Wassail This about, Then? (Topics, Notes and Comments)

Article excerpt

They tell me Bill Bryson, the American essayist, was in the West of England recently, exploring Offa's Dyke and the Marches for his latest work. No doubt they showed him all the tourist attractions, and no doubt he will write some hilarious and perceptive stuff about them--I look forward to reading it!

But Bill Bryson visited the area as a tourist, albeit a professional one, and as a tourist he has inevitably missed things which are genuinely important to the area, and which are also genuinely, well, genuine rather than being manufactured, tarted up, artificially inflated, or otherwise not really real, however they may seem so to the overseas (or, indeed, British!) visitor to the region.

You can tell the "Real Local Events" from the Not-So-Real ones quite easily. Real Events are unlikely to be announced by prominent advertisements in the local media; they will get a couple of inches of copy in the weekly paper, but that is all. They are (forgive me for stating the obvious) of interest to local people; they may (but only may) also be of interest to others, but the circumstances of their taking place may forbid or deter those others from attending. Apart from that, and this is almost definitive of the sort of thing I am talking about, they will most likely be entirely free of charge to those attending them, a concept which definitely and outstandingly separates the genuine from the--for want of a better term--commercial, the sort of event we all need if visitors are to bring their money and add to regional prosperity by departing without some of it, but nevertheless the sort of event we quite likely think of as artificial and slightly embarrassing.

Mr Bryson will therefore be sorry he did not leave the tourist trail long enough to read a brief note in a recent edition of the local weekly that the Leominster Morris Men would lead a torch-lit procession and wassail at seven o'clock in the evening on Saturday 6 January from the Riverside Inn at Aymestrey, in the cider-making county of Herefordshire.

There is no stadium or concert venue at Aymestrey to house such an event. There is a very welcoming pub, but the whole thing took place out of doors, in public, taking in the riverside area, the road through the village, a muddy lane, and an orchard which must have been in use as such well before living memory. There was no ticket office; no toll to pay to enter the area; no luminous armband to wear, health and safety inspection to pass, or European Standard to conform to, nor even a charge for car parking. Apart from extra business at the inn, no one was looking to make a few bob out of any of this; in fact, the resources needed for the evening's events all owed their existence to love and commitment rather than any profit motive at all. There were no persons present who could have been mistaken for overseas or non-regional visitors. All were, if not homespun, at least home-style, in wellies, thick socks, Barbours and woolly hats; not tourists by any stretch.

It was chilly, and we were well wrapped up. We waited in the area behind the pub, on the bank of the river. Some of us had short, thick sticks, with a wide tubular metal fitting on the top end; perhaps a simple sort of hand warmer if the evening was tediously long? …