Thursday, October 06, 2011

The facts about wife-carrying races (well, some of them)

Uplifting news reaches Chronicle Towers from the rolling heights of Lansdown: Bath Racecourse is to organise a wife-carrying contest.

It all sounds quite simple: you grab your spouse using any one of a number of  grips or handholds, lug her bodily over a 100-yard course (that’s a couple of lengths less than half a furlong if you’re a horse) and, assuming you win, claim the top prize of you and your partner’s combined weight in beer.

Actually, the rider doesn’t even have to be your wife: it can be anyone who’s female, over 17, and willing to climb onto your back and into the starting gate.

And there are no particularly strict rules about riding styles, either: piggybacks and fireman’s lifts are fine, and more adventurous competitors can even try the Estonian Technique, which sees the jockey/wife dangling upside-down with her legs wrapped around her steed/husband’s neck and her face squashed into the small of his back.

But despite looking like a rather advanced illustration from a very naughty book, the Estonian position does have one big advantage: it doesn’t get the jockey pregnant.

The event originates in Finland, a country otherwise known for having a language related to Hungarian, despite the two countries being separated by the best part of 1,000 miles.

(They have about 200 words in common, 55 of them to do with fishing. Now, where were we?)

According to one theory, a Finnish bandit called Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen and his band of merry men used to descend on unsuspecting villages and relieve them not just of their wealth but of their womenfolk as well.

Over the course of time, this unsavoury practice turned into an official sport with its own peculiar code of conduct, just like football turned into rugby in 19th-century England.

The official rules of eukonkanto, as the Finns call it, boggle the mind: “The wife may be your own, the neighbour’s, or you may have found her further afield”; “If she is less than 49 kg, she will be burdened with additional weight”; “The most entertaining couple, the best costume and the strongest carrier will win a special prize.”

Say what you like about the Finns, but they sure know how to have fun.

The politically correct brigade are up in arms: surely, they say, in the interests of equality we ought to have a husband-carrying event too.

A moment’s reflection will reveal the logical flaw here. Based on personal experience, the few times when Mrs D has tried to lift your sturdy columnist have ended up with her going purple in the face and collapsing underneath him in an undignified heap.

No, husbands are too big even to be picked by wives, let alone to be carried by them half a furlong over the sticks at Bath Racecourse.

The big race starts at 3.45pm on Sunday, October 16. And where it will end is anyone’s guess.

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