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Unconvention Reports

Fools and Beasts Unconvention, Stafford, October 2008

by Knotty

This year the event was based at Colton, near Rugeley in Staffordshire. It was hosted by the Stafford Morris Men and the feast and accommodation was at Colton Village Hall. Stafford have four members of the the Illustrious Order, Jack Brown, (the Stafford Fool); Max Haynes, (Junior Fool); Knotty, ( the Stafford Tourney Horse) with his rider, John Edwards, and John Colbert, (the Woodside Fool), who was abducted by Stafford and was their Squire during this event.

Friday evening was the usual informal gathering for supper followed by a song session for some of the party in the nearby Greyhound Pub. The performances were much appreciated by the locals.

Throughout the weekend the food was excellent and under the personal supervision of Jack Brown and his family who did sterling work, especially for the feast.

Saturday was a bus tour with the first dancing spot in Abbots Bromley, where we took the opportunity to visit the church, where the horns and the old Hobby Horse for the famous Horn Dance are kept.

(to be continued)

Fools and Beasts Unconvention, Cromford, October 2005

by Robert Chisman, Fools Convener

I now know why I recently purchased the biggest people carrier on the market - a Chrysler Grand Voyager. No, not for transporting the wife, kids and dogs; not for clearing out lofts for the tip; it's for taking two fools, two animal keepers, one Rat, one Horse, camp beds, sleeping bags, kits, one barrel of cider and two barrels of beer to the Unconvention at Cromford! We nearly raided the beer for comfort drinking whilst stuck for two and a half hours in the largest car park in the country - the M42. By the time we got to Cromford, most of the delegates had arrived, had their supper of excellent chili con carne, and disappeared down The Boat!

The first surprise at the venue was REAL beds and LINEN! We didn’t need those sleeping bags and camp beds - would’ve made more room for the beer. I then looked for the swimming pool - only to be reminded that it was the Cromford Venture centre, NOT the Leisure centre!! In fact, the centre is a converted old mill, and was more akin to a Youth Hostel than the usual school hall or whatever where most Morris Weekends are held. Very comfy, thanks.

It was time to greet old friends and make new. The Unconvention has been extended to members from all three Morris organisations for two years now, and I was pleased to welcome some ladies to the Unconvention for the first time. Delegates had traveled from far and wide to Cromford this year - from the Netherlands I reacquainted myself with Maarten Niesson and Henning Koeford, but from farther afield were Alexander Leighton and Stuart Ashton from Banchory Morris Men in Aberdeen! I think I managed to speak to everybody, and knew that I had had a drop or two by the time I got back to the Centre for a spot of kip!

Saturday morning, and after breakfast and a short briefing, we prepared to go en masse via public transport to Matlock Bath for some dancing, fooling and beasting. It was decided that some beasts would not fit on a Trent bus, so were taken along using my Grand Voyager, a Land Rover and a VW camper van. After one attempt to catch the wrong bus, the bemused driver of the right bus was treated to a colourful, motley collection of characters boarding his bus for the short journey to Matlock Bath station, where we all reassembled and got ready to ascend the cable car to the Heights of Abraham.

Emerging from the VW camper van, was the biggest beast that I have seen at an Unconvention - Geoff Turnbull (Wyvern Jubilee) with The Wyvern, a huge, green and red scaly monster with big ears, mouth and tail. Geoff insists that it is not a dragon, but is a creature in it’s own right. Now I could look and see everyone in kit; from the feminine charms complete with fluffy tickling stick of Jenny Howard’s fool, (Bedfordshire Lace Morris), to the not so feminine charms of Brian Swain’s Molly (Bishop Gandulf’s Morris) dressed more like an old washerwoman!

Walking from the station to the cable car proved difficult not only for some of the taller beasts, for example myself in Trigger, and Doug Herdson (Plymouth Morris) in Bilge the ship’s rat because of the overhanging foliage, but Stafford Morris’ young Max Haynes was beaten in speed by his grandfather, Jack Brown, because Max had just had an ingrowing toenail removed, and was on crutches!

The ride up the cable car to the Heights of Abraham was a bit scary for some, but at the top, we got together with Ripley Morris, our hosts for the weekend. The weather was just about holding, and we were able to interact with what few tourists had braved their way to the top!

Apart from Ripley’s excellent dancing, we enjoyed jigs from Verna Wass (Bloxham) and Simon Pipe (Adderbury and Outside Capering Crew). There was plenty of room for the tourney horses such as John Edwards's Knotty (Stafford MM); from Ashley’s Rise Junior Morris, Bristol was John Clifford, with Dennis who in one previous life was in the English National Opera (who says we can’t have culture at Morris events?) and all the way from Banchory MM, Aberdeen, Stuart Ashton with a horse without a name. I persuaded him to name it during the weekend, but have forgotten what it was now!

The Fools were also busy accosting the public. Like bad pennies, they always seem to turn up, and it was great to see old friends such as Thomas the Tank Engine, sorry, I mean Julian Kohler (Plymouth MM), plus Tim Sercombe (Dartington) and Roger Comley (Letchworth).

Back down the cable car, we then moved on to the Fishponds pub for more performances and lunch. Highlights outside the pub were the three girl and one hobby horse jig by the junior side, Ashley's Rise Morris.

Lunch was unfortunately a rather slow affair, but enjoyable for all that. Most delegates then made their way to Cromford back via the train this time, and we assembled at Arkwright's Mill where there was a good size area to dance. To help Ripley MM out, a series of multiple jigs and dances were performed by the fools and beasts. We also saw for the first time the magnificent Fine Lady of Banbury (Steven Wass) on Blanche. I'm not sure what the Leicester Fox thought about all these horses... he seemed very elusive at times. Other beasts new to the Unconvention were Ellie the Elephant (Jenny Banks, Bloxham) and a Griffin brought by Eddie Strover of Braybrooke Morris, who was accompanied by his team's Greenperson, Clara Taylor.

On to the Apple Crushing festival at Cromford, where we danced alongside the nearest thing to the swimming pool I was looking for earlier - Cromford lake! Ripley Morris under Jack Daws' squireship were working their socks off for us, aided by their fool, John Butler and Roger Ward in the Unicorn.  There was more fooling from Ian Heighton (Kings Morris) and Jed Dunn (Wyvern Jubilee)   After nearly losing a few people in Scarthin's bookshop, we moved on up the road to dance the last session outside The Bell, surprising a few hardened sports fans who thought they were in the pub to watch the footie...

More jigs were performed by Jack Brown, Simon Pipe and Jennie Howard, and a mass fool's jig by everybody who wanted to have a go. Not easy in an Animal, I can tell you!

Back to the Venture Centre to freshen up for the Feast, which was held in the bijou refectory. Catering was by John and Helen Butler, helped by some friends - Helen could certainly show the professionals a thing or two about serving 40 or so guests so promptly! The menu of pate, followed by home made Lasagne, and Apple crumble to finish, washed down with copious amounts of cider and Skinners Betty Stoggs bitter - and dare I say it - Mineral Water, was a meal to remember. Charlie Corcoran (Ring Bagman, Leicester MM) proposed the toast to the Immortal Memory, and I proposed all the thanks etc. etc. (the boring but necessary bit!)

Entertainment was led by Ken Johnson who ran a quick Mummers play workshop and then produced a Mummers play, followed by his own amusing one man version! Other turns were performed by Alexander Leighton as grumpy old man, with songs from many others led later on by Jed Dunn and his comprehensive folder of songs!

The Instructionals were held on Sunday morning; the Fools workshop was led by John Butler, and simultaneously the Beasts had a seminar with Ron Shuttleworth (Coventry Mummers) on ways of making a Beast.

We then met together for a discussion on the future of the Fools and Beasts, and made some decisions, not least of which was the venues for the next few years! Julian Kohler wondered if a trip abroad to Brest would be feasible for 2006; Jed Dunn asked if we could hold 2007 at Wyvern Jubilee, where it will their 30th Anniversary; John Edwards suggested Stafford for 2008!

Some discussion was made around the name of the organisation, and whether we should still be affiliated to the Ring. The name which appeared to be handed down to me was The United Union of Fools; this seemed double dutch (whoops- sorry, Maarten and Henning - no offence meant!) to some, and looking back the original title of The Illustrious Order of Fools was adopted, with an extension to incorporate the Animals/Beasts, and therefore, after more discussion, we agreed upon The Illustrious Order of Fools and Beasts to be our official title. Tim Sercombe then pointed out the current badge said United Union of Fools and had a picture of a Fool only. He suggested that we hold a competition to design a new badge which incorporated the new agreed name, and a logo or whatever which reflected both Fools and Beasts. Entries, please, to me Robert Chisman, before next year's Unconvention - prize tba, but probably free beer! 

Simon Pipe and Verna Wass explained the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival, and asked for the moral support of the Illustrious Order, and invited all members to the Festival, to be held 1st/2nd July 2006. For more details, visit their website www.hobbyhorsefestival.co.uk

Talking of websites, John Edwards pointed out that he had set up a website for fools and beasts, but had not really had much material for it, and asked for people to send pics and events to him, for the website www.foolsandbeasts.org.uk.

We all promised to support it, and wished John best of British luck!

To round the weekend off, those who didn't have to depart too early joined a walking tour of Cromford, with our guide, Steve, who gave us all a quick history of the town. Until then I thought Arkwright was a stuttering corner shop keeper in Rotherham, but I found out that the real Arkwright was a brilliant entrepreneur, idealist inventor, businessman and ostensibly a philanthropist; he founded industrial mills, building houses and looking after his workers - but he made sure he got back all that he gave his workers by owning the pubs and renting all the properties!

Thanks to Ripley MM for hosting the weekend, and particularly to Roger Ward for arranging things, and John and Helen Butler for the catering.

Look out for next year's venue and dates!

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