Coincidence: n coinciding; a remarkable occurrence of similar events at the same time by chance.
May Day - a public holiday usually celebrated on May 1. It is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival and a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the festivities.
Mayday - an international radio distress signal used by ships and aircraft.
St. Mary’s – In varying quantities, all of the above.
A few weeks ago ……. Wednesday.
The memo that Dr Bairstow sent around had said that ALL (Word in bold and underlined) personnel should muster on the lawn at 0900.
The staff of St. Marys stood, with some trepidation, in departmental ‘safety’ groups. The talk was muted.
Dr Bairstow walked down the path and stood in front of his staff.
“How many of you enjoy working here at St. Mary’s?” was his opening gambit.
St. Mary’s, knowing from painful experience which side its bread was buttered, hoisted a forest of hands.
“Excellent!” said Dr Bairstow, “Now, keep those hands up because I want volunteers.”
The ensuing groans could be heard on Mars.
“Keep those hands up!” carried on Dr Bairstow, immune to such expected audible assault, “Due to our success with the Frost Fair I have decided that we will hold a May Day celebration and invite Thirsk and the good citizens of Rushford to partake in the festivities.” His eyes scanned the faces of the captive audience in front of him.
“Department Heads will report to Mrs Partridge who will vet the ideas put forth and decide on their do-ability, man power requirements and legality before we proceed with the preparations. That is all.”
Dr Bairstow turned and, hiding a slight smile, walked back into the main building.
The Great St Mary’s May Day Celebration.
A little bit of history first.
Beltane or ‘fire of Bel’ had a particular significance to the Celts. It represented the first day of summer and was celebrated with bonfires to welcome the new season. We, of course, know it better as May Day.
That jolly wag Mr. Oliver Cromwell and his merry men abolished the May Day festivities in 1645 describing it as ‘a heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness’. (Hey! I’ll have a slice of that! It sounds like fun to me).
Luckily when Charles II, ‘The Merry Monarch’, came to the throne in 1660 May Day was reinstated.
Our May Day dawned cloudy but with enough blue sky to make a sailor a collar. The weather forecast was good with no rain.
‘Volunteers’, assisted by residents from Rushford including the local Women’s Institute (WI), arrived early and started to set up various stalls and Marquees. A Maypole was erected by R&D without incident. (The fire brigade and sickbay staff were stood down on completion of this exercise). Areas for physical activities, Morris and Maypole dancing, Welly hurling etc. were marked out and policed for sharp objects such as stones and unplanned historical finds that would harm the participants.
With everything in place and entertainment areas manned the gates were opened and the unsuspecting public entered.
Dr Bairstow welcomed them with a speech. “Welcome.”, he said, before retiring back to his office.
The day’s festivities started with the arrival of the May Queen, a pretty little girl from the local school, who was seated atop a rather smart Gig which was pulled, oddly enough, by what looked like a rather dishevelled Reindeer. (Call me Mr. Suspicious but I think Dr Bairstow might have had a hand/hoof/SUGGESTION in this – the alternative was to use Old Turk and the best of British luck with THAT!).
During the course of the day the Rushford Set of Morris dancers, resplendent in their white shirts and trousers and wearing light grey top hats and with their baldrics, bellpads and hat ribbons in the Rushford town colours danced to pipe and tabor. The leader, or squire as he is known, calling the dances whilst the fool, dressed as a hobby horse and carrying a short stick with a pigs-bladder attached by a piece of string with which he would hit the dancers he thought were not giving of their best, regaled the spectators and particularly the children with witty banter and song. Messer’s Markham and Evans, now reindeer free (Ah! Come on! Who else did you expect!), were noted to be taking a particular interest in this musical interlude.
The Maypole, sporting many long ribbons of varying bright colours and vying for attention with Miss Lingoss’s latest coiffured extravaganza, was surrounded by the local school children who, upon grasping one of the ribbons each, began to dance around the pole. The result was a gloriously decorated pole which was enhanced by the sight of one child who was not fast enough and wound up tied to the pole like a psychedelic Mummy.
The Wellie hurling, or Welly Wanging to give it its proper name, contest produced some record breaking throws. (Distance being measure in Feet and Inches. None of this foreign rubbish!) It was pointed out, however, to quite a few husbands that it was not a prerequisite for wives to be wearing the wellies when they were hurled! The rather enthusiastic crowd seemed to thin a little bit when this information was imparted.
In one of the marquees was a twelve inch high glass jar full of Smarties (Chocolate beans). This was, of course the famous ‘Guess how many Smarties are in the jar’ contest. This produced a lot of interest. Bizarrely, at the end of the day, the actual, physical, number was 5 because SOMEBODY, no names – no pack drill, did not keep a closer eye on the jar. It was noted that a lot of the female staff (and I am NOT pointing a finger here, it is just an observation) of St. Mary’s did pay a lot of visits to this marquee. A defence was put forward that the Chocolate beans were in danger of melting inside the hot marquee and that, ‘Safety First’, steps had to be taken to alleviate such danger.
Another area contained the marquee in which the WI was doing sterling service. Their trestle tables groaning under the weight of homemade jams and cakes attesting to the culinary skills of the ladies who stood behind their produce. These items were selling like hot cakes …… which were also on sale as it happens …… the noise and laughter a testament to the warm and welcoming atmosphere generated by these good ladies. Tea, Coffee and soft drinks were also available here.
Still on the subject of food – The Barbeques (eight in all) did VERY well. Situated next to the beer tent, now THAT is what I call planning, the menu brought in many hungry and, by geography, thirsty patrons. Brucie Burgers (Homemade Beef, Pork and Apple, Lamb with mint and a rather spiffing Vegetarian burger) with fresh homemade barbeque cooked bread rolls, Chicken slices marinated in lemon juice infused with fresh ginger, Ho Sin sauce marinated pork slices and sliced red pepper/onion/halloumi cheese kebabs dribbled with (optional) Olive oil or Balsamic vinegar, again for our non-meat eating guests, were top of the shop.
One Barbeque each was designated solely for the rotisserie chickens, Vegetarian food and Pizzas.
Side dishes of homemade potato salad and a very nice potato hash with cabbage, ham and onions (but also without the ham, again for our Vegetarians) rounded off by fresh salad were also available.
Local beers, cyders and wines were on sale next door in the beer tent. I must admit that I did avail myself of a few glasses of ‘scented water’ whilst slaving away over a hot Barbie or eight. Funny thing, later on during the day, I had much appreciated help from some pink elephants and a passing vacationing Cornish Pixie.
A week or so earlier, whilst in his cups, one of the Security team had let slip that he had once worked at a fair ground and he had mates who were still employed in this activity. He was, of course, immediately volunteered.
Favours were pulled in and the result was that a good sized part of the grounds of St Mary’s now had in temporary residence a Coconut Shy, Swing boats and …. and this shows how good friends can really be …. A steam powered Merry Go Round.
This last item had taken some time to set up but the cries of joy from the riders of the colourful wooden horses as they ‘galloped’ around the ride was worth every minute of construction and hit thumbs.
There was, of course, a First Aid tent which doubled as a ‘Lost Child station’. During the course of the day it was visited by worried parents collecting wayward children and by wives collecting wayward husbands who had had a major gyro failure whilst visiting the beer tent. Ears were grasped with grips of iron and threats of retribution uttered whilst the tearful children rushed back to the bosom of their families.
One notable attendee of this First Aid tent was a member of the Security staff who had been on the receiving end of ‘Coconut Revenge’. The ball that he had thrown in the Coconut Shy had rebounded and hit him fair and square between the eyes both of which were now partially closed and a rather fetching colour of black.
The evening ended with a ‘controlled’ bonfire on which large apples and potatoes were cooked. These tasty morsels were handed out to the stalwart attendees who were still standing and able to string more than two words together without falling over.
Dr Bairstow declared the day a resounding success and said that he looked forward to the next event of which “Heads of Departments to see me in my office tomorrow after breakfast.” was his closing remark.