As my good buddy Ross bundled me from my stable (he calls it a garage, but there’s no way he could get his car in there!) into the limo, we wondered what the weather would bring as the Yateley Morris Men greeted the New Year. Were the gallant Men destined to dance in the pouring rain outside the Cricketers again? Would last year’s indoor performance of the Mummers Play have to be repeated?
My chum Peter, whom we had picked up, had checked the BBC Weather app – rain was due until noon with dryness arriving thereafter. But as we drove down the A30 increasingly large spots of water appeared on the windscreen; had the clouds paid no attention at all to the Met Office forecast?! On arrival at Hartley Witney, I wisely sheltered in the car while Ross and Peter dived for cover (in the pub, where else) from the increasing precipitation.
The Yateley Men were most impressed that jugs of mild and bitter were put on the bar to invigorate them for the coming exertions: such examples of generosity are increasingly rare. No-one thought to put some in a bucket for me, though!
And then a miracle occurred…the rain stopped! The Men stripped off their sou’westers, oilskins and fleeces and dashed outside in answer to the Squire’s call to form a set of eight men for the opening dance, Skirmish (Adderbury), with its bracing introductory song (“Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules”, stirring stuff!); but something was amiss…a gap at number 6, like the dental extractions with which I suspect some of the Men may be becoming familiar. Where was Andy A? Would the mummers have to mum sans Little Swing Swang? Ever on his mental toes, the Squire changed the dance to Landlord [Fill the Flowing Bowl] for six men, and with an equally stirring, if less patriotic, song, the performance commenced.
Whereupon the second miracle of the day happened: was this Bond, Basildon Bond, arriving in the white streamlined apparition? No – even better, it was Andy A’s sporty little Peugeot. Huzzah: the Mummers Play was saved!
Next followed a seasonal favourite, in the Bampton style to the tune of the Holly and the Ivy, during which I made my appearance to the crowds, for whom of course the World Famous Yateley Horse was the principal attraction of the day, reacquainting some of my fans with their equine hero, making friends with newcomers.
Also making a seasonal appearance was Ian’s delicious Christmas cake, impaled on a sword, distributed to the audience by one of the Men taking a rest from dancing.
Then followed another old favourite, Jubilee, in the Ilmington tradition, during which the third miracle of the day transpired. Bright Phœbus appeared in the southwest, and little patches of sky turned blue – how I pranced in delight!
The Men then demonstrated to the appreciative crowd that they have after all mastered Vandals of Hammerwich (Lichfield) – the absent Max would have been most impressed (especially if he had looked away during the Hey) – followed by Highland Mary (Bampton) and Happy Man (Adderbury left, right, right).
Then came the time for audience participation. The Men acquired victims of varying degrees of willingness, and the Fool instructed all in the Bampton joiny-inny version of Shepherd’s Hey, performed enthusiastically by everyone.
At this point a number of the Men dashed in various directions to effect their transmogrifications into the Yateley Village Mummers, while Bazza kept the admiring hordes amused with a couple of jigs.
Once again, the victory of life over death was played out in the Mummers Play. Who can say that the tradition is not evolving? The Noble Captain was found to be sending a text message under the cover of the tarpaulin; the Doctor has been TUPE’d to Virgin Care; and Father Christmas has been dabbling in crypto-currencies: the Doctor accepted his fee in Bitcoins, having been assured by Father Christmas that the market would recover soon!
Slaying the evil King George cost Father Christmas the top six inches of his quarterstaff, so a visit to the woods is in order. The Noble Captain’s amputated leg grew back in time for all the players to sing the song and wish the audience a Happy New Year, to great applause.
After these exertions we went our separate ways, some to the immediate warmth of the Cricketers, some to the prospect of a hot lunch at home, some of us for a bracing canter around the Frimley Fuel Allotments!
For now it’s a Happy New Year from the World Famous Yateley Horse to all my followers, and the Men and I look forward to seeing lots of you about the highways, byways and hostelries of Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire.
Beast: The World Famous Yateley Horse.
Dancers: Andy A, Andy P, Bazza, Greg, Ian S (part-time), Paul, Peter, Ross, Tim. (Absentees will not be named or shamed…this time!)
Music: Chris B, Chris C, David, Ian S, Steve.
Guest appearance: Muzza as Mr Bean