I have crab-crawled feet-first under a bush, took a running leap to clear a babbling brook and stood still, eyes frozen with terror as two hundred men came hurtling towards me; I have spent the day at the annual Bottle Kicking contest at Hallaton.
Some of you may have heard of this sport before but for the uninitiated, a little explanation will hopefully suffice. The competition, which is believed to date back a thousand years, sees villagers from both side of the brook compete to get the bottle back to their village. The only rules are no strangling and no gouging other than that competitors may do whatsoever they wish to return each of the three ceremonial bottles, filled to the brim with ale for the champions to drink, back to their village.
When I first heard of the game, I must admit I had pictured things rather differently. I had imagined a line of largely unbalanced men queuing up in a line to kick Carling bottles off the top of a brick wall. In my head I could hear the promotional voice which would speak over the contest: “Probably the best bottles in the world.”
As it turns out the Bottle Kicking contest is hands down the best way to spend a Bank Holiday. When we arrive, we cast away our city reservations and get right in with the crowd by tagging along with the parade towards the centre of Hallaton village. We passed Medbourne on the drive down here and though i am accustomed to supporting the underdog the boy and my bestest persuaded me to side with the winners and align myself with the Hallaton men. As I am reporting from the battle field I feel it would be rather rude to take sides so in the interests of soaking up the atmosphere I decide to follow the scrum wherever it may go.
I always thought I would do quite well in a war situation. Though I am petite, I am fast, strong and sneaky and as I had been a bit of a British Bulldog champ as a child I has rather assumed I may be of use to the scrum. As it turns out I am a horrible hindrance in battle. Though I keep on trying to sneak my way into the middle, whenever the lads start to drift towards me, I scream like a girl and run away as fast as I can telling everyone in my path to run for their lives. Everywhere I look there are fallen champions who are pinching at bloodied noses, gasping for breath and doing their best to slip shoulders back into place. There is a fantastic cross-section of society at this event and everywhere I look I can see society’s barriers broken down by the united aim of getting the bottle back to base.
I am fascinated to see women in the huddle who appear tougher than the men they challenge. One girl tells me she has been punched in the ribs by a rather rude chap but assures me she managed to get her own back. Whilst looking him directly in the eye she elbowed him straight to the steriles. I am amazed at what good fun the whole day is. We chase the scrum up and down the hill, through the hedges and over the fences and only after the games are done do we find the time to rest our weary heads upon the hill. There may have been blood shed, there may have been hate, but all this was over once the bottles were brought hurtling over the hill of Hallaton’s gate.
- I have made my dress as functional as humanely possible. Though I do rather look like I have been, and I quote, “shagged through a hedge backwards” I did work quite hard on finding a look for today which was not going to make me appear too girly. The dress is another of those donated by the lovely Lara but the belt and the black top are my own. The boots I am wearing are strong, structured and most importantly of all, not slippers.