May Day

Claire Neville

May Day

The maypole was very tall and creaked alarmingly

For weeks at school we had been practising our maypole dances and even the boys had nearly got it right. The maypole was very tall and creaked alarmingly as we galloped around it. 

We each held one of the long, coloured ribbons as we wove in and out and around each other, and I did so hope the silly lads didn’t mess it up by falling over or barging into one another.  Amazing patterns, plaits and checks appeared down the thick stem if we got it right. Round and round we went until we were bunched tightly together at its foot — then off again in reverse to undo it all, spurred on by the wind-up gramophone, grinding out the tunes.

Gardens were raided for flowers, so I rushed off to school bearing all the blossoms I could carry. The great event took place in the Rectory garden.

cobwebs and pigeon droppings

Chairs and the May Queen’s throne were heaved out of decaying sheds and, amazingly, blackout material and old sheets transformed the throne, covering cobwebs and pigeon droppings. Female dancers and the May Queen and her attendants were taken into the Rectory to be attired in their finery. We thought we were the cat’s whiskers in our ill fitting, one-size dresses and black plimsolls, but the reality must have been more comical than elegant. The boys got away with coloured bands and their best boots and trousers.

At last we were ready and were pushed outside to find our partners.  Reluctant, sticky, sweaty hands were seized and, to the applause of our admiring parents and the wail of the music, we were off.  The sun shone, clumsy feet tripped, head dresses slipped over one ear, teacher signalled frantically or even resorted to manhandling the worst

Photo:Orwelll May Queen 1948 -1950

Orwelll May Queen 1948 -1950

offenders in the right direction, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. The May Queen, perched on her throne and waited on by her attendants, revelled in her superior position, while the rest of us either envied her or poked fun.

All too soon it was over for another year and plates of curling cucumber and fish paste sandwiches, cups of urn-strong tea and watery lemonade were handed round to famished Mums and Dads.  Lacking in polish and finesse compared with late 20th Century standards it certainly was, but nearly fifty years on I remember it with affection, and there was always the hope that next year you would be the May Queen.

Claire Neville


This page was added by Pat Grigor on 28/09/2012.

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