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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

May. The word is redolent with joy. Unless it’s got Theresa in front of it. Otherwise it’s garlands and sunshine and the village greens of England that spring to mind. And Morris dancing. (Though to be honest that’s only since I started research for the feature on it elsewhere in this issue). It also suggests – every year for God knows how long – that now is really the time to start exercising in order to avoid sitting on the beach in 30 degree summer heat in an overcoat. And all these thoughts recently intertwined like ribbons danced around a maypole.

We were marching to mark our dismay at the lies and general codswallop swilling around the Brexit debacle. It was warm and sunny. Lunchtime. Carried aloft, gold-starred blue EU flags fluttered alongside Union Jacks in a gentle breeze. A group of elderly people in front were delving into Fortnum & Mason carrier bags for snacks to sustain them on the walk down Whitehall, whilst kids skipping along beside us aged about six or seven started singing. A call and response:

Kids: “Theresa May”
Crowd: “Theresa May”
Kids: “Theresa May we want to stay!”
Crowd “Theresa May we want to stay!”

Three blokes were standing outside a pub at the side of the road, looking like they’d just emerged from a white van, or a very small gene pool as in Deliverance. “You should march for En-ger-land” they shouted. But we were. A group of policemen standing a few feet in front of them were discussing the merits of various Italian coffee drinks. “Latte? Too milky mate. I stick to espresso.” They were behind a camera trained on the three men who were holding up a large flag with one hand whilst smoking a fag with the other. The flag bore the St George Cross and the legend “Keep Extremists off our streets”. My friend said “Ask if they’ll take their own advice!” But I’m paranoid about getting into embarrassing arguments that could be caught on camera. Me: “No! You fuck off… No! you’re the c***” is never flattering. Then I wondered if Morris dancing, oh, so English with its mongrel roots, might mean anything to them. In the interests of balanced research (re aforementioned feature) I would ask. But no. I’m too paranoid about getting into arguments that could be caught on camera etc etc…

As we walked on past it occurred to me that whatever, if anything, they thought about Morris dancing, they – like me – could do with the fantastic exercise it provides when properly danced. The spokeswoman for Chelmsford Morris knew the benefit of this, saying the side is “hoping to keep the ancient tradition alive by recruiting people keen to be physically active but who are bored with the gym.”

So step aside keep-fit dance favourites like Zumba or barre: Morris jumps higher and travels further with more fun. Plus it’s aerobic. And as aerobics like yoga and water-polo have evolved into popular aquatic activities, perhaps so could Morris. Though not, probably, with bells on. In making the journey back to the pool in the opposite direction to the one taken by human evolution, perhaps Morris would meet those still on their way out of the water and improve not just the fitness, but the mindset.

Elizabeth Kinder


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