To prove that the pandemic is nothing to mess around with, the 2020 World Custard Pie Championship–like so many other non-essential events–was canceled.
But was the contest truly non-essential or was that just the decision of some self-serving, soulless sort with a scrub brush for a brain? Did they consider its obvious cultural, political, and academic importance?
Ah, well, let’s not be too hard on self-serving, soulless scrub brushes. It’s been a rough year for everyone.
And it doesn’t matter anymore, because barring a major step backward in the U.K.–that’s pandemically speaking, of course–the competition will take place in 2021, so let’s learn what we can about the details, quick before it’s too late to enter.
The World Custard Pie Championships fits nicely into the category of strange traditional festivals that England (or maybe that’s Britain) is so good at, even though this particular tradition is no older than fifty or so years. That makes it modern, at least by British history standards, but it’s a good enough imitation to fool my filing system.
And if someone would help me sort out whether these festivals are a particularly British thing or a particularly English one, I’d be grateful. I’m sure it would help me understand the country better. Are people this strange in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?
Origins, rules, & important stuff
The origins of most truly traditional traditions have been lost by now, but since this one’s a newcomer–a nontraditional tradition–we can document it: Coxheath, Kent, needed to raise money for a village hall and came up with the idea of inventing a tradition. Or at least that’s my interpretation. I’m reasonably sure no one put it that way when they were sitting around the pub figuring out what to do.
The pub’s also my interpretation. I’m convinced that these traditions all started in the pub. Even before pubs were invented.
How does the championship raise money? It costs £60 for a team to compete and £40 to set up a stall. Unless you’re selling food and drink, in which case that’ll be £80, thanks. If a town can keep its festival going for a few years and get itself some publicity, it’ll raise enough to buy a bucket of paint or three.
By now the custard festival’s had enough publicity for teams to fly in from around the world. Or so the website says. They manage not to say how many teams have flown in. Two’s enough to justify a plural.
The rules are simple. Each team’s made up of four people and they line up and throw pies at someone–I assume it’s another team. Using their left hands. I’ll go out on a twig and guess that if you’re left handed you throw with your right. If you’re ambidextrous, you’re disqualified. If you’re amphibious, you can throw from under water, but it won’t be an advantage–at least not in terms of scoring. You’ll be a hit with the crowd, though.
Scoring? Your points depend on where your pie hits your opponent–six points for a pie in the face, three if it hits from the shoulder up, and one for any other body part.
If you miss three times, you lose a point.
The judges’ decisions are final.
Throwing pies at the judges when you don’t like their decision is frowned upon, but they don’t say that for fear of putting the idea in some suggestible person’s empty little head. And yes, having to throw with your nondominant arm is a perfect excuse for not being good at it.
Unlike dwile flonking, you don’t have to be drunk to do this, but this being England (or should I say, “This being Britain”?), you’re more than welcome to show up dressed in something silly. Or as they put it in British, in fancy dress. Don’t wear anything you’re attached to, though, because by the end of the day everyone’s wearing custard.
And now the bad news: They don’t use real custard–it’s not the right consistency–and the formula for whatever they do use is a closely guarded secret. Presumably, neighboring towns are just dying to poach the festival and that’s all that stops them. The only ingredients they’ll admit to are flour and water. The Calendar Customs website recommends not eating whatever it is.
The contest’s usually held in May or June, but this year, with the number of vaccinated people going up and the number of Covid cases (“so far,” she said nervously) staying low, it’s been rescheduled for September 21.
They’re expecting 2,000 pies to be thrown. The day begins around noon with a wet sponge competition for kids, who as any fool knows can’t be trusted with pies.
Some time ago Autolycus suggested that I might want to write about another great British tradition, rhubarb thrashing, and I did try, but I couldn’t find enough information to go on. Besides, it’s a perfectly sensible game where two people stand inside trash cans and whack at each other with rhubarb sticks, and where’s the laugh in that?
Why more isn’t written about it remains a mystery. It’s one of those rare subjects where Lord Google offered me no more than a single page of links, most of which were to a kids’ program, the BBC’s mysteriously named Blue Peter, which decided many and many a year ago that this was what the kiddies needed to know.
Those kiddies have now grown into adults. If you want to know what’s wrong with the world, look no further.
I am, as always, grateful for people’s topic suggestions, even when I don’t end up writing about them. Some–like rhubarb thrashing–just don’t lead anywhere, but you never know. Some are glorious.