Didn’t we have a wonderful time in Stockholm

Helsinki Morris weekend Tour to Stockholm, June 4-5, 2022

by Anthony Shaw with pictures by Jan Ivarson.

In the song* it was a day, but for Helsinki Morrisers it was a weekend, a tradition that has now been held 19 times over the last 22 years – or so we think given that no one is seriously counting! A weekend where strangers, but for their interest in this ant equated and somewhat esoteric summer pastime, gather in principle each year to flaunt their proficiency (or shortage of) under the eye of the passing public on the streets of each other’s capital city.

That’s the principal narrative, and is the role that The Arctic Ale has performed according to the historians, or are they bloggers nowadays. For the participants there’s a variety of stories, which over the years have been uniformly positive and quite out of the run of everyday life and even normal holiday-making.

A Parcel of Rogues**
Take the two original groups, Eken Morris and Helsinki Morrisers, and this year there was a third, upstart ’side’ Venxl taking part (there has been a certain competitive element to Morris dancing since records of the activity started in England in the 1400s), and a further half-a-side of three from Sussex. Like sports clubs, each has a slightly different version of its founding and continued activity, but with Morris there are also a variety of ways actually to play! Helsinki Morrisers started in 1995 with one man’s overnight trip to Stockholm with a borrowed video camera. Over the years new dances were attempted and the even those 5-6 dances captured on video became bit by bit modified though general simplification and also the lack of any monitoring. Nowadays the way these two groups dance is so different that even an untutored eye would notice, especially having read a short story about it!

But for the participants themselves the whole notion of a weekend away with a group of near-strangers is intriguing – stories of rugby tours and stag or hen nights might bear some similarity – but don’t expect sex, drugs or rock and roll.

The day in Stockholm involved four dance pitches on Stockholm’s sunny summer streets, coinciding this year with the running of their full marathon though the centre of town. Starting at Sturplan, at every place each side did 2-3 dances in turn, and then trudged off with all the Morris paraphernalia (handkerchiefs, sticks and bells) as well as our traveling bags. Suffice it to say some travel light and others don’t!

The Soft Parade***
Having had a busy evening at the final practice session on the boat (as well as a good deal of eating and socializing), along the way there is also the chance to meet and hobnob with the other dancers. Some of them we’ve got to know quite well though the years, but from Helsinki Morrisers’ gang of 10 there were also three ’Stockholm virgins’ – so even within our own group there was much novelty, even ground-breaking talk.

In fact it’s not unusual for some dancers to disappear during the walk, only to reappear relaxed and refreshed at the final dance spot, Stortorget. (Refreshments are readily available around the centre, at lofty prices of course)

I only discovered this year that this square, in addition to being the original cobbled market space in the medieval town, surrounded still by classical red and tan merchants’ houses, was also the place of punishment and even execution. These sentiments are very remote from the feelings after three-plus hours of dance and parade through the populous streets of Stockholm.

The cool, fresh water fountain in Stortorget marked the end of our tour and the start of the purely social part of the trip: an evening of herring and potatoes (typically with mosquitoes), home-made beer, and lashings of acoustic music in one of our hosts’ houses. It’s what makes the basis of soft diplomacy between nations.

* Fiddler’s Dram’s song from 1978, The Day We Went to Bangor
** Poem by Robert Burns and an album by Steeleye Span from 1973
*** Album and song by The Doors, 1969