Twenty years ago today I had been working all night at Stationer’s Hall up in London setting up an event for the following day. Driving back to Rochester in the early hours my plan was to go to the Jack in the Green awakening Ceremony on Bluebell Hill which started at dawn or 5:32am. I’d been living in Rochester for about 5 months at this point and although I’d been to most of the festivals in the city I had never been to the Sweeps festival. It seemed to make sense that I go to the opening ceremony in preparation for the weekend ahead.
The only thing was it was absolutely pouring down with rain as I drove back down the A2. I um’d and ah’d all the way back but as I came off at the Rochester exit I decided to go even though, I reasoned, I’d probably be the only one there! I drove into Bluebell village and found the turn off to the picnic site and to my surprise the lane was jam packed with cars. I eventually found a space and parked before grabbing my camera and getting out to walk down the lane to the picnic site.
The first thing I saw as I looked round, through the half light and the mist, was a man wearing antlers on his head silhouetted by the headlights of another car coming up the lane. I raised my camera but by the time I got it to my eye the scene had gone – I’ve regretted not getting that shot ever since! I followed antler man down the road to the carpark and if I recall correctly we had to climb over the gate to get in. The were lots of people standing around a circle of flaming pots and in the centre stood the Jack in the Green.
The ceremony was just starting as I arrived and I saw a group of Morris Dancers in brightly coloured ragged clothes standing around the Jack and they were singing….
Now winter is over, I’m happy to say,
That we’ll all meet again on the first day of May.
And we’ll all meet again on the first day of Spring,
And go about dancing with Jack in the Green.
Jack in the Green, Jack in the Green,
And we’ll dance every spring time with Jack in the Green.
At the end of the song music started and they danced around the jack banging their sticks against the shovels they were carrying. Over the next hour or so a number of Morris sides took turns to dance and I took photographs and enjoyed the entertainment. After a while people started to drift away and I headed home, arriving soggy but happy on my doorstep at the same time as the milkman!
Over the next 16 years I went every year first as a spectator and then after I joined Wolf’s Head, as a participant. I even turned down the chance to dance with the side a week before Sweeps because I wanted my first public dance to be atop Bluebell Hill on May Day morning. In a similar fashion I danced the Wolf’s Head signature dance The Four Seasons for the first time on May Day 2003.
Since 1992 I’d only missed 2 May Day mornings – 2006 when I’d been up all night with one of my cluster headaches and 2009 when I’d worked 13 days straight without a day off and decided to stay in bed! That was until this morning…..
I got up at 4:15 and got dressed, went down stairs and made myself a cup of tea. I sat in the living room and drank my tea before putting my boots on ready to go. It was at this point as I sat back in the early morning silence that I heard the rain lashing against the windows (or Beltane down as my friend put it on Facebook!). I looked out of the window and just like the last couple of weeks which accounted for the wettest April in 100 years it was pouring. It looked cold and wet and I decided that no matter how much I enjoy the Jack in the Green awakening ceremony I just couldn’t be bothered to go out there and get soaked to the skin. So I got undressed and went back to bed.
No sooner had I got into bed than I heard a bird singing outside the window and instantly regretted my decision! Happy Beltane everyone!