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.