Splat! The art of custard pie throwing is revived
A Slice of Britain: In deepest Kent, a truly slapstick world championship is staged
To an outsider, it looks like an excuse for grown-ups to indulge in the sort of antics that delight 10-year-old boys. Even the "athletes" taking part in these "championships" have to admit it is not a matter of life and death: no, it's much less serious than that. In a quiet village in Kent, the World Custard Pie Throwing Championships are being contested, if that is the right word.
Don't get me wrong, there's skill here: technical prowess verging on art. And then there is the crucial secret ingredient: too runny and the pies won't fly; too sticky and they won't slide off victims' faces with sufficiently comic timing.
Inevitably, there are those who manage to ignore the inherently risible nature of the competition. They come to compete; they come to win! Luckily, they come in almost imperceptibly small numbers. The vast majority of those hanging around outside Coxheath Village Hall, 11 miles south-west of Maidstone, have come to revel in the ridiculous.
John Trent, 35, sporting a pink hat and matching handbag, says: "At weekends I like to be called Brenda," he deadpans. "I'm on Coxheath Parish Council. I'm probably the youngest member by about 30 years. I moved to the area with my wife two years ago and discovered this wonderful competition and I just wanted to get involved. Our team is called the Grannies."
David Kilbey, 36, a sales manager, is proudly clutching a coconut he has won at one of the stalls. "I'm from nearby," he says. "I was roped in by friends. They phoned me up and said, 'Do you fancy dressing up as an old lady?' I was like: yeah, straight in on that one. I normally dress up as a lady anyway."
Mike FitzGerald, creator of the championships, points out that they date back to 1967. More to the point, there is a sophisticated points-scoring system based on the talents of the world's most revered pie-thrower, Charlie Chaplin.
Mr FitzGerald, 73, organiser and head of pies, says the event was reinstated six years ago after a hiatus. "We resurrected it when I was mayor. I am part of a small team that manages the custard pies."
The science involved should not be underestimated. "We investigated what constituted a custard pie and what slapstick artists might do with them. The point was that in film studios they might be using whites of eggs. Actually, we investigated using real custard and in fact it doesn't travel [through the air].
"There's always a secret ingredient. The pies have to travel. It can't fall short of its target, it has to go so it can hit squarely in the face and it has to drip off slowly off the face they've thrown it at. That's the ideal custard face."
How ideal it is depends on your perspective. In this case, it is definitely better to give than to receive, as the Superheroes and Crème Anglais discover in the first round of mayhem. Next up comes Coxheath Till I Pie! The dearth of big-scoring facial shots is more than compensated for by the sheer tsunami of mess.
The Treacle Tarts are cocksure, their captain talking in terms of a walkover. He would say that, though: he's the local gravy wrestling champion. But it does them little good when pie comes to shove.
The Astronauts suffer a major casualty: one of them cops a head shot from last year's world champions, the High Pressure Cleaning Company, whose technique favours the quick kill. By the end of the second round, High Pressure is looking strong: they score well again: two wins and you go through.
But the quarter-finals see the world champs apparently meeting their match against Brighton, despite managing to avoid taking a single face shot. The Grannies push for the semi-finals.
The world champions drive hard, but appear over-anxious when they take a reprimand for stepping over the throwing line. The Grannies also score high in a final push for the title. But, no, they're both knocked out!
The final sees seasoned Crème Anglais take on the youthful Stock Crusaders. By now the fun and enthusiasm has infected everyone within sight or splatter range. The battle is more frenetic than any since the Siege of Antioch. So it seems only right when the Crusaders triumph with a last-gasp volley of custard shots.
Luke Cassidy, 16, is spattered and shell-shocked as his young team lift the trophy. "It's fantastic to be the new world champions," he says. "We didn't expect to get anywhere near this far. But it was my team as well, not just me. This is fantastic. I think it was the body shots that won it for us and not getting hit ourselves. It's brilliant."
Charlie Chaplin would, no doubt, have approved.
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