(Versions of this piece were published by the Huffington Post) and on the Indian WeSpeakNews website.
Consequences of failing to catch
I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream about comedian Helen Keen riding at breakneck speed atop a camel racing along Old Compton Street in Soho while her writing partner Miriam Underhill kept pace by calmly walking with a large brown bird (not a falcon) on her ungloved hand.
I used to regret that I could never remember my dreams. Now I should perhaps be concerned that yesterday was almost as surreal as my dream.
I went to the World Egg Throwing Championships in a very large field at Swaton in Lincolnshire. There were teams from Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA
John Ward with his grate egg Olympic torch
Events included long-distance egg throwing, the egg throwing static relay, the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge and, terrifyingly for me, the World Russian Egg Roulette championship. Why the Russian Roulette event was personally terrifying I will explain later but, initially, I was there to support my chum, mad inventor John Ward, who turned up wearing a Mat Hatter’s top hat and holding what he called an Olympic Egg Torch. This appeared to be a gold-painted cheese-grater on top of a gold-pained cracked wooden egg on top of a silver bicycle horn.
“I thought other people would be dressed up too,” he told me in a vain attempt to explain the hat. “Egg throwing is the People’s sport,” he added. “It’s cheaper than the Olympics.”
John Ward and others catapulting eggs
John Ward also came with a nine feet high wooden catapult, because the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge not surprisingly involves trebuchets which are, according to my dictionary, “machines used in medieval siege warfare for hurling large stones or other missiles”. There were five in the contest. John Ward had only had time to spend three days building his and competed valiantly for Queen and country but, maintaining an age-old British tradition in field sports, failed.
Which brings us to the Russian Egg Roulette event in which John Ward was also competing.
This involves two seated people facing each other across a table – as in The Deer Hunter, but with a box of six eggs instead of a revolver with one single deadly bullet. The twist is that five of the six eggs are boiled and one is raw.
An Irish competitor comes to a not very unusually sticky end
Each competitor then takes it in turns to smash an egg of their choice onto their forehead. If the egg is boiled, it does not explode into sticky gunge all over their forehead. If it is the raw egg, then… erm… it does. Obviously, the person who smashes the raw egg onto his or her forehead loses. And gets sticky.
Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I heard my name called for this event.
This is one of the downsides of having worked on the slapstick children’s TV show Tiswas. When I was a researcher on the show, people I met (for research purposes) felt duty-bound to ram a custard pie in my face to show they had a sense of humour. Oh my! How I laughed.
Organiser Andy Dunlop provides ammunition
At the World Egg Throwing Championships, very highly efficient organiser Andy Dunlop thought he would surprise me by putting me in the Russian Egg Roulette event and announcing me as “former Tiswas wordsmith John Fleming”.
In fact, I was never a Tiswas scriptwriter. In my day, that considerable honour was held by David McKellar, a man eternally worshipped by me for having previously written the weather forecaster line: “And now, bad news for 4-foot dwarfs… 5-foot snowdrifts.”
One of the other Russian Egg Roulette contestants was one of the two identical twins representing Greece, but the organisers were unsure which one it was.
World Gravy Wrestling Champion fails in Russian Roulette
Another was handsome hunk Joel Hicks, male model and World Gravy Wrestling Champion, who had come stripped to the waist and dressed in shorts and boxing gloves as Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Earlier, he had been the human target in a rather random Target Egg Throwing event and, as a result, spent the whole afternoon covered in dried egg yolk with fragments of embedded eggshell sticking out of his face.
I triumphed in the Russian Egg Roulette heats in face-offs with two small children – who seemed to be the only children in the contest, the others being egg-hardened professionals. As my second tiny opponent smashed the raw egg against her forehead, the crowd roared and I heard event organiser Andy Dunlop yell out: “Now that’s fun! THIS is entertainment!”
I fail to mask my gloating at the sticky shame of a Dutch girl
I was equally successful against a very attractive Dutch girl. I suspect Dutch girls smashing eggs on their foreheads commands a very high price in some quarters.
I had decided to represent Scotland in this contest, as I had been wantonly and incorrectly introduced as: “John Fleming representing England” and so I started singing Flower of Scotland, which was an unfortunate choice, as I discovered I only knew the first four words – Oh flower of Scotland… No-one was impressed.
John Ward smashes the thankfully losing egg on his forehead
Bizarrely (as, by its nature, it is not possible to ‘fix’ a Russian Egg Roulette contest) I faced John Ward in the semi-final. I triumphed again. He had the minor consolation of an in-depth interview (I kid you not) by an unsmiling film crew from some Russian television station and he later told me: “The interviewer guy said It will not be transmitted until July – I imagine they must be vetting the footage for any coded messages.”
My nemesis: clearly a man of extreme brutality
In the grand final, I then unfortunately faced a large man called Jerry Cullen dressed in black wearing sunglasses. Very intimidating he was. Hard-boiled, some might say, but not me. Oh no, not me.
The first four of the six eggs we smashed on our foreheads were, indeed, hard-boiled, leaving only two more eggs – one for each of us.
At this point, a lesser egg contestant might have cracked and, admittedly, I resorted to saying, “I’m doomed, I’m doomed,” in the best John Laurie (from Dad’s Army) accent I could muster.
It was like a penalty shoot-out in a football match, so I was relieved not to be representing England.
The man in black went first… smashed the egg against his forehead… and it was hard boiled. He had won the contest.
Cameraman + small child gloat over my ignominious defeat
But this meant I had to smash the final egg against my forehead knowing it was raw and would explode into yellow gunge. I thought of bravely saying something like, “The yolk is on me,” but even I baulked that. So I just smashed the egg onto my forehead as the – I felt somewhat unsympathetic – onlookers rhythmically chanted “Splat! Splat! Splat! Splat! Splat!” until the deed was done.
A broken man with mangled egg and a medal
The good news was that I got an unexpected runners-up medal – a silver star with a picture of a hen on it – with a red-white-and-blue ribbon to go round my neck. My chest swelled with patriotic pride. I felt I had not totally let down the nation of my birth.
Though, unlike the Olympic Games, there is no xenophobia at the World Egg Throwing Championships. The static relay event was won by a team of Germans, Greeks, Irish and English. I chatted to two of these fine athletes: Reg Marchant from Catford and his partner Sandy Winterton from Dagenham.
“I understand this is your first time being a tosser in public,” I said to Reg.
Reg and Sandy: two triumphant tossers amid trebuchets
“Yes,” Reg answered, “but I do actually practise tossing every other day. Sandy does it for me quite a lot. Sandy said to me Do you want to toss in public at the World Championships, so we came and it’s been great.”
“It’s been wonderful,” agreed Sandy.
“We’ll be back next year,” Reg told me, “to try to reduce the time it takes. Sandy and I have to fine-tune our tossing technique over the next year.”
At this point, John Ward wandered across to join us.
“It’s been an interesting afternoon,” he said.
(There are video news clips – with me briefly at the very end – on the ITN site here, the International Business Times TV site here and I actually get to speak in the middle of the report on the Chinese 7M Sports website here)