The tension in the village was growing, nerves were stretched, conversation withered and died, neighbours were separated. There was a different division in the air. It was still binary, the same divisions were there but they were hidden, dissolved into the one great division that always came this time of the year. This year it was different. The old divisions that lasted most of the year; male and female, black and white. old or young – the tribes that everyone settled into and were comfortable with, gradually dissolved until there were only two tribes left.
If you weren’t in one then you were in the other one. There was no middle of the road or uncommitted. The badges of the tribes came out so that everyone knew where they stood. all wore a scarf or a wooly hat. You could tell the tribes by the colours. The feeling in the village moved from idle curiosity to lack of understand how you could possible support them to something approaching homicidal rage. If you didn’t live in this little village in the English Midlands on the Nottinghamshire coalfield then you would be bewildered by the amount of antipathy that was abroad in this microcosm of England, this one small village just outside Derby.
The cause of all this was partly due to the the fact that the two pubs in the village were playing each other in the local pub league, the Diggers and Overmen. Worse than that they were level pegging so it all depended on the grudge match, traditionally held on a Friday night.
If you had grown up in the village, you had no choice in where you drank. The village could only support two pubs so you drank where you Dad and his Dad had always drank and if you were good at scuttling or, even better, good at Knur and Spell then you were in the pub team – probably for life. The Overmen considered them selves superior and so drank in the Strangled Ferret while the Diggers who felt hard done by and downtrodden were to be found in the Bald Badger.
There were two things about this that seemed peculiar to any outsider unlucky enough to walk in either pub for a pint of local bitter and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps. The first was that the local pit had closed some thirty years before and now most of the men in the village earned their corn by populating spreadsheets and designing ballet costumes for the customers at the local art centre. This was a slight change in profession from cutting and heaving coal underground for a long shift. The other strange information in the midst of all this confrontation was that the two pubs were both owned by the same brewery, Wattknees of Burton on Trent. One should have been closed years ago in view of the number of drinkers in the village but all let it be known that if either was closed, they would boycott the other on the grounds of solidarity even though it appeared that they hated each other’s guts at the moment.
The antipathy between the Overmen and the Diggers harked back to the days when they were all working underground in the coal mine. The Overmen were responsible for the safety of the mine and so they were paid a salary that was not dependent on how much coal the mine produced. The Diggers, however were paid by the dram of coal that reached the pit top. The Overmen took safety very seriously so would stop production if they regarded it as not safe to continue. This, of course, reduced the Diggers earnings. This was not welcomed by the Diggers who spread the rumour that the Overmen were paid to reduce the costs of the mine when demand dropped.
The habitués of one pub would decry the beer in the other as having more to do with cats than with hops, even though the only difference was the label clipped on to the pump handles. Everyone knew this but chose to ignore it in the interests of tradition.
The problem now was that the two teams had to agree on the game they would play for the championship. Each had their own preferences of course which they pushed forward so the league committee had to be involved.
The committee was duly assembled and the choices were laid before them. There were three options; Scuttle Alley, Knur and Spell and Dwile flonking. A secret ballot was taken and the results were as follows; Scuttle Alley had four votes, and the other two had six each so a coin had to be flipped. This could have been done in the first place and all this hassle would have been saved but the downside would have been to lessen the sense of self importance of the committee. At least this way, all were involved and couldn’t whine afterwards that they hadn’t been involved. This is grown men at play. No grown women were allowed to be involved by the grown men – it was thought by the women that they would have sorted this out very quickly without any of this silly masculine posturing.
The coin decided – it was to be Dwile Flonking. All agreed and started practising furiously at their respective training grounds – the car parks of the ‘Badger and ‘Ferret.
You may not be familiar with game whose origins are lost in the mists of time in central, darkest England. To try to help you picture the scene, I have downloaded the rules from Wikipedia®. Imagine two pub car parks on an English Autumn evening when it is getting dark…
“According to the Friends of the Lewes Arms, “The rules of the game are impenetrable and the result is always contested.”
A “dull witted person” is chosen as the referee or “jobanowl”, and the two teams decide who flonks first by tossing a sugar beet. The game begins when the jobanowl shouts, “Here y’go t’gither!”
The non-flonking team joins hands and dances in a circle around a member of the flonking team, a practice known as “girting”. The flonker dips his dwile-tipped “driveller” (a pole 2–3 ft long and made from hazel or yew) into a bucket of beer, then spins around in the opposite direction to the girters and flonks his dwile at them.
If the dwile misses completely it is known as a “swadge”. When this happens, the flonker must drink the contents of an ale-filled “gazunder” (chamber pot (“goes-under” the bed)) before the wet dwile has passed from hand to hand along the line of now non-girting girters chanting the ceremonial mantra of “pot pot pot”.
A full game comprises two “snurds”, each snurd being one team taking a turn at girting. The jobanowl adds interest and difficulty to the game by randomly switching the direction of rotation and will levy drinking penalties on any player found not taking the game seriously enough.
Points are awarded as follows:
• +3: a “wanton” – a direct hit on a girter’s head
• +2: a “morther” – a body hit
• +1: a “ripper” – a leg hit
• -1 per sober person at the end of the game
At the end of the game, the team with the most number of points wins, and will be awarded a ceremonial pewter gazunder”
Now that the rules are clear to everyone, the match can start. The Strangled Ferret had been chosen, again by a coin toss, to be the host establishment. Ben was in two minds about this, he was delighted because his beer sales for the evening would b e a lot higher than normal ands most buyers would be too inebriated to accurately count their change so he would make a tidy profit. On the other hand, by the nature of the game, there would be a lot of clearing up and washing down to do. Being Ben, who is profit oriented, he came down on the side of welcoming it so he threw himself into the preparations with great abandon – this was not a pretty sight.
One of the highlights of the preparation phase was when a spy from the Bald Badger was found lurking in the ‘Ferret’s log store, spying on the preparations. He was captured, handcuffed and sent on his way after his wallet was lightened by enough to buy each of the ‘Ferret’s team members a pint.
George already had an appointment at the Bald Badger to discuss times and other small details for the night. He was thought to be ‘a little slow’ or ‘ not the quickest digger in the pit’ so the overmen thought they would come out on top in any negotiations. That’s as maybe but the general view around the village was that George came out on top.
It happened like this; George drove down to the ‘Badger on his tractor so he could save a few pennies by burning red diesel. He had been muck spreading as it was that time of the farming season so he went straight from the fields to the ‘Badger. He parked in the pub car park and, as he drove out after the meeting, he ‘inadvertently’ moved the lever to engage the PTO ( Power Take Off ) shaft and so started muck spreading – over thirteen of the Digger’s cars. ‘Should bring you all good luck,’ was his only comment as he drove off, leaving thirteen angry car owners and thirteen cars not in their original colour behind him. It took a week to scrub out the car park and get rid of the lingering smell – did I tell you that George also kept pigs…?
Eventually, the day of the championship match came around. Both teams had completed their training schedule, which consisted mainly of imbibing great quantities of beer and trying to stand and walk normally – with some fairly predictable results and were pronounced to be fully match fit.
The story of the match and its after effects will be recounted in the next tale from the Strangled Ferret – number six.
© Richard Kefford Eorðdraca
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