Today is Saint Ripsnorter’s Day. Saint Ripsnorter is the patron Saint of Sozzlebury. He was a scruffy, smelly old hermit who lived on what is now the village green; a scabby bit of muddy land in front of the Bleeding Lamb’s Intestines pub, more often covered in puddles, old fag packets, ciggy butts, dog poo and empty beer cans than grass.

Saint Ripsnorter is an excuse for Sozzlebury to have a morning’s free entertainment on the common as the local Morris Men turn out for an hour, accompanied by various catering vans selling hot donuts, prongles hot dogs, burgers, cup-cakes, prongles and a van which isn’t much frequented, the ‘Healthy Life’ fruit smoothie van.

At 10am the village green is surrounded by chavs; tattooed males with huge beer guts which make them look permanently ten months pregnant and large ladies in overstretched Lycra. Carrying polystyrene boxes overloaded with greasy food in their hands which they shovelled into their mouths as they cheered and whooped the Ancient Order of the Morris Men of Sozzlebury as they entered the area.

Ancient being the operative word. Not one of them was under 80 as they limped, coughed, wheezed and staggered their way into the centre of the patch of mud. Alfie Tissue-Wart from a family who had lived and danced in Sozzlebury since before Domesday lifted his withered hawthorn stick, passed down the generations, into the air to signal the start of the annual dance which had been choreographed many centuries before in honour of Saint Ripsnorter.

Silence fell upon the crowd. Then Jason Udder-Burlington lifted his wheeze-bag, a battered old cow bladder accordion, complete with udders, onto his chest, and started squeezing until a music of sorts started to pour forth.

At the sound, the Ancient Order of the Morris Men of Sozzlebury, all dressed in what were once white shirts and trousers, but were now yellowed and shabby with age and nicotine, started their dance. Their chests were adorned with self-awarded rosettes for service and dancing skills, many of which were for ‘Best in Show’ and had pictures of bulls on them. What dancing skill there was in clopping and hopping about was anyone’s guess, as they flapped and fluttered as they creaked and moved.

Mr Mucklethwaite was the hobby horse. His horse, made by his father’s father’s father in mists of time gone by from papier-mache, manure and old horse hair was more of a grotesque than a loveable animal. One of its eyes was rheumy and almost falling out of its socket. Its nostrils flared angrily as if the thing had a dose of rabies. It looked like something out of a horror movie.

The six very elderly gentlemen clopped and hopped around quite out of step with the noise which went under the description of music, banging each other with sticks with bells on and goats bladders as they went through the routine of the Splod Nodgering, Mangle Twangling, and Nadge-Strangling dances whose origins had been lost many generations ago time. Each year the dance was getting slower and slower as the aged men limped, wheezed, coughed and gasped their way through it.

I was there with Lady F. My wicker basket by her side. Chulls had popped along to support the rural tradition of fertility dances of Ye Olde Englande, although looking at the participants it was hard to see anything fertile about them. Skrowte was there too having driven us down from Gripers. Skrowte hated two things in life, Morris Men and clowns. He said it was hard to distinguish between the two bands of social misfits who thought their art grant funded wild shenanigans were valid entertainment and were taking the money and the piss with their antics.

He became embroiled in a heated argument with Chulls as to why they were given funding to turn out at events where they were basically viewed as a national joke. All he wanted to do was punch them, they annoyed him so much.

At the end of the annual spectacle, the six men, red faced and exhausted after their three minute exhibition gathered round, cigarettes in mouths, as Chulls congratulated them on a magnificent display of medieval tradition as he firmly and wholeheartedly supported any rural tradition that was not being sufficiently funded and supported and how sad it would be if such a magnificent tradition was to be allowed to die out, which would be such a sad loss to the community, and indeed the Greatness of Britain.

Mr Mucklethwaite in his hobby horse costume puffed and wheezed trying to catch his breath turned to Skrowte and asked him if he had ever considered joining the Ancient Order of the Morris Men of Sozzlebury, as they were always on the lookout for new blood. After all, Morris Men, in his considered opinion, were like medieval knights in shining armour, although Skrowte considered them less than knights, more like village idiots in tinfoil.

“I cannot sir,” replied Skrowte sagely, “I don’t qualify.”

“You jest, Sire,” bubbled Mr Mucklethwaite waving his horse’s head round manically and prodding Skrowte with it. “Anyone who resides in the ancient village of Sozzlebury can become a Morris man. It is his rite of birth.”

“I cannot become a Morris man,” Skrowte solemnly informed him, “as I have been circumcised.”

“Why is that a problem?” enquired Mr Mucklthwaite, quite perplexed.

“Well,” Skrowte gravely advised him, “I hear you have to be a complete prick to be a Morris man.”

And with that, and with great dignity, he scooped my basket up with me curled up in it and we left for morning tea at the Grange.

Carol Lake

 

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