DERT 2007: Who Shot the Sheriff?
A Tale of Nottingham and Men in Tights
The castle upon the hill and the greenwood that surrounds it. A fanfare and pennants like aerial eels, writhing from crenulated towers calling the yeoman, the serfs and the unwashed from the trees to market; to buy; to sell; to pay their tithes to the Sheriff of this medieval town called Snottingham. There is a fair perhaps, with music and dancing, and down the dungmired lanes there are inns that sell brooks and streams and rivers of ale, that flow down the gullets and gullies and out again into the Trent. That was then. One knew where one stood in the scheme of things in Merrie Englande, and it was usually wet...
Despite being the birthplace of William Booth, Nottingham escaped the savage austerity of the temperance movement, unlike the cultural desert of its neighbour, Leicester. So it was to Nottingham that DERT came the other weekend, and there were such goings on that would have made Friar Tuck pull on his bell rope. The plebs and the peasantry, the fools and the minstrels, arrived from far and near to dance to the death with their swords – cocks and hens together, mark you, and often in the same coop. The minstrels scratched, bellowed and blew their assorted instruments as these strange folk weaved their way from inn to inn. The competition was stiff; rivalry was fierce but ribaldry rivalled decency, as this dancing and merry-making went on for two nights and days. Whipped along in a whirling frenzy by the local wenches and their ‘squire’ whose newly spiked topknot, cropped especially for the ‘do’ was admired by many. Her first concern was when the tapster announced that he had just four hundred pints with him, and one of those was in his hand. If this news had been known at the time the northerners (colliers probably) would have rioted and the bumpkins of Dorsetshire and the fierce kilted Celts, like as not, would have joined in. The danger only passed with the arrival of another five barrels raided from a nearby hostelry.
Such tensions are rare in the world of Rapperdom and are quickly resolved. For this annual event is a coming together of tribes, a fraternity that is not just Dancing England but Singing and Music-making England too, as well as backslapping, rib-tickling and other forms of English expression. This bonhomie could be seen at all stages of the tournament, none more so than the finale of Saturday’s dancing when victorious teams were awarded their reward, which was then returned to be awarded as a reward to another team (who were also good).
It may have seemed to some that the world had been turned upside-down. Poor Robin Hood, worm-eaten and turned to dust might have risen to choke when the rough, collier lads boldly danced in their cod-pieces and hose to the obvious joy of one fair maid; ‘Marian’ appeared in something floaty, bearded, bespectacled and playing the coquette to the bonny lads, and insisting on being called ‘Brian’. If that were not enough, none other than the ‘Evil Sheriff’ himself arrived, wearing the same Primark frock as Brian, and calling himself ‘Jeannie!’ All was well though, when the Sheriff addressed the assembled dancers. For he/she spoke with all the eloquence and fluency of our beloved Anglo-Saxon tongue. Nobles, fools and peasants alike were held like dewdrops in the palm of his/her Snottingham hand.
Then at last it was time for bed. The innkeeper called time, her cellars were strewn with empty barrels and the spirit casks were drained. The past-midnight carriages arrived and conveyed the sleepy Rapperos to their sacks and meagre floor space. What dreams were dreamt that night under that Kashmiri roof, vaulted in heaven, unfit to jump o’er the moon…?