7 August 2010 (Saturday) - Pooh-Sticks

I woke at 6am to the sound of rain on my tent. If I had to pick my most detested sound, the sound of rain on the outside of a tent would certainly be a strong contender. After an hour I gave up trying to sleep, and had my morning shave despite the rain. And then to the toilet block where during my morning “rake out” I managed to fart a perfect rendition of the theme tune to Captain Scarlet. I was impressed, and told everyone of my accomplishment. I was disappointed I could find no one who shared my enthusiasm. I can’t think why no one else would think this was something tt be proud of.

After a bit of brekky, and the obligatory washing up, the rain slackened off, and I retrieved the banners. For no adequately explored reason the banners hadn’t been stored in the usual place I put banners whenever they are taken down. Instead they had been rammed under a caravan overnight, and I spent the morning repairing them. Most of the damage was wear and tear which had been brought on by yesterday’s strong winds, but I’m not sure that the sharp edges underneath the caravans hadn’t had a hand to play in some of what I was stitching up this morning. We then had a minor altercation with a passing normal person who wanted to be shown round our tents. He was adamant that we were staging an exhibition of tents, and wouldn’t believe we were attending a kite festival. Personally I thought all the kites were a giveaway, but what do I know?

As I was stitching the banners back together I had a steady stream of visitors. People had taken the pooh-sticks challenge seriously, and as well as showing off their entries, contestants wanted to check that their entries were within the rules, and (more importantly) were grassing up their mates for blatant infringement of rules. By midday I’d repaired the banners, and I had this plan to go round the various caravans and tents and people flying kites to sell them pooh-sticks, and then do the same again some time during the mid afternoon. Or that was the theory. In practice I sold out of sticks whilst only two thirds of the way round the field, and spent much of the afternoon apologising to people who wanted to take part. I’d come along wondering how many of the two hundred pooh-sticks would not be sold. In the event I think I could have shifted four hundred.

Bread, cheese and black beer for dinner, and then it was time to fly a kite. We took a small power kite into the back field for one of the teenagers of our group to have a go. He loved it, and I had a go to remind myself that I love it too. Back to camp where we took part in the festival’s quiz. Things were looking good for us at one point, but on the recount we were relegated to second place.

And then to the river for the Pooh-Sticks race. Two months ago we’d played Pooh-Sticks under the bridge, and had this idea to organise something for the August kite festival. We had two events running simultaneously – a standard pooh sticks race where people bought a numbered stick. And an “open” category where people built their own objects to float down the river, subject to various stringent rules which the judges applied with a very arbitrary hand. I’d told people to have their entries at Teston lock at 4.40pm so that the adjudicators (me and the rear admiral) could check the home-made pooh-sticks for “shenanigans”. I was amazed at the standard of the entries – people had been working hard on them. There were carefully constructed rafts of all materials, stick which had been cunningly carved to reduce drag, all manner of origami boats and shapes, corks, a ryvita, and even a couple of apples.

Having got all the entries together I looked up and across at the lock. And for someone who is very experienced in public speaking and is rarely embarrassed in public, I found myself speechless. Pretty much everyone who was camping at the festival had come down for the event. A silly little idea that we’d had a couple of months ago had caught everyone’s imagination. I felt quite humbled, and yet very happy about the success of the thing. I then gave everyone thanks for coming along, hollered to the commodore of the flotilla at the finishing line under the bridge (“Daddies Little Angel TM ”) to check they were ready, and we chucked all the entries into the river.

In June we’d had a trial run with twelve pooh-sticks. Nine of these got to the finishing line at the bridge within fifteen minutes. There must have been more water flowing then. Our event started with a slight hiatus as the entire lot got immediately becalmed. All except one: the ryvta was moving downstream. But on close inspection it was going downstream because it was being nibbled on by shoals of small fish. Officials conferred, and the ryvita was disqualified for “shenanigans”. The rules clearly said that entries were to be unpowered, and the fish counted as propulsion. There was another minor hiccup – just as the current began to take the various floating objects downstream a pleasure cruiser came up the river. The pilot listened to both the commodore of the flotilla at the bridge and to me half way along the bank. Both of us asked him to sail round our pooh-sticks. Instead he deliberately sailed through the lot, sending 90% of them into the reeds with the wash from the boat. But eventually one or two of the entries started making their way to the bridge. The ryvita, an early favourite, crashed into a tree ten yards from the finish, and Dave’s origami boat sailed into first place way ahead of the opposition. The first “standard” pooh-stick followed a couple of minutes later, but was disqualified. It was stuck to a carefully stitched raft of cocktail sticks which had been entered into the “open” category. Using a raft counted as propulsion, and so “shenanigans” was declared, and victory was awarded to a stick which followed shortly behind.

Oh, so many people had so much fun playing such a silly game. There were one or two hiccups, but we’ve learned from them, and we’ll be doing the race again next year. And then after a smashing bit of dinner (and the washing up) we filled our glasses and wandered up the field to the evening’s entertainment. We stood around talking whilst waiting (and waiting) for them to be ready. Once the Old Gits were finally ready we started with “Daddies Little Angel TMgiving a speech thanking everyone for supporting the pooh-sticks race, presenting the trophies, and announcing that we’d raised eighty six quid for Great Ormond Street Hospital. And then the Old Gits did their thing – the 1812 overture with cannons. The bangs were so loud you could feel them, and (allegedly) one of our number tiddled herself with surprise when the first bang went off. I’ve seen the show three times now, and it just keeps getting better.

And then back to camp. And something strange had happened. Between watching the 1812 overture and walking the fifty yards back to camp, everyone in our group had become absolutely, totally, commode-hogging drunk. It wasn’t just me – everyone had gone from being relatively compos-mentis to singing songs about sailors. And the beer flowed. As did the amaretto. And three bottles of port (and far too much cheese). I can remember being told that one of our number was drunk, and throwing him into bed at 1am before going back to HQ for more to drink. I’m told that I went to bed at 2am. I’d like to think we weren’t too raucous – I’m reliably informed that the assorted littluns of our party slept through the lot. But as I’ve said before I’d hate to have me as a neighbour…

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