Tag Archives: international

World Egg Throwing Championships: cheaper and funnier than the Olympics

(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.”

Aaaannnny-way……

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)

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Sport

The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Filed under History, Politics, Wales