alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Yesterday my new morris side, Sutton Masque – a mixed Border Morris side – welcomed in the official start of summer on the 1st of June by dancing outside a couple of pubs in Ely. It was freezing, rainy and grey. A hardy Greek family sat outside The Cutter, under the porch heaters and watched us dance by the river. I hope we were a properly bizarre glimpse into the literal local colour for their holiday. We certainly appreciated having them as an audience because none of the natives had dared venture out.

Later we went down to The Fountain and danced there for another hour, still in the drizzle, with the light failing around us. Here our only audience was an Australian couple in fantastic Aran beanies (I covet a beanie like theirs.) They took our picture and told me they liked my face. I take that to mean that they liked my face paint. This made me very glad, because my attempt to look like a Wood Wose takes me a good half hour of preparation before I even make it out of the door. The dark green of the background colour doesn’t half stain your flannels when you wash it off!

This is my face:

AlexinMorrisKitsm

taken after we’d given up on dancing and gone inside to play music and eat birthday cake. (Happy birthday Neil!)

I’m very proud of our new kit, which is dark green and gold, with a wild-man-of-the-woods, Jack-in-the-Green feel to it, and I am even beginning to get used to dancing in a top hat. You can see the full outfit here if you like, because the above is the indoors look without the tattered jacket.

In more relevant writing news, I’ve been spending my time finishing the first Porthkennack book for Riptide Press. Currently called Foxglove Copse, this is a contemporary m/m romance set in a fictional Cornish town with a slightly gothic twist. I’ve also done the first content edit pass for my huge long queer historical fantasy The Glass Floor, which should be coming out next year, and found a new home for Labyrinth, which had been contracted to Samhain Publishing but for which I got my rights back recently.

Right now, I’m working on the third book in my queer space opera trilogy Lioness of Cygnus 5. Have I told you about this? I don’t think I’ve told you about this. But it probably justifies its own post, so I’ll do that next time.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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5romforddancing

1. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.

Just as nobody dons their baldrics and bellpads and capers in the street for strangers to sneer at because they think they’ll gain great glory or wealth from it, so you probably won’t gain great glory or riches from writing. You dance because it’s fun, you write because it’s fun, and any other health, social or financial benefits are secondary. Do it anyway, because you love to, and when it gets hard and you’re tempted to grumble remember that nobody is making you do this, you’re doing it because it’s what you want.

2. If you’re not having fun, people can tell.

I won’t name any names, but there are some morris dancing sides I’ve seen where the moves are perfect, the dances are done with enormous attention to detail, getting all the tricky footwork right. Excellent hanky-work, good looking uniforms, perfect teamwork etc. And yet it’s so damn dull to watch. You stand there and you watch these people take it all terribly seriously, with frowns of concentration and a font of judgement for anyone who does it a smidgen less traditionally, and you can’t help but think how ridiculous it all is.

You can get away with a bit more poe-facedness as a writer, but it will eventually come through – the fact that you think very highly of yourself, and nobody is allowed to simply enjoy your books. And then, well, I guess you’ll get the poe-faced followers you deserve. If that’s your goal, go for it, but it sounds like an awful grind.

5things2

 

3. If you are having fun, people can tell.

One of the first things we tell the new dancers is “If you forget what you’re supposed to do next, just lift your head, put on a big smile, and get back to place when you can. As long as you look like you’re having a great time, most people won’t notice the mistakes, and if they do, they’ll share a laugh with you and enjoy those too.” I think that applies to writing too. If you’re having so much fun with the exploding zombies and the big misunderstandings and the triple adultery and the cavalry charges, people aren’t going to notice the occasional plot hole or clunky sentence. If they’re being breathlessly swept away by your enthusiasm and big smile, they’ll forgive all sorts of technical faults.

4. If your audience aren’t having fun, don’t even bother.

Like morris dancing, writing is a spectator sport. You may dance out because it entertains you, but if it doesn’t entertain your audience too you come away feeling dispirited, let down, and despondent, because what’s the point? Plus, you’ll soon find that even the semi-interested, curious onlookers you had at the start begin to drift away. However much you have a message to get across, or a mission to pursue in your writing, if it doesn’t entertain the reader they won’t stick around for anything else. Bear your readers in mind, and if you’re fairly sure they won’t enjoy that hundred page digression detailing the history of tin mining beginning in the stone age, maybe take it out of the story and put it in an appendix.

5. You are your own master.

Morris and its accompanying music are folk arts. That means that anyone can do them. With a half hour’s practice every day, I learned to play the pennywhistle well enough for people to dance to, well enough to attend sessions with other musicians, well enough for a new art to have entered and enriched my life. Just the same way, if you put in an hour’s writing practice every day, you will soon get good enough at that to entertain yourself. Then you’ll progress to being able to entertain others, and before long you’ll find yourself making art.

At that point, you can get yourself a publisher, or you can choose to publish yourself, learning all the skills an indie publisher needs to know. But the truth is that you are the producer of the content, you are the provider, the artist, the entertainer, and if you don’t like the way you’re being treated, you get to take that content elsewhere. Unwelcome morris dancers go to drink at another pub. Mistreated writers find a new publisher, or make their own cover art and publish themselves, but neither of us need approval or permission, we will do what is in our hearts to do, and if everyone is having fun in the process, everyone benefits.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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This was a great do! I’m still not quite up to dancing, but I can now breathe well enough to play the whistle. As my ladies’ side, Ely and Littleport Riot, had decided to come even though they did not have any of their musicians, that wasn’t a problem – I just turned up as a musician for both Coton and the Riot. Two full days from 9 am-5pm of dancing in various picturesque Yorkshire villages along with almost 150 other morris dancers of the full spread of traditions. Longsword, North West Clog, rapper, border and Cotswold, plus the 400 Roses who are a unique combination of morris with tribal belly dance.

I Christened the new top hat which I got for my birthday, and by the time the weekend was closing, and I was standing on a cobbled street at the brow of a hill, looking down on a stone town straight out of a Hovis advert, playing as the lone musician left for Coton, I felt I had earned it. The past few years I have felt a little bit like an impostor among the musicians, but this time around I had a moment of feeling sure I belonged. In celebration I’ve gone out today and bought some white feathers to put in my hat brim, so in future photos the hat will look even more splendid.

oakworth13AvailableHere

I was one of only three musicians who stayed to the very end, for the traditional massed dance-off that closes the do. If you listen very hard you can just about hear me, but tbh I am rather drowned out by the melodeon and accordion  next to me. I know I was there, though!

The ladies in coloured waistcoats with red hankies are my side, Ely and Littleport Riot, the gents in black and white are my other side, Coton, and the ladies in the extravagant skirts are the belly-dancing morris side 400 Roses:

YouTube Preview Image

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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On May Day morning, about 4.30am, the stalwart members of Coton Morris Men and the Ely and Littleport Riot rolled out of bed, put their bells on and journeyed to Ely Cathedral. There they performed the ancient dances of their folk, starting in the icy darkness before dawn, to encourage the sun in its journey into the sky.

may2013Coton

Thus, though their hardy musician suffered a painful numbing of her fingers such that the music became a great labour unto her sore hands, still they capered on until with a great burst of golden light, behold

may2013cathedral

The sun arose upon Ely cathedral, and also upon all those other places in the world, such as Harrogate, and Ipswich and Shingay-cum-Wendy. Then, seeing that the regular rotation of the earth and the celestial bodies had been preserved, the dancers cried the ritual words, “blimey, I’m cold. How about breakfast?” And there was great rejoicing.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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I’m blogging over on the LGBT Fantasy Fans blog today on a subject close to my heart – ritual dance.

http://lgbtfantasyfansandwriters.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/dancing-with-destiny/

Which was prompted by a great time at Mill Road Winter Fair at the weekend. One problem with playing music for one side while dancing for another comes when both sides turn out to the same event. Then who do you support? Crisis! Clash of loyalties! Woe is me! Who should I let down this year? Or can I figure out a composite kit and support both? I will give you a clue:

There seems to be no rule that the waistcoat you wear for the Riot can’t be black. So with a black waistcoat and a zebra blanket thrown around the shoulders for those chilly muso moments between dances, I mostly fitted with both sides at once. And boy did I need that blanket! It was perishing.

I must say, it’s excellent practice for your breath control – finishing a dance, then taking half a minute to throw on a hat and cloak & going out to play the whistle. I was out of breath most of the time, but I don’t think it showed.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Well, it really is. Here I am, reading up on Romanian folk music, after having been informed that it wasn’t at all the same thing as the muzica lautareasca I posted about earlier – shame on me for propagating bad information – when I come across this:

YouTube Preview Image

and it turns out that here is another possible relative of the morris, going back into a dim and distant past in which we all lived in the forests together.

I don’t actually see much similarity, (other than the bells, sticks, crossed sashes, association with hobby horses, and possibly the pole… actually that’s quite a lot.) But the stepping and the figures are very different, and morris – as far as I know – never was a ritual dance, despite what the Victorians might have you believe. Still, I embrace the possibility if only for the sake of the warm fuzzies of meeting a distant family member you never knew existed before.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I’ve had Ely Apple Day on my mind for a week. I blogged about it last week, full of enthusiasm with the memory of good dancing and good music on a day when it didn’t rain, even though it looked like it wanted to. I’d been looking forward to seeing the photos, but when we did, several members of the side noticed that everyone was wearing blue. The idea of our kit is that our white shirts represent the white skies of the Fens, our black skirts represent the rich black Fenland soil, our red handkerchiefs represent the blood spilled in the Ely and Littleport Riots after which we’re named, and the many different colours of our waistcoats represent the individuality of each dancer.

This is totally scuppered if we all go for the same colour, and somehow, despite differences of shade, we all seem to have gone for variants of blue. This could mean only one thing – time to make another waistcoat. I wanted lime green, but they didn’t have enough of that on the roll, so – in an unexpected move which surprised even myself – I’ve bought some royal purple material instead

with some tacky yet sparkly buttons to match. This should clash in a most satisfactory way with my orange hair and lime green shawl. Good taste being yet another of those things which the true zen masters of folk have ascended beyond.

Speaking of Ely Apple Day, I had a lovely exchange with a member of the crowd who had drawn up to watch us.

“Where are these dances from?” she asked me.

As I’m sure you know, the same question can have several appropriate answers depending on the context, because the context helps clarify what is actually being asked. I’m not much good at picking up the subtle clues which show what the context is, so I started off by trying to explain that these were dances from the Welsh Borders, but there were other styles of morris dancing from other areas, such as Cotswold and North West Clog, and that the local style – Molly – was similar to what we were doing, but slightly different.

But by that point I could tell from her continued look of bemusement that I was not really answering the question she’d intended to ask. Then I put together her Mediterranean looks and slight lisp of an accent and struck out with what I thought might be a lucky guess. “The prevailing theory is that the Morris dance is originally from Spain,” I said.

Her face cleared – this was obviously what she’d really been asking about all along. “I’m from Catalonia,” she said, “and our dances are just like this. I wondered if there had been some sort of cultural exchange programme.”

I laughed. “There was indeed. It was in the 15th Century.”

And this is why history, and Folk, are neither boring nor irrelevant – because the cultural ties our two countries had five hundred years ago still help make sense of our behaviour, and allow us to feel like part of a family, even today. It’s a small world and dancing makes it a better one.

Music does too. On a different subject, we were walking around Cambridge today, and in three different places we were surrounded by music played live on the painted pianos that have been scattered around the town

http://elfringham.co.uk/cambridge-street-pianos-2/

proper music, mind you. People had obviously discovered they were there, gone home for their sheet music and come back prepared. There was some wonderful concert standard stuff going on al fresco, in the balcony of the shopping centre and outside in the park.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

To recap:

1. Post about something that made you happy today, even if it’s just a small thing.
2. Do this everyday for eight days without fail.
3. Tag eight of your friends to do the same (Feel free to do it, but don’t feel obliged.)

Three things today too, all morris related, as I’ve spent the day playing whistle for Coton Morris Men for the first day of Ely Folk Festival, and tomorrow I’m going to spend the day dancing with the Riot for the second day.

1. Dancing with the Riot in Coton kit.

My muso’s outfit with Coton tends towards ‘The Matrix’ – tight black trousers, tight black waistcoat, long flappy black leather coat. The Riot’s kit is all colourful hankies and bright, rainbow waistcoats and costume jewellery. I very much enjoyed being drafted in to dance the Riot’s signature dance at the end of the show and looking like the spectre at the feast in the process.

2. A hatchet job on my Riot kit.

Remember that waistcoat I keep blogging about – the teal one which I made to a size 18 pattern when I joined, not realising that a size 18 pattern makes a size 14 garment? The one I had to make a stomacher for to make it big enough to fit my size 18 person? About a year ago I took the stomacher out because it fitted as it was. Now it’s too big, so today I’ve taken it in, to fit my now size 12 person. I’m happy with the weight loss and I’m happy that finally my waistcoat fits properly again.

3. Spending birthday money.

In June, my Dad gave me some money for a birthday present. Today I bought a low D whistle, so that instead of Coton’s band consisting of two high Ds, we could have the more interesting sound of one high, one low. It should sound like this:

 

because it is indeed a Dixon low D. But unfortunately I do not have such long and spidery fingers as the man in the video, so I need to learn to play with parts of my hand I did not think were designed for such frivolity, and – despite all the fingering for all the tunes being exactly the same – it will take me some time to adapt to it. It’s still a gorgeous monster of a thing, though, and will help me if I ever want to move on to the Uillean pipes.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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And I don’t just mean my hair (though, seriously, that mop needs a cut.)

Nah – not a post about my hair. The genuine Olympic torch containing fire from Olympia passed through Huntingdon on Sunday morning. Knowing that loads of people would turn out to see it, the town council decided to organise a bit of a fete around it. “I know,” they said to themselves, “what we need to welcome the sportsmen is a Day of Dance, because dance is so well represented at the Olympics.”

(Or something like that. I may be putting words into their mouths.)

At any rate, the upshot of their cogitating was that they invited Ely and Littleport Riot to dance in the square and entertain the people waiting for the torch to jog past. We of course said ‘yes please!’

Those of us – like me – who are the kind of grouches who get all huffy about sport were brought round into genuine excitement by the promise that there would also be a group of Hungarian dancers visiting from Huntingdon’s twin town, Szentendre. The Olympic torch, I can take or leave, but actual folk doing their actual folk dance is much more my thing.

We arrived at 7.45am and found hordes of people already there. I think you can tell I was enjoying myself –

HuntingtonMe

(Portrait of the artist as a middle-aged folk dancer.)

We felt we had to raise our game a little because the Szentendre dancers were so good. Lo! There was much thigh slapping and boot-heel clicking and super-voluminous skirt twirling.

huntmen  hunttwirl

Some of it while balancing bottles of booze on their heads!

huntbottles

The Riot watched with much admiration, and a lot of commentary. We all agreed that the men’s dances are very similar in spirit to our morris jigs – there’s a lot of “I can leap higher than you! Look, ladies! Look at how springy and sprightly I am. I’m much better than him! Flock to me, little birdies” sort of thing about it. And while the women’s dancing is much lower key and more stately, it’s clearly designed to show off a lot of leg. We felt like undisciplined violent thugs in comparison. Or well, I did. I quite liked it.

At some point the Olympic torch passed by:

hunttorch

After which everybody in the marketplace did Zumba for a bit, lead by the teachers of the local Zumba class. Szentendre were unfairly good at that too! Then we were delighted to be invited to the tea in the town hall, where we danced for the mayor and various other organizers, Szentendre danced again, and then – joy – we got a chance to learn a dance from them.

This was a very simple circle dance, suitable for teaching someone who’s never danced before, but I still found it a lot harder than it looked. Hard to get my head around the asymmetric patterns of the stepping, and hard work physically too.

huntcircle

It was glorious. And they even let us be in the group photo.

huntphoto

Well worth getting up very early on a Sunday morning for. Even if the Riot almost managed to live up to the history of our name when one of the organisers told us we weren’t allowed to have any of the cakes we’d been promised. They had undercatered and now they were afraid  that if they let us eat, other more important people wouldn’t get any. Fortunately hangings and deportations to Australia were averted when someone nipped out to Marks and Sparks and came back with a couple of tubs of chocolate rice crispie cake. Which was infinitely better than custard danish pastries any day.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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I’m finally recovered from the Oakworth weekend – an extravaganza of morris dancing Up North, where a number of fortunate sides got taken on a coach tour through spectacular Yorkshire countryside to dance at a number of villages on the Saturday. Then we got taken on a steam train to dance at different villages on the Sunday.

Saturday alternated between pouring down and too sunny. Sunday settled down to a steady diet of rainy and cold. But nevertheless this was a wonderful weekend and I’d like to thank our hosts, Oakworth Village Morris Men, for laying it all on.

We started out in Skipton, dancing outside the town hall, and the programme went very much like this:


Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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So, last Saturday was the first time since that terrifying day in September when I appeared at a public dance-out as Coton Morris Men’s solo musician, and the first time I’ve played for them as their solo musician and been in Coton kit. Here is the proof:

ElyDod1

(Coton musician’s kit = anything you like as long as it’s black and white.)

I felt very official, and – while nowhere near as nervous as the first time – still pretty shaky-legged. But I was proud of myself for playing at four different venues around the town, in front of two other morris sides at each spot. Each with its own musicians who almost certainly knew the tunes better than me.

I’ve even managed to master the morris-musician’s magical ability to direct a focussed blast of air at the dancers, to keep them up during the highly technical levitating dances:

ElyDod2

It was a great day. As you can see, it was warm enough to stand around in shirtsleeves (in March!) and we danced alongside Fenstanton Morris, Manor Mill Clog Dancers, Little Egypt and of course The Riot. The Riot were the hosts of the day and I was sorry not to be dancing with them, but at the same time I really felt like an essential part of Coton for the first time since I joined. I’m not quite sure which is ‘my’ side any more. Both, I suppose.

A dishevelled man swims out of the sea, crawls up the beach and with trembling hands holds up a sign that says “And now for something completely different…”

It will probably come as no surprise, to anyone who knows how I work, when I say that I’ve reviewed my progress on Elf Princes’ Quest and decided that with 11 scenes down, 22,000 words so far, and 17 scenes still to go, this is looking like a short novel instead of a novella. The whole “planning by scenes” thing is still valid, I suppose, as long as I remember that my scene length is a little less than twice what I think it’s going to be. I was going for a 30,000 word novella, and it looks like it will be a 50,000 word novel instead.

By this time I suppose the surprise is that I ever manage to write anything short at all.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

If anyone ever says to you – as English people seem inclined to say – “what a shame we have no culture of our own at all.” Tell them they should have been at the Straw Bear Festival this year, but that it’s not too late to go to next year’s.

Or perhaps they were just ignoring what we do have because it’s not noble or serious enough. If so, tell them to come anyway and learn to embrace the riotous, ridiculous, vulgar and fun spirit of the morris – on the streets and unashamed.

As for us, we had a great day on Saturday. It was one of those winter days when the sunshine is the colour of champagne, there’s an icy mist over the fens, it’s almost warm in the sun, but stepping out of it is like running face first into a snowdrift. We set off in the procession with hoards of other morris, molly, rapper and clog dancers at half ten in the morning, dancing through streets that were packed with onlookers, and then we danced, on and off, until 3pm, when the lowering of the sun made us all feel like we were about to die of exposure.

Ely and Littleport Riot’s kit may be partly at fault here. It’s great in the summer to dance in a light blouse, skirt and waistcoat, but not even adding a pair of gloves and maybe a regulation red woolly hat really makes it suitable in the winter, no matter how many thermal vests and long johns you wear underneath.

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Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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This weekend saw me in two layers of thermals and a big black coat playing as one of Coton Morris Men’s musicians, and can I just say that (a) the inventor of handwarmers is hereby promoted by me to the status of a minor god, and (b) nobody told me that whistle players need to carry a windsock to make sure they stand with the wind behind them. Otherwise, while you’re trying to blow a note, the breeze blows back and all you get is silence and red in the face.

I have decided to drop all that Irish- tin- penny- nonsense at the front. The instrument doesn’t originate in Ireland, isn’t always made of tin, and even the cheapest ones cost about a fiver.

Here, for example, is an article about the oldest musical instrument in the world which is still playable, a bone flute from Jiahu in Henan province in China and here is a vulture bone one from Germany 35,000 years ago. Both of them are end-blown, from what I can see, so ‘flute’ is a bit misleading.

In deference to the fact that the whistle is one of the most ancient instruments on the planet, I’m adopting the plain Anglo-Saxon word for the instrument (hwistle) and just sprucing up the spelling a bit.

Speaking of Anglo-Saxon whistles, have a lovely video of someone who is either admirably non-gender-biased about their name, or not really Kate Corwen at all, playing one.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft.

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of an angered morris musician at Mill Road Winter Fair. With one blast from the melodion, Jane of Coton Morris Men knocks down two of the dancers who’d had the audacity to complain about her festive scarf.

Coton Morris Men and Ely and Littleport Riot dance at the Mill Road Winter Fair 2011

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft.

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I was very bad last Saturday and totally forgot to attend a chat for members of the Macaronis.  In my defence, my husband had come home with tickets to see the Demon Barber Roadshow, and after that everything else fled from my mind.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t look at this picture without a massive internal squee.  Is this not the coolest thing ever?

TGP_PROMO_web

So at the prospect of a night in the theatre watching a roadshow based on a fusion of hip-hop, clog, rapper and morris dancing, I dropped everything and ran out, only regretting that I hadn’t taken time to change into my morris kit first.

This will give you a better idea than I can about what I saw

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alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I hope not all authors are like this, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s a tendency at least I share:

On Saturday it was the Cambridge day of dance.  The Riot had been invited but we couldn’t field enough members to make a side, so I went in support of my husband’s side, the Coton morris men.  At the first dance spot a lady fell into conversation with me – which is normal enough, cos that’s partly what it’s all about (connecting people, getting them to talk and laugh together).  She explained that she was a classically trained dancer who was “respectfully and non-judgmentally” writing a book about dance.  So far so good – I’m all in favour of people writing books, as you know.

Then she said “which village are you from?  Tell me about your tradition.”  I was a bit non-plussed by the village thing, because it’s been almost a century since all the members of most morris sides all came from the same village, and I didn’t initially twig that that was what she was assuming.  I said, “well, these are the Coton morris men and they dance in the Cotswold style.”

At which she looked at me as though she’d stopped believing a word I said, and (in a kind of ‘stop messing me about’ voice) she said “Coton isn’t in the Cotswolds.”

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