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10092021 Highclere Castle

Some Notes on the Recent Extravaganza at Highclere Castle, 10th-12th September 2021

By The World Famous Yateley Horse

No-one will have been more excited than your equine author to have received the summons to perform at Lady Carnarvon’s “Magic of the Movies” event at the ancestral pile. So keen was the side to participate that Country and Honorary Members from Dorset, Northamptonshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire were recalled to the colours to bolster the numbers, Guest Fools leaping at the opportunity.

Day Zero, Friday 10th September – the Advance Guard Gathers

Having passed the initiative test of (vaguely) understanding the subtly accented garblings of the gatekeeper at Oakley Farm Caravan Park, Tom, Rod and Peter settled down to tea and Jinny’s marvellous apple, raisin and toffee cake; I could have fancied a bit of cake, but I was still confined to the passenger footwell of Tom’s motorhome – shame!

Eventually Paul’s “bongo” with Baz riding shotgun pulled up, and a little later Kevin arrived and started to pitch his tent. Having certified that he had indeed remembered socks, britches, baldricks, bells, flowers, hankies, etc., Kevin promised an erection time of 5 minutes, a duration of which most of the assembled would have been proud, but he actually managed just over 8 minutes [I’m not sure I quite understood what they were talking about; it all sounded very “intense”, but I was still confined in Tom’s Winnebago, so couldn’t quite see what was going on.]

With typical unconcern for a lonely horse the Men set off for supper at the Woodpecker, but when fed and watered (well, beered) they returned to sit, natter, sip whisky and nibble cheese in Tom’s motorhome, where at least I could enjoy the peaty fragrances (whether of the whisky, the men, or their flatulence I’m not sure) until they left me in peace.

Day One, Saturday 11th September – the Return to an Old Stamping Ground

I awoke to the heady perfume of Tom cooking bacon for the men, whose numbers had been augmented by Tim, Phil and Monty. The gentle jingle of bells indicated readiness, and once I had been manhandled into Peter’s car – oh, memories of the long trip to Montblanc seven (yes, seven!) years earlier – we set off for Highclere Castle.

On arrival we made our way to the Studio, which serves as a green room for performers of all ilks, where we were most surprised to encounter Lady C mid make-up and coiffure; not at all put out by the intrusion she chatted with Baz, Rod and Peter about the tribulations of the last 18 months while her attendants carried on with their vital tasks. I, of course, remained hidden in my carrier – my reacquaintance with her ladyship must take place outdoors!

With our formal dance spot in front of the Castle due at 10.30 there was time for a quick performance by the gate to welcome visitors, so thither we all went – but where were the two Andrews? Not to be put off by the lack of a Squire for the Day, six of the dancers present stepped off, as is their habit, with a spirited Bumpus o’Stretton (Ilmington), introduced by the stentorian tones of Monty, our Fool for the Day, gaily arrayed in a many-badged tailcoat with jester’s cap, hankies and stockings all loyally in blue and gold. Nobody at all noticed when the Music got their As and Bs a bit muddled and the dance went slightly to pot for a few beats.

Then it was my turn; I made my entrance surreptitiously from beside the lodge and delighted the guests, especially, of course, the ladies, who do have a natural attraction towards as fine a beast as me. I visited the ticket booth (unfortunately today manned by some bloke, not the two charming young fillies who were so pleased to see me last time), and did my best to make those patiently queuing feel welcome to Highclere.

I found that the mandibular surgery carried out by the Bagman during lockdown was reaping its benefit, in that I am now able to delicately nibble those whom I wish to favour with a sign of affection. With a little care, I can also now remove an individual’s headgear, should it displease me.

And then, lo! Who should appear from the Castle but the two missing Andrews? So the team was complete. The men had hoped that Andy P as Squire for the Day would be easy on them, but no, he was eager to reintroduce the iron discipline of his days as Squire, with insistence on lines, smiles, and walking on and off: he had two prizes – one for the dancer who smiled most and one for the dancer who showed most attention to keeping straight lines, and he would be watching them like a hawk all day!

Now the day began in earnest, with the first of three formal spots in front of the Castle at 10.30, entertaining the folks patiently queuing in serpentine fashion to enter the grand residence…and of course, much horsing around. I do find that visitors from our erstwhile colonies in the Americas are the most enthusiastic horse-lovers – I met a lovely couple from a place called Ken Tucky where they have an event called the Durrbee…well, I think that’s what they said.

Shortly before 11 o’clock, in front of the Castle, the Countess announced a minute’s silence in memory of the awful events in the USA twenty years previous; Lady C told us that the current Earl’s father died on the same day, so it was a date of double significance to the family. The silence was punctuated by the tinkling of a bell, and the Men and guests stood respectfully with hats doffed.

After that, tea was called for, so we retired to the Courtyard, which was to be the site of our unscheduled busking that filled the gaps between scheduled spots at 1 o’clock at 3.30. It was quite surprising how well the muscle memory clicked back in for not just our country members (one of whom was having to rapidly un-learn how his West Country side perform dances of the same name), but also for regular dancers who had had limited opportunity to rehearse.

After our second spot in front of the Castle we passed the entertainment marquee where the Charleston dancers had just started. We tarried a while to watch, but while most of us moved on to the Courtyard for rest and tea, the two Andys joined in and acquitted themselves really quite well. I believe evidence has been captured on video.

At one point I was summoned to pose next to a distinguished gentlemen who I was told was the Earl; he proclaimed that I was a “dead cert” for something called “the 2.30 at Fontwell”. I’ve no idea what he was talking about.

Shortly before we departed for the day, SFTD Andy P had prevailed upon Lady C to present the prizes. Tom won the prize for attending most assiduously to lines, and Peter and I shared that for smiles; as Peter wasn’t to be seen, I accepted the prize on both our behalves, gently (if impertinently) demonstrating my new ability to kiss a lady on both cheeks.

On return to the campsite the Men had time to change out of kit, relax, shower, have tea and/or beer and/or cake before departing en masse for the Woodpecker, who served beverages and sustenance promptly and with great (much needed) humour. The Men were joined by Squire Ian, fresh back from a narrow boat holiday, but Tim and Phil departed after supper.

More whisky was consumed upon return, many of the Men agreed that the Squire’s Lidl £17 malt was every bit as good as those at double the price. Is that heresy? But being generally knackered, it was early to bed for all.

Day Two, Sunday 12th September – the Fun Continues

By the time anyone was up, Monty had departed for more northerly climes. The rest of the remaining Men broke fast either courtesy of Tom’s griddle or with culinary delights prepared on their camping stoves.

We were delighted to be joined by Peter de Courcy as Guest Fool for the Day, resplendent in red and green jester’s costume. And if we had thought Monty’s bellowing to be worthy of a Regimental Sergeant Major on steroids, we hadn’t heard anything yet!

The Squire had come complete with Lists of Dances for each formal and busking spot; these were adhered to for at least one dance, before initiative stepped in and the prescription digressed upon in favour of what the Music and Dancers (vaguely) remembered.

The pattern of the day was much the same as Saturday; three formal spots in front of the Castle interspersed with busking, as and when the Men recovered, in the Courtyard…very handy for the café, which today was providing tea or coffee gratis to performers; they might have been doing so on Saturday, but no-one had the temerity to ask.

It may be my imagination, but did the tempo seem slightly slower than the day before, brought on by weariness? I, of course, was still charging around at full pace, ingratiating myself with all manner of lovely people, who, once they got over the surprise of my appearing among them, were all too pleased to stroke, caress, hug and generally pose with me. It was evident that this sort of event does attract a superior audience; one of the Men, who should know much better, was heard to express a similar thought about the ladies in somewhat coarser language.

All too soon, our two days when we enjoyed glorious weather in glorious surroundings came to an end, and we gathered in the car park for our farewells…but not before gifts! Lady C had arranged for each dancer and musician a Highclere Castle bag (intrinsically valuable in its own right!) containing a bottle of Highclere Castle Butler’s Brew premium bitter and a cylinder of Highclere Castle All Butter Caramel & Sea Salt Biscuits…so that’s supper sorted! I expect my delivery of a bale of Highclere Estate premium hay to arrive any day now.

As a final surprise, Guest Fool Peter de C was (perhaps for the first time in living memory) stumped for words when presented with a shiny engraved, pewter tankard to celebrate his election as an honorary member of Yateley Morris Men; this was accompanied by a picture of what his fool’s kit should look like in blue and gold – it’s amazing what Photoshop will do!

And so, tired but happy, we departed for homes, wives, baths and suppers (delete as appropriate) – or in my case Tom’s garage. But the good news…guess what…

WE’RE ALREADY BOOKED FOR 2022!!

Lady Carnarvon seemed to enjoy the shenanigans as well! https://www.ladycarnarvon.com/lets-dance/

Yateley Morris Men are back with a vengeance, and look forward to entertaining the people of Yateley and surrounding areas on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

Credits:

Dancers: Andy Armitage, Andy Pobjoy (Saturday’s Squire for the Day), Barry (Baz) Crossman, Ian Sutherland (Squire, Sunday only), Kevin Jenner, Paul Lethbridge, Paul (Monty) Montague (Guest Fool for the Day, Saturday only), Peter de Courcy (Guest Fool for the Day, Sunday only), Peter Stapleton, Phil Goddard (Saturday only), Tim Lloyd (Saturday only), Tom Brady.

Music: Rod Crane, Chris Bartlett, Chris Chapple, Steve Betts.

Beast: Yours truly, The World Famous Yateley Horse.