A Look At Life: All's 'Fair'…

18th July 2014

… in Love, War & Welly-Wanging

Heather Harris

I have always secretly fancied my chances at wanging, but success eludes me. Every year I stand at the designated hay bale, welly in hand, with the adjudicator hunched (ball-boy style) optimistically in the distance – only for the large size tens to drop a mere six feet away.

Such public humiliation is, if you’ll forgive me, a ‘fête worse than death’.

The local publican – and village wanging champion – says it’s all in the wrist action. Give me a meringue to whisk into stiff peaks: no problem – but wanging is a twist too far.

This quintessentially British sport, which has oddly failed to make it onto the Rio 2016 short-list – originated in Upperthong in Holmfirth.

Legend has it that it was all down to an argument between two farmers during which a pint of ale was spilled into a bystander’s boot. Drowned up to the ankle, the victim chased the farmers out of the pub and hurled his sodden boot at their heads.

Roll on a few decades and up and down the country – wangers of all age, sex, race, creed, religion nationality and colour (that’s World Welly Wanging Association Rule 1) will be competing to break the current World Record of 36 metres held by Alistair Wilkin from Danby Wiske, near Northallerton.

And the venues will be that final bastion of traditional British life – the village fête (ironically a French word). Interestingly, even in this high tech world of social media – there will definitely be far more than 144 characters across our ‘green and pleasant land’ on the average Saturday afternoon this summer.

At our local event, even my own nocturnal son will put down his ‘mouse’ and go Splat A Rat (think stuffed creature, angled drainpipe and baseball bat) and my daughter is never one to shy away from the chance to win a coconut (hairier but cheaper than her usual conditioner).

Personally, I’m more of a giant vegetable girl. I may not be able to throw rubber but when it comes to home produce, I know my onions. ‘Best in Show’ two years running does, though, open me up to green-eyed stares from our not so green-fingered neighbours… although that’s nothing compared to the tempers that rise faster than the average cheese scone in the Women’s Institute Gazebo where ‘wannabe’ Mary Berrys lock cream horns over the wipe-down tablecloths.

It is estimated that over 7,000 fêtes (or ‘fairs’ as they’re increasingly being called again in our current Eurosceptic age) will be held across England this year.

Arguably, in today’s increasingly self-centred world, there is nothing more refreshing than the sight of a badge-wearing, committee member with a clipboard and a glass of home-made potato and ginger cordial.

Rotas (and queuing) continue to set our nation apart. We may not be world leaders in many things but give us slots to fill and an event to organise and we give other countries a run – and hop, skip and a jump – for their money.

I find it incredible that so many people will still give up their time to sit around a trestle table discussing whether Best Bitch is an appropriate event in the Dog Show and use powers of persuasion that would make the average mobile phone salesman blush to get raffle prizes out of local businesses for the annual celebration of community togetherness.

But without their dedication and efficiency, our schools, church towers and village halls would be seriously lacking in financial support. Even in the pouring rain and the middle of a recession, three hours of welly wanging, beat the goalie, plate smashing, baking and growing – made thousands of pounds clear profit to plough back into our village life.

When it comes to searching for green shoots of economic recovery, perhaps George Osborne should do the 2-3pm slot on the plant stall at his local Village Fair. Cuttings: 50p, bedding plants: two for £1. Bonhomie: priceless.

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