Yank journalist probes into a series of bizarre, sometimes perilous, competitive and/or commemorative events kept alive in tightly knit British communities.
Some of these spectacles, Daeschner relates, like the Shrovetide football contests held in a number of British towns with pubs—he singles out Haxey—do have centuries of tradition behind them. This venerability allows the author, from his viewpoint as the droll American observer, to speculate on the subtle fact that mass drunken violence is actually organized rather than simply allowed to occur randomly. And when he joins in the scrum—officially known as the Sway in Haxey—for firsthand experience, there’s plenty of leg-breaking and skull-concussing atmosphere, but not much comes by way of explanation as to its origins. The shin-kicking competition in Chipping Campden, on the other hand, has direct connections to a misbegotten, as it were, attempt in 1612 to recapture the glory of the original Greek “Olympicks.” But, unlike downhill cheese-rolling races in Gloucestershire (where no one ever catches up with the cheese), “horn dancing” with a huge rack of antlers tied on or burning the pope (in effigy) in Lewes, other events on Daeschner’s itinerary may simply be figments of modern touristic inspirations in locales that have little else going for them. Bog-snorkeling in the Welsh town of Llanwyrtud would be a prime example of the latter; and, again, the author submerges himself futilely in fetid, bacteria-laden muck to capture the feel and spirit (though that may be too generous a word) of the contest. While the reporting is energetic and exploratory, these situations, packed together, cry out for TV coverage. The author’s attempt in a preamble, however, to integrate them under some sociological compulsion of Britons not to be boring lacks both style and conviction.
Atmospheric, modestly entertaining travelogue.