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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 21, 2005

Nostalgia Bulletin


Spring is here:
"Now comes the Vernal Equinox, and the season of Spring reaches it's apex, halfway through its journey from Candlemas to Beltane. Once again, night and day stand in perfect balance, with the powers of light on the ascendancy. The god of light now wins a victory over his twin, the god of darkness."

Eostre, as any fule kno, was the Germanic goddess of fertility. This year, more than ever before, I feel a sense of relief and inner happiness that the long winter is over. Went for a bike ride on Saturday. Unlike last winter, I couldn't keep it up over the dark half of the year. The weather's just been too bad, and what with moving house and everything, it just hasn't happened.

So I was feeling very unfit, and my knees and hips are murder today, but it was still great to get out there, to see the blossom on the trees, the sheep in the fields, the bird watchers at the reservoir.

But that's not what I want to write about. At lunchtime, I suddenly remembered something from my childhood: orange rolling on Dunstable Downs, Good Friday, which is just one of many traditional Easter customs, like the Skipping of Alciston in Sussex (which I think is the one where people run as fast as they can down a steep hill and fall over); or the Britania Coconut dancers of Bacup in Lancs, which sound hilarious.

Some fools believe that rolling an orange down a hill is somehow symbolic of "the stone being rolled away from the door of Christ's tomb." Duh. Whereas of course it really represents the gift of citrus. It was always a bit of a bundle, I remember, a bit scary and violent, so the grown ups would go in, coming back with an orange or two to roll gently down the slope to us kids. I have a photo of myself taken on Orange Rolling Day (a better name than Good Friday). It's at the top of this post. It doesn't look very crowded, but we always parked ourselves away from the numbers, and the camera was pointing down at the London Gliding Club below, I think.

It seemed like the whole town was up there; these days, there'd be the whole town and all their relatives, plus hordes of freeloading tourists from all over the country, from places where they don't go in for Maid's Money, Pace-egging, Butterworth Dole, or Coconut Dancing. , like all bank holidays, is an excuse to dive into the car and sit in traffic, while you torture yourself trying to get "somewhere nice". What people are really after is a time machine experience, jump in the car on good friday and go back in time to 1967, when car ownership was a new and recent luxury, and the roads and countryside were really quite nice places to be.

I remember going Rolling a few times as a kid, and then we stopped going, I guess because we were all too old, and because the experience was a bit nasty, really, once you were in there getting punched in the throat over a bit of soft fruit. And also, I think, because like the idiots we are, we started to equate the distance you travelled with the quality of the experience. So it just wasn't good enough to go up the Downs for an afternoon. No, we have to get up early and drive for 2 or 3 hours, and then sit around on someone else's downs. It's the prizing of the distant and exotic over the local and convenient. Still, what do I know, I married a French girl.


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