Bus Passes for the Over Sixties
Brian Tasker's 60th

It's always pleasant to have a break following the excesses of Christmas and New Year, and to this end Brian Tasker and White Star Sword (resplendent once more in their electric blue cummerbunds and bow ties) organise a weekend of dance on the first weekend of January each year, in and around the picturesque village of Speldhurst in Kent. This year, however, was more significant for both him and his tolerant wife, Carol, for it was to celebrate their joint birthdays. Brian had reached the grand old age of sixty and Carol was twenty one, although she looks older and lies about her age.

Friday night's party soon outgrew Brian's house and decamped to the marvellous George and Dragon where the local beers (Harveys and Larkins) flowed as freely as the conversation. Various members of various teams arrived in dribs and drabs, with the sword world being represented by White Star, North British, Sallyport and Castleford. Closing time arrived all too soon so we repaired to the hall to find several delightful barrels of beer at our disposal, plus a kitchenful of food. Wonderful!

Saturday morning arrived in due course, bringing with it hangovers for some and rain for all. The day's itinerary swung into action: first, all teams danced at the George and Dragon, then they split into two separate tours, each being carried around by a beautiful vintage bus. Sallyport and North British were together on one with White Star and Castleford on the other, and spread across both were a number of mummers, handbell ringers, step dancers, clog dancers and morris men. This meant the plucky North Britons were bereft of the undeniable-but-intangible talents of Andrew Kennedy for he was placed on Tour B to play for some gracefullyaging female step dancers. On the other hand, his tour got to go to Larkins' brewery tap and have chips, both of which were denied to the other tour. Instead, they made do with two rather splendid little pubs (The Junction and the Dorset Arms, if you're counting) where the sword teams did their business, including an indoors Elgin longsword from North British in a space barely suitable for rapper.

It should be mentioned at this point that the recentlyredundant Sally Wearing had volunteered to Betty for North British, bringing her thankfully unique interpretation of the tradition (ie bright wigs, feather boas and ill-advised leopard-skin tights). For the aforementioned longsword, Sally adopted a pantomime approach which of course provoked audience participation along the lines of, “Where's your centre of gravity, Sally?” “It's behind you!” How we laughed. Following the pantomime, the surprisingly funny Broadside Mummers took the stage, with their Australia-related play bringing howls of laughter from all the adults, and their Australia-related language bringing furtive looks of worry and panic from the adults accompanied by children.

The two tours rejoined after a while at the Fountain in Cowden, a lovely pub with bags of space... unless there happens to be about eighty of you, in which case it's a little cramped. Here, the handbell ringers rung resonantly, the mummers mummed magnificently and the dancers danced delightfully. Sallyport performed a movingly magical Murton, to the delight of the audience and lovers of alliteration everywhere.

After everyone had danced, North British and Sallyport were again separated from the main group and sent to Edenbridge for Brian's Five Pub Challenge. Could North British and Sallyport dance in all five pubs in an hour? Clearly not, because one of them was closed. Following a dance which saw both Doug Rowling and Graeme Taylor walk into the same huge iron pillar, North British's newly-reunited Mr Kennedy tried to blag a dance in the Working Men's Club but was rejected on the grounds that the barman did “not feel competent to make a decision as to whether the bar staff were empowered to allow anyone to dance without referring the matter to a member of the committee.” Blimey.

On the way back to the hall, the teams dropped in on spec at Elsie's (aka The Queen’s Arms, Cowden Pound), from which the tour had been previously banned for not drinking enough beer. They reversed that position, and danced too, pausing only to play with the baffling mechanical dart score keeper, which is a work of art.

And so back to the hall for some food and yet more free beer, followed by the evening's festivities. These consisted of a ceilidh with guest callers from the teams (plus Emma, of course) with a sprinkling of floor spots by the teams that Carol and Brian had danced with over the years. These were in chronological order, meaning that North British would be on last... with their most intricate dance... at 11:40pm... with free beer available. Honestly, is that really a good plan?

To pass the time in a more sober than normal fashion, North British spent the evening flitting back and forth through a moonlit graveyard between the hall and the pub, where several rapper sides put on a display, including a Surprise Guest Appearance from Lamb and Flag, of whom one Castleford man said: “I think we’ve finally found a team of which Brian’s not a member!” Meanwhile, Sallyport played a traditional pub game which involved taking pop songs and replacing the words “love” and “heart” with “nob” and “arse” which some may find puerile but which was in fact remarkably funny, at least until they started on hymns and offended the locals.

Anyway, the evening continued, and the floor spots were great. The North Britons even stayed relatively sober for the Papa Stour dance, and Mr Hanley managed not to burst out of his trousers, which was a relief to many. The night finally finished for most around 3am, just after Tom Besford of Sallyport and Lamb and Flag had had his nipples plucked hairless and Mr Kennedy had jumped up and down on helium balloons until they burst. Ah, innocent times.

Sunday morning brought a muddy walk to a number of pubs, changing out of wellies and into shoes to dance. Three pubs were provided for this, concluding the more official part of the weekend.

From hereon in things became rapper-only and rather more pub-related, as White Star, Sallyport and North British investigated the pubs of Tunbridge Wells from the afternoon well into the night. As a special treat, Mr Hanley arranged permission for North British to dance in The Opera House (which is a Wetherspoon's, but is actually an old, erm, opera house, very well preserved, much like Brian). Since they've danced at Wetherspoon's before, they passed the honour on to Sallyport who acquitted themselves beautifully. The other highlights of the evening were crashing a private party of Slovakian girls in the Beau Nash and teaching them to dance, Mr Besford learning Slovakian so he could fail to chat them up in their own language, Chris Cartridge reducing North British in general and Mr Hanley in particular to giggling wrecks by interviewing them aggressively mid-dance, and of course Paul's Pub, which is a pub that Paul of White Star has built in his own house, where plucky North British danced with Mr Cartridge as a ringer. Crikey, what a night! We retired to Brian's house much, much later than was sensible.

And so there you have it: a first class weekend involving mud, beer and steel. Major thanks are due from all of us to Brian and Carol for organising such a thing, especially when you consider their advanced age.

Happy Birthday to them both!

Martin Hanley