Story telling from Australia
The young farmer was solidly built, a jolly lad, seemingly impervious to the weather. It was cold enough last Monday on the North Yorkshire moors for Clyde to be wearing long johns under his chinos, a vest under his jumper and a fleece-lined jerkin. When the sun disappeared behind a bank of grey cold he added a windcheater. The young farmer wore shorts and a t-shirt.
We were in Finghall, high up on the exposed moors, for the annual barrel push. It’s the sort of eccentric activity that takes place in remote villages on Bank Holiday Mondays, a quintessentially English thing to do. The sun made a brief appearance but by early afternoon it was long gone, and a cold wind from the North Sea needled its way across the moors.
The lad looked nervous, in a good-humoured way that said I know I look nervous but you can relax, that’s how people want me to look and it’s all part of the game. He was sitting on a plastic chair, the sort you find in a school cafeteria, and the chair was cantilevered above a circular pool of water, two metres deep and the same across. Another young farmer (the first lad’s brother from the look of pleasure on his face) was handing out tennis balls in return for a small donation to charity. Hit the target and you dunked the farmer. A kelpie stood ready to retrieve any wayward balls.
Clyde was so horrified at the prospect of dunking someone on such a bitterly cold day that his natural competitive instinct was overridden. Much as he wanted to prove he could hit the target, he held back. He couldn’t bring himself to be the instrument of the young lad’s torture.
For a small Yorkshire village, which consisted of a single pub, a manor house and a clutch of cottages, they’d assembled quite a crowd. Until a few years ago there would have been precious little reason to visit Finghall, but then a group of young farmers from nearby Masham—six miles across No Man’s Moor Lane—challenged each other to roll an empty barrel of beer up the hill. Having driven up it we knew it was a long hill with a steep gradient that took several minutes of concentration in low gear to navigate the twisting, winding road. Somehow, the fun of pushing a barrel up the hill caught on and now it happens every year, a quirky village event.
We huddled at the edge of a small crowd and listened to a surprisingly good jazz band, Carbon Footprint, as they battled the skittish wind. There was a trestle table selling second hand books—Sebastian Faulks and Jo Nesbo at 50p sorted my holiday reading—plus a tombola, a table full of bric a brac and a BBQ selling hot dogs. Three saxophonists (including the wonderful Django Zazou) two guitarists, a drummer, trumpeter and singer played on a grass verge under a flimsy gazebo. The house behind them blocked some of the wind, but they still looked blue with cold. The owner came out with mugs of hot tea.
The young farmer perched high above the swimming pool had no such protection, and no hot tea. With his ham-sized hands resting on his bare thighs, he grinned at the crowd. People queued for tennis balls.
The dunking happened during a jazzy rendition of a Beatle’s number. There was a sudden slam of machinery, the chair tipped forward and the young farmer plunged head first into the pool. His bulk sent water cascading over the sides. To cheers from the crowd he clambered out and shook his head like an English sheepdog. We expected him to go into a nearby house and dry off, but instead he clambered back onto the chair, his hair wet and his skimpy shorts stuck to his chunky thighs, and he waited patiently for the next person to have a go.
There was no shortage of participants eager to try their luck, and in the half hour we stood listening to Carbon Footprint the young farmer was plunged into the water six times. Each time he got back onto the chair.
Appalachian clog dancers were just setting up as we left. It was a shame we couldn’t have stayed for the barrel push, but we had a ferry to catch. The rain started to come down as we drove away and I pictured the mighty young farmer from Masham, sitting steadfastly in place, waiting for his next dunking.