28 December 2008

The Winchelsea Street Game: Blue Team Till I Die.

Another day in East Sussex, another bizarre, centuries-old Christmas ritual.

It was Boxing Day, and the Winchelsea Street Game: a medieval no-rules, no holds-barred contest in which three teams compete to gain possession of a Frenchman's Head

and stuff it in a beer barrel.

I mean, how rough could it be? Everyone is  (as the 'referee' reminded us) subject to the Laws of the Land, and the last fatality was in 1808.

Blue Team were short a player, so I handed Mrs Botogol my sunglasses for safekeeping, stripped off my coat, kissed the children a tearful goodbye, donned a blue neckerchief, and strode purposefully, amidst wild applause from the crowd, into the fray; keeping just half an eye on the dangerously young and strong-looking Green Team who were staring closely at me and nudging each other.

"I'm not a tourist!", I said, bravely, "I have a house here!"  They looked away, but there was something familiar about team Green: I had a strange feeling I had seen a couple of them before, but I wasn't sure where. 

Then the Frenchman's Head was tossed into the melee and all hope of the running, passing game we had planned evaporated as the three teams formed a 25-person collapsed maul on the hard and unforgiving surface of Castle Street.

"Mind the Clematis!", shouted the ref (it's that sort of village) "Mind the Lexus! Mind the man with crutches!"

In the midst of the scrum, the Head suddenly rolled free and I scooped it up and headed for the goal, with just three Greens to beat.

As I lowered my shoulder I suddenly recalled where I had seen then before: the George, Christmas Eve:    "Get the Catholic!",  they cried.

"No, wait!", I shouted, "you're labouring under a perfectly understandable misapprehension! I'm not actually a  ouch! oomph!"

"And do you really live here?" said a voice in my ear, "or is it just a holiday house?"; I tightened my grip on the Frenchman's bonce and fought for dear life.

The result, you ask? Well, cough, ahem, we won! By 4 goals to 3 to 2 and not, I like to think, without a contribution from myself1

Afterwards we all repaired to the New Inn for roast potatoes and to compare grazes. I had three. Grazes I mean, not potatoes (which is five fewer grazes than I received falling off my bike this morning).

"Actually, Dad, you quite surprised me", said middle-child, reflectively, "you were, well, quite aggressive".

1 I only went and scored the winning goal :-)

More pictures here and here
(Unaccountably the scenes of the crowd carrying me shoulder high through the streets of Winchelsea, chanting my name - all failed to come out, so you'll have to imagine)


Burgin Streetman said...

great story. you are such a wonderful writer when you aren't going on about bank mumbo jumbo.

i love the photos. very heroic....

Anonymous said...

Looks fun. The photos were great - especially when viewed with Orff: Carmina Burana - Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna being played in the background to the slideshow. Shouldn't you have pixellated out your face though to maintain blogonimity?

Botogol said...

@mysteryshopper - I imagined that the wild and ferocious, semi-bestial expression on my face would be disguise enough

@scribbler - but the bank mumbo jumbo is my life

Burgin Streetman said...

that was my lame attempt at sarcasm ... and an attempt to make light of my complete lack of understanding when it comes to numbers and number-related activities...