Not for the faint hearted, the Hallaton Bottle Kicking. Easter Monday for centuries has seen local (and not so local) lads fall down the fields in a mass of thrashing arms and legs in order to put a bottle (in fact a small wooden keg) over a stream that runs in a deep cleft to the south of the village. This is pagan rivalry, an annual contest of brute force between Hallaton and the neighbouring village of Medbourne, shrouded in ritual and very, very, tribal. It starts with the cutting-up and distribution of a Hare Pie at the church gates, a blessing of be-ribboned bottles on the Butter Cross followed by a bagpiped parade headed-up by a man in green velvet with a Kit William's style hare on a pole. And a girl looking like an Ovaltine Dairy Maid who throws buns at the crowd from a wicker basket. Even more beer is put away, and then everyone troops up Hare Pie Bank to where the 'kicking' begins. What fun. Bloody fun, but amazingly good natured. When I got a bit near the centre of the action a winger, or whatever they're called, barged into me but immediately said "Sorry!". And then there is the additional spectacle (or dare I say attraction) of a secondary army of girls shouting encouragement to boyfriends, husbands and just blokes they fancied who were engaged head down in the heaving throng. And to a feisty girl in there somewhere. All swooning on testosterone like poets on laudanum, these are the camp followers, running with the pack like a baggage train on a battlefield. I walked back to my village across the sunlit fields, thinking myself a dismounted rider returning after the Charge of The Light Brigade, wishing I was at least thirty years younger so I could get in there with everyone else. Maybe next year I'll turn up in a big Michelin Man padded suit, but expect to be tipped-up in a ditch and abandoned, vainly trying to get upright again.
4 days ago