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,
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,
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 sport of Donkey Jousting has taken place under the walls of Caernarvon Castle in North-West Wales since 1300 when King Edward I was building the castle that’s seen today by thousands of visitors. The original jousters were Welsh soldiers who were trying to tempt the English knights into a skirmish. As all horses had been commandeered by the English the jousters had to use donkeys instead and this just drew ribald comments from the knights who found the whole scene comical. To compound matters, the Welsh had to use willow branches instead of lances.
Realising that the English weren’t going to be tempted into a fight, the local Welsh people decided to enjoy themselves. To further parody the English knights the Welsh jousters dressed up in highly coloured garments and decorated their donkeys with rags and flowers. Some of the animals spent more time trying to eat the flowers than trotting around the jousting ‘field’ specially created for the occasion.
The tournament was run on a round robin basis where each jouster took on every other opponent over the best of three jousts. A point was scored if the willow branch touched either the shield or the armour of their opponent.
The biggest problem that riders had was making their donkey gallop at any speed; most donkeys trotted at best and often decided to nuzzle the opposing animal rather than running by. This led to the jousters hitting their opponents many times rather than just once, so quite often the counting judges had a problem counting the blows each had scored. Quite often one donkey would chase another donkey out of the field and in this instance both riders would be disqualified for failing to control their animals.
The biggest event of the sports calendar in Revelstoke is the Snowshoe Snowball Contest held on Valentine’s Day since 1872. This event combines the stamina required to snowshoe 10 kilometers over hilly terrain with the accuracy of a marksman. During the snowshoe, the participants have to knock over 10 bottles of Kootenay beer with 10 snowballs that they make themselves.
The snowballing takes place at 2 kilometer intervals. After 2 kilometers the bottles are 10 meters away from the thrower and the distance increases by 5 meters at every throwing station until the bottles at the finale are 30 meters away. Any bottles of beer that aren’t knocked over by the contestant must instead be drunk. For this reason registered alcoholics aren’t allowed to enter the contest.
This event produces lots of interest and crowd participation. Snowshoers must not throw snowballs at each other at any time otherwise they will be disqualified. Any contestant “taking a rest” face down in the snow for more than a minute is also disqualified.
The event started when fur trappers hunted in the backwoods and walked miles each day in pursuit of the animals. In the evening the trappers drank lots of alcohol to rehydrate themselves.
The next oldest race is the Greyhound Race that dates from 1621. Here the artificial hare is chased around three laps of the track by greyhounds dressed in monk’s costumes. The hare wears a Papal Crown and carries a Papal Staff. Again this is a toned-down version of the original where a real hare, wearing a mitre, was hunted to death by greyhounds. Nowadays, the winning greyhound and owner receive a kennel for the dog that is modelled on the Pope’s Palace at Avignon. A greyhound named Luther has won the race the most times with seven wins in the period 1898 – 1905.
Dating from 1645 the oldest athletics event is the Papal shot-put where contestants have to land their throws in a Papal mitre that is placed 15 meters and 17 centimeters from the rim of the shot-put circle. Each contestant is allowed six attempts at this accuracy contest and the winner is the person who lands their put in the hat the most times. Hugo Benjamin Draxler won the event thirteen times between 1794 and 1831. Draxler has been an important figure in the Games as he also lobbied the organizers to introduce a spear throwing contest where the aim and the rules were literally the same as those of the shot-put contest. After the success of the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris both a discus and a hammer contest were introduced in 1925 with the Papal Mitre situated 60 meters and 68 centimeters from the throwing circle. No one has ever won the Discus event and the Hammer event has been won just once in 1958 by the Soviet Anatoli Timofftichuk.
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 Skipping Games take place in Skipton on the last Saturday of September. As the name suggests all the events require the contestant to skip rope during the race. The rope must be in use at all times and can never be carried otherwise the contestant will be disqualified.
The Skipping Games began in 1894 when one of the local worm-charmers, Agnes Smith, devised a technique for bringing worms to the surface of her fields by dancing on the spot using a skipping rope to keep a steady beat on the ground with her feet. This was quite a tiring exercise and she used to train by running around the field, skipping as she went. Her two sisters, Anne and Bronwen, used to try to keep up with her and soon a competitive edge was introduced when their father, Herbert, declared that the fastest sister over a 100-yard race would win a pint of best Yorkshire bitter. Anne won the race in 13.6 seconds and that night downed the prize in one go. Her father also had a few pints to drink and by the end of the evening had challenged all comers to a racing contest in his top field the following weekend.
The Tandem Tour in Hungary is the world’s only organized sporting event for cyclists on the same bike. The first event took place on May 10th, 1957 to commemorate 6 months since the forces of the Soviet Union brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising. The idea is to show that although the socialist ideals of helping each other are perfectly embodied on a tandem you also need freedom to enjoy that socialist ideal. What better freedom could there be than riding to the four corners of Hungary in a two-week long race that tests teams’ endurance to the limit.
In the 1957 all the teams were from Eastern Bloc countries apart from the Soviet Union – all the entries from teams in that country mysteriously disappeared due to an administrative oversight, which kept repeating itself until 1990.
The tour starts in western Hungary at Sopron with a short time trial to Gyor. The next stage is to the town of Balatonfured. This is just a warm-up for the hardest day of the tour – a double circumnavigation of Lake Balaton including sixteen separate sprints where time bonuses can be won.
Stage four takes the riders to Esztergom on the Danube Bend before they head into the Matra Hills for three days of riding between Salgotarjan, Ozd, and Eger. Next it’s into the Hortobagy National Park and a series of time trials between Miskolc, Tokaj, Nyiregyhaza, Mariapocs, and Debrecen.
The penultimate day’s ride takes the teams across The Great Plain to Szolnok via Bekescsaba. The last day’s riding takes the tour to Budapest for the finish in front of the Houses of Parliament by the River Danube.
The unique feature of the Tour of the Tandem is that both professional and amateur teams take part in the same race. Time trials are always organized so that the fastest teams go first thus reducing the chances of accidents. On the race around Lake Balaton the road is always wide enough for the faster teams to lap the slower ones.
There is also a prize for the unlikeliest bike to have completed the race. This is usually either a specially altered Penny-farthing bicycle or an extended mountain bike with smaller wheels.