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June 23, 2017

Capital Culture and Craft - NZ Morris Dancing Tour 2017

What's happened to this blog of mine? Instagram: that's what. It's a quick and easy way to blog while its limitations call for tight editing.

But I never intended to neglect Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden. And I never intended not to record New Zealand's National Morris Dancing Tour this year. Since Morris dancers will be gathering for Midwinter celebrations this coming weekend, now seems like a good time to recall our summer holiday together.

Brittanic Bedlam Morris Gentlemen hosted the Capital Craft and Culture Tour this year in the first week of January, programming it around Wellington's craft breweries and cultural hot spots. We stayed in the boarding facility at St Patrick's College, Silverstream.

On the first evening a bunch of crafty women subverted the theme to suit themselves... using a pool of eager hands to unravel a hoard of yarn and thread as well as get a project under way.

Monday morning saw everyone out in the carpark work-shopping three tour dances. I’d only had my new orthotic inserts for two weeks, but that was enough to get me up for Ring o’ Bells when the cry went out for ‘one more here'.I enjoyed dancing, but restricted myself to one dance a day throughout the week. I've learned the hard way how to ruin a holiday by dancing like there was no tomorrow.

In the afternoon we gathered en masse for some Culture at the Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt. I enjoyed seeing a nearly full side of Perth Morris Men—great to have them and all the other Australian guests on Tour. 

Then we moved on for some Craft— ale of course. How did we all fit into the Sprig and Fern at Petone? But we were tolerated, appreciated even, judging by the number of busy phone cameras snapping the dancing.

Tuesday was wet, wet, wet. Dancing in the rain outside The Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa - made for some pretty spectacular photos.

Later, to dry out, some of us joined the crowds and very long queues to see Peter Jackson's exhibition - Gallipoli: The Scale of our War. Worth the queuing with its attention to detail and the sobering human story. This exhibition runs for the four centenary years of the Great War.

After lunch the dancing migrated to Mac’s Brew Bar where a narrow covered way provided shelter. 

My new orthotics were causing aches and pains in unexpected places and I’m afraid I was just feeling elderly and damp by this stage of the day. 

Heart of the Sun cheer me up. These three women from Hastings always show their pleasure in the dance and each of them is also a natural performer. Every move they make not only expresses their own personalities but their understanding of the flow of the dance too. Not usually something that you see across every dancer in a side.

Wednesday's programme was just kidding about The Garage Project and Tuatara Third Eye in Te Aro - right? All along this was going to be a mystery tour. The double decker bus and its driver was fantastic and it did take us to Te Aro Street, where we could see into the top windows of all those gorgeous gingerbread houses.

The breweries might have been closed till midday but worth doing all the same was: 

Dancing in delightfully wooded Te Aro Park; 

Enjoying coffee and cake in one of Te Aro Street’s quaint cafes;

and strolling down to the Rogue and Vagabond like a bunch of raggle taggle gypsies O.

Then the Craft-as-in-ale rejoined the programme. What a great spot with Glover Park to hand to drink, dance, sun ourselves in the surprising sunshine and linger longer in. 

Kitty and I did sneak off for a bit of lunch and gratuitous shopping in Cuba St. Then maybe things could be seen to turn to custard when the group gathered at a free house - which will remain anonymous - and not withstanding our average age being over 50 and morris dancers' reputation for liking good beer, we were made to feel unwelcome. We chose to leave rather than weather the barman's attitude. To be fair this was more due to some mis-communication, as well as a generational and cultural misfit on both sides, but this particular bar lost a lot of business that midweek afternoon.

Weather. Yes it had been a lovely day till the storm clouds gathered. The Hotel Bristol on Cuba St welcomed us with open arms, or at least they didn’t bat an eyelid when we set up camp in their bar/dining room. Just in time too as the Southerly storm slashed horizontal rain along Cuba St. Not too long after that our friendly double decker bus came to rescue us and take us home. 

Not much Windy Wellington on show by Thursday but plenty of sunshine after the storm made for some great photos outside Parliament.

Moving on then… to an engrossing tour of Parliament with a witty, young Chinese-Kiwi guide. Though he kept it light, the sense of our country’s parliamentary process - as well as its multiculturalism - came across nicely. Over at the National Library we heard about three documents that define our country including Kate Shepherd’s third and successful Women’s Suffrage petition. Although I am a first generation New Zealander the survey to collect descendants of the signatories showed a fascinating way to view ancestral legacy. 

After lunch everyone re-grouped at the National War Memorial Museum to see the Great War Exhibition. Kitty and I had seen it before and were keen to spend more time in the Gallipoli section. It was a good compliment to the exhibition we’d seen earlier in the week at Te Papa but also, at the end of the day, I felt how much it fitted with today's theme of what it is to be a New Zealander. Particularly moving were some small watercolours painted by Captain Malone’s great granddaughter after a visit with Peter Jackson to Gallipoli in 2015. On 8 August 2015, I had watched a production of Maurice Shadbolt’s ‘Once on Chunuk Bair’ and seen his (fictional) Malone character die on stage. I hadn't appreciated that Malone was struck by New Zealand shell fire. What it is to be a New Zealander? Wednesday may have been my favourite day of the Tour, but Thursday was the most thoughtful for me.

Full Steam Ahead Friday started with our national AGM. There was some good debate about presenting ourselves in public, 

but I know this: those who dance footloose and fancy free are unlikely to become sticklers for order and precision, and the precise traditionalists are never going to understand the joy of anarchy. 

People do join the Morris in New Zealand after being attracted by the friendly playfulness on display just as others join it for the intricacy of stepping and smart uniform. Some of us manage the middle ground but we will never please everyone watching us perform because the public is just as diverse in character as we are ourselves.

I always like steam trains and vintage railways, which are usually operated by enthusiastic volunteers with a lifetime of experience. 

The Silverstream Railway is one of those wonderful work-in-progress heritage projects. Its limited track length meant we rode back and forth over the same route with the L509 locomotive, our trips interspersed with vigorous dance spots on the station platform. Great fun and the dancing looked good too. 

Later in the afternoon while everyone was dancing in Upper Hutt, we were approached by the owners of a brewery not on our programme! They wanted us to visit: Kereru Brewing was a nice surprise, set up in the old Dunlop Tyre factory with room to dance!

Back at base while we were dancing our final Saturday Night On of the Tour Chris and Natasha from Kereru Brewing walked in with their arms full of beer, and then joined the procession through Brittanic Bedlam Morris Gentlemen’s touching guard of honour to join us at our Feast and Ale and participate in some dancing later. 

So the Capital Craft and Culture Tour ended—this week not just of dancing, but tuis fluting in pohutukawa blossom, of night-time quake-waking, and massed sky-gazings to watch the International Space Station pass overhead. Great memories Gentlemen. 

In 2018 the tour will be hosted by the City of Auckland Morris Dancers.

If you would like to read the more detailed, personal and uncensored account that I have based this post on you can find it beginning on page 16 and running through to page 29, Issue 178 of the NZ Morris Sphere with lots of other people's photos and contributions interspersed throughout.

Pohutukawa, NZ Christmas tree Metrosideros excelsa


Gill said...

Nice to read this post.😜

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Thanks Gill - good to have done it at last.

libby said...

I did wonder where you were.......the tour pics look like you had a wonderful time.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

libby it's lovely to hear from you. Maybe now that I've made time for a post I will make time to read all my favourite blogs...