Death to jangling idiots in cricket whites

Jim White mets the head of a fierce campaign to rid our pubs of namby-p amby morris dancers
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Indy Lifestyle Online
CAMDA's stationery is unequivocal. On the top left-hand corner of the organisation's letterhead is a photograph of a formation of morris men tripping around with bells on their knees, flourishing handkerchiefs and generally fol-di-rolling across s ome village green. And on the right is a First World War machine gunner, his weapon trained into the midst of the group, keen, apparently, to do lasting damage to their rhythm. Just in case anyone misses the point, the CAMDA acronym is spelt out in full underneath this tableau: the Campaign to Abolish Morris Dancing Absolutely.

As yet Binky Braithwaite, co-ordinator of CAMDA, has still to take the sort of direct action against this apparently blameless country pastime suggested by his logo. Indeed, as yet Binky has to take any sort of action at all: his rage has so far been confined behind the doors of the Dandy Lion pub in Bradford on Avon, near Bath - which, he maintains, is the nerve centre of CAMDA, the organisation he and his confederate, Colonel Walter K Polhill, started a month ago.

"Colonel Polhill can't be with us here today," explained Braithwaite, launching a campaign strategy meeting at the Dandy Lion last week with a quorum of, well, one. "He is visiting relatives in Germany where he is researching the debilitating effects of lederhosen and thigh slapping on the national morale."

But despite the initially small scale of his campaign, Braithwaite has a growing feeling - fuelled, perhaps, by his strict daily regime of Wadsworth's bitter - that he has touched a national feeling, that he has addressed, as it were, the Zeitgeist.

"Little acorns," he spluttered, excitedly. "Anywhere you go, dinner party, the bus, the pub - mainly the pub - they're talking about it. Lots of people accept that you are right, nod their head and say, yes, yes, something should be done."

That something, so far, has been restricted to angry conversation over the shove-halfpenny table and fierce letters to the press. But he foresees direct intervention - stumbling into the midst of a display and puncturing the accordion, for instance - as soon as he can coordinate sufficient media excitement.

"That's what it's all about these days," he said. "Conduct your campaign in the press and you need never actually venture too far outside the saloon bar."

What, though, is his objection to morris dancing? What has driven him to such extreme distaste?

"John Major, 6.30 the other morning, launching the National Lottery. With canapes and morris men," he thundered. "That's it. Faux heritage is the biggest threat to our well-being. Morris men, with beards and collections of Steeleye Span records, arrive from executive housing estates in Swindon unannounced in fleets of Reliant Robins and start namby-pambying outside the country pub where you are having a quiet drink. Now, apparently, they are to be financed by the National Lottery. Is this the sort of co untry we want?"

But doesn't Binky himself have a beard?

"Yes," he roared, frightening off three tourists who were sticking their heads nervously through the Dandy Lion's door. "But it depends how you wear your beard. Mine reeks of gravitas; theirs reek of pipe tobacco. I have no objection to bells either if they are beside front doors or in church towers. But attached to knees? I think not."

Surely, though, morris men are entitled to seek innocent pleasure by dancing if they wish?

"And we are just as entitled to revile them. More particularly, we are entitled to have a drink in a country pub without fear of people in cricket whites who cannot dance imposing themselves upon us."

But, as it happens, many of them can dance. David Bintley, the artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, is a keen morris man. And Dame Ninette de Valois encouraged dancers at the Royal Ballet to practise the art because it developed quick, nimble feet, perfect preparation for the corps de ballet.

"Ballet, you say?" exploded Binky. "My point entirely. Suede-slippered poodle cuddlers should get on very well with the morris-dancing fraternity. This is an issue which divides the nation. When they hear of my campaign, many people shake me by the hand and offer a contribution. Others shake me by the neck and say, `You'll be starting on folk singers next.' Well, funny they should say that, that's the next stage."

But first, Binky has to concentrate on his present campaign, which he hopes will see legislation enacted to confine morris dancing behind the closed doors of specially licensed premises. In this he is hoping CAMDA proves a more durable effort than his last pressure group. An admirer of Jeremy Bentham, whose body is preserved forever in University College London, he thought it would be a sound idea to mummify regulars in his pub after they died and place them permanently around the tables and bar stools.

"In some pubs they put up plaques to remember old regulars," he said. "We wanted to go one better. I was all for franchising the idea around the country, and went looking for brewers to sponsor us."

Campaigning as the Society of Benthamites (motto: Semper Cum Nos or Always With Us), however, Binky quickly ran into difficulties with the local authorities. The idea was dropped after threat of prosecution.

"Wet-fart panty-waist bureaucrats stopped me," he yelled across a rapidly emptying pub. "Almost certainly morris men in their spare time."

CAMDA, c/o Binky Braithwaite, Fons Albert, 33 Silver Street, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1JX.

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