Oxford Folk Festival – 23rd April

As if drawn by a magnet (or as it’s Oxford, maybe an MG Magnette may be more appropriate) the Men and sundry wives gathered at the Four Candles in George Street for breakfast. The World Famous Yateley Horse was there too, but he didn’t partake of a Wetherspoons fry-up:  he had had his oats earlier.

We left the pub and headed for a warm-up busk at the top end of Cornmarket, where we met up with Rockhopper Morris, all the way from Stokenchurch; then off to our first formal spot at the Ashmolean Museum. On the way we walked past the Randolph Hotel, but it wasn’t on fire this year. We shared the venue with the Knights of King Ina and Ridgeway Clog. As we were finishing a troupe of ladies in exotic gear started arriving, a group called Ashnah promising American Tribal style belly-dancing; my, how folk dancing has extended its remit, such as shame we couldn’t wait to see them perform.

In search of the next open spot, a brisk walk took us down to the Bear (a fine but rather cosy pub), by which time we were in need of lubrication. Cue much jostling at the cramped bar; the landlord had taken a leaf out of the old D&P book by not putting on more bar staff, even though an influx of thirsty Morris types was guaranteed. Suitably rehydrated we performed a lively Eynsham stickie (as we knew it was one that the watching Moulton and Berkshire Bedlam don’t do). Then off in search of more dancing opportunities.

Through Oxford’s backstreets, skirting the rough sleepers (a don’s salary ain’t what it used to be), to the Radcliffe Camera, then north to the Bod (Bodleian Library). Spotting a large open space in the hallowed precincts, our squire dashed off in a vain attempt to get permission to dance there. On his frustrated return we walked a few yards to the junction with Broad Street, where the promise offered by the large open area at the foot of the Clarendon Steps could not be resisted.

Unfortunately after a couple of dances were given the politest of tickings off by a festival official for dancing in a “red” area; who knows (or cares!) if she believed the squire’s excuse that we had confused this for the official spot at the other end of Broad Street. Thus chided we made our way there for our scheduled shared spot with Moulton and OBJ.  As the late professor Unwin might say, “Deep joy”.

However, to ring the changes, after a few dances we gave the assembled sides and public the edifying spectacle for which they had been waiting all day long, the St George’s Day version of the mummers’ play, to rapturous applause, of course.

All that bawling of lines left us all very thirsty again. We popped our heads in to the White Horse, the virtually subterranean pub below Blackwell’s bookshop, but it was far too tiny to accommodate us, so on to the much roomier King’s Arms (owned, incidentally, by Wadham College) for a much-needed pint.

Having been advised that the open spot in the covered market was a dead loss (hardly any stalls open, no audience), it was agreed we would head back to Cornmarket, hoping to both dance and give the play another airing. We found the highly energetic Harlequin already there, so we limited ourselves to a couple of dances, as we had an Appointment at 4 pm. Quite how Paul managed to dance wearing his Red Morocca King costume defies imagination, and the sight or Tom dancing in his kilt and orange knickers was terrifying.

Peter had sought permission from the newly appointed Warden (head honcho) of New College (one Miles Young, who just happened to be a drinking buddy of Peter’s from four decades ago) to dance there, but such is the bureaucracy that it hadn’t come to fruition; or perhaps one of the functionaries remembered last time….. By way of recompense the Warden offered us refreshment in his lodgings. So twenty plus Morris men, some still in mumming garb, and wives, daughters and a mother-in-law were welcomed by Miles into his 14th century home. After a sumptuous tea of prosecco, tea, coffee, and soft drinks, to wash down sandwiches and cakes to rival a Buckingham Palace garden party, we were treated to a tour of the lodgings, most of it over 600 years old; the peephole to the antechapel, the oldest working wooden shutters in England, the secret gardens, and the only stables in the city centre. This was a rare privilege, as the public doesn’t get access here, even on guided tours. As an end to a day out, that wasn’t half bad!

Dancers: Andy A, Andy P, Andy Y, Barry, Elliott, Greg, Paul, Peter, Ross, Ryan, Tim and Tom

Music: Rod, Chris B, Chris C and Steve

Guest Fool: Peter de C

Beast: TWFYH