Country and Western Singing

The singing of sad songs has been associated with Morecambe in Lancashire for hundreds of years. These dirges were usually sung when someone had been drowned
in the dangerous waters of Morecambe Bay. These songs were sung so frequently that a competition was organized to see who could sing the saddest song of all. This contest
reached its zenith with the ‘Disaster’ of 1812, when a man called Yeoman Parslow sang about the drowning of his wife and children in the Bay when they were trying to take a
shortcut home after blackberry picking. His words were so heartfelt and his emotions so raw that two-thirds of the crowd were saddened to such an extent that they threw themselves into the sea too.

After this happened the contest was banned until 1963, when it was revived under the name the ʻCountry and Western Air Guitar Hoe-Downʼ. The contest is held in the third week of July, but only when the tide is out as a mark of respect to the events of 1812.

The format is quite simple. Every year 20 famous C&W artists are honoured in the contest. From Monday to Saturday two hours are set aside for three artists, whereas only two artists are featured on Sunday, again for two hours. The idea is that during these two hours people can sing one of the featured artist’s songs while playing the air guitar, or sing one of their own songs in the style of that artist. Judges wearing Stetsons and cowboy boots assess each performance – marks are awarded for the accuracy of the
finger work on the air guitar, the accuracy of the impersonation and, where applicable, originality of the contestant’s lyrics.

Few people will forget the poignancy of the following song written by Benny “Wail On” Lee in the style of Waylon Jennings from the Wednesday contest in 1987.

“My dogggeeeeee got run over by the undertaker,
Taking my wife’s body to the morgue,
Ah would have waved her goodbyeeeeeee,
But my arms got pulled off,
In a farm accident,
Last weeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkk,
My grand daddy’s heart broke in two
When the crops failed,
For the fifth straight year,
But despite all these disasters
I still go to church,
Even though I can’t pray now
Because my arms got pulled off
In a farm accident,
Last weeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkk,”

After Benny sang the song a large number of people were in floods of tears and heading towards the pier, but were stopped by the police who sprayed them with nitrous oxide.
Multiple winners at the contest include Roger Donnelly who impersonates Fatboy Slim Whitman, Wendy Berenson who sings the songs of Willy Nelson with a broad Yorkshire
accent and above all Timmy Waites, whose variations of Tammy Wynette’s song D.I.V.O.R.C.E have to be heard to be believed.

In the 1980s his winning efforts included the cunning protest songs
S.C.A.R.G.I.L.L.F.O.R.E.V.E.R and the 17-minute long

The Dracula Race in Sighisoara – Sports the Olympics Forgot

Taken from the book – Sports the Olympics Forgot

The individual time trial starts outside the modern day café where Vlad was born. The contestant must first run to the Clock Tower and climb the stairs to the top taking care not to hit their head on the low doorways. They must then run around the top of the clock tower in an anti-clockwise direction five times. After completing this task they must bite three apples in half before descending to the bottom of the tower. There they have to throw ten cloves of garlic into a bucket situated twenty yards away. Only when they have symbolically got rid of the garlic can they run to the steps leading to the accurately named The Church on the Hill. The contestant runs up the hundred steps, taking care not to trip over the gypsy boy sleeping on the top step, to the church. Outside the entrance the competitor has to knock down five crosses from a distance of 10 yards using some old tennis balls provided especially for the occasion.

After completing this task the contestant runs down the steps and then has to complete 50 sit-ups while lying in a coffin. Then the contestant runs back to the clock tower and ascends to the top where they must run 5 times in a clockwise direction around the top of the tower before biting three more apples in half.

Once this is done they descend to the bottom of the tower and run to the café where they must gulp down a pint of tomato juice. Once this has been done their time is recorded and the next contestant can begin. If a competitor attempts to ingest some tablets to counter acid reflux or to prevent a stomach ache they will be immediately disqualified by the Ingestion Judge who fits false teeth into the person’s mouth which clamps their mouth shut.

The contestant then lies down for exactly 10 minutes in another coffin before beginning the bike race to Bran Castle. The false teeth are removed and the contestant leaves Sighisoara – the time begins when the rider cycles between a pair of whale bones. After 50 kilometres the cyclist must knock down 10 cardboard cutouts of Turkish soldiers using garlic cloves while still mounted on their bike. After a further 50 kilometres the cyclist must dismount and place fifteen turkey meatballs on a barbecue. Once the meat is cooked they must symbolically impale the turkey balls on a three-foot skewer and present the kebab to the Barbecue judge who will check that the meat is cooked. The judge will add a minute to the cyclist’s time for each meatball that isn’t properly cooked or that isn’t impaled correctly on the skewer. The cyclist then rides the last 40km to the castle at Bran and runs to the top of the castle. Here they catch a zip line which flies them over the finish line.


The “She Loves Me, She Loves Me not” Contest – Exmoor – Part 2

Each contestant must bring a ready supply of dandelions that have their seeds showing. There are many rounds. The Shouting Judge shouts a number between 2 and 12 and then the Blowing Judge bids each contestant step forward in turn. This judge then shouts “dandelion be gone” and the contestant has to blow away all the seeds in the number of blows decreed by the Shouting Judge.

If they achieve this, they are through to the next round. This process continues until there is only one person left who wins the Amos Love Cup. There are separate contests for men and women. Only one person has won more than once: Eliza Bradley in 1843 and 1872.

For more British Traditions, see here


The “She Loves Me, She Loves Me not” Contest – Exmoor – Part 1

Fans of Lorna Doone believe that Exmoor is a romantic place and so many of them come with a dandelion and play the “she loves me, she loves me not” game – men blow the dandelion and say “she loves me” and then blow it again and say “she loves me not.” The blowing continues until no seeds are left on the dandelion – then she either loves you or she doesn’t. The same applies for the ladies.

In 1782, Amanda Barron and Elizabeth Bargeman both wanted a certain Amos Edwards to love them, so they stood side by side and played the dandelion game. Sadly, the dandelions showed that neither of them were loved by Amos, which was a relief to his wife and their four children. Thus, a contest was born.


For more British Traditions see here

The Hairy Legs Contest – British Traditions

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

When people were painting the town red in Melton in the 15th Century some of the locals started to compare various parts of their bodies with those of other people. Eventually, the comparisons turned to the hairiness of the legs and it was noticed that a man called George Loveless had ‘ye legs as hairy as that of a horse.’ Loveless proclaimed himself as having the hairiest legs in Leicestershire and defied anyone to be hairier. He challenged all comers to a contest on the fifth Wednesday of Michaelmas on an annual basis – this was 1456 and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the Hairy Legs competition there are a number of different sections to enter. There’s a prize for the longest leg hair, another for the most amount of hair, and yet another for the most artistic shaping of leg hair. There are separate sections for men and women.

The longest leg hair ever measured was 3 feet 4 inches in length and belonged to Gwendoline Jones, a visitor to Melton, who entered the contest while waiting for a stagecoach to Nottingham in 1753. Gwendoline’s legs were otherwise quite bare, but she did admit that this hair was a great source of pride to her and her family. She used to wash the hair in her monthly bath and treat it with sheep’s oil to ensure that it didn’t become brittle.

The men’s record was 2 feet 9 inches grown by Alan Peacock in the 1870s. The hair was used to help keep his left sock up and he admitted to greasing it with pig’s fat every night, which might explain why his wife left him for a pig farmer.

The hairy legs contest has changed with the advent of cosmetic surgery. People have been disqualified in recent years when the judges have discovered that tufts of hair have been grafted on to people’s legs, although this is more difficult to find than the amateurish attempts of Richard Davis in 1982, who, it was discovered, had glued cat hair to his knees. Davis was given a consolation prize of a tin of cat food and asked to pay his fine into the prize kitty.

For the genuine contestants, the judges comb the hair and discover the lushness and thickness of the fur. Contestants with fleas receive extra marks from the judges as this indicates genuine hair. The colour of the hair doesn’t matter so contestants who dye their grey hairs don’t impress the judges. The area the hair covers is also taken into account as is the location of the hair; furry knees, especially around the back, win high marks.

Competitors frequently use bizarre methods to encourage hair growth; Henry Travers, who won for 13 consecutive years from 1823-1835, swore by standing in a cow pat morning and night for 30 minutes – he is quoted as saying that “ye cowe patte contains growth – look how it makees the grasse become lushe.” Travers never married during his life and lived alone in a house without running water.

Matilda Grinstead, who won the women’s hairiest legs competition between 1901 and 1912, believed her success was down to bathing in baked beans every day – she ate the beans afterwards, which may explain why the judges inspected her legs through a telescope whenever possible.

Contestants’ imaginations run riot in the leg hair sculpture competition, which started in the 1900s when sheep shearer Alex Shepley thought he would start shearing his own legs. For years Shepley’s sheep had been the talk of the Midlands, with their immaculately shaped coats in three neatly trimmed lengths. Shepley had started out as a topiarist but was always disappointed that his hedges couldn’t move. He turned to sheep shearing only after a brief flirtation with hedgehogs resulted in him being hospitalized with multiple punctures to his face.

Shepley thought of the leg hair sculpture contest when he was trimming his toe nails one day and thought that he could do the same with hair. Soon he had a hairy representation of Queen Victoria displayed on his left calf. A pork pie was shaved into his right thigh and soon Shepley was the toast of Melton. He displayed himself at the 1901 contest and was surprised to find that he was not alone in his shaving exploits. Respectable ladies had Gladstone and Disraeli shaved on their thighs; polite gentleman had coaxed representations of naked women from their lower legs – one lovelorn footman had the name of his employer represented on his hairy foot using a combination of glue and flour. The leg hair sculpture contest was born.

Animal Gambling – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

Another contest was ‘Attract the mouse,” which was played in the house of Martha Grable. She had a large mousehole in her skirting board. Gamblers placed their pieces of cheese around the hole and then crouched down behind the sofa to wait. The judge ensured that each piece was genuine cheese and hadn’t been doctored by a mouse attractant. The judge also ensured that each piece of cheese was exactly three feet from the hole. The winner was the person whose piece of cheese was first eaten by the mouse. A mouse sniffing at a piece of cheese didn’t count.

The most popular contest was “Guess the spots on the ladybird.” The ladybird judge would catch an insect and ask people to place bets on the number of spots. If the number of spots wasn’t guessed correctly all bets were carried over into the next guess. In 1763, an apparent plague of 10-spotted ladybirds was found to be a hoax perpetrated by Andrew Craig, the local painter, who was banned from all gambling events for 200 years.

Littondale Wall Building – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

In 1842, Jeremiah Spalding built the longest wall in the history of the competition. It stretched 167 yards up the hill and was in a perfectly straight line. However, this wall didn’t win as it was just two feet high and one foot wide – the judges didn’t believe Jeremiah’s excuse that he was a grasshopper breeder.

The competitors mustn’t touch any alcohol during the contest – this was after an unfortunate situation in 1802 when Barry Cockerill consumed too much cider in the summer sun and started to build his wall across the path of the other participants. This lead to a sharp exchange of words and the cancelling of the contest until the following day, so that Cockerill’s wall could be dismantled.