I forgot to say “white rabbits” in triplicate and wash my face in the dew this morning: that’s my chance of good luck, eternal youth and beauty blown for another year then. I haven’t seen a Maypole today, either. I have only danced around one once; I got into a terrible tangle.
Traditions, rites and folklore are woven into the fabric of our lives. Perhaps less so now, but I believe they still have a resonance. Especially so away from the urban sprawl where the skies are huge and the darkness is complete, in the sort of places where faerie folk may still tiptoe unseen through the bluebells…
During the 1970s and ‘80s, my village staged an annual May Week, which consisted of team games and competitions. For a week before, the trophies were displayed in a decorated shop window; I would gaze covetously at the shining shields and imagine them twinkling back at me from the cabinet beside my dad’s football, darts and clay pigeon shooting prizes. I managed to win three over the years: I was pancake race champion on two consecutive occasions, and my team took the rounders crown in our final year in the junior section.
May Week culminated in a fancy dress parade, which was led by a waving May Queen in tiara and sash. As a spotty teenager, I used to babysit for a glamorous 30-something, who had a cloud of coal black curls and was cloaked in Chanel. She had a sunbed and wore strapless black dresses with boned bodices. I was slightly in awe of her: I thought she was the height of sophistication.
On the night they picked the May Queen, she returned home with a sparkle in her eyes: she had been chosen as one of the attendants. “But,” she said, sucking hard on a cigarette as she tipsily drove me home, then crunched a Polo to hide her habit from her other half, “one of the judges said I should have won – only there would be a fuss if they didn’t choose one of the younger girls.”
At the time, I was outraged on her behalf: she must have looked like a swan among a paddling of ducks. But now I think the judges made the right decision. If April is the ingénue, and May is the blush before the ripening, then my long ago friend was the mellow gold of September.