The ex ex­pat

Kate Birch dis­cov­ers that on week­ends Brits re­lax their stiff up­per lips to take part in some bizarre sports.

Friday - - Contents -

I’m off to the Bri­tish Pooh Sticks World Cham­pi­onships this weekend. For the unini­ti­ated, Pooh Sticks is a game in­vented by English au­thor AA Milne for his son Christo­pher Robin, which sub­se­quently fea­tured in the Win­nie-the-Pooh books.

To cut a long sport story short, you stand on the up­stream side of a bridge and, along with other play­ers, drop your stick into the wa­ter. The first stick to cross the fin­ish line (the other side of the bridge) wins.

OK, I know it’s sim­ple – silly even. But be­fore you pooh pooh this sport (yes, it is a sport), you should know that the prac­tice of pooh sticks re­quires skill.

Or at least that’s what I keep telling my­self as I stand on a bridge re­peat­edly drop­ping sticks, jus­ti­fy­ing my rea­sons for tak­ing part in what is quite clearly a point­less prac­tice, a crazy con­test, a weird world cham­pi­onship.

But as silly as it sounds, this is not some one-off event at­tended by a madas-a-fruit­cake few. Not only is the Pooh Sticks Cham­pi­onships in its 30th year and at­tended by some 1,500 peo­ple an­nu­ally, but it keeps crazy com­pany.

Pretty much ev­ery weekend in the UK, you will find a bunch of Brits – seem­ingly sane, sen­si­ble, suc­cess­ful peo­ple – stand­ing in a damp field or on top of a hill, par­tic­i­pat­ing in, or just watch­ing, an ec­cen­tric sport­ing event. The event is usu­ally pretty point­less, though al­ways com­pet­i­tive, with a bit of bru­tal­ity, a dash of dirt and of­ten an ou­tra­geous out­fit thrown in some­where for good mea­sure.

Yes, the Brits may be con­ser­va­tive and con­ven­tional dur­ing the week, but at the weekend, they re­lax their stiff up­per lips and go potty… push­ing beds, climb­ing greasy poles and pad­dling gi­ant York­shire pud­dings across lakes, hop­ing to se­cure not just a tro­phy and a ti­tle, but a legacy: their name in

as the World’s Great­est Tin Bath Racer/Wife Car­rier/ Toe Wrestler.

And while the Bri­tish cer­tainly have a pas­sion for throw­ing things (sticks, boots, clogs, eggs, peas, cus­tard pies) they also re­joice in chas­ing things down hills (think hard-boiled eggs and or­anges) and car­ry­ing things (namely bags of coal, sacks of wool and women) while rac­ing.

In fact, the Bri­tish sim­ply love to race – with prams, with beds, with lawn­mow­ers – and to pit them­selves against, not just man, but beast, ma­chine and na­ture.

You can com­pete against a horse in the 22-mile Man Ver­sus Horse Race; against a train in the Race The Train race; and against na­ture in the Net­tle Eat­ing Cham­pi­onships, where only the very brave, or brain­less, are tasked with con­sum­ing as many of th­ese per­ilous plants as they can. Yes, dan­ger lurks on ev­ery leaf, with con­tes­tants

At the weekend, the Brits re­lax their stiff up­per lips and go potty

sus­tain­ing ev­ery­thing from swollen lips to tem­po­rary fa­cial paral­y­sis.

Though that’s noth­ing com­pared to the in­juries sus­tained at Blighty’s most fa­mous – so fa­mous, there’s a book and iPhone app ded­i­cated to it – al­ter­na­tive sport­ing event, Cheese Rolling.

Bruises, bumps and bro­ken bones are this event’s take­away tro­phies af­ter com­peti­tors hurl them­selves down a 200m-high (and very steep) hill to pur­sue a 4kg Dou­ble Glouces­ter cheese trav­el­ling at 70kph.

And just in case you were in any doubt as to how much the Bri­tish re­ally take plea­sure in the mis­for­tune of oth­ers, an in­cred­i­ble 40,000 peo­ple turn out ev­ery year to watch the cheese chasers break their backs. But th­ese off-the-wall af­fairs aren’t just cater­ing to the bark­ing-mad Brits.

Hope­fuls hail from as far afield as Fin­land, Ja­pan, Amer­i­can, Aus­tralia and South Africa – two of the win­ners from this year’s cheese-rolling con­test were an Amer­i­can and a Ja­panese – all com­pet­ing for a slice of the crazy con­test ac­tion.

It’s not just dan­ger draw­ing con­tes­tants and crowds from far and wide. It’s also dirt. In fact, the dirt­ier the day out, the bet­ter, as the World Gravy Cham­pi­onships proves – at this event the fire brigade are called in to hose peo­ple down.

It has noth­ing on the Bog Snorkelling Cham­pi­onships though. An­cient veg­e­ta­tion meets acidic wa­ter in a 115m-long peat bog, which flip­per and mask-armed com­bat­ants must nav­i­gate, some while dressed in Vik­ing, pi­rate or other com­edy out­fits.

From Bo­rat bathing at­tire at the Bri­tish Belly­board­ing Cham­pi­onships, to top hats at the Cotswold Olimpick Games, where the an­cient prac­tice of shin-kick­ing reigns supreme, daft dress­ing-up is part of the prac­tice.

But while Brits do what they love do­ing best – that’s laugh­ing at them­selves and at oth­ers do­ing silly stuff – com­peti­tors and or­gan­is­ers take it all very se­ri­ously.

There are, for ex­am­ple, no fewer than 18 rules gov­ern­ing the World Worm Charm­ing Cham­pi­onships in Cheshire, in which com­peti­tors use a va­ri­ety of means – from wa­ter­ing the earth with tea, to prod­ding it with a fork – to lure worms to the sur­face.

So hav­ing em­braced Bri­tain’s crazed com­pet­i­tive cul­ture, my sight is now set on sports that are dirt­ier, dafter and more dan­ger­ous than our politi­cians. For­get run­ning with bulls in Pam­plona, the next big item on your bucket list could well be sewer skat­ing in Scot­land. Now, there’s an idea…

Over­worked, over­whelmed and over there... long-term Dubai ex­pat Kate Birch misses

her maid, strug­gles with small talk and is des­per­ate for some­one

to pack her shop­ping

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