A light-hearted story for Easter weekend, a slice of English village life.
'OVA' MY DEAD BODY
The cancellation of the 97th annual Winfordshire egg rolling contest was considered by many to be an outrage. Generations of Winfordshire folk had grown up with the contest as important a date in the family calendar as their birthday, Christmas or the last day of term, and the prospect of Easter passing by without the competitive thrill of rushing down the hill, typically whilst being pounded by the wind and rain characteristic of English springtime, was enough to bring tears to the eyes of local residents young and old.
“Health and safety?!” scoffed Edna Burridge, 89 years of age and a lifelong Winfordshire lass. “There was no such thing back in my day. A few knocks and scrapes never did anyone any harm. It certainly wasn’t health and safety that won us the war, you mark my words.”
The local council did not however pay any attention to Edna’s words, or indeed those of any of the other 63 angry citizens who bombarded them with letters, phone calls and mildly veiled threats. In this increasingly litigious age they could simply not afford to bear the risk associated with an event which had recorded in the annals of its glorious history countless cases of concussion, eighteen broken limbs and at least a dozen arrests. In spite of Edna’s declaration that ‘you’ll stop that contest over my dead body!’, the cancellation remained in place and Edna remained in the same rude health as ever.
Regardless of the council’s decree that the event had been outlawed, the citizens of Winfordshire carried on regardless with the task of painstakingly decorating their eggs. Those ignorant enough to question the point of spending hours painting a detailed design on an egg only to throw it down a muddy hill were treated with derision and pointed in the direction of the local museum where a lovingly assembled scrapbook would greet them with photographs of their parents, grandparents and even great grandparents performing the very same task, and the proprietor Brian would solemnly inform them that tradition is tradition, no questions asked.
Word spread that the killjoy council would be locking the gates to the park on Easter Sunday morning in order to prevent any illegal egg rolling activity from taking place, so the self appointed people’s committee of maths teacher Peter Fletcher, ferret fancier Allen Monroe and lifelong Winfordshire lass Edna Burridge, 89, decided that an alternative approach was required. Although tradition decreed that the egg rolling would always take place immediately after the 10am easter morning service at St Barnabus’, they agreed that breaking with a small element of tradition would be preferable to bowing to the bureaucrats and cancelling the event completely. Word quickly spread of the new arrangements and the self appointed committee were confident that there would be a good turn out at the inaugural Winfordshire midnight egg rolling contest.
At approximately quarter to twelve on the night of April 3rd, at least one hundred members of the Winfordshire population crept from their houses into the cold dark street, wrapped up warm in gloves and scarves and grasping a precious egg-shaped cargo. Rogue council worker (and grandson of Edna) Richard Burridge had misappropriated the spare set of park keys, an abnormally deviant act for the straight-laced accountant and one that made him somewhat fearful for his job and final salary pension. Into the park streamed men, women and children, some rolling virgins but the majority faithful disciples of the great school of Egg. Like sheep they flocked towards the top of the hill where they stood in silence, waiting for the sign.
Arthritis and hips that had seen better days meant that Edna had, twelve months ago, had to sadly announce her retirement from egg rolling. Her unbroken record for the most consecutive wins – six back in the early 1970s – afforded her a VIP status that made her the natural choice for taking charge of the event in the absence of the usual council officials. At the bottom of the hill, as instructed, she flashed her torch three times in a row before bellowing ‘Go!’. In an instant eggs were furiously launched down the slope, their trajectory followed in quick succession by a flurry of flailing limbs and screaming mouths. Within thirty seconds the first egg reached the finish line and Edna declared its young owner the winner, taking a photo on her grandson’s fancy digital camera of the boy holding the red and white striped egg aloft which would take pride of place in the Winfordshire museum scrapbook alongside the images of the previous seventy victors. In the background of the photo could be made out dozens of shadowy figures, some sat on the ground holding grazed knees or aching heads, others bent over struggling to catch a breath after their brief annual stint of physical activity. Everyone, no matter how bloodied or bruised, shared in the elation of the winner. This was a victory for everyone, a victory over those cursed words health and safety, a victory over the man.
Whilst the good citizens of Winfordshire were celebrating easter at St Barnabus’ church, or, in the case of the more secularly mind, with a chocolate egg shaped breakfast in bed, local councillor and park keeper Eric Marmaduke rigidly stood guard at the park gate like one of the Queens’ beefeaters, although with a slightly less impressive hat. He was quite surprised by how quiet it was this morning – after the mountain of complaint letters that had landed on his mat he would not have been surprised to have been greeted by angry protesters with signs and threats of violence. To be honest it was even quiet by the standards of a usual Sunday, as if everyone had simultaneously decided to spend an extra hour in bed rather than going about their usual routines. When the clock struck midday without the slightest hint of trouble having occurred, Mr Marmaduke decided that he no longer needed to stand sentry; the good citizens of Winfordshire had clearly come to realise that by calling an end to the preposterous act of carnage that they like to call tradition he had only had their best interests at heart. He had been wrong to doubt them.
At 12.01 Eric Marmaduke opened the park gates and was greeted by a carpet of rainbow egg shells.
At 12.01 and ten seconds Eric Marmaduke greeted the carpet of rainbow egg shells with a very rude word.