Mayday 2008 was an important annivesary for the Space Hijackers, not only was it the 40th annivesary of the Situationist International palava in Paris, but closer to home it turned out to be the 300th anniversary since the last ever Mayfayre in Mayfair. Every year from the first of May onwards a riotous debauched party would kick off in the centre of London for nearly two weeks. A chance for people to shake off their class constraints and turn the rules upside down, the poor would mock the rich, traditional values would be thrown out of the window and the state turned into an impotent irrelevance. As you can imagine, the powers that be decided that this was far too much fun for the common folk, and in January 1709 a law was passed banning the May Fayre, and the site began it's gradual gentrification towards the uber rich quater of London it has now become.
Recent Mayday celebrations in London have taken a similar battering from the state, with people reduced once again to marching from A-B whilst stewarded by the Police. The Hijackers, never much fans of marching, decided to host a historical re-enactment. In act one the Space Hijackers would host a traditional Mayfayre in Mayfair to re-enact the last ever party, in act two (we hoped) The Metropolitan Police Players would close the party down and re-enact the crushing of freedom of expression.
After weeks of preparation, (including stockpiling lost property umbrellas in case of rain), Mayday dawned, and we had sunshine in our hearts and on our faces as we strolled through the city in full 18th century costumes, ringing bells and singing festive melodies, on the way to the beginning of the Mayfayre odyssey. Travelling to our designated meeting point, in Green Park, we gathered up tourists, school groups, assorted trouble makers and thrill-seekers with cries of ‘Mayday! Mayday! Follow us to the Mayfayre Revival’.
On our arrival, we were disappointed to see that the police were in attendance, despite having been very clearly informed that the Meeting Point for Police and Fools was in Bond St, half an hour later. But despite this wrong cue, they were merrily getting into the spirit of their role, staring stonily at the festive party, grumbling to each other, taking photographs left right and centre and generally getting in the way. They had been there all morning, with a line of riot vans parked down Park Lane, presumably to stop the revolution if we all got too over-excited.
Soon vagabonds and wenches, bedecked in their Mayday finery and full of joy were arriving from all corners of the park, and as the crowd gathered, rock cakes were eaten, whisky was quaffed, and excitement grew. Then it was time to embark on our journey – into the dark chasms of the 18th century, into the staid and upper-class shopping and showing off paradise of modern Mayfair, to revive the debauched and liberated spirit of the 1708 Mayfayre with our buoyant 21st century spirits (both kinds) and reclamatory zeal.
Such a merry band of revellers gambolled and danced down Park Lane, soon arriving at the Top –Secret Location of the party. However, as it was Shepherd Market, the original site of the Mayfayre, before the shutdown, before the gentrification, (before the toffs and the hooray henrys moved in) it was a kind of Top Secret that could have been guessed by anyone with a Wikipedia and a bit of common sense. So we were a little surprised to see even more of the Metropolitan Police Players already there, and we were touched at their promptness, and their keenness to play the roles we had allocated them. A maypole rose from the cobbles, a bale of hay magically appeared, the bicycle powered sound systems burst into life (playing a mixture of authentic 18th century ditties and some timeless rave classics), free food, both skipped and home-made was handed out to all (though the police were very ungracious, declining all offers of snacks); people started dancing, laughing, loving and letting themselves go, and before we knew it, the Mayfayre was Back!
Despite our desire to represent the timeless struggle between state and the common person’s freedom with historical accuracy, we also wanted to justify our right to be politically on the streets without getting arrested. So for defence, we looked to Commander Bob Broadhurst's comments regarding the repression of pro-Tibet protestors at the recent demonstrations against the passage of the Beijing Olympic torch:
Celebration was indeed in the air; all sorts of cheerful trouble-makers, young and old, were dancing merrily on the paving stones and around the maypole.
Our first authentic entertainment came as we erected some very fine stocks, complete with masks of some of the baddies of our time, including, naturally, Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson. Seeing as this Mayday was the last day of (relative) calm before the great tragedy of the election of Bo-Jo, we only wish he could have been there in the stocks in person. Sadly modern life provides us with very few opportunities to throw wet sponges, squashed tomatoes, or any other missiles at these people, so the mayday revellers lustily enjoyed expressing just how much we respect them and their decisions.
Our historical re-enactment continued with a revival of the fine tradition of the Mummers play, which the 2008 Mayday Mummers performed with gusto after a brief and refreshing rain shower. It involved all kinds of high-jinks and high drama; we laughed, we cried, and were enthralled as we watched the FatCat slain and his riches distributed to all, and the May Queen freed from her bonds to skip merrily through the land, spreading delight and sequins wherever she did tread.
Another ye olde Mayfayre tradition was mock-marriage ceremonies, where couples could informally attach themselves to each other without knowledge or approval of the State, enabling them to frolic in the hay together without enduring moral obligations. Liking the sound of this in some ways, but not being fans of institutions or the constrictions and expectations of state-defined relationships, we held a free-for-all Mayday marriage, where all present and interested were bound together for one day only, for the combined and noble purposes of fertility, freedom, and street-dancing; to celebrate the love, excitement and general friskiness bursting from every one of us.
Throughout all these diversions, the Metropolitan Police Players were standing guard. Although they lined the streets around the square, revellers were passing freely in and out of the party, which seemed to have been enabled as a drinking enclave within the No-Alcohol zone of the rest of the Mayfair. Naturally we had not asked permission previously. The police seemed a bit left out, although some were tapping their feet and enjoying the view.
Mysteriously, after hours of fun and games, they still had yet to unfurl their plans for Act 2, the Great Shutdown. The Space Hijackers and friends had definitely played their part – Shepherd market was full of totally non-authorised hay, music, dancing and debauchery, and as the day turned over to the evening, and it’s usual inhabitants, rich estate agents and city boys came out for a glass of chardonnay, they were left at the edges, marvelling and stunned at this explosion of wenches, peasants, jesters and anarchists.
The police, no doubt baffled and wrong-footed by our cunning inclusion of their repression within the advertised plan, did not – nay, could not - try to stop us. Indeed, one of the officers informed us - ‘We have been expressly ordered not to shut your party down.’– Thus robbed of their purpose by our second-guessing, they left the party before we did, having neither our stamina nor our dedication to the cause. So we were left in the newly re-crowned Mayfayre, high, happy, perhaps slightly tipsy, and inspired to carry on keeping Mayday on the streets where it belongs. Until next year...Big 18th century thank-ye’s to everyone who came - you were all marvellous.