Monday, 15 June 2009

Only In England?

In a sunny garden in deepest Dorset yesterday 65 people – their faces rigid with pain and disgust – gathered in a quest to be crowned the King of the Stingers.

There is no easy route to winning the World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship, held each year in the village of Marshwood near Bridport. It takes skill, it takes endurance ... it takes great blistering chunks out of what used to be your taste buds.

Smart competitors squash the leaves into tight little balls which they try to throw straight to the back molars. Then you try to munch them up and swallow with as little contact as possible. The problems begin when the nettles start to back up in the mouth and ... arrrrrgh!

Competitors are served two-foot-long stalks of nettles from which they must pluck and devour the leaves. The bare stalks are then measured and the winner, after an hour of combat, is the one with the greatest accumulated length.

"They taste totally foul, and everything comes out bright green for a few days afterwards," shrugged Simon Slee, 48, the reigning world record holder with 76 feet. "Apart from that it's really not too bad. You need focus and rhythm and some beer to take the taste away."

The contest began more than 20 years ago when two customers at Marshwood's 16th century Bottle Inn argued over who had the worst infestation of stinging nettles.

"One of them said, 'I'll eat any nettle of yours that's longer than mine"' said Rory Macleod, 34, the pub landlord. "And so they had a competition. They're both dead now. It's become a highly competitive event, very macho, and we get hundreds of people coming down here. We're now seeing a lot of east Europeans coming over who take the whole thing very seriously."

With the seriousness has, sadly, come a temptation to bend the rules. Past competitors have been accused of smuggling their own low toxicity nettles into the competition, while sneaking bio-engineered, high toxicity, Franken-nettles onto their opponent's plates.

"You can only eat the nettles we supply," said judge Richard Hooper, who grows them in his field outside the village. "Also you have to keep them down. If you spit them out, or anything worse, it doesn't count. Anyone who goes to the toilet is automatically disqualified." Which brings us to the delicate problem of what seasoned stinger scoffers know as "green bearding". This tends to occur with the onset of facial paralysis and judges must pay close attention to the amount of emerald-hued drool being emitted.

Past competitors have travelled from as far away as Canada and Australia, but the championship now appears on track to go truly global. "There's interest from all over the world," says Mr Macleod.

"I sort of inherited the competition when I took over the pub last year and I can't believe how big it has become."

A record 1,000 crowd filled the pub's gardens yesterday. Many were offering to take part, although the entry is strictly fixed at 65.

"There are some events you just have to be at," said Harry Kinsella, 23, a trainee solicitor from Kettering.

"I've always liked nettles. When I was at university we had a nude stinging nettle rolling competition and it was the best thing ever, although this may be even better."

By William Langley in The Telegraph

The Penguin


Goodnight Vienna said...

That was good. I'd take issue with the commentator though when he talks about 'ruining children's play' and 'a frantic search for dock leaves'. It never ruined mine and everyone surely knows that dock leaves grow right next door to nettles? It's one of the first things children learn (Nature provides) well, that and how to get down from 80ft Oaks without breaking a leg.

Poor kids and long live the nettle-chewing English.

The Penguin said...

Stinging nettles teach you very quickly to respect Nature. Also that parents and grandparenst DO KNOW what they are talking about sometimes!

Old Bag said...

they are fucking insane!..i wonder why there no female competitors?

Pub Garden said...

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