When the Sober Are Strange

Flags at May Day in Padstow.

Last week, we finally made it to the famous May Day celebrations at Padstow in North Cornwall and saw the ‘Oss in action.

This film is from 1953 but noth­ing much has changed since then.

Like Helston’s Flo­ra Day (which takes place tomor­row) it’s a gen­uine, heart­felt folk tra­di­tion, going back gen­er­a­tions and involv­ing entire fam­i­lies: even surly teenagers dress in the tra­di­tion­al head-to-toe white with coloured scarves.

While we enjoyed the songs and danc­ing, despite the driz­zle, we were, per­haps pre­dictably, espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in the drink­ing cul­ture that sur­rounds the event.

The fes­ti­val prop­er begins at mid­night on 1 May with singing at the Gold­en Lion Inn so that, by the time we arrived in Pad­stow mid-morn­ing, quite a few peo­ple were already appar­ent­ly a touch mer­ry. Before long, we began to feel like the odd ones out because we weren’t car­ry­ing open cans so, at around 11 am, we popped into the Old Ship for a pint.

Stand­ing out­side, we drank from plas­tic glass­es, sur­round­ed by fam­i­lies and gangs of rosy-cheeked, mis­chie­vous mid­dle-aged blokes who were gig­gling, nudg­ing each oth­er in the ribs, stamp­ing on each other’s toes… Child­hood habits from 50 years before recalled thanks to a bit of social booz­ing?

Wan­der­ing round town, we noticed long queues at the Post Office shop, the Spar and the CO-OP, in which every oth­er per­son was buy­ing bumper packs of lager or cider. By mid­day, the crowds in most of the pubs had spilled out on to the pave­ments so that the super­mar­ket-can-drinkers could join in the fun even if they weren’t will­ing or able to pay £3.50 a pint.

There were even a hand­ful of ‘street drinkers’ weav­ing through the crowd, swig­ging from cans of super-strength lager, for once not look­ing out of place in the pic­ture post­card twee­ness of the har­bour town. Police Com­mu­ni­ty Sup­port Offi­cers nod­ded hel­lo, warned them away from the water’s edge, and every­one was hap­py.

We drank a bit more, watched the world go by, drank a bit more, and final­ly did a bit of gig­gling our­selves.

Per­haps after we’d left to catch our train it all kicked off (rivers of vom­it &c.) and of course every day can’t be a great debauch but, once in a while, it does us all good to get leg­less togeth­er and remem­ber that we’re all just human.

2 thoughts on “When the Sober Are Strange”

  1. It’s good to tell Aus­tralians that their tra­di­tion­al sport­ing cry of “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” start­ed life as “Obby Obby Obby! Oss Oss Oss!”

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