May Day

It’s the Early May Bank Holiday in Scotland today. Ian Wiki confirms that May Day is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival.

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the Floralia, festival of Flora.

Flora: the Roman goddess of partially hydrogenated sunflower oil-based spread

In explaining the origins of May Day, Ian comes up with all sort of specifics, but kind of slides over the idea that – as Longsufferingreaderoftheblogpaul wrote in a comment to a particularly off-the-wall post – time is social. Harvests. Day and night. Diurnal clocks. Biorhythms and cycles. All that mushy wetware bio stuff I never learned but is real.

Cornwall in England definitely gets into that side of things:

[On May Day,] Padstow holds its annual Hobby Horse day of festivities, believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK.

“What a stupid way to die.”






That’s the setting for Theatre Damfino’s powerful Mayday Mayday, which Mrs Stroke Bloke and I went to see about six months after my stroke. Meanwhile, up here in Edinburgh, the citizens take part in the Beltane Fire Festival.

An older Edinburgh tradition has it that young women who climb Arthur’s Seat on May Day and wash their faces in the morning dew will have lifelong beauty. Which I guess means it won’t work for 42-year-old male stroke survivors.

The unions campaign for an 8hr day in the lead-up to the Haymarket Riots

May 1 was also chosen by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International as the date for International Workers Day, to commemorate the Haymarket Riot and the ensuing events of 1886 in Chicago.

Back in Scotland, May 1 was the day selected by Scotland’s Gardens and Charles Jencks, the American architecture theorist and critic, landscape architect and designer, and Scotland’s Gardens, for this year’s day of public admittance to The Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Jencks’ home near Dumfries. Mrs Stroke Bloke and I went along.

Long-suffering readers may recall my affinity for Tom Stoppard’s play of “order, chaos, and landscape gardening” – Arcadia – which blew my mind at the age of 19.

Charles Jencks’ personal statement on his work, set forth on his website, brought the fascination of that time back to mind.

[The] cosmic setting provides the narrative for my content-driven work, the writing and design. I explore metaphors that underlie both growing nature and the laws of nature, parallels that root us personally in the cosmos as firmly as a plant, even while our mind escapes this home.

And even among the crowds on a sporadically rainy Scottish May 1, the garden was a setting for contemplation, particularly when one would enter a quiet, secluded nook.

“Take a left at the Fractal Bridge, along the Quark Walk, to the Universe Cascade…”

Thinking of Arcadia and The Gardens of Cosmic Speculation, I wondered – without regret – what life would have looked like if youthful decisions hadn’t led me to a decade-long dalliance with The Law. Very much in the way that the vastness of Jencks’ garden opened up a world of possibilities for exploration before each choice I made funneled me finally back to the Teal Mobile.

With the approaching technological singularity, and the probable decoupling of production and income, I wondered about a world in which we might all be provided with a universal income, and I would be freed to devote myself to the study of landscape architecture and gardening.

Of course, it’s a bit late for that, and I’m probably happier in my new incarnation as an aspiring writer in any event – an opportunity offered by the fact of my stroke itself and the prior career and the support and encouragement of family and good fortune and a series of other choices.

Mrs Stroke Bloke and I have known stroke patients who have been both liberated and appalled by their delinking from their prior jobs and selves, but it’s an interesting thought experiment – and a question worth asking for anyone at any time, and particularly as the singularity approaches. One that it might honour the Haymarket Rioters for us to contemplate:

What would you want to do with the hours you’re not sleeping if the choice was opened anew?

I wouldn’t mind teaching myself how to make electronic music. Here’s Sinister – 1st Mix by the godfather of Detroit Techno, Derrick May. Recording as Mayday, natch.

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2 thoughts on “May Day

  1. Lest you think the singularity is close, be aware that you can’t buy Arcadia as an ebook i the united states. Just sayin…

    1. Well, that’s just a reflection on the convergence of past and present, order and disorder, and certainty and uncertainty, innit?

      The play has been presented as a BBC Radio broadcast. Although it’s not currently available on iPlayer, maybe that’s something a technologically aware person might be able to find…? I remember the 1993 production on Radio 3, starring Rufus Sewell, Felicity Kendall, and Bill Nighy, as being great.

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