Summer is icumen in

May 1, 2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve got home at half past seven in the morning.  Even back in the days when this was a more frequent occurance, I’ve never really been one of those people who can stay up all night without sketching and/or passing out.  However, it was at around half past seven that we trudged down Lewes Road in the sunshine this morning,  after an eventful and fantastic night.

Every year, on the eve of May 1st, Brighton Morris Men and Cuckoos Nest Morris have a big dance-off outside the Sir Charles Tapir, stay up all night, and then dance in the dawn up at Hollingbury Hill Fort. We managed to get up there and watch them about five years ago, but haven’t made it since. We’re definately big fans of the Morris (excellent stick-work), although as Tom points out, they are “coarse coarse men”, and there’s nothing like watching people leap through the air with bells on their ankles, clashing sticks together and singing.

The dance up at the Hill Fort is something very special, though, and we really had no excuse not to go along this year, as May 1st fell on a Sunday (although I’ve got vague memories about making it to work the next morning last time we went), and we were going to drive up there in Anna’s van. Until about two days before, when Anna got a text from Gee which indicated that I was actually performing at the Cowley Club that evening. I can’t actually remember agreeing to do the gig, but it was definately worth doing. Petrusco was organising it in order to raise money to transport a gigantic model of his own head (which has an art gallery inside) to a festival in Spain. At least, I think that’s what it was in aid of.

Either way, it went well, although I did have to leap up on a chair halfway through (wary of repeating the “I feel like Freddie Mercury!” incident which resulted in me crashing down on top of a drumkit and a load of guitar pedals at the Hope a few years ago). Petrusco kept handing me bottles of cider, and I don’t think I accidentally insulted anyone at the Cowley Club with what could be construed as a slightly cynical take on political poetry and conspiracy theories. Afterwards, AK/DK were playing, who are one of my favourite Brighton bands of all time, and I got to sing with them for a song, which was great.  They’re a double-drum-double-synth duo, and hopefully managed to put up with me shrieking about canapes and water and rats over the top of them for a while.

By about half past one in the morning, I was beginning to fall asleep where I was sitting, but although slightly tipsy, we thought we’d have a go at making it up to the Hill Fort to watch the Morris. However, we didn’t really want to find outselves wandering around a dark and cold hill fort with two hours to kill before the Morris started, so we went to the legendary All Night Diner.

The All Night Diner is an incredible place. I have no idea what it’s like during the day, but at 2am on a Saturday night it’s filled with wild-eyed drug fiends, crazy people, drunk people, late-night fry-up seekers – all in all, a fairly representative sample of the confused and hungry population of Brighton at this stage in the evening. They’ve got an incredible wood carving on the wall which depicts an enormous breakfast made out of different kinds of wood. When Nicky P used to live in Brighton, he used to go to the Diner with his heavy metal housemates after the Gloucester or the Pav Tav. They would order a gutbuster, which is essentially an enormous breakfast, and Nick would order a megabuster, which is two gutbusters on top of each other but with extra fried bread and a cup of tea. One night he couldn’t finish his megabuster, and that was when he knew he had to leave Brighton and seek his fortune further north.

Anyway, I digress. Me, Anna and Emma-Jane didn’t order any of these giant breakfast monstrosities, but much lighter snacks of the egg&chips / sandwich mould, as well as tea. Although E-J bumped into a friend in there who gave us a whole black pudding, which we then sent home for Jed.

After a bit of sitting around in the Diner, finally it was time to start walking to the Hill Fort. We bought a wee bottle of whisky and some kind of weird flat rolled up pizza thing that was on offer in Easy Hours, and set off up the hill. Essentially it’s just one really long road which goes all the way to the Hill Fort, and it was nearing 4 o clock when we got there. It’s quite confusing to find your way to an actual hill fort in the dark, and Anna nearly led us straight into a really tall hedge, but eventually we spotted a light in the distance. Making for it, we discovered a lost and confused Morris Dancer. Gradually we found a couple more, and suddenly the hill was full of Morris dancers.  At first, we thought we were going to be the only non-Morris there, but other people turned up, including a few surprised dog walkers and other early-morning strollers.

And then they danced. The musicians began to play, sticks were clashed, and gradually the whole place became light. It’s a really beautiful and magical sight watching morris dancers dance the sun up, even though they’d been up all night and a few of them were really really drunk; “My bells! I’ve lost my bells!”. It’s quite hard to describe exactly what made it so special, but I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the coming of May and of Summer. After the dance, when the sun was over the horizon, we all paraded around the edge of the hill-fort, surrounded by morris dancers and accompanied by the band, all at an incredibly speedy pace. Then they returned to the start and all sang, before heading back to town to (presumably) either go to bed or have breakfast.

We wandered down over the golf course, sat in the sun for a bit, ate the big funny flat-rolled pizza, finished the whisky, got sprayed by an intermittent green-sprinkler, and made our way slowly back into town.

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