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British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions
Unusual, Eccentric and Downright Weird British Sports and Games
With dictionary look up - Double click on any word for its definition.
This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!
The British taste for celebrating eccentricity, within safe rule-driven contexts, is well illustrated by this list of light-hearted sports and games:-
- Aunt Sally – Is an Oxfordshire game. It involves the under-arm throwing of the dolly (a truncheon shaped stick) at a suspended target (the Aunt Sally). Each player in the team has 6 throws. The best score out of 24 wins. The term, Aunt Sally, is often used metaphorically to mean something or someone that is a target for criticism.
- Barrel Walking – To stand on top of a small barrel and walk it forward. The distance walked before falling off is taken, the largest collective distance of a team is the winner.
- Cheese-Rolling - During the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, competitors race down a steep hill in Gloucestershire, attempting to catch a Double Gloucester cheese which has been set rolling from the top. Often this results in many injuries.
- Coconut Shy – Each player has 6 balls to throw at targets of coconuts balanced on raised stands. The player with the highest number of hits wins. Often played at fetes or fairs, it's probably cheaper to go to the supermarket to buy a coconut, but not half as much fun.
- Conkers - A conker is the nut of the Common Horse-chestnut tree. It is used in a game traditionally played by children. 1. Take a large, hard conker and drill a hole through it using a nail, gimlet, or small screwdriver. (This may be done by an adult on behalf of the contestant.) Thread a piece of string through it about 25 cm (10 inches) long. Often a shoelace is used. Tie a large knot at one or both ends of the string, so that the conker will not slide off when swung hard.
2. Find an opponent. It is to your advantage if you can find an opponent with a conker smaller and softer than yours (beware of people who bake conkers to make them harder!).
3. Take turns hitting each other's conker using your own. If you break your opponent's conker, you gain a point. To do this one player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player hits. To hit, hold the string in one hand with the conker held above it in the other hand, then swipe at the opponent's conker, letting go of your own nut but keeping hold of the string.
Scoring in conkers
* A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet.
* If you manage to smash your opponent's conker to pieces, so that it comes off the string, if your conker was a none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc. If another conker then subsequently beats your conker then if that conker was a one-er then it becomes a two-er as it has beaten another single conker. In some areas of Scotland, conker victories are counted using the term "Bully-one", "Bully-two", etc. instead of "one-er" or "two-er".
* To beat your opponent you smash their conker so it falls off the shoelace/string. So for example, if two none-ers play, the surviving conker will become a one-er. But if a two-er plays a three-er, the surviving conker will become a six-er. In short, the winning conker assimilates the losing conker's victories, and is credited with one additional victory.
- Duck Herding – Very similar to people herding, only its ducks through the gate.
- Haggis hurling or throwing – A Scottish game involving, yes you guessed it, throwing a haggis. Modern Haggis Hurling is judged on the basis of distance and accuracy of the throw (hurl) and a split or burst haggis is immediately disqualified, as the tradition dictates that the haggis must be fit to eat after landing, yummy. The sport requires subtle technique rather than brute force, as the hurl must result in a gentle landing to keep the haggis' skin intact. Despite it’s eccentricity, the practitioners take the sport seriously, with a World Haggis Hurling Championship. Haggis Hurling was even supposed to be presented as a demonstration sport at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Plans to use a fake haggis in a hurling competition at a Highland festival in Melbourne have split the purists from those who are fearful of the mess a high-speed impacting example of Scotland’s national dish may cause (see Haggis gets a bashing from fakes). It is unclear to the uninitiated if the sport promotes the enjoyment of this often maligned delicacy (to which a famous ode of praise was once composed by Robbie Burns himself). According to a Canadian source that disapproves the practice as insensible, the haggis is the main event at the annual Burns Night celebrations held by Scots and Scottish wannabees the world over.
- Marbles - Is a game a lot of children play which involves small glass balls (sometimes other materials too. There are lots of different rules.
- Pancake Racing - In which each participant carries a pancake in a frying pan. All the runners must toss their pancakes as they run and catch them in the frying pan.
- People Herding – A group of three people are blindfolded and each holds onto a central hoop. The fourth member of the team has a whistle, one short blast move to the left, two short blasts move to the right, a long continuing blast move forward. The object is to direct the hooped group through a gate or gatepost. The team with the shortest time wins.
- Poohsticks – The game of poohsticks first appeared in A. A. Milne’s classic children’s story The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. To play a game of poohsticks each player throws a stick over the upstream side of a bridge into a stream or river. The winner is the person whose stick emerges first from under the bridge.
It was voted one Britain’s most popular traditional games.
- Welly/Wellie wanging or throwing - A freestyle sport that originated in Britain, most likely in the county of Yorkshire. Competitors are required to hurl a Wellington boot as far as possible within boundary lines, from a standing or running start. Each player has three throws, the longest distance thrown within the zone wins. Note that the word wellie is also often spelt as welly.
- Wheelbarrow Race – In a wheelbarrow race teams of two players race with one teammate playing the role of the barrow pusher, and the other playing the role of the wheelbarrow. The pusher holds on to the other player's ankles, while they walk with their hands (see picture).
- Wheelbarrow and Straw Bale Race – Each player in the team races over 50 yards with 4 straw bales on a real wheelbarrow, then tosses the bales over a 6ft height bar. The quickest team wins.