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Flamborough, Week 1: 7 May

It’s May, which always makes me think of the days when I used to rise early enough to dance the sun up on Brackley Market Square. Sunrise there comes a little after 5.30am this time of year, a fact which the residents of Brackley could appreciate at first hand once we started playing music, banging drums and dancing the Morris outside their windows.

It’s a couple of decades since I last shook a bell in anger, but I’m delighted to say that the custom continues to this day, as it does in towns and villages all over England. Tradition is like a vast relay race with the ages: you’re handed the baton from the distant past and, trying desperately not to drop it, you hand it on. People always get folk wrong, by trying to understand it. You can’t; not really. But if you’re lucky, and if you respect it, sometimes you’re allowed to do it right.

I used to love getting up for May Day. There’s something about being up while the world’s still abed that feels like a privilege—you get first use of the day, while it’s still fresh, full of unbreathed oxygen. The folk-rock group Oysterband do a fantastic version of the May song Hal-an-Tow (“Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow/ We were up, long before the day-oh/ Well, to welcome in the summertime, to welcome in the May-oh/ For summer is a-coming in, and winter’s gone away”). It’s exhilarating, and captures the excitement of Maytime for me: maybe not enough get me out of bed for 5.30am, but enough to make me feel vaguely guilty and play some folk music by way of expiation.

St Fergus’ Church from the riverside path

Incidentally, have you ever stopped to consider the role the correct footwear plays in folk songs?

Gordon (on the right) dancing the morris

[The squire in the courtyard giving orders] “You there: go saddle for me the bonny brown steed, the grey was never so speedy-oh.”
“Um, excuse me, Squire?”
“Hello, yes? What?”
“Well, I’m sorry to trouble you, but I write the songs down in the village.”
“Look, I’m rather busy just now. Can’t it wait?”
“Well, you see, I understand you’re going after your lady wife, who’s absconded with Black Jack Davey, right? Well, there’s going be a fine ballad in all of this, I can tell, but I was just wondering about your shoes.”
“My shoes? What about them?”
“Well, they’re more what you’d call rubber boots, don’t you see. Wellingtons.”
“Were you by any chance going to be tripping o’er the heather?”
“I might be. Possibly. Damp stuff, heather.”
“In wind and rainy weather?”
“According to the forecast there’s a deep depression moving over the country, bringing an 85% chance of precipitation, so yes, probably.”
“And if you meet up with your good lady, do you think you’ll be pointing out to her the advantages of sleeping on a good soft bed made of goose feather? Instead of, as it might be, the cold, hard ground?”
“I say, that’s a bit personal. Keep it clean.”
“What I’m driving at—the point I’m trying to make—you couldn’t see your way to wearing boots of Spanish leather, by any chance? It’d make my job so much easier. For the rhymes, don’t you know.”
“Sorry, wellies it is.” [The squire mounts his bonny brown steed] “Still, look on the bright side. After all, it could’ve been worse.”
“Oh? How?”
“My other shoes are flip-flops. Hi-yo Brownie, away!”

Duncansby Stacks

And yes, it’s a new gansey, based on a couple of classic Flamborough patterns, knitted in the gorgeous coppery hues of Frangipani Breton. I’ll say more about this next week, and hopefully include a pattern chart and full specs. But for now there’s blossom on the plum tree, and, as my old friend Alf Tennyson once observed, “To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year/ Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day/ For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May/ It’s a shame about the beard, mother, but at least I’ve the legs for a dress/ Just don’t put that razor away, mother, I want to look my best.” Ah, tradition—makes you proud, doesn’t it?

8 comments to Flamborough, Week 1: 7 May

  • SongBird

    Ohhh, the color in this new gansey is striking! What would you call it? Rust? Patinaed Iron? Late Autumn Sunset? Anyway, gorgeous.

    • Gordon

      Hello Song, I think rust covers it pretty well. Like much Gansey yarn it’s light in sunlight, and a deep red out of it. It’s a gorgeous shade and just what I need after so much navy and cream knitting!

  • =Tamar

    It’s beautiful!
    However…If you continue to make me whoop with laughter, the neighbors may complain.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it’s a lovely colour, and just right for Flamborough, i think. Glad you like this weeks blog – humour’s a tricky thing to get right! And I am familiar with the sensation of laughing at my own jokes while the audience stares at me stony faced, and reaches for its bags of rotten tomatoes…

  • Why oh why didn’t I have a chance to see you dancing?
    I like men who can dance.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lillemor, once they invent time travel you’ll be able to, but otherwise not, alas. The lucky few who saw me were of course cursed, as no other experience in life could ever scale those heights again, like men kissed by goddesses in dreams who can never be satisfied with mortal women afterwards…

  • Linda Abraham

    Beautiful color and pattern!! Looking forward to the schematic…and thank you for the lesson in how to greet May!

  • Gordon

    Hello Linda, being “up, long before the day-oh” these days is more likely to be due to the enlarged prostate than welcoming in the summer time! Pattern chart next week, promise.

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