Bards · Druids · Glastonbury · Orchards · Tor · Wassailing

Wassail!

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Wassailing is a very ancient custom, particularly popular and strongly celebrated in the South West of England. Besides being a good excuse to drink lots of scrumpy (that’s cider……..  i.e. fermented apple juice, for my foreign readers), eat al-fresco, have a little sing-song and the odd dance or two, it is a custom to firstly ensure that any evil spirits are banished from orchards and secondly to encourage all the trees to grow well and basically, produce a bumper crop of apples in the following autumn.

 

Of course, the scientist in me is saying that no amount of yodelling, dancing and pouring of cider over the ground (such a criminal waste!) is going to help trees in the slightest to produce a brilliant crop. A couple of years ago I attended another Wassail event where several of the local gentlemen farmers fired shotguns upwards into the apple trees, producing a veritable “rain” of bark, twigs and lichen on all those watching from below.

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How on earth does this “Wassailing-with-Attitude” – as I call it – help the poor apple trees produce more fruit, I ask! Surely, raking-in a good general fertiliser around the base of the tree would do far better. Nowhere near as dramatic, photogenic and entertaining, however!

 

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A year ago, I read an advert for a Wassail on the Tor and as Town Crier, I decided to robe-up and put in an appearance, just for the fun of it. After all, I couldn’t be accused of “gate-crashing” in my own town, now, could I? The organiser spotted me (not too difficult, I guess) and I was immediately asked to perform an impromptu introduction for her. Then a month or two ago, I received an e-mail asking me if I could actually be the “Master of Ceremonies” for this year’s Wassail event. I suppose I must have done something right! There was an offer of free food and free cider; how could I possibly refuse?

Prior to the event, which is organised by the National Trust (as they are the wonderful guardians of our legendary Glastonbury Tor)  I received a two-page Health and Safety Risk Assessment. It was sent as a matter of routine to all those helping on the day.  I think it’s something that all organisers of public events are obliged, by law, to produce for staff. It made me laugh, nevertheless. I didn’t know that singing, eating, drinking cider and dancing in a field could be such a hazardous activity! (But there again, perhaps they have somehow or other got to hear about my evenings of occasional over-indulgence in cider drinking and of my complete inability to dance without injuring those nearby!)

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I arrived early to park my car in a very muddy field, robe up and then collect my “free-cider and food” tickets! Luckily, I had my script sent to me, so I was good to go. When I arrived, the Morris Dancers were already entertaining the assembling crowd.

I duly did my introduction and official welcome at the allotted time and things got underway.

The first event was to get all two hundred assembled Wassailers to sing Wassail songs beneath each tree in the orchard. Such a nice touch, I thought……. giving each apple tree that bit of individual attention. I’m sure the apple trees appreciated it. There were a lot of trees in the Avalon Orchard, I might add!

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Whilst all this was going on, I was notified by the organiser that the BBC “Points West” News video crew had just arrived and wanted to film me doing a bit of my introduction that they missed. I obliged. I hope my bell ringing and subsequent shouting did not distract all the “singing to the trees” that was progressing in earnest!

The assembled Merry Wassailers were also encouraged to tie small tags to the branches of the “Blessing Tree” with brief notes, explaining “how the Glastonbury Tor was important to them”.

Later on, I announced for all gathered, to assemble round the Blessing Tree, where the main Wassail Ceremony would be performed by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Once the ceremony was over, further participation from the assembled crowds was requested. A big basket of toast was suddenly produced……yes dry, cold toast was thereupon offered to all. Not to eat, I hasten to add, but to place on the branches of the Blessing Tree!

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Apparently, this helps too! Watching the Wassailers adorning the Blessing Tree with slices of brown bread, I couldn’t help think that the bread was going to help the local bird population far more than the apple tree. But there again, birds eat insects and grubs that might possibly harm the trees, I thought to myself……… so perhaps it might help the trees indirectly.  I’m such an over-thinker at times!

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The final and most captivating event, in my book, was the Story Teller. He was a most friendly, approachable and charming gentleman. I chatted to him for a while before introducing him.

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We all assembled around the fire – a more intimate gathering now, as quite a few had left, probably having had enough of the cold, damp January air.

He told engaging stories of dragons, apples, eagles, glass mountains, knights in shining armour, princesses and castles.

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The children were enthralled – as was the Town Crier!

Looking forward to my next Wassail.

Glastonbury · Town Crier · Zombies

Zombies!

Mike chenery2

Glastonbury is legendary for a host of reasons. Its parades, processions and staged events, for example, make headlines locally, nationally and internationally. Whenever I’m a long way from Glastonbury, perhaps chatting in a bar half way round the world and I happen to mention Glastonbury, I find that people have usually heard of the “Glastonbury Festival”, at the very least. I can talk from first-hand experience of this event, having talked to the assembled festival-goers from the Pyramid Stage and having also performed there more times than Tom Jones!

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This annual rock and pop extravaganza, that always hosts the big names in the pop industry, sees something like 150,000 followers descend on a small village called Pilton, which is actually about seven miles from Glastonbury!

Before and after this long weekend of music, mayhem and mud, the roads are clogged with cars for miles on end and it becomes something of a local obligatory pastime to try and find routes to and from work or just about anywhere else, which avoid the experience of being trapped in a five hour nose-to-tail crawl!

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Once the revellers are all safely gathered in, paradoxically, Glastonbury becomes something of a ghost town for the weekend, although there are steps to make this less so.

The processions of a religious nature occur in July. They close the streets for these, as thousands of pilgrims make their way slowly to the Glastonbury Abbey. I have to attend these events along with members of Glastonbury Town Council and our Mayor.

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We also have two events that are now well-entrenched in the Glastonbury calendar. I refer of course, to the Beltane (May Day) procession and the associated revelry and merriment.

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The other event, around Halloween, is the Samhain Wild Hunt.

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Both are now accompanied by Red and White Dragons, copious drummers, Morris Dancers and literally thousands in fancy dress – all with painted faces. For a few hours it’s a photographer’s dream – a photographic paradise. We usually make the National press, at these times, such is the incredible spectacle that this town uniquely and almost effortlessly generates.

Also at Halloween, we usually have our Zombie Walk. But this year, owing to road works on the diversion route, it had to be postponed until December 9th. Consequently, our marauding Zombies had the backdrop of a beautiful Christmas Tree in our town centre. Well, everyone enjoys a zombie-infested Christmas, don’t they?

 

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The event was organised by the excellent Children’s World charity. It was a great success. I managed to avoid being “got at” by the zombies this year. Last year, however, I was not so lucky!

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We had Druids in the town too on the same day, but they seemed to generally keep themselves confined to the Town Hall. Usually, the Zombies parade on the same day as the fairies assemble for their Fairy Ball. As you probably gather, it’s never dull here in Glastonbury!

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As Town Crier, I look upon it as my civic duty to warn the local citizens of the impending zombie invasion and I did this for most of the day, well into the evening.

by geoff corris2

But before all that took place, I was booked for an interview by my friend Danielle Silver. She has interviewed lots of Glastonbury people and today it was my turn. I was very thankful that the interview took place in a warm local café, as there was a bitingly cold north wind that day. Here is the interview:

 

After the interview you can hear me warning about the Zombies…..that’s also on the same youtube channel.
I’ve had a few close shaves with the Zombies in the past. I got set upon by a few years ago and Jason Bryant, our local press photographer, was there to record the macabre event.

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The zombies can be very realistic with their makeup with eyes popping out, fake rotting flesh and half decayed brains spilling out of their skulls.

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A new addition is the “Flashmob” based on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” which lightens the event with music and some expert choreography.

I had quite a long time after my interview to circulate around town and chat with some of my local friends.

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AT 5 pm, I duly introduced our Mayor, Cllr. Emma George who made a short speech before cutting the tape with her customary great style, unleashing those zombies onto the High Street, once again.

It would be lovely if you could donate to such a worthy charity. Any sum,  however small, can be used to help children in such a unique way!  I’ll leave the link below.  Thank you, in advance.

https://localgiving.org/charity/childrensworld/

by geoff corris

Fairies · Glastonbury

Fairies and Fantasy

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Last time I was crying in Glastonbury High Street, my good friend Guy came up to me and asked if I’d mind doing a bit of publicity for a new art shop that was opening in town. Naturally, I agreed.

I get to attend quite a few shop openings or refurbishments locally. It’s always a delight to make a big noise at such times. When many town centres are slowly dying, it’s so heartening to see that Glastonbury continues to bustle with commercial life!

I was asked to publicise a new gift/art shop called “Rogues’ Gallery”. Usually at these events, I’m there on my own, bellowing out the good news not only for local citizens but also for the many visitors that flood into the town from all over the world. But, today it was going to be different. I was to have two “escorts” for the day. Guy was going to be wearing the Colonial Marine armour from the film “Aliens”. He would be carrying a replica machine gun. My other escort, his friend John, would be wearing full Medieval armour, complete with helmet and carrying a broad axe.

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(Photo by Patricia Raven)

To say there was some photography on the day would be a bit of an understatement!

We slowly clanked, rang, cried and posed our way round the centre of Glastonbury, my crying voice holding up well for a full four hours!

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One hilarious highlight occurred near to our local Viking accessories shop, “Sheildmaiden”.  I was just about to ring my bell and launch forth into a cry, when the front door of No. 8 opened. The occupier needed to know why a man in camouflage wearing an army helmet, holding a large machine gun, happened to be standing right outside of his kitchen window! Well, who wouldn’t?

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Although Storm Brian was ravaging the UK, we got away with fairly good weather, apart from the strong wind that nearly blew my tricorn off a couple of times. Feathers were ruffled! The only time it rained heavily, Guy and I had adjourned to the George and Pilgrims for a swift half. Crying really hammers the vocal cords and they need frequent lubrication, as I’m sure you can understand.

Being Halloween season, the “G ‘n P” (as the locals affectionately call it) I noted, had spared no expense to decorate their rooms accordingly. The very poorly lit, stone-floored, centuries-old coaching hotel lends itself very well to a judicious sprinkling of ghouls, grim reapers and witches. I am indebted to my good friend Lisa Ann for her photos of its interior, which captures the atmosphere of the place really well. I scared myself half to death on returning from the gents, completely unaware of a skeleton in an alcove, with lights in its eye sockets, just standing there, behind a veil of gauze. A stiff brandy and I was good to go!

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For my services, I was presented with a little financial remuneration, a bottle of mead – once again, the vocal cords thoroughly approved – and a signed print of “Boadicea” by Chris Achilleos, the renowned fantasy artist.

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I’d lost track of time, as I was chatting with someone outside of the shop. I was just about to rattle off another routine publicity cry, prior to the official opening, when suddenly the two stars of the day appeared: Chris Achilleos, and Terry English, the world-famous armourer for films such as Aliens, Excalibur, Gladiator, King Arthur, Harry Potter, Joan of Arc……. Out of the corner of my eye, I also spotted her worship the Mayor, resplendent in her red robes, standing with scissors poised, ready to cut the tape. Alongside all of them, about 50-60 people suddenly seemed to appear from nowhere and photographers – including the press – were all stood in front of me in the road, taking photographs, holding up the traffic in both directions! Needless to say, I gave it the full, theatrical, 105 decibels!

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Of course, it wasn’t just the shop opening that was causing a bit of a stir in Glastonbury. The town was also awash with fairies from the UK and abroad, for the “Fairy Fayre and Ball”. Our huge Town Hall is the venue for this event, with fairy-related stalls and merchandise cramming the hall during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday. I took a stroll around the stalls, in between crying, to catch up with a few friends.

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Wendy does fabulous stained glass work.

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Soso creates breathtakingly beautiful dragons and other mystical creatures.

The Saturday evening is given over to The Ball, danced away under the two magnificent chandeliers that hang in the Town Hall. All the ladies look very elegant in their finest fairy outfits – all with wings attached, of course.

Below, my good friend Linda Ravenscroft, undoubtedly one of the major “fairy coordinators” in town,  rounds up her fairies in the G ‘n P, ready to grace the ball with even more glamour!

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Alas, here is poor John. After trailing around with the Town Crier all day, he works tirelessly, well into the night; it’s hard work being a knight in Avalon!

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Wings all fitted – a few final adjustments – and the stunningly beautiful Penny from  Essex, is ready to fly!

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Even the dogs have to look their best!

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Glastonbury · Town Crier

“Excuse me, may I take your photograph?”

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It’s something I’ve got used to over the four years I’ve been a Town Crier of a tourist town and that is a request to either photograph me or be photographed with me.  It’s wonderfully flattering and also, so terribly good for the ego!

I am the most unphotogenic face on the planet but dress me in a costume of the late 18th Century, give me a prominent, animated and noisy role in the streets of a quaint historic Town, crammed with holiday snappers and I am fair game.

When asked, I always respond courteously and in the affirmative.  I’ve always liked being photographed with young kids or the elderly.  It’s fun getting them “in on the act” by asking them to  hold my bell or scroll.

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Some like to take that candid shot using a long lens.  But when I see them photographing from a distance, I tend to give an obliging pose with my bell held in the air; it’s great to get that nod of appreciation or raised thumb, in thanks, from the other side of the street.

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I was stood in front of the huge gaping Glastonbury Abbey doorway as a group of photographers started assembling across the road but for a better backdrop, I took a few paces right to stand in front of  that wonderful Aladin’s-cave-of-a-shop, “Man, Myth  Magik” and then let them snap away! The small windows and bollards give a nice authentic historical touch, don’t you think? As I was saying to Mrs Richmond, the shopkeeper, it helps give her shop a bit of publicity when these photos are downloaded or shared to all corners of the Globe.  Of course, there is a bonus, inasmuch as it reminds them that I am the “Man, Myth and Magik of Glastonbury” as well.

I’ve learned to switch on and off a smile instantly as a camera lens appears as well as going into statue mode, which I sometimes do anyway when I’m bored …..just for the hell of it!

This morning I was busy chatting to two ladies from Australia who wanted a photo with me.  “You’ve come all this way for a photograph with me?” I quipped.  Always a good line to use, to break the ice and put them at their ease.  I was not able to converse as long with them as I was hoping to, since a lot of people were assembling across the road, getting ready to snap away.

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Only in Glastonbury could you get photographed with a Dragon!  Soso, the Dragon’s owner, is now a good friend – along with her dragon of course.  I’ve been photographed with a few animals, but I do draw the line at pet snakes and crocodiles!

 

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When I was in Marrakech in 2010, I photographed this tinker from several hundred feet away. He turned and saw me photographing him.  He spun around and briskly marched towards me forcefully and aggressively demanding payment!  If I’d asked for the same amount of cash that I was forced to give him, from every tourist since starting this job, I think I could now comfortably retire in the Bahamas!  But when I meet people, I want them to leave me feeling pleased that they’ve met me and had a chat…….. and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

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