Dwile flonking: another strange English tradition

If you ask the BBC about dwile flonking (and who doesn’t at some point?), you’ll find them asking a question of their own: 

Does dwile flonking really date back to the Suffolk harvests of 400 years ago or is it just a good excuse for getting drunk and celebrating Christmas in August?

They don’t answer the question and neither can I, but in my relentlessly shallow exploration of the topic I did find some faint linguistic evidence either that the game has a long history or that whoever invented it did their homework. Dwile comes from the Dutch word dweil, meaning floor cloth. Or it seems to, anyway. The word was probably introduced to England by Flemish weavers during the Middle Ages. Or, as Wikiwhatsia says (at the moment–it could change at any time), dwile is Dutch for a mop and the word worked its way into the Norfolk dialect. 

Irrelevant photo: The fields after a frost.

I try to avoid using Wikiwhatsia as a reference, but for dwile flonking? Why not? It’s right in the spirit of the game. It also says that flonk is “probably a corruption of flong, an old past tense of fling.”

Who knows. It might even be true. And when no one’s looking, sheep could just possibly type. If they had typewriters. 

The BBC agrees that flonk could be an archaic past tense of fling. If you squint hard. Meanwhile, Etymology Online gives us as a Middle English past tense flang with the past participle flungen. Which is no help at all but likely to be more reliable than anything else in the past few paragraphs. 

What is reliable is that Flonk is also a brand of ale, but that’s got to be recent than the rest of that mess. 

If you feel the need to watch dwiles being flonked (and if the pandemic ever ends), period costume is encouraged. I expect that’s in the spirit of imitation authenticity, although I’m not sure there’s any agreement on what period we’re talking about, so either pull one out of a hat (then wear the hat) or check out one of the videos on YouTube and do whatever you think best. After a few beers, no one will care and neither will you. 

Preliminaries

To play (did I say that dwile flonking’s a  sport?), you need two teams. Then you toss a sugar beet (which the BBC misspelled, she said without in the least betraying how smug she felt about catching that) to decide which team flonks first.

Then you choose a dull-witted person to serve as referee. That’s the jobanowl. He or she starts the game by shouting, “Here y’go t’gither!”

But wait. Before the match can start (and quite possibly before the jobanowl calls out his or her line), the teams have to sing “Here we ‘em be together.” It was written by Amos Thirkle, who was adopted as the patron saint of dwile flonking.

And why shouldn’t he be? Without even progressing past the letter A, I found patron saints of abdominal pains (Erasmus), for protection against mice (three, in fact: Gertrude, Servatus, and Ulric, and they were listed as “Against mice, protection against,” which is a double negative, but saints may be above grammatical quibbling) and of pain in the arms (Amalburga). 

You can make me the patron saint of pain in the ass if you like. Informally. Thirkle isn’t listed with the Church-approved saints either. 

I also found Amand, the patron said of bartenders, bar keepers, and bar staff in general. He’ll be busy during the match, and after. 

Rules

Here’s where it gets complicated and where I damn near decided to write about toadstools, or anything else that might turn out be less peculiar. But you can’t grasp the basic insanity of the game without slogging through the rules, so let us slog:

The team that isn’t flonking holds hands and dances in a circle (that’s called girting) while one person from the other team (that’s the flonker) stands in the middle with a driveller–a 2- to 3-foot pole made of hazel or yew. On the end of the driveller is the beer-soaked dwile. 

Remember the dwile? The floor rag/mop?

The flonker turns in the opposite direction from the girders and flonks the dwile at the opposing team, trying to hit someone. If the dwile hits a girter’s head, that’s three points. If it hits the body, it’s two points. A leg shot’s worth one.

If it misses, it’s called a swadger and the flonker takes a pot of ale and  has to drink it all while the girters form a line and pass the dwile from hand to hand, chanting, “pot, pot, pot.”

The pot? It’s what’s known as a gazunder–a chamber pot, called that because it goes under (goezunder–blame English spelling if you can’t make sense of the joke there) the bed. 

Well, what do you drink your ale out of?

When everyone’s had a chance to flonk, the game’s over and the points get counted up.

Teams lose a point for every person who’s sober at the end of the game. 

Dwile flonking is not recommended for people who go to AA meetings.

Want photos? Of course you do. These are from Beccles

And from Coventry, where the opposing team didn’t show up,

And more generally, from the BBC Suffolk, which describes the game as an adult version of All Fall Down.

And of course, you’ll want a video. YouTube is happy to oblige.

So now that you have this information, what do you do with it?

Well, once we get past the pandemic (nothing to it) you could always organize a dwile flonking competition where you live. Failing that, you could go down to the bar or pub and throw a beer-soaked rag at someone, then tell them they just participated in the ancient ritual of dwile flonking. 

One of two things will happen:

  1. They’ll stop in their tracks, wondering why they seem to have a beer-soaked rag on their heads when just a moment before they didn’t have a beer-soaked rag on their heads. (You’re not dancing around, so let’s assume you get a three-point hit. And you’ll have thrown the rag in the normal way, which will improve your aim. No magic two- to three-foot magic dwile flonking wands in the bar. ) If you’re in England when you do this, the other person will think, Dwile flonking. Of course. Because even if they’ve never heard of it–which is likely–England understands mysterious celebrations. Cheese rolling. Flaming tar barrels. Why not dwile flonking? Or,
  2. They’ll hit you so hard you’ll fall off your bar stool. 

Life’s a gamble. 

*

Endless thanks to Autolycus for suggesting that I write about this. I do worry about him. He also mentioned something about rhubarb thrashing. I’m saving that. It’s good to have something–however bizarre–to look forward to in these dark times.

55 thoughts on “Dwile flonking: another strange English tradition

  1. Despite having been a UK resident for the entirety of my life, I have never heard of dwile flonking but in the event that we don’t have a local team already, I feel the gamble you suggest is worth the risk. I believe this is a sport I could excel at.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the way the BBC site says it needs a lot of finesse to play. The excessive drinking will help there. The correspondence on the same site suggests that it was invented by Michael Bentine in It’s a Square World, which sounds like a feasible explanation.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You can also play a virtual version through a link on the BBC Suffolk website – or so it says, I’ve not tried the link. Maybe I’m just a little worried about the possible consequences.

    Although not as much as I would be about the consequences of attempting to introduce it in my local pub.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The virtual version sounds perfectly safe (they wouldn’t know if you’re drinking beer or ginger ale), not to say maybe just the tiniest bit boring. But then, what do I know? I haven’t tried it. In fact, I wouldn’t have known about it if you hadn’t brought it up. I’m in your debt.

      Don’t try to collect.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I am beginning to think that someone somewhere in British history just went around to different regions trying to get people to do wierd things just to see if they could.

    There is every change this person was a nefarious time travelling prankster set on making us look silly to the rest of the world…

    I wish they had stopped at beer rag flinging…

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I studied at UEA, in Norwich, known to us as the University of Easy Academics, or Uncle Edward’s Armpit. The annual dwile flonking games were one of the highlights of Rag Week, even though the beer they served in the Students’ Union bar was abominable. But after flonking the dwile for a while no one noticed any more, or cared. 45 years on I’m guessing that Elf and Safety may have brought this to an end. That would be a shame, as our great traditions should be maintained.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This could be a Monte Python skit! The US has much simpler drinking games like bouncing a table tennis ball into a cup (beer pong) or bouncing a quarter into a cup (quarters). While I was in university, we invented our own games. We loved to play the board game “Risk” and once we decided to make it a drinking game. We made the rule that if you took over a country you had to do a shot of whisky! I ended up passed out with the board and all the pieces on top of me. No one won the game. I had to be dragged back to my dorm room and got sick all over it. That rule was thrown out for all future games of Risk!

    Liked by 3 people

    • And (presumably) lessons were learned. Or not. I think it’s the sheer insane, pointless complexity of dwile flonking that makes it appealing. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if a fair number of the participants end up in the same shape as you did, although without a board or game pieces to keep them company.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Many thanks for the kind acknowledgement. I hasten to add I haven’t tried dwile-flonking or rhubarb-thrashing (nor yet, to go off at a tangent, anything to do with wet celery and a flying helmet, as in the TV series Allo!Allo!).

    Bear in mind, incidentally, that rural East Anglia has a certain reputation: it used to be said that, in the bad old days of doctors using initialisms in their notes to disguise disparaging comments on patients, you could find references to NFN – “Normal for Norfolk”. I doubt if Suffolk got off any more lightly, and the less said about Essex, the better.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m holding out for rhubarb thrashing. I asked someone about dwile flonking and they took it to be an ill timed pickup line. One has to be careful about terminology on this side of the pond. Needless to say I had to get the flonk out of the pub in a flonking hurry. And as you might imagine pub doors are not made for the passage of flonking teams let alone someone in the middle holding a driveller. Do you think dwile flonking would make a grand reality show. On the radio of course.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Radio only? I’d hold out for TV. Send teams out to random bars in middle American with instructions to–oh, hell, I don’t know, make it up as they go along.

      I’m glad you got out safely. You’ve demonstrated the value of the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It actually sounds a lot like Dodgeball – with drinking. Except that it seems to be encouraging the Flonker to miss.

    A “goezszunder” is a chamber pot ? Well then a “gazinta” is the division sign ! As in ” six gazinta 18 three times.” Or as one of my friend’s uncles said when she wanted a canopy bed, he explained that the one his folks has had the canopy UNDER the bed,

    I have to agree with Mick Canning that clicking on that link is probably not a good idea. Not to mention what would become of your browser history.

    I guess I am no longer as catatonic as I was on Wednesday (although maybe I am) but this whole post and comments made me laugh out loud. Ten kew !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a delightful collector of eccentricities you are, Ellen, and this one was truly laugh out loud material. I can only offer the arcane sport of farnarkeling to add to your collection. http://mirror.uncyc.org/wiki/Farnarkling . However it’s more common usage seem to apply to Boris and his Merry Men.
    Farnarkel (redirected from farnarkeling) farnarkel (ˈfɑːnɑːkəl) vb
    slang (often foll by: around) Austral, to spend time or act in a careless or inconsequential manner; waste time
    [C20: coined by the New Zealand-born comedian John Clarke (born 1948) as the name of a fictitious sport of doing nothing for which he commentated in an Australian TV series]
    ˈfarnarkeling n

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Didn’t read all the comments so someone may have already said this, but I propose dwile flonking as a useful process in politics. Seems as though tossing beer-soaked rags at each other could only be an improvement over the current state of affairs in both the US and UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nobody’s suggested that yet, but it might be worth trying. Given the number of bars in Parliament, drinking on the job’s a major issue and some MP–I can’t remember who–wrote a very funny thing about giving a speech when he was so drunk that he had no idea what he was talking about and discarded pages as he went, figuring they’d make as little sense to other people as they did to him.

      He didn’t have a beer-soaked rag, but it could only have been an improvement.

      Like

  12. Pingback: Dwile flonking: another strange English tradition — Notes from the U.K. – Snowbird of Paradise

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