01 May 2005

May Day

May Day is associated with a number of long-standing traditions in Oxford. Things usually start with all night parties on April 30th, but I opted to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at 5AM (after all, I'm not an undergrad). The festivities for May Day itself get started shortly after dawn when everyone in town gathers at one of the bridges over the Cherwell. More details after the link, and photos in the new gallery.

Everyone gathered at dawn at Magdalen (pronounced 'maudlin' by the Brits) College and the nearby Magdalen bridge. At 6AM, the Magdalen tower bells tolled and then a choir at the top of the tower sang madrigals to the assembled thousands to welcome Spring to Oxford. For the full effect, check out the movie; note that the sound isn't altered at all: once the choir started singing the rowdy crowd got completely quiet. For a brief moment I thought they were taking advantage of some weird acoustic effect, but it quickly became clear that there were speakers at audience level.

After a few songs and a blessing by one of the chaplains (also broadcast by the speaker system) people begin to dispers back to other parts of town. The action is just getting started, though, as lots of groups of performers start up their acts in all the squares in town. Most popular are Morris dancers, who prance around with bells tied to their ankles and waving handkerchiefs. Again, a movie is necessary to really understand.

All different troupes perform, including one group accompanied by a guy dressed (convincingly) as a bush. Evidently throughout the morning, he stops somewhere and blends in with the surrounding flora for a while, leaving an empty beer bottle behind once he moves on. When I saw him he was moving a bit quicker, since he was accompanied by his fellow dancers. Lots of good photos of all the action are in the gallery, many of which feature the exterior of Brasenose in the background.

At about 7 I headed to the Brasenose graduate annexe for bacon and eggs. Oh, and some undrinkable instant coffee. Yay. All-in-all a very Oxford morning, certainly worth getting up at that ungodly hour.

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