Once the turtle is observed by The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor using a spyglass, the Royal Net Bearer apprehends the creature in a special Turtle net that’s over two hundred years old. Once clear of the water, the turtle in the net is raised to shoulder height. Using a 500-year old hose made from Staffordshire Boar hide, the Master of the Hose sprays the creature for “one round of ye reel,” which is danced by the Royal Turtle Surveyor and The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor. The Royal Water Bagpiper accompanies the dance.
Once the reel is complete, the rinsed turtle is returned to the water. In the past, the turtle was observed swimming vigorously for the open sea; however in recent years they have mainly hung around HMS Belfast waiting for tourists to drop food to them.
The biggest scandal, even surpassing the Jackson affair, was the Biggs Jackdaw Scandal of 1891. Thomas Biggs thought that he could win by training his pet jackdaw, Reuben, to jump around in the tree above his head and so either loosen the tree fruit or throw them to Biggs when he was on his own under the tree. This worked for the first three days until a judge saw the jackdaw throw a conker to Biggs as he leaned against the trunk of the tree. Both Biggs and Reuben were forbidden to take part in the festival for the rest of recorded time. Biggs never recovered from the ignominy of his ban and died in solitude in Gloucester in 1912. However, Reuben made a living by starring in his own dart throwing show at local fairs.
The Acorn and Conker catching contest has an interesting rule whereby if no acorn or conker has fallen for an hour then the chief counting judge shouts “release the squirrels”. The Squirrel Containment Officer then releases five squirrels into the tree. The idea is that the activity of the squirrels ensures that some tree fruit are disturbed and fall towards the ground. These squirrels are kept in a cage during the contest and released back into the wild once it’s over.
There have been some accidents largely when people charge into each other when trying to catch the same tree fruit. Others have suffered eye injuries when misjudging the velocity of a falling conker, especially from the Cripple Horse Chestnut which is over 200 feet high. As recently as 2007, a competitor had to be rushed to hospital after swallowing a conker that had deflected from another contestant’s head. This is why the Health and Safety Executive encourages participants to wear facial masks at all times as well as knee and elbow pads.
Roger Silas best summed up the spirit of the festival when he said “Ye conteste had made me loiffe compleeet and Oive started many friendships under them trres, which have lasted a loifetime.”
When hunting a duck it’s a real advantage to be able to sound like a duck rather than a human being carrying a gun. This advantage will allow you to get closer to the bird before giving it both barrels with your shotgun.
This was the rationale behind the duck imitators of Cirencester, who held contests in the 14th and 15th centuries to select who the best duck impersonator. As time progressed the impersonations became more important than the shooting as personal pride became involved at the expense of blood lust.
Eventually, interest in imitating other animals began to grow; not only ducks could be heard in the pub but also cows, horses, cats, and badgers. This was disconcerting to the other customers and also convinced the local squire Rupert de Courtney the people of Cirencester had an unparalleled gift for duck imitation that wasn’t being channelled in the right direction. In 1726 he decided to hold a contest, open to all, to decide who could best imitate a duck.
De Courtney decided to hold the contest on October 4th, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi who is the patron saint of animals. The contest attracted people from across the Cotswolds. There were 132 entrants and lots were drawn to decide the order of the participants. De Courtney had decided that the best judge of whether the duck impersonations were accurate would be a real duck.
It just so happened that a local family had adopted a duck called Jessica. She was placed on a table in her own nest and her reactions to each impersonator were watched closely – the more interested in the impersonator Jessica became the more marks were awarded by the human observers.
I have always tried to see the funny side of life, hence the stories in the book – The Rhetorical Musketeers and other stories. I have often tried to redefine what certain words mean and it can be fun to play with their meanings. I have often wondered whether Shakespeare ever received a rejection from anyone and so I thought I would write my own. When The Bible was read to me at school I did wonder where the ‘cross-eyed bear’ had come from and where the other bear had gone, given that the animals went on to Noah’s ark two-by-two.
Here is an excerpt from a spoof obituary of a WWII fighter pilot
Topper Smythe is most famous as a fearless fighter pilot during World War II racking up more kills than any other Canadian, if you count his allied victims too. Some of his feats are legendary, such as his incredible individual raid on the Focke-Wulf plant at Bremerhaven, while the rest of the air force attacked the actual plant in Bremen. “All Jerries look the same from that height,” was his memorable explanation of this incident.
On that day, he still found time to shoot down 8 Messerschmitts, 7 Dorniers, and a Flying Fortress in what was one of the earliest examples of a friendly fire incident. Topper was an extremely daring pilot, once flying just 2 feet away from a railway engine and trying to shoot the driver with his revolver, having expended all his ammunition over Holland. The Great Western Railway in England complained and Topper was officially warned as to his future conduct, though privately the Canadian military judge agreed that Topper had done the right thing – the driver wasn’t a hockey fan.
Topper’s speed of reaction was sensational, though it had to be as he was a very fast driver, as Victor “Chalky” Black, a fellow pilot remembers: “Topper sped everywhere and he used to give me a lift to the airfield from our lodgings – on one memorable day the siren went off and we raced to the field – accidentally running over six peasants on our way – and blow me, if after shooting down 12 jerries, we hit those same people on the way back after the dogfight – isn’t that a coincidence? The peasants were cheery about their fate, they grimaced and waved a V for Victory at us, it was wartime after all and the Dunkirk spirit still prevailed. After driving with Topper, stepping into the plane and fighting the Germans was a relaxing experience”.
As Freddie became older I thought he needed to do more exercise particularly as he had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. We needed to try every possible way to reduce his blood sugar to levels where he didn’t need two injections of insulin per day. I decided that I should try and take him for a walk around the garden and along the back alleys of the neighbourhood.
I tried a lead normally used for a dog, but this didn’t work as Freddie just sat down on the ground and invited me to pull him along, which I didn’t want to do as he could have been easily hurt. I decided something more sophisticated was required, so I went to a specialist pet store and sought their advice. They provided me with a proper harness with three loops and two areas of leather that would provide comfort for his back and chest. I went home and thought I would try the harness straightaway.
Freddie always enjoyed any attention, so putting the harness was quite straightforward. He was purring as I placed each of his front paws through separate loops and his head through the third loop. One of the pieces of leather fitted comfortably against his chest and the other one on his back, so he looked like he was wearing a saddle. Freddie then realised he felt trapped and started to roll around on the carpet, but he couldn’t get out of the harness.
I pulled on the lead and dragged Freddie across the carpet. He started to yowl. I stood him up and he immediately sat down. I stood him up again and pulled the lead so that he couldn’t fall down again. He swiped the lead with his paw and tried to bite it. He did walk a few paces and then sat down again. I picked him up and carried him down to the lawn, which would be a softer place to start practising taking Freddie for a walk.
I placed Freddie on the ground and pulled the lead. He stood up and miaowed and walked a step before sitting down on the ground. I pulled the lead and he stood up and took two paces. He then shook his head. He raised his left front paw and shook it. He placed this paw on the ground and then raised his right front paw and shook it. He then miaowed and raised his back before diving down on to the grass.
He miaowed a couple of times and then in a blur of movement he divested himself of the harness and left it lying on the ground. He took a couple of shortish jumps and then miaowed whilst looking directly at me as if to say “And in one bound he was free.”
In the UK there are many contests involving the humble biscuit, ranging from building competitions to throwing events. However, in Barnsley the biscuits are just rolled for fun, so that in the words of the original organizer Rufus Moxon, “the biscuit is conserved in its entirety and can still be consumed – what’s the point of breaking a perfectly good biscuit just for fun – what a waste of money that would be.”
The contest was started in 1934 and has been going strong since then, even during the time of Margaret Thatcher. The contest takes place on the day of the first full moon after the sixth Sunday after Len Hutton’s birthday on June 23rd.
There are many different skills contests. The oldest is the rolling the biscuit through the cricket stumps competition, which takes place at the cricket club. Competitors stand in one popping crease and have to roll their biscuit down the pitch and make sure it passes between the stumps at the other end – each person has three biscuits and whoever succeeds in bisecting the stumps is through to the next round. Wilfrid Hirst has won this contest five times – his advice is as follows: “it’s just like bowls – same delivery, same pace, except it’s a biscuit you’re bowling so you have to have more of a follow through – and don’t bounce the thing as it will disintegrate on the pitch.” Contestants aren’t allowed to replace broken biscuits, which means that people who employ a “bouncing bomb” technique have never won the contest.