I thought I hadn’t been spending enough time on the South Bank lately, so I headed there for the Twelfth Night celebrations put on by Lionspart at Bankside, outside the Globe.  It wasn’t quite clear where things would occur, given that the small posters were found over quite a wide area, and I then tried to work out who was waiting for it all to start, like me.  This is difficult when people just tend to stop and gawp along the Thames anyway. I settled on a spot with a wall for leaning on, by some steps down to the shingly bank itself and read the remainder of Private Eye.  Some folks took me for an initiate and leaned against the same wall, thereby mutually validating (without any real evidence…).  A boat was spotted, going the wrong way on the river.  Speculation about the reasons for this did not reach a consensus and there was still quite a while before it was due to start.  Two noticeably tall young men of a tweedish bent appeared, glad-handing.  I then heard a man near me introduce one of them as “the chairman of the Young Conservatives in my constituency”.  This seemed appropriate, because they looked like they should be chairmen of the Young Conservatives.

Soon the performers appeared and announced that the Holly Man was approaching:



However, the boat turned back, went further out and then approached again, calling for another announcement.  The Holly Man, when he appeared, was actually quite impressively holly-ful:


After some wassailing, which involved the Holly Man reciting this text:

Globe wassail

Globe wassail

they moved down for the Mummers’ Play.  It was unfortunate that I was a bit slow in following them, because this meant I wasn’t able to see their performance very well.  Still, being tall is often convenient and by standing on a concrete ledge I could just about see what was happening, unlike many people who were intrigued by the large crowd, only to be put off by the impossibility of viewing events.

While I couldn’t hear all of what was being said, the phrases fiscal cliff,fiscal stimulus, and giving all our money to bankers did resound, which seemed to me to be a departure from the traditional text:



while the Holly Man continued to preside:

Holly Man

Holly Man

Cakes were distributed, two of which held special beans as a means of choosing the King and Queen of the procession.  The two were chosen and crowned, the King being somewhat more at ease with his elevation than the Queen:

More Mummers

King and Queen

The route to the George pub seemed…haphazard, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the event.  As we passed a chain food shop (I don’t recall which), the customers were desperate to capture the novelty passing their window on their phones.  There was limited space in the courtyard of the pub and the Holly Man had to assert his eminence – “Let me through – I’m the star here” – before wassailing the pub:

George Wassail

George Wassail

After this proclamation a space was cleared for the Molly Dancers.

In spite of the cold, I did enjoy this couple of hours and it seems noble that the performers are so keen to revive these traditions.  Not sure our Tory friends will have appreciated the jibes sent in their general direction.


One thought on “Wassail

  1. Tom Dickins

    So, this tradition is one of hoped for rebirth in the coming Spring during the midst of Winter. Your evergreen man representing a constant thread of life throughout the year, I suppose. I wonder then if the fiscal references were not sewn into a narrative around economic winters and longed for rejuvenation as markets begin to thrive again. And greedy bankers were the icy fingers of devastation that sap this hope. Something to be fought off by a cooperative ritual of good will and the sharing of adulterated ales.

    Richard Sennett no doubt has something to say about all this: http://www.richardsennett.com/site/SENN/Templates/Home.aspx?pageid=1


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