So, back in England on a train heading north to pick up Pearl. In a green shirt and blue jeans riding on a high speed train through a blurred green land. The sun is shining, for now, and spring has arrived here a few weeks ago. We are at sea level so it doesn’t have far to travel of course, but still, even though expected, all this green is a wonderful surprise. Through familiar farm lands and local Saturday football matches, clots of shiny cars parked glittering in the car parks of superstores through most of the southern part of the journey, sleepy canals, fields of dazzling yellow rape seed draped over the hills rising and jumping up then vanishing. Others of lush green dotted with white fluffs of sheep, fringed by woodland and hedgerow and the odd solitary oak here and there where the fairies obviously live. Rows of allotments, church spires, red slate roofs and yellow brick changing subtly to black slate and red brick the further north we progress. An announcement of a hot drink and a cake for £3 squeezed through the tanoy by a lady with flat nasally relish. Ah England eh.
The guard has been passing by asking for our rubbish. Walking straight down the aisle saying something that sounded like
“Bleeeugch Bleeeugch Bleeeugch” then went onto say “Sorry ladies and gentlemen I am just really bored, but you know what I mean”
I am not sure we would have done, it was only that he had a uniform on and was carrying a plastic sack already half full of rubbish that we guessed. He later came along and asked us all the same question in Spanish but with a flat Lancashire accent
“Puedo tenner su basura por favor”
Later he ran a competition asking for our rubbish in another strange dialect,
“Sbwirel os gwelch yn dda” again with the flat Lancashire accent it threw everybody on the train I’m sure. The prize he said was “5 minutes standing in first class’ It turned out to be Welsh and we all lost he announced
“Ladies and gentlemen you should all be ashamed of yourselves, it’s a language that inhabits the same Island as we do”
I have to pull him on that. Oris and I have had a long running agree to disagree conversation on the subject. I stick to the fact that England or Britain is a vast continent, inhabited by a fearless seafaring race and the rulers of a vast Empire. Orsi says we are an Island race and I’m delusional. Out of the train window though from London to Blackpool the continent is obviously laid before us, point proven I said. Orsi rolled her eyes.
Later on as we approached our change he came through one last time with his rubbish bag and said in his dry Lancashire tone
“Ladies and gentlemen shortly I will be having to leave you all at the greatest city in the world with of course the greatest football team. You have one guess” he said.
I guessed right, Preston it was.
I thought back to the train journey from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. There wasn’t much chance here of being told we couldn’t take pictures of a nearby village from a moving train. England is the land of the free.
I had dreaded coming back into London, I know it intimately, with my years at the Network and before that as a busker, I know some stations step by step and above ground as a Motorbike courier and later as Head Of Field Operations, I know the roads and districts intimately. So it was quite a surprise to arrive at Limehouse station and find the commercial road was fairly free flowing, there wasn’t the expected mass crowds and the sun though pale was out and trying.
I’d stayed awake for the whole flight back to the UK and all that morning. Slept a few hours and then up unsteadily and dream like down to the Captain Kid pub on the riverside at Wapping. It had been so good to see the river the tide was high and lapped against the old Victorian bricks just below and just mile downstream the glittering glass and steel of Canary Wharf, its lights coming on slowly as the evening subtly drew its veil.
I gave Orsi the ring i had bought in New Mexico. She Said Yes.
The next day we’d been back across at the Eden Healing Center. The center was having a psychic fair. I had 4 Hypnotherapy clients pre booked, a no smoking, confidence, low energy levels and weight loss, it all seemed to go very well and I was happy to be right back in the thick of it, working the fair with gifted colleagues some of whom I have worked with for over 13 years now. It was a great success and before we knew it, it was 5.30 and the place was packing up.
Afterwards Orsi and I and Alice a dear friend of ours had gone down a riverside pub in Bermondsey called the Angel, we hadn’t planned too it had just been a nice surprise to see Alice there at there.
I’d been had a seeing that morning. I’d been looking across the river from Wapping side, tower bridge had been visible to my right, the water was choppy and I’d been looking across toward Bermondsey, it had been clear as day.
I’d expected the day at the center to be difficult because of the choppy waters, but it turned out to be what we came to do and where we were all sat that evening. It was quite a surprise but has given me a real lift as the second half was that I was looking down on a coral atoll, the atoll was orange yellow in nearly a full circle in the blue sea. There had been some natives there on the very outside of the peninsular, they’d seem me arriving and come to meet me guiding me along the outside keeping me away from the danger of the rocks and down a narrow blue causeway into the center of a calm deep blue lagoon.
We arn’t planning on a Caribbean holiday anytime soon and though we have such a lot to do these next few weeks things are going to work out ok. I am expecting it and that is half the battle won.
When I’d first left for the US I’d known the Jack In The Green Festival down at Hastings on the south coast was on the day after I arrived home. It was a must. I really wanted to be there. We would receive our blessing from the Jack, it would be my welcome, symbolically and metaphorically my return to England and the English. It felt so right considering all that we are planning to do and all I had just seen and done. A change of pace and a change of page.
Orsi had arranged for friends to come along and I’d arranged before I left to meet Jane Palm-gold there too. Though that didn’t work out according to plan due to the poor mobile reception in Hastings.
We got an early train from London Bridge and as soon as we arrived made a beeline to fisherman’s wharf just below the cliffs. Jack had just been released at around 10.15 and was away up ‘All Saints Street’ as we came in about half way along the procession.
My energies and anticipation had been rising on the journey all the way there. It’s hard to explain “Jack In The Green” unless you have been there and even then it’s hard to find words. But it is unmistakably English. It has always has filled me with a great sense of joy and awe and a sense of identity to witness it. It seems very old, wonderfully irreverent and matter of fact in its outrageousness. Then at the same time its ordinariness, but maybe because that is because I am English, it’s in my bones. Jack In The Green just is and is just fantastic. I recognize myself in it.
As soon as I saw the procession I was away. Orsi knows me well and watched my tail disappear in the crowds. I was off through the crowd with Jack and the procession.
I remember stood on the corner of ‘All Saints Street’ watching a troop of painted purple and black Morris dancers walking up into the lane 2 & 3 abreast, the noise and the drums and the push the whirl of it close up, I was stilled by it. I stood, looking closely at the all the painted faces passing me by. A few looked back seeming a little startled by my gaze, a split second and the face obviously caught the shine in my eyes and the ear to ear, a reflected back out from the pained face every time.
Things seemed to go in slow motion‘everybody’ seemed to be smiling. People giving a little here and there so that others could see, there was one occasion were a dim light rooted to the spot refused to budge for anybody and so caused a little indigestion along the path, but mostly it was bright lights and a flow of enlivening green.
People darting along and across the road between the drummers and the dancers, the dragons, horned gods, buxom wenches, serpents, Chimney sweeps, the nymphs, the leafed clothes and cloaks of the forest spirits, the bogies who guarded Jack. The giant crows rabbits and mischievous ancient hobby-horses, the new Orleans swaggering 6 piece with the megaphone, fiddlers and all the drummers from all the corners of the shires. Top hats and antlers in abundance dripping with ivy and ferns and roses, jack at the head and the giant sun King towards the rear
The narrow streets and the pavements above lined with people cheering and laughing, everybody there seemed to have been daubed with green paint, it was a riotous wonderful sight.
The processions of wild creatures eventually reached the pubs on High Street and paused for a break whilst the Jack worked his way back along the procession blessing all, before he proceeded back down to St Clements church to begin his final journey up to West Hill above the town. The Duke of Wellington was a flood with all of the wild looking aforementioned, all queuing politely for glasses of beer. The bar maid told all who were listening that she had been up for almost 48hours, but seemed to be coasting on air and the wave of good feeling that poured down the streets and in through all open doors and windows. In no time, pints in hand we were outside again in the chatter and hum of the pause down the road a little opposite Courthouse Street the Jenny Lind pub and the bakeries of the old town were just the same, coping well with a flood of horns and fur in the same wonderful manner.
The earliest know mention of Jack in The Green is from May 1775. The tradition most likely stems from the Old May Day celebration and the garlands carried by the milkmaids, these may day festivals garlands grew and evolved into the structure we now know as the Jack as different troops competed with one another.
May day in the 1700’s was traditionally known as the Chimney sweeper’s day and the connection with the chimney sweeps continues to this day and seems to have been the sweeps who expanded the celebration and by the early 1800 ‘s it had spread out from London and across the country.
Some argue that the jack is not connected with the Green Man of the churches and before, others are convinced that there is a strong and ancient connection and that they are different aspects of the ancient spirit of the wildwood or re-birth, renewal and the coming of spring and summer. I have to say I agree with the later. The Knuttsford Jack is probably the longest continuous celebration running since 1890.
There seems to be a great revival of the Jack since the late 1970’s spreading across the UK yearly. The Hastings Jack was revived by a chap called Keith Leech in 1983, bless him and is now the largest annual gathering of Morris dancers in the country accompanied by troops of drummers and fiddlers from all over too
There are groups called Bordering upon insanity, the Drum Skullz, The Deptford fowlers troop, the Rowan RFFT group, the Pentacle Drummers, Mad Jacks Morris, The green Bogies, Hannah’s Cat, section 5, and Sambalanco to name but a few.
After a few drinks we followed the flow up onto the west hill above the town. It had drizzled all morning but nobody seemed to have noticed until the Queen of ceremonies, the Queen of the sweeps called our attention to it and that the songs and dances were opening the clouds every so slightly and being English we appreciate these little things very much and of course we all took credit for it and Jack across the on the other stage began getting even more animated and the drummers seemed to get older working their way down into the bones and into the unconscious. On the stage in front of us wonderful big hipped ladies dressed sexily in a hybrid of Turkish belly dancer and English wench danced and spun and wriggled wonderful and obviously experienced hips for us. Everybody loved them and it was apparent they loved us loving them.
The Jack then made his way through the crowd accompanied by the bogies and the drummers, anticipation was by now high, up onto the stage and was after a brief crowd rousing speech by the Queen Jack ceremoniously slain and torn apart by the bogies and thrown out to the crowd of outstretched arms. The spirit of summer was released and I was right in there. I have to say it brought an apple up in my throat and tears ran down my cheeks. I absolutely love that moment, always have, something old stirring within me. I was home.
The next day after the train journey up to Blackpool, well actually, Great Eccelston to my sister’s Julia’s house ‘Fentons Farm’ to pick up Pearl and do some last jobs on her, I was I think delayed Jet lagged really slow moving and groggy, it was tough to get myself going. I got the solar panels in and a few pressing jobs sorted, but spent the first half of the day circling Pearl looking and remembering what I’d done so far. It was much more fun playing with Charlie and Freddy the dog.
It has been a great experience as we got to see the girls, now all but grown up and spend some quality time with her and husband Julian who has been an indispensible help with his knowledge of building, the loan of tools and the space to do the work.
We thought we’d have a trial run and just see where we’d end up and sleep in Pearl that night. We detoured through Birmingham Orsi had found a good place where we called in to buy the waterproof fire retardant material for the tarp. I have never driven through Birmingham before. My memories of the place are from the windows of a national express bus back in the 70’s & 80’s and I was sure things must have changed since then.
The Fits never did play there for some reason, so I had no internal map but was pretty painless only one wrong turning and with the help of the Google map I discovered on my phone, I have thanked the Team Leaders from Time Out, Sport Metro and the ES many times over for the gift they gave me when I left, we found the place within about half an hour before they closed
The material warehouse turned out to be manned by 3 very funny Indian guys, we instantly stuck up a really warm rapport with them, Orsi had all the sizes and prices and deals written down which they seemed to be impressed by.
“Hungarians are very clever people” Ajiv said
During the chat we told them what we were planning to do and we needed the material for the cover of the dome we’ll be working from. Ajiv informed us that he had some sort of boil on the back his leg just below his buttock, so within about 5 minutes of being there we I was doing a session with him and he was going nicely into a hypnotic trance, did a really nice session with him and he gave us a little bit of discount. Half an hour later we were back in the van looking for directions out of the city. Such a great moment, just in time, at the right place with great people, things are going well, connections being made and all the magpies were in pairs
We ended up in pretty market town of Moreton In Marsh in the Cotswolds that night. As we’d pulled in I’d said
“Ok Babe where do you want to sleep tonight market square or in Budgens car park over by the railway station”
Always was a classy guy. We chose the market square outside the Bell Inn & The Mermaid fish and chip shop. Next morning 6am we realized we were parked right on the A44, it was an unexpected early start, we live and learn.
Back in London My friend Stuart From The Underclass had invited me to go and see the Ace Italian Band “Giuda” at the Camden Underworld. What a great band. It felt so good to see some great lively rRock & Roll music again by a slick cool quality band. Stuart had said a cross between Slaughter and the Dogs meets Slade I’d agree 70’s glam rock without the flares meets 70’s punk without the leather. Bang on what a great band great when you have friends with fingers on London legendary musical pulse.
Camden was startling to say the least. I can’t recall seeing any drunks at all on the 7500 mile journey across the US. But within a few miles of my front door up in Camden so many people looking so drunk, laying around on the floor, I couldn’t decide whether there was a lot of mental illness out on the streets in London or whether people simply get pissed here. It was the same earlier in the week in the west end down by Charring Cross young men absolutely falling down drunk staggering around laying on the pavements doing balancing acts with precious golden amber liquid.
First impressions are always the best and longest lasting I have been away before and so had readied myself for them. I just haven’t had time to write. I haven’t missed London it seems and though it is and incredible place I am more than ready for off. A busy week ahead now.