When I was a child, in fact, when I was first at school in the Infants, we used to have our country dancing actually on May Day. I always wanted to be big enough to dance around the maypole, but I was never chosen (sob).
Scarred for life.
But there are other May Day traditions that began to replace it, the main one being going into Oxford very early, to hear the choristers sing on the top of Magdalen Tower at 6 am and then have a dance in front of the Radcliffe Camera (Cumberland Square Eight was my particular speciality). The first time I went was the day after my 18th birthday, so I kind of lumped it altogether with my birthday celebrations, although I did go to sleep in between.
It's hard to explain May morning in Oxford unless you've been there. I think it's magical, but many others do just see it as an excuse to drink huge amounts - after all, the pubs open at 6 am (if they even closed). The last time I went was the morning after my 30th, when I went in on my own (A wouldn't get out of bed!) and went to go and see John Otway at the Gloucester Arms. I've never been to a gig that starts at 6.30 am before. It was a slightly surreal experience, made all the more so because I had lingered on Magdalen Bridge to hear the choir and consequently arrived at the pub just as the gig was starting (it's impossible to run up the High on May morning). the pub was full to capacity and a burly looking Hell's Angel type, all leathers shaved head and ZZ Top beard, was on the door.
"You can't come in, love, we're full"
"Oh no, you can't be" (points to badge on jumper, thrusts chest towards doorman) "it's my birthday and my mates are in there" (God strike me down for lying)
"How about if I give you a kiss?" (brazen hussy!)
In his confusion after, the doorman just didn't stop me as I walked past.
But I couldn't miss Otway on a May morning. It's hard to categorise Otway, really. He can't sing, but he is such a lunatic performer that you can't fail to laugh at his gigs. And he's managed to make a living from it for over 30 years, so all power to him. I first saw him 20 years ago today at Aylesbury Civic Centre, with my bf of the time and one of his mates. That night he sang "Josephine", about a girl who is to be crowned Queen of the May at the tender age of 17. Sod the fact that my name was Nic, he was singing this love song to me, surely?! After all, it was May Day and I was (literally) just 17! Ah, fanciful dreams.... I also laughed like a drain when he sat on his speakers and inadvertently pulled some ceiling tiles down when he punched the air in excitement...
God I loved being 17.