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BritNews RoundUp: The Last Dance

Morris dancers are a staple of English country fairs. These are groups of men who dress in distinctive white outfits, adorned with bells and ribbons, and slap little sticks against each other:

I once described Morris dancers in a story as "fey and mincing." Boy, that really irritated a group of Morris dancers from Takoma Park (where else?). I think if I ran into them in a dark alley they would hit me with their tambourines.

Now comes news from Britain that young men are just too embarrassed to take up Morris dancing and that the practice, based on an old fertility ritual, may be extinct in 20 years. "This is a serious situation," Charlie Corcoran told the BBC. "The average age of Morris dancing sides is getting older and older."

Certainly the big local story this week was that 6-year-old boy who took his parents' car to drive to school. He made news even in England. I love the way the Daily Mail covered it: "The child, who has not been identified, took the keys to the 2005 Ford Taurus while his mother was sleeping and drove six miles across the American state of Virginia. He ran off the road several times before coming to a halt after hitting an embankment and telegraph pole about a mile-and-a-half from his destination."

Six miles equals "across the state of Virginia"? He hit a "telegraph pole"? Um, we actually have telephones here.

Mysteries, Part One: Why have the branches of a tree in Buckinghamshire been covered with dangling shoes for the last 30 years?

I assume it's just idiot teenagers who lob them up there, but that explanation wasn't good enough for local officials, who, according to the Telegraph, spent $400,000 to investigate the matter. Their findings? "[Nobody] knows quite why shoes are put on it, or quite when it started," said Rachel Sanderson, co-ordinator of the Special Trees Woodland Project. "It's one of those things, it's an absolute mystery." Wouldn't that money have been better spent on a Morris dancing academy?

Mysteries, Part Two: What smashed into a 65-foot-long wind turbine blade in Lincolnshire, severing it from its high-tech, 200-foot-high wind mill?

A UFO, says the Sun. After all, there were strange "orangey-yellow spheres skimming across the sky." Er, not so fast, reports the Guardian. One of its editors admits her family was shooting off fireworks that night. That might explain the lights, but could the wind turbine have been destroyed by a top secret unmanned stealth bomber? Yes, says the Daily Mail.

One more reason I'm glad I gave up golf: According to Dr Malcom Buchanan, an ENT specialist, keen golfer and co-author of an article in the British Medical Journal: "Our results show that thin-faced titanium drivers may produce sufficient sound to induce temporary or even permanent cochlear damage in susceptible individuals."

In other words, golf can make you go deaf -- if you use certain metal woods, whose loud "ping!" can damage your ears. "The worst offender was the Ping G10, at over 130 decibels," said the BBC. Fore! What?

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Forest Glen Metro, Silver Spring

By John Kelly  |  January 9, 2009; 9:04 AM ET
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"Boy, that really irritated a group of Morris dancers from Takoma Park (where else?)."

Well, Foggy Bottom, for starters.

Posted by: staxowax | January 9, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

So, once again our nemesis John Kelly bends his little ink-stained digits to malign morris dancers. Have you forgotten the results of our last encounter so quickly, Mr. Kelly? You dodged out of meeting the Foggy Bottom Morris Men on the field of honor. What was that pathetic, milquetoast excuse? Children's soccer game, my aunt Matilda!

I'd march down there to your office right now and give you what for if I were not laid up with a tambourine injury. I should recover by Feb. 7 on which date I challenge you to meet my morris team at the annual FSGW "Mini-Fest" Folk Festival held at the Takoma Park (where else?) Middle School on Piney Branch Avenue. At high noon!

Doubtless you will find a "conflict" in your schedule, in which case you are welcome to meet us at any Thursday you like at our practice hall, the Highland View Elementary School, 9010 Providence Ave, Silver Spring, MD. Map and details at our website:

Wherever you dare to meet us, we will see if you are man or woman enough to master a double-step, snap a hankie, or clash a stick!

I hope you are able bodied when you show up, you might be about to fall off that slender limb you've stepped out on. When you make fun of the parochial British take on American news stories, you shouldn't preface it with your own parochial take on one of theirs.

For example, morris dancers are less a "staple of English country fairs" than they are of pubs - outside and in. Did you even look at your own Youtube clip? Does that look like a country fair? That's the pubbiest looking pub I've ever seen!

You've neglected (insert gratuitous remarks about lazy journalism here) to read any of the MANY follow-up stories in the UK and Canadian media. Morris teams throughout the English-speaking world have objected that the dance is nowhere near dying out and that many young people are joining without embarrassment.

To see for yourself the unembarrassed youth and vigor of morris dancing here is a clip of the Funkytown Morris Men, a subset of the younger members of Washington, DC's own Foggy Bottom Morris Men:

We await your response, Mr. Kelly!

Posted by: morrisdancer | January 9, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

So, we meet again, Mr. Morris Dancer. The ancestral land of Morris dancing may be experiencing the slow extinction of the form but the colonials are keeping it alive, like some black rite practiced in back rooms and hidden glades and Takoma Park. I believe that I am having my teeth re-enameled on Feb. 7th and Thursday nights are when I traditionally have my ear hair trimmed, but it appears we are destined to clash. Especially if it involves a pub.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | January 9, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I think of morris dancers as not so much "fey and mincing" as "large and drunk."

Posted by: h3h3 | January 10, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

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