start of the summer. The Silly Season starts here! Such events are a real boost to the local economy and this is often an overlooked reason why these ‘traditions’ start – medieval monks weren’t averse to ‘discovering’ some dodgy relics to boost their coffers; and modern enterprising pagans are no different, ‘reviving’ traditions – always ancient and mysterious in origin. A whiff of antiquity mixed with the weird always seems to go down well. It’s amazing what you can conjure up. A traveller was hawking that gypsy standard, ‘lucky heather’, which he promoted as ‘Cornish viagra’. In a way, Padstow May Day is a kind of economic variant – helping to resurrect the dormant ‘fertility god’, Cash Flow.

The last and only other time I had made it to Padstow was in 1997 – on the eve of a Labour landslide. I had visited it with my new friend from Bath – Steve – and I have a shot of him, running off down the road with a Tory placard. A number of these kept us warm at night as we camped on the beach. Thirteen years later and it feels like full circle – we’re on the eve of another general election and it looks like Labour is on its way out, the euphoria of their victory, when Tony Blair seemed like the Britain’s new hope, long gone in the squalid aftermath of a second Gulf War; and the gloom of the Broon Years.

Then, Padstow seemed to capture the ‘feel good’ factor that was sweeping the country. This time – who knows? A sense that, if the country is going down the tubes, let’s party while we can?

This time, I was picked up from my flat on Bathwick Hill – where I had been living ten years to the day (moved in on the first of May 2000) by my friend Kevin in his ‘Panzer’, a 1985 convertible Mercedes Benz. I helped him take the hard roof off the day before and we rode down ‘topless’ – hair blowing in the wind. As we left Bath early Saturday morning Kevin played Maddy Prior’s Padstow song on his car stereo – the song that had started it all for him. It blasted out across Combe Down and we sang along to the (until then) quiet, empty streets, probably waking up half the neighbourhood. We were in good spirits – it was great to be setting off on an early May morning, the energy not only of the day, but the whole of summer, the whole of awakening nature, behind us.

My skipper took the scenic route, over the Mendips via Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury – where they were many celebrations going on over the weekend. No doubt folk were up the Tor or in Chalice Well – we saw some likely suspects dressed in robes, obviously on their way home for breakfast after greeting the dawn. A couple of years ago I had leapt the Bel-fire in the field above Chalice Well and helped raise the May-pole. It’s a great place to celebrate it, but I was glad to be going Cornwall today.

We cruised across the Somerset Levels, crossing the M5, running the gauntlet of Taunton and out the other side – Kevin decided on a whim to go ‘cross-country’ and we ended up in some obscure backroads. But it turned out good in the end – more by luck than anything, we managed to find a pretty route along a B-road via Wiveliscombe, Bampton and other lovely places hidden within the inviting folds of Devon.

We started to fantasize about cream teas and knew it was time to stop for a break – having been on the road for nearly 3 hours.

In desperation we came off the Atlantic Highway, thinking we could find sustenance in Clovelly – much in need after a cuppa, after the weather turned damp and chilly. Guided by insistent signs, we parked and found ourselves in a surreal complex – a kind of tourist Auschwitz where new arrivals are ‘processed’. It turned out you had to pay to get into the honeypot village – all we wanted was a cuppa. We reassured the woman at the counter that we didn’t want to visit the village, just the cafe. There was a bizarre deal at the cafe where it cost more to have a straight black coffee, than a latte. The girl at the counter was unable to explain the logic of this – she was ‘only following orders’.

A little recuperated, on we went – eager not to miss the celebrations. We arrived around midday and parked up in the campsite a ‘couple of miles’ from the village as Kevin somewhat euphemistically put it. Five miles later, dying for a pint, we made it into Padstow – it seemed like all the celebrants were leaving – but it was just the ‘morning shift’ breaking for lunch. The next dance was at 2pm – time for a much-needed pint and pasty. We sat on the quayside, amongst the crowds and buntinged boats and tucked in. We had made it!

We went to see the Peace Oss at 2pm – although it was impossible to get knew the institute where it ‘lived’. My heart sank, thinking I was not going to be able to see it properly – I didn’t remember it being that busy 13 years ago, but Padstow is a changed place. Rick Stein has set up shop and the Yuppies have moved in. It has become somewhat gentrified as of late – going by the shops and some of the crowd. But there was still an excellent atmosphere.

We tagged along with the Peace Oss procession as it wended its way up the ‘high street’ towards St Petroc’s church – it became easier the see it the further it went as the hills thinned out the crowds. Finally, some decent photo-opportunities! We followed it into the church – I was told by a bullish Blue Oss followed not to bring my pint into the hallowed place – but a frollicking pagan fertility icon was obviously okay. The drums sounded extraordinary in the church – as though inside a long barrow. It was great to see the church come alive with the drumming, dancing and merry crowds.

Out the other side it went – and back down into town, for a while. We left it as it seemed to ‘die’ halfway up a little side street – walking back towards the Ship, where we met up with Kevin’s old university buddy, Steve and his family. More pints were procured and downed – quaffable local ale, Doom Bar was a popular choice. Not much of that to be had in Egypt, so I made the most of it. Kevin’s biker buddies, John and Aaron, rocked up – a little tender from a lock-in at the Tintagel Arms the night before. They had ridden across from Sussex on their Harleys – an impressive ride. We took a stroll to the quayside and enjoyed the sites, including a fine wooden figurehead on a ship with impressive curves. When you start finding carpentry erotic, you know you are in desperate need of female company! But I had other priorities at that point…

I needed a cup of tea desperately – it was all catching up with me (the Italian odyssey; workshop in Wales; a week’s marking; an early start and long car drive). I found a cafe and gratefully took a seat. Ended up chatting with a local lady – asking her about her colours: ‘How do you become a follower of the red or blue Oss?’ I wanted to know – ‘You are born into it,’ she explained – her grandfather, then father had been Old Oss stock and, thus, so was she. And her children and grandchildren. It seems an accident of birth then, which creates this friendly schism. The Peace, or Temperance Oss was started after the Second World War – so perhaps belonging to that indicates ‘incomers’, as opposed to old Padstownians. The woman enthused about it, saying how ‘It’s a kind of freedom,’ until that is the politcally-correct brigade (anathema of Daily Mail readers ) come along and spoil it, which they’ve already done with the dubiously named ‘Darkie Day’, when Padstow’s temporary black population used to be celebrated, on their annual day off. She became increasingly racist in her opinions after that – what Gordon Brown would call ‘a bigoted woman’, but not to her face. ‘Are you one of those Liberalites?’ she asked, sensing my disquiet with her loathsome opinions about Asylum Seekers and so forth. This somewhat tainted my impression of events – which now looked, in the light of this conversation, to be a thinly-disguised white power demonstration, but the Oss transcends that. Really, it’s just a bit of good old fashioned silliness. People like to ‘justify’ it by saying it’s an ancient fertility custom – practised since time immemorial – but it probably is only a couple of centuries old (Kevin thinks there are Napoleonic references in the songs – but the lyrics he quoted could easily be read in all sorts of ways). Ironically, the tradition of the Oss – the trappings of white costumes and black masks – might have been imported by Moorish mariners, but I didn’t feel like pointing this out to the Tory racist. Her theory about its origins sounded just as feasible – during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was seen approaching. All the men were away – and so the women dressed in white, as sailors, to make the French think the place was ‘manned’. It seemed to work. When the men returned from war they were so taken by this, they started to do this themselves – women were not allowed to take part. Leaving Daily Mail woman, I rejoined my friends. We walked around the harbour, then up to the war memorial, which afforded fine views over the estuary mouth. The sun was just setting behind the headland and – after a rainy afternoon – the clouds broke. It felt like a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ moment, I observed. I shouldn’t have invited in such ‘thought-forms’ for later on someone called me Compo, since I was wearing my woolly hat in an attempt to retain my rapidly vanishing body heat.

Our small but merry band made its way back into the village to get another one before the six o’clock dance of the Old Oss. This time I was determined to get a good view, and so I waited outside the Golden Lion inn, the ‘stables’ of the original Oss. At 6pm the Ossers emerged, sporting different coloured rain macs, as though part of their ritual regalia. The black Oss squeezed out of the narrow front entrance – a painful birth – and started jigged about furiously, falling into the crowds and being pushed back into the middle, as it zig-zagged down the lane. Touching its black skirt is meant to bring luck – get taken under it and it’s meant to make you pregnant!

My friends found me in the crowds and we followed the Oss to the ‘village square’ where it converged with the rival Oss – jigging around the enormous May Pole. The crowds packed in – but we were right up the front. The atmosphere was fantastic – the Oss was really going for it. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits. It really felt like we were tapping into something powerful and primal here – rightly or wrongly. It felt real. You could feel the sap stirring – and the carefree spirit of summer coming in after the sober days of winter.

Old mates reunite at Padstow - Kevin, John & Aaron

Buzzing, but in need of some hot food we went to get some from the quayside. More beer followed and I was beginning to flag – it had been a long day and it wasn’t over yet! The final dance was at 10pm. A siesta would’ve been good – but seating space was at a premium. We went to the Golden Lion – with its incredibly low ceiling, as though at any moment its going to collapse in like a soggy paper bag. Finally a seat appeared and with relief I slumped down into it, trying to save some energy for the final stint.

The drumming started again – it will stay with me for days – and we made our way outside, girding our loins with, you’ve guessed it, a final drink. I had a shot of Jagermeister, which seemed to do the trick. The Oss appeared – the dancers and drummers in a kind of shamanic trance (induced by a day of drumming, dancing and beer). They were wilder than ever – the atmosphere was positively Bacchanalian – and I felt we had all become lost in a kind of collective folk consciousness. We followed, we sang, we cheered with the slightest of encouragement.

With one final loud cheer the drumming stopped – the dance was over – the day’s celebrations were officially over. Folk stood around chatting – bubbling with the good vibes. I was ready for bed though. It took a while to extricate the lads from their respective chinwags. We made our way up out the village – passing a couple of police. ‘You must be relieved it’s over’, I suggested. ‘Same again tomorrow,’ one responded, to my surprise. Apparently, it’s repeated the day after, which was news to me – not widely advertised. Maybe a recent addition, to cope with numbers and the uncertainties of the weather?

We made our way back along the dark country roads, feasting on a sky full of stars. We had a couple of torches between us to help us avoid being run over walking along the main road in the pitch black. I led the way like a Signalman, sending a warning flash to approaching drivers.

Despite the slog back to the campsite we were in good spirits – but not completely sozzled. The walk soon sobered us up, which made it easier putting up the tent in the dark. Finally, I slipped into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, satisfied at experiencing such a magical, unique celebration of British culture.

Oss Oss, Wee Oss!

Garden of Awen: Raising the May

2 May


This Garden was themed to celebrate May Day – the Celtic festival of Beltane; the International Workers’ Day; and the start of summer. I arrived back from Padstow, where I had seen the Obby Oss with my friend Kevin the day before, at 5pm – giving me an hour to turnaround (life seems to be like that at the moment – the next morning at 6am I was off to Egypt for a month – fortunately I had packed on Friday night).

Coco Boudoir, a regular burlesque, normally on Saturday was double-booked – upstairs in the Chapel – I was concerned about the noise pollution and a bit disappointed that they had done this, when the first Sunday of the month has been our regular slot since the Garden’s inception in November last year. I thought we was going having to cancel – but I managed to find a solution, by bringing it forward an hour and having the poets on first; the drumming, dancing and music in the second half. This worked out okay. We didn’t have a large crowd – but you don’t need many to fill the cafe space and it looked healthy. With it being the May Day bank holiday weekend alot of people were away or burnt out from bringing in the May. Nevertheless, it was a good atmosphere – a mixture of old friends and new faces turned up, including a contingent from Glastonbury.

I introduced the evening with my green man poem, One With the Land, getting everyone to join in with the chorus. This helped to warm things up – including me! I was tired from the long ride back, on top of everything else. It has been a full on few weeks. But that is the energy of May, I find, when the quickening of Spring reaches its climax.

Then I welcomed up our first guest poet, Helen Moore, a fellow Bard of Bath and now resident of Frome. She performed an excellent set of topical and beautifully crafted ecobardic poems, including one about Hedge Funds – both the green and greedy variety – and another called Cunt Magic – reclaiming the word from its derogatory connotations and getting into the spirit of May.

Afterwards we have some floor spots, starting with Ken Masters who had accompanied Helen on a variety of instruments, including a piper with which he emulated the noises of a washing machine for a poem called ‘Green Wash’. He shared with us a poem based upon his Greek dancing holiday.

Next, we had a poem by Verona Bass – ‘loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ – before moving on to the second guest poet, Jeff Cloves, rebel poet of Stroud, who performed his first solo set of poetry for 20 years, with readings from his new collection. He brought some of the anarchic Labour Day spirit into the proceedings – May Day was also a time when the status quo was turned on its head and the Lord of Misrule prevailed.

We ended the first half with ‘parish notices’ and a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Amanda.

During the break I caught up with a couple of friends – it was all a bit of a whirlwind, taking money, buying drinks, and dealing with everyone.

After the break, I started the second half with my poem to the Spring Maiden, Maid Flower Bride – which flowed well, despite my fatigue, and provided the perfect intro for Ola’s amazing dance to Oshun, an African fertility goddess, which she did with real fire, accompanied by her friend on djembe. It was great to see the Garden come alive with movement like that – the last time we’d had a dancer was in December (Irina Kuzminsky from Oz). This time it was Ola from Bonn performing African dance – we’re nothing if not international1

We had a couple more floor spots – a rendition of The Padstow May Song from Kevin Williams, dressed up in his Navy Officer’s uniform; a great ‘butterfly’ story from Kirsty; and a couple of poems from Amanda (one inspired by the Way of Awen weekend). We were meant to end with my friend Justin – but he didn’t make it, alas – but things worked out okay as Ken led us in a Greek dance with smooth the crossing for all travellers (something I could relate to). And so another Garden came to an end – in good spirits. A modest but pleasant success.

Afterwards some of us went up to enjoy the second half of Coco Boudoir – enjoying the exotic cabaret, which definitely helped to raise the May!

Mistletoe, Roses and Thorn

5-8 December

Mistletoe the Line

Yesterday decided to visit Tenbury Mistlefest – Britain’s only mistletoe festival. This came about when the old mistletoe auctions were under threat. They had taken place in Tenbury for a hundred years. Tenbury mistletoe is exported all over the country and is renowned for its quality.

I waited to see what the weather was like before committing to going. I checked the BBC weather on my laptop and the forecast looked good – at least for the first half of the day. I decided to risk it and seize the day – I chucked what I needed in a daysac, togged up and set off. The run up to Tenbury through the Welsh Marches was beautiful in the winter sun – I felt glad to be alive and living in such a lovely country. This part of the land feels very special – an artery of quintessential ‘Englishness’, deep England, ironically on the border of Wales – and originally of course belonging to Wales. I can see why Tolkien was so inspired by it – it did have a Tolkienesque quality to it. Deep wooded vales, timber-framed houses, mysterious knolls, brooding hills – old Brythonic bears, licking their wounds. I made good time on my Triumph Legend – the roads were clear and it was sunny and dry. The 85 miles passed in a pleasant couple of hours. It was only when I reached the Rose and Crown, just outside Tenbury – where the druids were gathering for the procession – that I realised I had left without my wallet! I had about a seven pound’s worth of change in my pocket – enough for lunch and not much else. I put this problem to one side – there wasn’t much I could do about it – as the procession was about to start. There was a brief briefing in the pub and I was designated ‘hop carrier’ in the ceremony – my role was to pass around a bottle of beer!

Rose and Crown carpark, Tenbury - the druids gather for the procession

About twenty of us set off from the Rose & Crown carpark – some in full robes. Suzanne from Cransfield Bardic Arts led the way, leading us in a chant – (‘All Hail the Mistletoe, On the sacred tree does grow, Our blessing we bestow, All upon the Mistletoe!’) which we sang in a half-hearted slightly embarrassed English way as we crossed the bridge from Shropshire to Worcestershire into the town. The high street was lined with stalls – a Christmas market to coincide with this, the biggest day in Tenbury’s calendar. It wasn’t exactly buzzing, but the atmosphere was congenial. We passed a couple playing medieval instruments, all dressed up. minstrels, Tenbury MistlefestThey attempted to join our procession, but we were walking too fast! In previous years, the mistletoe ceremony had taken place in the heart of the town, but this year it took place in the gardens, under a lime bearing mistletoe overlooking the river Teme, flowing vigorously after the heavy rains recently – very much like Eliot’s ‘strong brown god’. (Tenbury has been badly affected by the floods in recent years).

The previous Tuesday a small contingent of the local druids (Cornovii Tribe) went to the Mistletoe Auctions and performed a discreet ceremony incognito (plain clothes druids!). In other years this has been more visual – in full regalia – to varying degrees of reception. Some traders claimed the blessed mistletoe did especially well, whileas others disagreed!

Mistletoe Foundation

We gathered in a circle by the Mistletoe Foundation banner, as a small crowd of curious and amused public looked on. Suzanne had a gentle touch and conducted the ceremony with grace and humour. Although the celebrants had to read from scripts it was done from the heart, albeit in a slightly ramshackle way. I did my bit – the ale is normally passed in a horn, but because of health and safety they were forced to use plastic cups – but they were forgotten! And so I had to simply pass around the bottle of local ale (Hobson’s Town Crier), saying to people to drink at their own risk – all the druids did! Folk were asked if they wishes to say anything about mistletoe – I said: ‘Our ancestors called this All Heal – may it bring healing to all who need it, especially to the planet – and may it bring wisdom to those in Copenhagen who are deciding the fate of the planet.’ After we blessed the mistletoe with water, fire, hops and apple everyone was offered a sprig of mistletoe. At the climax of the ceremony, the mistletoe was cast into the Teme. Suzanne said after: ‘words cannot describe how it felt to see the mistletoe taken by the river. So I won’t try.’

We then wended our back to the Rose and Crown for lunch. It was nice to chat to the celebrants. Later that evening there was going to be an ‘eisteddfod’ in the lovely old pub, but unfortunately I had to give it a miss, as I had a certain rendezvous with a troubadour! Saying farewell to these new friends, I left the warm embrace of the pub, with its crackling fire and good beer and put out into the drizzle of the chilly afternoon. I went back into the town to look around. By now it was grey and miserable. It was about 2.30pm – the crowning of the mistletoe queen wasn’t until 4pm (I missed this, although I did catch a glimpse of her, hanging about with her mates, browsing the stalls). I didn’t fancy hanging around for a couple of hours in the rain, so I decided to head back and make the most of the remaining light. I rang my friend Miranda in Stroud to say I would be passing her place around 4ish and would it be okay to drop by for a cuppa … this turned out to be a wildly optimistic ETA and travel plan!

Lighting the Darkness

6th December

Speaking from Inner Roses - Irina Kuzminsky, Dancing with Dark Goddesses

Garden of Awen on Sunday at Chapel Arts Centre was a magical banquet of bardism in the heart of Bath. To celebrate the solsticey theme of ‘Lighting the Darkness’ I had gathered a constellation of shining talent: sublime wordsmiths from Stroud, a jazz duo and a Bard of Bath, a troubadour from Paris and a Russian ballet dancer/poet from Australia.

This was the second Garden I had organised with playwright, novelist and all round Mr Fix it, Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions made it look so professional.

After a much needed lazy Sunday chilling out at home with my guest Paul we made our way to the venue laden with musical instruments, books, CDs and stuff! Svanur was there, co-ordinating the sound checks and attending to final details – he’s a wizard!

I MCed the night, introducing each act, assisted by ‘the lady with the satin larynx’ Anna D. – who recited the odd arcadian quote to punctuate the proceedings. First up was Jay Ramsay, poet of the heart, and Hereward on percussion – performing a deeply felt set of beautiful poems. Next was fellow Fire Springer, Kirsty Hartsiotis, who did a rivetting version of Pandora’s Box. Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath, followed – with an impressive triptych of poetry and song. We ended the first half with jazz duo Venus Eleven. Tracey Kelly ethereal vocals, accompanied by some mellow guitar enchanted the audience.

After the break, we had extraordinary poet, Gabriel Millar – our third guest from Stroud. She delivered a wise and spell-binding set of poetry. And then we had Irina Kuzminsky, the Russian-emigre Australia ballet dancer/poet, who performed her blistering ‘Dancing with Dark Goddesses’ set: a performance of complete commitment, passion and technical brilliance. Hereward and Jay came back on for some drumming to warm us up for the final act, Paul Francis, Le Troubadour, who ended the evening with a splendid set of songs that took the audience to an absinthe-soaked Left Bank for an all but brief time. Paul ended with a personal request – his magnificent song, The Sailor and the Magician, which has a chorus of fine sentiment: ‘May the Peace in East; Peace in the South; Peace in the West by the river’s mouth; Peace in the North; Peace across the Land; Peace, Love and Harmony…‘ I’ll drink to that – and we did!

I ended the evening with a quote from Scottish novelist and playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, who once said: ‘God gave us memories so that we might have Roses in December … ‘ I think all who came to the Garden that night left with a bouquet.

Head Gardener, Uncle Kevanya

Cutting the Thorn

8th December 2009

Today I attended the annual cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn at St Johns, on the High Street. The Glastonbury Thorn is said to be a cutting from the very tree that apocryphally sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea – Jesus’s uncle or brother (according to the vicar of St John’s, David) – plunged into the good soil of Somerset (traditionally on Wearyall Hill – appropriately named, as his journey’s end) when he made landfall here after his long voyage from the Holy Land, with or without a certain young messiah under his care (a new film is coming out that explores this, ‘Did Those Feet in Ancient Times?’) All rather dubious, but a wonderful notion – Glastonbury is obviously very proud of its its famous ‘roots’: a headline on a newstand read ‘Did Glastonbury Druids Teach the Young Jesus?’! And the brush with fame, albeit on a merely national level, continues. Every year a sprig of this tree is sent to the Queen, who has it on her Xmas table at Sandringham (apparently it is sometimes spotted in the background of her Christmas Day broadcast).

Cutting the Glastonbury Thorn, St Johns, 8 Dec 09 KM

Arriving in good time, I wandered up the High Street, browsing in the shop windows, until I was caught up in the ‘crocodile’ as hundreds of pupils from St John’s, St Benedict’s and St Dunstan’s converged in the grounds of the church, lining up in ranks of descending size in front of the Thorn. Local worthies were gathered in their finery. The town crier started proceedings in a typically stentorian manner, then Rev. David Mced the event, with contributions of cute songs from the local schools before the moment we had all been waiting for occurred. The ‘oldest pupil’ of St John’s cut the thorn, with a little assistance from the Town Crier and her mum. As the thorn sprig was held up, they were cheers – and the little girl, looking like a wee brownie in her pink woolly hat, beamed.

It was a heart-warming community event – a lovely way to mark the ‘first shoots’ of the festive season.

Here’s to a Merry Yule!