THE QUIRKY DOZEN
Barry Oliver presents a 2008 calendar of odd events, from toe wrestling to tomato fights
JANUARY Brisbane WILL Lord of the Drains emerge victorious? Will Osama Bin Liner rule again? What better way to celebrate Australia Day on January 26 than cockroach racing? Brisbane’s Story Bridge Hotel has been hosting the world championships for 26 years. BYO bug or you can buy one at the venue (‘‘We do all the necessary training,’’ says hotel owner Richard Deery.) The event — 14 races, including steeplechases, each with at least 20 contestants — attracts thousands of spectators. Last year almost $10,000 for the Mater Children’s Hospital was raised. www.storybridgehotel.com.au. FEBRUARY Brazil CARNIVAL in Rio de Janeiro is recognised as the daddy of all festivals. Brazilians know how to party with style and more than 500,000 foreign visitors also pour in to join this wild four-day samba celebration. It begins with the crowning of the Fat King, who is presented with a giant silver and gold key by the city mayor. Then it’s on with parades, parties and fun, fun, fun in the streets and squares, bars, clubs and cafes. Best of all, it’s free. This year the action starts on February 2. www.rio-carnival.net. MARCH Japan CHERRY blossom time is celebrated across Japan with hanami parties under the blooming trees. There are dozens of cherry varieties, most of which flower for just a couple of days in spring. In some places the blossoms are lit up in the evening. Hanami can just mean a stroll in the park but it traditionally involves a picnic. Famous viewing areas can get crowded and the best spots are highly contested (think: Sydney’s Opera in the Park). Typical tactics are to spread a picnic blanket early in the morning and either mark it with a name and start time or have someone stand guard until the rest of the group arrives. Viewing times can vary from January to the end of April according to the area and season. www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html. APRIL Thailand A SOAKING is guaranteed for visitors during the Songkran Water Festival from April 13 to 15. Hoses, buckets, super soakers and garbage bins are the favoured weapons of water warriors intent on drenching anyone within cooee. The festivities started centuries ago in a more restrained manner, with water sprinkled from bowls. It has developed into an all-out water war, though most people apparently take it in the right spirit. It’s Thailand’s hottest month, so a cooling is usually welcome. www.thailand.net.au. MAY England COOPER’S Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake takes place in Gloucester on the last Monday in May, a public holiday in Britain. Dozens of competitors race down a one-in-two gradient in pursuit of a 4kg double Gloucester cheese. It’s a dangerous business: in 2004, 21 runners were injured. There are five downhill races — one for women— and some uphill ones too (don’t ask). The winner gets to keep the cheese. The wake, if you wondered, takes place in the pub afterwards. www.cheese-rolling.co.uk. JUNE England IT’S a shock to learn toe wrestling was rejected as an Olympic sport but comforting to know it’s still alive and well at Wetton in Derbyshire, where a pub hosts the world championships on June 22 every year. Two contestants sit at the so-called toedium, lock their big toes together and attempt to force their opponent’s foot to the ground. Previous champs have claimed the toeminator title. Proceeds go to charity. www.visitbritain.com.au. JULY Spain PAMPLONA’S traditional seven-day running of the bulls makes headlines each year, usually through people being trampled or gored as they accompany the animals through the narrow cobbled streets to the bull ring. It’s a frantic two-minute 875m dash that often ends in tears: injuries to the buttocks are common. Thousands of visitors flood into the town for the seven-day fiesta, which runs from July 7 to 14. www.spain.info. AUGUST Spain IT’S one of the world’s biggest food fights. On August 27 each year, the streets of Bunyol are the battleground for the festival of La Tomatina. Trucks dump 40,000kg of tomatoes in the main square for residents and visitors to pelt at each other. The fun begins at 11am with the launching of five tomato-packed rockets. Then, for the next two hours, it’s one huge tomato fight (it’s etiquette to squash them before throwing). Then everyone washes and changes, the streets are hosed and La Tomatina continues with wine, music and feasting. Tomatoes, presumably, are off the menu. www.latomatina.org. SEPTEMBER Germany BEER festivals don’t come any bigger than Munich’s 16-day Oktoberfest, where there’s more lederhosen than you could poke a stick at. Last year 6.2 million people dropped in, consuming 6.7 million one-litre tankards of beer, called Ma, along with 104 oxen and an unthinkable amount of sausage and sauerkraut. September 20 is the start date for this year’s celebration, the 175th. Proceedings always start with a keg of Oktoberfest beer, specially brewed for the occasion, tapped by the mayor of Munich. Local breweries serve the beer in a bierzelt , a beer tent that holds thousands of happy drinkers. www.oktoberfest.de. OCTOBER Canada ROCK, paper, scissors might never make the Olympics but it’s a serious business in Toronto, which hosts the world championships each October. Contestants from as far afield as Scotland, Germany and Australia head for the city to compete for about $10,000 in prize money. An American took the title for the first time last year when Andrea Farina of Syracuse, New York, defeated David Arnold of Washington, DC. www.rpschamps.com. NOVEMBER India THE Pushkar Camel Fair draws buyers and sellers from across northwest India as well as thousands of curious onlookers. Dazzling costumes and lavish jewellery make this annual event a photographer’s dream. Pushkar’s population swells from 14,000 to about 200,000 during the festival, where donkeys, cattle and horses are also traded along with about 50,000 camels that are decorated, shaved and raced. The spectacle lasts for a week (November 7-13 this year). www.pushkar-camel-fair.com. DECEMBER Scotland THE Scots are acknowledged experts when it comes to celebrating the arrival of another year. They even have their own name for this time. Hogmanay celebrations start on December 29 and continue to January 2, a public holiday. About 100,000 people joined the massive street party in Edinburgh last year with live music on three stages, fireworks, including a giant bonfire where a Viking longboat was burned, and a torchlight procession. A mass swim in the Firth of Forth on January 1 is a guaranteed hangover cure. There are also dog sled races, a bicycle triathlon and downhill fun run. www.edinburghshogmanay.org.
Trading places: A face in the crowd at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan where up to 50,000 camels and cattle are bought and sold
Cut and run: Cockroach racing at Story Bridge Hotel