Two “tribes” collided in Hastings on Bank Holiday Monday – but not mods and rockers. Instead both bikers and strangely costumed bands and dancers were headed for the sea front – with different purposes in mind, but perhaps a single thought – “Summer’s here”.
And, while many of the bikers had travelled far, their roars echoing across the countryside, it was mainly – but not solely – locals from nearby, including Rye, who travelled in on packed trains for the “Jack in the Green” event this Bank Holiday Monday.
Unusually Rye News was also well represented because Mayor Making is normally on the early Bank Holiday Monday, but in election year there is no civic service and mayor making is instead on Monday May 20.
Indeed Rye News writer Mags Ivatts has a foot in both tribes as she has a Harley (shown below, left) as well as getting dressed up to go with the Rowan group in Jack’s procession.
Hastings sea front was a mass of bikers, roaring and revving and trapping pedestrians on crossing islands, and the purpose was very clear – a day by the sea, and a chance to look at , around, and under others’ bikes to see what had been added, changed or decorated – and swap comments – perhaps like “My Suzuki is bigger than yours”.
But Jack in the Green is harder to categorise and explain as the weekend long festival rises to a crescendo on the Bank Holiday with a procession winding through the Old Town followed by a concert on the West Hill clifftop.
Jack clearly has roots in the May Day festivals we associate with morris dancing , may poles and flower garlands.
But some of it goes way back to the Roman Festival of Flora and even further back to pagan Celts and the festival of Beltane. However these festivals were sanitised to death by the Victorians until this one was resurrected in the 80s – and apparently goes from strength to strength.
Green is the overwhelming colour of the Jack procession and careless spectators like myself could get spotted with green – in strong contrast to the bikers who were mainly (but not entirely) dressed in black.
Indeed at a similarish Mardi Gras festival in the Canary Islands one Easter I got covered in flour because it was the “Day of the Whites” and (as usual) I was dressed all in black – but ended up somewhat grey !
Jack’s procession started off in Rock-a-Nore Road and then ambled up All Saints Street and then down the High Street before climbing up Croft Road to the West Hill.
There were frequent pauses on route – apparently chosen to pass by as many pubs as possible – and there were often lengthy queues, but large supplies of plastic mugs.
Fans of the wartime policeman’s series “Foyle’s War” will have spotted many familiar TV locations on route including Foyle’s home in the Old Town as the procession ambled up the steep hill with its many dancers and bands.
The procession included Hastings’ Mayor and Town Crier and the council’s leader could be spotted lurking saturninely among the spectators.
Indeed the procession seemed to be quite a mix of devils and gods, with sex simmering just beneath the surface – and a lot of beating drums including the mighty sound of the local Section Five.
Dressing up is clearly a local hobby and much of the Jack procession seemed like Bonfire Night – but without the flames and in broad daylight, and in green rather than red and black.
The answer, of course, to the question posed by the photo, left, is that each giant has a discrete “minder” with a lead jerking the sweaty soul inside in the right direction.
And precision is important in such a procession as some of the morris dancers are flailing around with large sticks (arrestable in other circumstances) and accidents can happen.
But, despite the climb, the view from West Hill was amazing out to sea and I have missed the unaccompanied folk singing we were entertained with.
I heard a lot of that up North (in Whitby and along the North East coast along with pints of Old Peculier) and summer is coming – together with Broadstairs Folk Week in August in nearby Thanet – so another date for the diary !
Image Credits: Heidi Foster, Rye News library.