Jack-in-the-Green WI style, and then Bad Things happen

It started so well. A sunny May-day Monday saw the usual massive celebrations in Hastings, the Jack-in-the Green festival that fills the Old Town and the West Hill, and a huge motorbike rally that takes over the sea-front.
     Our WI puts on a charity event ‘We’re Alright Jack’, upstairs in the Jenny Lind pub, slap bang in the middle of the procession route in the High Street.  We do a properly set up vintage tea-room, serving coffee, tea, cakes, quiches, pizza, sausage rolls etc. from the time the parade starts at 10.30 through to 3pm.  It is hard work but good fun. As the pavements are too crowded to move, people come to watch the parade from our room upstairs, and green covered participants call in to get food and drink.

Battleaxe and the serving team

      The Hastings festival is a revival of a much older event. Keith Leech, who masterminds the event and was largely behind the recreation of our Jack-in-the-Green, came to the WI a few months ago to talk about it.  Many characters in the parade, such as milkmaids and chimney-sweeps, are Victorian in origin, others, like giants and bogies were brought in by Keith himself, the Morris dancers, squads of drummers and women in corsets have just added themselves in, but the people dressed as animals and  the huge green-covered Jack are pagan remnants. Jack is ‘born’ in the morning, and ‘slain’ in the afternoon.
     Anyway, I helped set up the room on Sunday night, which in my case involved hefting umpteen crates of vintage china out of our garage and carting them, with Philosopher’s help, down to the pub before moving the furniture and laying up the room. Then there was Monday, which was exhausting, then on Tuesday a couple of us had to go back down yet again to pick up all the stuff. Of course, Battleaxe doesn’t even do any baking – all the food we sold was made by our members.
     But, as I’ve said in a previous post about the WI, when it comes to these things, our WI women are fantastic at mucking in, and working well together. I wish I knew what makes the difference. I could write it up in a management text book and earn a packet. It makes me proud to be President. 
     Here are a few pictures..

‘Jack’ passes below our window
As do the dancers

…and strange creatures
….and animals
Busy tea-room
One of our more colourful customers.

     So, that was the start of the week.
     Next thing, we heard about the tragic death of Jeremy Birch, the long-serving and popular Leader of Hastings Borough Council, who had a stroke while out canvassing the previous week. I think the whole town was shocked, whatever their politics. I knew Jeremy only slightly, but he was always friendly and clearly had a passionate commitment to Hastings. He will be much missed.
     Thursday was the General Election. I am sure that Hastings Battleaxe should be above politics, but anyone who read my post about the UKIP candidate will already know that I am left-leaning. In fact, I had done (with Philosopher’s help), a substantial amount of Labour leaflet delivery, and was out ‘knocking-up’ potential Labour voters on the day.
     Our incumbent Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, could actually be far worse. She is not a red-faced old-style Tory buffer, nor a weasly banker, nor a strident New Tory bottle-blonde woman in a polyester skirt suit. However, I felt our Labour candidate, local girl Sarah Owen, really deserved a chance. Also, I was unhappy about many things the Coalition Government did, but I won’t go into that here.
    As everyone will know, the opinion polls had predicted a result that was too close to call, and in Hastings we were very confident for Sarah.
    Hindsight is easy, but looking back on my experiences on the doorsteps, the warning signs were there, but we all totally disregarded them. As well as the worrying numbers of mostly young people who were not going to vote at all, many others refused to say how they had/were going to vote. I suspect now they had gone over to UKIP but were afraid to tell us. In the event, Amber Rudd more than doubled her majority, mostly due to Lib Dems switching to Conservative, and loss of votes to UKIP.
    One crazy thing. I was doorstepping with some nice Labour ladies from leafy Surrey who had kindly come to help us in our ‘key marginal’. We were supposed to give out cards which said ‘It’s a two-horse race, vote for Sarah’ etc., but I discovered that one lady had been using her own cards which said ‘Save the Badgers, Vote Labour’. I told her that this was not good. I’m sure that few people would want badgers to die a horrible cull-type death, but in Hastings people with gardens spend much time fending off badgers that repeatedly invade and dig everything up. I could imagine grizzled old Hastingas ripping up the badger cards, muttering about loony lefties and stomping off to vote UKIP!
    Finally, we should all have had a very bad feeling indeed when fate decreed that of all people, it was poor Sarah who had to pose beside Ed Miliband, in front of the mocking eyes of the nation, when he unveiled that truly awful stone engraved with his election pledges. Whoever advised him to do that should be shot. Where is that stone now?

Poor Sarah Owen (in pink jacket) stuck with this image for ever…..

   So, Thursday night and Friday morning were utterly awful as the results rolled out. I don’t think even Conservatives should be rejoicing at the predicament in which the country now finds itself. Unless something drastic happens, the left and the centre have been crushed for the foreseeable future. We now have to face some crackpot EU referendum, Scottish nationalism stoked up to fever point by the Tories and the right-wing media, a massive perception of a north/south divide, and many millions of people feeling angry, powerless and disenfranchised. Despite all the Tory puff and hype, the economy is not healthy, and I genuinely fear for public services and the plight of the poor, the sick and the old.
   Our voting system is clearly in need of reform, but the 2011 referendum on proportional representation was a ‘no’.
   What are we all to do next?
   At local level, how about naming the rebuilt Pier the ‘Birch Pier’ in memory of Jeremy and Egenius Birch who originally designed it?

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