Oss Oss Wee Oss!

This May Day, we went down to Cornwall, to Padstow, to see the traditional 'Obby 'Oss procession. There are in fact two 'Osses, red and blue, but it's the red that claims to be the oldest and original. 

A crowd gathers in the narrow streets outside the Golden Lion pub. People seize whatever vantage points they can.

Eventually about four hundred accordion players process out of the pub, followed by as many drummers again. The noise is awful, in the original sense of that word. It inspires awe.

They play one tune and one tune only, all day long. 

Locals sing the traditional song. Watchers mumble from crib sheets. Unite and unite and let us all unite for summer is acome unto day, and whither we are going, we will all unite in the merry morning of May.

And then, quick as a flash, the 'Oss is out, through the narrow pub door and onto the street. The crowd roars: " 'Oss 'Oss, wee 'Oss!" The 'Oss responds, pitching and yawing, spinning wildly. If it catches a woman under its skirts it's said she'll be pregnant before the year's out.

A Teaser dances and cavorts in front of it like a toreador, spurring it on to greater antics. Different people take the roles of 'Oss and Teaser, and it's clearly something of an honour to be asked.

And, of course, Doc Rowe is there to film it all.

The 'Oss is a strange beast, more like something from Africa than Europe. I find it a little unnerving. Scary even. It doesn't look like a horse at all.

And then, before you know it, it's off and away, up the streets. Wherever you go through the town you hear the pounding drums.

Whatever strange magic this folk ritual performs, keeping the fish harvest sweet and the storms at bay, bumping up the birth rate, or proclaiming a sense of local identity against the relentless tide of second homers and David Cameron wannabes, the magic worked. The clouds lifted and the sun shone.


  1. Hurray! Thanks. Hopefully I'll see for myself next year. :D



Featured post

Shroom: ten years on

I find it hard to believe but it's exactly ten years since my book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom was published. Thou...

Popular Posts

Twitter Updates