It’s May

I had planned this issue to go out last Sunday before I went off to Beijing. I had even started two paragraphs on a subject inspired by Harry, on the panopticon theory. It didn’t work out. I made my second attempt on First of May, or May Day, or Labour Day, or whatever you may call it. Again, it didn’t work out. On both occasions, I decided to go walking. I had put on some weight recently and at my last medical check, the doctor suggested I shed 15 pounds. I was tempted to say to him on the spot that I carried Hong Kong Dollars and did not have any British pounds on me.

I met District Secretary Ronald Ho last night at Kingspark’s Eighth Anniversary Ball. He assured me that he had read all my letters, now that he had more time on his hand. He went on to ask whether I had decided to stop this series now that I had started to editorialize for the Web Version of Kingspark News. That was probably Ronald’s subtle reminder that I had not written for a while. It just goes to show that it takes a lot more discipline to be a serial writer.

I actually woke up on the First of May with the tune in my head by the name popularized by the Bee Gees. It was over 30 years ago. That is a lovely song. Oldies always bring back memories. One of these days, we would all be living in memories, either of events or of people, and of experiences, theirs and ours.

The night before, I came back from Beijing and was greeted at the airport with a flat tyre. It was a long time since I changed tyres and I certainly had not done it on this car. I called a few friends and the colleagues who were with me also called theirs, for ideas. We came up with a few and decided to hire the garage nearest to the airport recommended by the car park attendant. As I had suspected, the spare was also flat, for it had never been used for as long as I had this car. The rescue operation took a while, but was thorough. We actually went to the garage where the mechanics checked and repaired both tyres, the punctured one and the spare. By the time I got home, after first taking my colleagues to theirs, it was past midnight. It was already May Day. I wonder why the distress signal from a ship or plane is called mayday, and I wonder whether that applies to distress signals for cars.

Back to the first day of May, the day is now principally observed as Labour Day and a day for workers. It used to be observed though as a spring festival to promote the fertility of all things living or growing and on which man’s life depended. May Day rituals could be violent, barbaric and even murderous in the past. Labour Day as we now know was declared in 1889 at the International Workers’ Congress held in Paris and organized by French socialists. It was decided at the Congress that the day was to be set aside for a workers’ festival in all countries.

Not many people may register that the day was actually chosen by the chimney-sweepers of London for their festival which featured a chimney-sweepers procession. They put on exciting dresses, very often decorated with gilt paper and other exotic and mock fineries. They had their shovels and brushes in their hands, which they rattled one on the other thereby making music to which they danced and jumped about. Some larger and more serious processions included a fiddler, a clown, and a Lord and a Lady of the May who would follow the fiddler with great stateliness and dance as the occasion required.

The British are always good at pageantry and processions and I have witnessed quite a few, as I am sure most of you also have. One of the earliest ones was the procession marking the Queen being crowned. My siblings and I were in a crowd of cheering students with flags watching some ceremony and we were all given a rather pretty souvenir afterwards. It was a plastic cup fitted into a metal holder shaped like a crown and complete with a handle, The plastic cups came in a number of bright colours and I remember we had a set of blue, red, green, white and possibly some others. We kept the cups for a long while as collector items. They were probably lost in a house moving.

The Queen’s 50th anniversary on the throne has therefore brought back old memories, albeit somewhat blurred with time. In her speech to both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, the Queen spoke of the changing times of the past 50 years, of the breadth and accelerating pace of change over these years. “Change has become a constant; managing it has become an expanding discipline,” the Queen said. She went on to speak of the enduring British traditions and values which had stood the test of time and for which she took great pride – moderation, openness, tolerance, service.

Fifty years is indeed not a short period and most people would not live twice the length, though modern health care workers and actuaries have kept threatening us that most of us can reasonably expect to live to 128 years’ old. I am not sure about that and I do not think the Treasury would look forward to paying my pensions for that long.

But closer to home, Rotary is moving towards 100 years’ old and there has been a lot of discussion, certainly at the international level, to keep Rotary relevant in the community which we profess to serve. Look around us in the District and ask how relevant our club and our district are to Hong Kong, to Macau and to Mongolia. Until and unless we are prepared to deal with these fundamental questions, we would just be any other collection of individuals more interested in maintaining the status quo than in making or initiating progress in the world and in humanity. As a start, let each club get on with finding a centennial project, and make it a meaningful one. And let us do so with moderation, openness, and tolerance and of course in the name of service.

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