May Day celebrations

View previous topic View next topic Go down

May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:06 pm

A misplaced May Day dream for the masses

May Day by John Sommerfield describes a society on the edge. The parallels with today are obvious – but it's the differences that make it worth reading


Children dancing around the Maypole at a summer fair in Dulwich park London. Photograph: Alamy

It might have associations with people in funny clothes performing arcane rites and with Oxford students getting smashed off their gourds, but most us don't think about Tories when we think about May Day. As several union leaders have already pointed out, the party's current desire to replace May Day with Trafalgar Day (supposedly to "lengthen the holiday season") is not practical so much as ideological. May Day might feel like a natural part of the calendar – but it has only been marked by a bank holiday since 1978, introduced by a Labour government to mark international workers' day. And that, of course, is why the rightwingers don't like it.

They'd like it even less if they picked up the book that I've just been reading: May Day by John Sommerfield. This was written in 1936, but has just been reissued, with excellent timing, by London Books. It describes a society on the edge. The rich are getting richer and the poor are paying for it. The authorities clamp down on protest with the cynical use of force. Someone on a march is killed in an "accident". The success of a march leads someone to comment: "I don't think there'll be so much damned squeamish argument against arming the police."

The parallels with our current troubles are obvious – but it's the differences that make May Day worth reading. Sommerfield describes a few days in the lives of dozens of different characters across London, showing them at work, at play, down the pub, in bed, making love, feeling regret the day after, giving birth, dying, plotting to overthrow the bosses, plotting to undermine the workers. It's a broad, ambitious sweep, but it's all heading in the same direction: the inevitability of a general strike and the exultant victory of the Communist point of view. By the time Sommerfield was writing, Stalin had embarked on one of the biggest murder sprees in human history, but Sommerfield pants for Soviet Britain. So much so that he frequently loses all restraint:

"Then into this sudden pool of quiet splintered an alien voice, a hoarse shout of 'Workers, all out on May Day. Demonstrate for a free Soviet Britain!' … This rang in a million ears. Eyes remembered the chalked slogans on walls and pavements. The slogans, the rain of leaflets, the shouts and songs of demonstrators echoed in a million minds."

He also gushes:

"The printing presses were spinning themselves dizzy. There had never been so many leaflets before. They fell like rain, they were scattered like machine gun bullets."

Sommerfield loved his leaflets. He was also absolute in his convictions. For him there are two races in the world – rich and poor and that is where all conflict will lie. "Soon a lot more people will be having to take sides," he wrote. They did indeed – but not in the way he thought. They would be fighting against fascism, not for "Soviet Britain".

There are plenty of things to be said in the book's favour, particularly in the ambitious way he looks into so many lives around London, explores their living conditions, and lays bare their pleasures and pains. There's also plenty more to be said against his writing which veers from the ridiculous to the not-too-bad and never really gets close to the sublime. Yet it's as an attempt at social realism that it is most fascinating – and most flawed. In 1984 Sommerfield wrote a new forward for the book acknowledging how few favours time had done for his "1930s Communist romanticism", but also said he hoped the book could be read as "an historical novel – worth reading, now, I hope, in relation to our own times." To an extent it can. But I read it more as a reflection on a lost past and an exercise in folly.

Possibly, it is harsh to judge Sommerfield's May Day, for getting things so spectacularly wrong. It's a novel, after all. It deals in fiction, not fact. But then again, while I was reading May Day, I couldn't help thinking of F Scott Fitzgerald's novella with the same title. It's just one mark of Fitzgerald's genius that his reflections on the day – although written in 1920 – still apply. The protests he describes seem hopeless, futile, distorted by absurd mobs on both sides: "all crowds have to howl". The rich are oblivious at best, unforgiving and condescending the rest of the time. The tragedies he depicts are universal – but also painfully personal. His lead, Gordon Sterett, is a penniless, struggling artist who has never found his feet since returning from the First World War, but who has found booze and bad company. He is drowning in the tide of history, but his problems are more individual than any Sommerfield manages to describe. He is more real. So too is the world around him. The clothes are smarter, the dancing is more formal and the drinks sound more exotic. No one has a smart phone and radicals print their views on paper. Otherwise, Fitzgerald could be writing about today – or forever. His despair and defeat for the small man rings far more true than Sommerfield's misplaced dream for the masses. May Day is a crushed dream. It makes the Tory vendetta against the holiday seem even more than usually petty.

Posted by Sam Jordison Friday 29 April 2011 15.15 BST guardian.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  LaRue on Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:13 pm

Trafalger day would be crap.

Well...not that it would matter, the celebrations in Oxford certainly don't reflect Workers Day. I'm so excited about tomorrow though, it's so much fun! There are so many people out, dressed in dinner jackets and ball gows from the night before. The whole centre of town is closed and people are just out in the strets, dancing and playing the bagpipes and singing and stuff. It's just wonderful. And the Magdalen College choir are always so very beautiful. My friends go to the school associated with the college, so they're allowed to listen from inside, not out with the great unwashed. I think I may try and sneak in with them. The only thing I'm not looking forward to is the fact that they're opening the bridge up this year. It's to make more room for people, and it will be nice to actually stand on the bridge, because it's really beautiful. But, apparently the water is really low this year and stupid people take it upon themselves to jump in, and I don't want to witness a disaster... People get so drunk anyway, but I reckon even more so this year since the night before is a saturday and also with the general festivities going on due to the wedding and stuff people might get carried away. Oh, and I'm alsonot looking forward to getting up at 4am...


LaRue
Suzerain Emeritus

Posts : 117
Join date : 2011-04-11

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Hi, LaRue.

Before you posted I tried to track down your May Day thread from the old ATU site- but no luck, I'm afraid. Looks like that one's gone for good.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  LaRue on Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:49 pm

Oh that's a shame. I had an absolutely fabulous time at May Morning last year, I hope this year is just as good (it's great not to have to go to school afterwards, thank you weekend!)


Here are some of my photos:

Magdalen Tower.


Random morris dancers/musicians outside the Bod. These people are everywhere, it's so surreal. Yet in a way against the backdrop of the old buildings it also feels right. Love it.

I have some photos of my friends and I joining in the fun, but I don't think I want to post them. It makes me really sad that this is my last May Morning. It really is so much fun.

Here's a video I found...there's a fleeting shot of some us in the background...yay! Both the singing and the drunken dancing is fun! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dtWqL6FyLI


LaRue
Suzerain Emeritus

Posts : 117
Join date : 2011-04-11

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  LaRue on Mon May 02, 2011 4:47 am

From the bbc:

Thousands celebrate May Day in Oxford

Crowds of up to 18,000 people have been celebrating May Day in Oxford.

Many gathered on and around Magdalen Bridge to hear choristers sing hymns at dawn from the tower at Magdalen College.

The tradition dates from the 17th Century. Afterwards celebrations continued across the city.

Police said nobody jumped from the bridge, which was open this year after being closed on May Day morning for the past five years to deter jumpers.

However, some students decided to swim in the river instead.

In 2005, 40 people were hurt when they jumped into the river and the county council said the cost to the health service that year was about £50,000.

Low water levels

However despite it being shut during subsequent years many people ignored safety warnings and broke through barriers to jump from the bridge.

Last year, about 30 revellers jumped from Magdalen Bridge.

Prior to this year's event paramedics and police urged people to think about their behaviour and warned about the "extremely low water levels".

Maria Langler from South Central Ambulance Service made a video warning about the dangers of jumping from the bridge.

She said the water was only about two-feet (0.6m) deep at the moment and concealed items like broken bottles and abandoned bicycles under the water could be dangerous to jumpers.

Other events taking place across the city, included morris dancing, folk music and special performances at Oxford Castle

LaRue
Suzerain Emeritus

Posts : 117
Join date : 2011-04-11

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  LaRue on Mon May 02, 2011 4:51 am

I had a fabulous time. It was as crazy as ever, I got chased down the high street by two men shouting "sexy lady" at 5:00...as I continued on there was a line of people pissed off their faces stretching across the whole street singing "Jerusalem" and "Swing Low" and several bagpipers. There were people in an assortment of crazy outfits. The choir was as excellent as always, the boys were so cute waving at the crowd at the end of it. My friends luckily saw it from in the college courtyard, but our spot with the great unwashed was more eclectic. I bet there were no men wearing furry hats an boots and just a pair of pants standing in Magdalen quad! After the singing we got breakfast, waffles with ice cream and strawberries. It was marvellous!

LaRue
Suzerain Emeritus

Posts : 117
Join date : 2011-04-11

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Mon May 02, 2011 3:39 pm


18th c. chimney-sweeps' May Day "Jack in the Green", London.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  Doc Watson on Mon May 02, 2011 3:59 pm

I have attended a few May Day rallies . However for some reason this thread started me thinking about maypoles. Once they were in every Australian park and school playground . Gradually during the 1980's they started to be regarded as dangerous and one by one they were disabled and gradually removed.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:21 pm


May Day 2000. Parliament Square, London. Churchill with mohican.

(See the "Guerilla Gardening" thread in this section)

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:25 pm


Russian (Soviet era) poster for 1st May.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:28 pm


Approximately 700,000 at a May Day concert in Rome.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:30 pm


Morris dancing in Oxford, May Day 2004.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:34 pm


May Day celebrations at National Park seminary, Maryland 1907.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:37 pm


Crowd gathered in Union Square, New York City during the May Day parade, May 1, 1913. Signs in Yiddish, Italian and English.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:00 pm


A century of folk customs and ancient rural games:

From Cornwall's 'sexy, savage Spring-time Mayday rites to the dangerous rolling of burning barrels of tar in Ottery St Mary, Here's a Health to the Barley Mow contains a rich and wide-ranging collection of 44 films that celebrate the folk customs, songs and dances of Great Britain.

Amongst the highlights included here are Alan Lomax's glorious Padstow May Day film Oss Oss Wee Oss (1954); a series of 1912 Kinora spools featuring traditional dances by pioneering folklorists Cecil Sharp and George Butterworth; 1920s newsreels charting Shrove Tuesday football contests; and recent footage shot by filmmakers Doc Rowe and Jeremy Deller showing the exhilarating contemporary performance of folk customs and rituals.

This sumptuous package draws on films collected over many years by the Britain's national and regional film archives and is presented by the BFI in collaboration with the English Folk Dance and Song Society.


eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: May Day celebrations

Post  Sponsored content Today at 11:13 pm


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

View previous topic View next topic Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum