CELEBRATING MAY DAY

The first of May is always a special day here in Upper Crustington. My family has been taking part in this age-old Festival in much the same manner for centuries. The day is a holiday for us all. We celebrate birth and the fertility of the earth, but it’s a perfect reason to have fun too.

The focal point is our village green, where all the fun and frolics take place and at its centre is our maypole, where young village girls weave the brightly coloured ribbons intricately in and out. They make it look so simple, but they have been practicing for weeks beforehand to ensure that the dance goes smoothly.

‘Jack in the Green’ leads the procession of singing villagers and Morris Dancers and this year he will be played by my cousin, Dumbleton. Historically he is a mischievous character, dashing, dancing and weaving his way through the village.

Each year a young girl is selected to be the May Queen and her coronation is the high point of the whole day. I well remember when I was chosen, (more years ago than I care to admit). My Mother had fashioned me a new muslin dress especially for the day and my crown was woven from ivy and May Flowers, as fresh as Spring itself.

May Day always creates a deal of work in our bakery. The day before, Sedgewick is busy as usual baking his delicious bread for the village, whilst I prepare spongy cakes and crusty pies for the cake stand on the village green. Muslin bags of blush-pink and white icing stand on the table ready to be piped in intricate, swirling patterns. Glace cherries and succulent raisins wait in turn to complete the decorations.

As dawn breaks on May Day morning, Sedgewick and I carefully load our precious cargo into the back of an ancient cart. My Uncle, Great Tew, happily lends it to us to ensure that our delicate load arrives safely at the Village Green. His serene and gentle horse, Adderbury, pulls the cart. He can always be trusted to deliver our produce safely.

I take a lot of time to create my cakes and pies, but they seem to vanish very quickly. Village folk jostle round the cake stand to sample our baking, whilst little children on tiptoe secretly scoop butter icing with their fingertips. They think I can’t see them, but I was a child once too!

As the afternoon unfolds, I take a walk and wander through the crowds, usually stopping to enjoy a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade. I survey the scene and smile. This ancient tradition is as fresh to me today as when I was the May Queen all those years ago.