Episode 76 - Throwing Sledgehammers at Orphans (Olympics Week)
Tom's Notes; The Cotswold Olimpick Games
I’m keeping things clean again this week. I’ll be entertaining and enlightening our listeners with a silly and quaint rural English oddity. Not too dissimilar to my contribution to our episode on hobbies a few months back where I discussed bizarre British games still played today. You know, things like the Cumbrian throcking of the plombles, and Cornish clanker flumping, and the great Anglian pluttom goose grolly-plops. That’s the one with the three sheep, a barrel of cider and a man dressed up as an elderly adder. Not to be confused with bottom loose belly pops, which is what you get when you’ve all had a drink of the cider.
Before I get onto my piece, I thought I’d tell you about an incident I was involved in at a supermarket this week. I was queuing up to pay for my groceries when I heard someone say “turn around, every now and then I get a little bit gassy and it brings a tear to my eyes”.
I’ll be honest with you Sam, I wasn’t really in the mood for a stranger chat, so I kept looking forward. Don’t make eye contact and all that.
“Turn around, bright eyes. Every now and then I need a fart”.
With the imminence of a gaseous expulsion, I turned around to find my old mate Ronnie the Tiler. He’s your guy if you ever need a bit of tiling done. Very good, always leaves the place clean.
So we get talking, it turns out he’s been having a torrid time with flatulence whilst whizzing around the supermarket.
“Down aisle nine I was looking for gloves
Trying to suppress a fart
There was nothing to do
So I shoved a twix up my arse”
Anyway, I let him jump in front of me. I thought he probably needed to get home as quickly as possible.
ANYWAY, MOVE SWIFTLY ON TO SOMETHING ELSE
My topic this week is the Cotswold Olimpick Games! Olimpick spelt…
Now our listeners are probably thinking what a rip off! Copycats, copycats, sitting on their door mats. Well, I say to them, the Cotswold Olimpick games predates the modern Olympics by possibly as much as 300 years. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t predate the original Olympic Games that ran for around a thousand years starting in 776BC! That’s old folks. That’s around the same time that Cher’s had her first top 10 hit with “do you believe in life after embalmment”.
So, let’s talk in more detail about this peculiar English sporting festival.
It began possibly as far back as 1612 and continues to this day, although with large chunks of time where nobody could be bothered. The latest edition of the games has been going on annually since 1963. I say annually, it’s hasn’t taken place on a number of occasions due to foot and mouth outbreaks, lack of funding etc. For those who don’t know, the Cotswolds is a beautifully scenic area of South East England, to the East of the Bristol Channel. I say beautiful, there are some shitty parts. I spent a miserable 6 months in Stroud and wasn’t particularly taken by it!
The games were created by a chap called Robert Dover, obviously, as the name makes patently clear, inspired by the ancient Olympic games. Robert Dover lived during a time when it was awfully fashionable for young men of wealth to do the ‘Grand Tour’ when they became 21. The Grand Tour involved a trip south through France to Italy, taking in the delights of upper class European society, revelling in the legacy of the Renaissance and delving into Classical European history. Classical history was very much in vogue and so Robert Dover named his annual sporting event after the famous ancient Olympic Games.
Very interestingly for me, Dover was educated at Cambridge University and would have been well aware of the Gog Magog Games that took place annually at Wandlebury Hill fort very close to where I live. These games were very similar to the games eventually created by Dover in the Cotswolds and were also inspired to some degree by the original Olympic Games. I live so close to the Wandlebury Hill Fort that earlier this week I went for a bike ride and got a terrible flat tyre as I rode right past the entrance to the hill fort.
Robert Dover got a stamp of approval from King James I (and also an outfit to wear) and the games commenced! Dover’s motivation appears to be to create a sporting event to bring the local communities together, as well as the age old objective of keeping the populace fit for war. The event was funded by a wealthy local mercer (or cloth dealer) called Sir Baptist Hicks, who was an influential financier of James I.
The event took place on Whistsun, or Whitsunday, or Pentecost, or the 49th day after Easter Sunday in a natural amphitheatre and in front of a mock castle erected for the event. Unsurprisingly, the games did not take place during the English Civil War, a few decades after, or the Interregnum, because people were either fighting, or being told to be pious on Christian days of importance by Puritan boring bumholes. Remember, Olly no-mates. James and Charles I were more laidback but still published a document called “The Book of Sports” explaining what could and couldn’t be played on Sundays.
In these early days, the event included sports such as horse-racing, hunting, running, jumping, dancing, throwing a sledgehammer (why don’t you call my name) and various forms of combat, with and without weapons. Fairly standard stuff really.
When the games was reinvented in its modern form in 1951, after it stopped in 1852, it returned in a somewhat more quaint, county fair, sort of way. Namely with a tug of war and morris dancing amongst the events. There were a few other events that really need further explanation: let’s start with dwile flonking.
The Jobanowl shouts “here y’go t’gether” to start the first snurd. One team girts. The other team’s flonker dips his or her dwile and driveller in beer then attempts a flonk. He or she gets 3 points for a wanton, 2 points for a morther and 1 point for a ripper. A swadge incures a drink from the gazunder.
Let me translate, the referee start the first round. One team hold hands and form a circle. The other team’s first player dips his or her stick with a cloth on the end in a beer then attempts to throw it at the opposite team. He or she gets points based on where the cloth hits the opposition team. If he or she misses completely, they have to drink some ale out of a chamber pot.
Incidentally, drinking, revelry and lewd behaviour have been the order of the day for much of this events history. Although more recently it has become a silly family event.
We’ve also got the ancient art of shin-kicking; which is a main-event to this day. Shinsies involves two people holding each other’s collars and kicking the shit out of each other’s shins until one gives up. Here’s a great account from a shin-kicking match from Philadelphia in 1883 (see https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1883/01/13/106244611.pdf).
Apparently contestants wore steel boots in the early days and had numerous ways of hardening up their shins, namely pickling and whacking them with a sledgehammer in training. Interesting fact, the referee is many of these old-fashioned combat sports is called a stickler, because he holds a stick, hence the phrase stickler for the rules.
Then there was piano-smashing. Where contestants smashed a piano. Not sure how this is a sport but hey!
The proper modern Olympic Games started in 1893 and so this event is seen by many as an early example of British Olympic spirit alongside the less silly Wenlock Olympian Games which started in 1850.