International Writers Magazine: UK Traditions
Fools on a Hill
Hoose agin hoose,
toon agin toon, if thee meet a man, knock 'im down - but don't hurt
As the sun came up, we all rose from bed as fresh as a daisy looking
forward to a nice cup or two of tea, bacon & lincolnshire sausage
butties dripping in that fat and HP sauce combination. Also, for
some lounging in front of the SKY box flipping between The
worlds deadliest catch (awesome documentary that documents
life on a crab trawler in the tough North Atlantic Ocean), and Soccer
AM (amusing football show (although not as amusing as I had remembered
it to be)) whilst waiting for the game to begin (and not the FA
Well that was the
theoretical plan anyway. Alas, as all great plans go, it went wrong
for us. We being my wife who had accompanied myself back
over to England to visit this incredulous event (and spend Christmas
with the folks round our way you see Hood Day is
bigger and better than Chrsitmas Day itself), my brother who had recently
moved back up north and a mate from London (LuoBeTe a good lad
for a southerner). We are here this day to take part in the ancient
game of Haxey Hood played out in the village of Haxey (my
home village) in South Yorkshire.
Woke up with a slightly fuzzy head is what we did do. Reason being that
the night before wed been for a couple of shandies around the
village where the local Haxey Hood party were touring around the village
pubs, having a pint of bitter (no lager allowed for the boggins apparently),
showing off the leather hood itself, collecting money for local charities
and a having a good old sing song (such classics as farmers
boy & cannons), as tradition dictates. The evening
before the game you see, the Hood party meet up in one of the four village
pubs and then tour around the other three, and theyve been around
the whole Isle of Axholme in the proceeding six evenings (that is no
small number of pubs, no small number of pints and hopefully no small
amount of money collected).
Wed gone for the walk up to The Loco (partly to stretch our legs
after a heavy dinner / tea and partly to show my mate the sights of
Haxey (this can be done quite quickly to be fair)). It was quiet in
there, so we supped our pints and reminsiced over tales of this and
that before heading on down through the now pouring rain to The Kings.
In there it was not quiet, it was indeed very busy as The Hood Party
were in and were half way through their first song (Farmers Boy)
as we hastened in through the front door. I sent my brother off to battle
with the bar, ordered the missus to get some good shots off with the
digital camera and I found a good filming position with the video camera
to begin my documentation of events (my mate kind of stood around in
that lost kind of way you do sometimes when in strange places watching
strange happenings with strange people).
Ill give you a breakdown on the competing pubs as the time seems
l: The Carpenters Arms (Loccated in the neighbouring enemy
village ofWestwoodside) 2007 winners of the game. Good name for
a pub one would think and all them are amusing when you transalte it
into Chinese as my wife did. A little on the small side one would say
and a place with not much going on really.
2: The Duke William (Haxey) the pub located nearest to the field
where the game is played and hence is the busiest on hood day (ludicrously
small bar does not help either). I used to play football for this pub
in my younger days when i lived in the village so i rememeber it (and
the post match spare ribs, pint of orange squash followed by a couple
of pints and the lazy Sunday afternoon watching the footy on the box)
fondly. Now the place seems a little tired (and smelly) as the decoration
has not altered since England last had a quality football team worthy
of winning a major football tournament (which of course would be the
1996 Terry Venables team which you may or may not agree with))
3: The Loco (Haxey) located conveniently next door to the Duke.
My current favourite Haxey pub, decorated very comfortably inside (big
leather sofas for slouching) and with a train theme (hence the name)
tastefully done inside, lots of space but not too spacy, a large back
room with pool table and whopping great Haxey Hood mural on the wall
and also with a room a attached on doing Indian food (and Sunday roasts
4: The Kings (Haxey) used to be called the Kings Arms, but it
seems the Arms part of the name has been gotten rid of these days for
some reason. It is also the closest pub to my (mothers) house
and so happens to be my brothers favourite as he is one lazy sod
and he use to play footy for their team (thus we were sporting rivals
in the cut and thrust of Sunday morning pub football leagues, and yet
we played for the same village team (Haxey Town) in the Saturday league).
I love pub names, I think they are great, they just trot of the tongue
nicely. For example: Im off to The Duke to watch the footy
or See you down the Kings for a pint and even fancy
a game of pool up in The Loco?. These expressions should fit nicely
into ESL teaching text books and Rough Guides to England for your intrepid
backpackers from Norway. Over in the village to the other side there
is The White Bear, The Queens Head and The
Red Lion, all superbly English sounding pubs. I live overseas
you see in a place where there are basically no pubs (only some naff
bars (however the KTV houses are mighty fine fun places), which
is a shame really as they are wonderful places.
We are kitted out in our not finest and our not best as we are expecting
a muddy day ahead. My wife is wearing a fetching pair of wellington
boots though for the occasion (espacially bought they were). We take
a stroll on over the trod (not a word i hear often enough if you ask
me), pass by a couple walking their rather large dogs, a lady riding
an even larger horse (scary things horses bigger than you imagine)
and some unruly kids messing around on bikes (homework nah?). The sun
is out, the sky is clear and it is looking liking a good day for some
fun and antics.
We get up to the high street area heading towards our first port of
call, The Loco public house. It has just gone ten in the morning and
there are already perhaps thirty to forty folk in the bar with an alcoholic
bevarge of some description in their hand. Weve come for the full
Engligh Hood breakfast, available for one and all upon payment of five
english pounds, which to me is an absolute bargain when one remembers
it is not my five english pounds that is paying for it. Anyhow, we order
from the bar lady four full ones and decline her invitation to order
an alocoholic beverage as we just feel the sun is not yet high enough
in the sky for such things.
We plonk down in the corner and realise we will be in need of a beverage
of some description to quench our thirsts. Play paper, scissors
& stones (a fair game to solve most issues one the
UN should note) to establish my kid brother must go and obtain some
glasses of orange juice from the bar for us all. He comes back with
fours cans of coke as they are the only soft drinks on offer for the
day. Fair enough. Out come the breakfasts and we all have an enjoyable
slow eat, polishing off everything on the plate except for that nasty
looking black pudding stuff
.urgh. In come the hood party for the
pint of bitter, glass of port and full english feed, and I notice some
of them are looking worse for wear from last night or have had a few
already (or both who knows?).
Full and happy we decide to move out (apart from my brother who is now
heading back down the road to the Kings we he aims to spend the next
twelve hours of his life as he does every year), onwards and upwards,
past the Duke we go (also offering breakfast we note), past the old
church (very aesthetic church it is too and we my parents got
my maarried I do believe) and up towards the water tower on the hill
seperating the two villages. We bump into an uncle and some cousins
heading in the opposite direction to us, walk some more and bump into
another cousin Ive not seen for over 20 years (plus wife and kid),
all in all it will be a day of bumping into many Aunts & Uncles
and even more cousins. We pop in to say hello to Nanna number one and
make small talk until yet another relative rocks up to take over on
the conversation front, so we take leave. We pop in to visit Nanna number
two as it is also on our route today and make yet small talk. Eventually
we get on down to the Carpentars Arms in Westwoodside.
It is now a more reasonable hour as it has just passed 11am so my friend
gets the round in: a pint of smooth (Smiths), a pint of lager (dunno
which one and don't care) and a glass of orange juice for the lady.
These three drinks my mate informs me cost him three pounds and sixty
pence, a price absurdly low that a mistake must have occurred somewhere
along the line. It had as I discovered on my trip to the bar for the
Its busy inside so we retreat outside for a while as the sun is
shining warmly on this January day. Pass the time outside until the
hood party rock up for the traditional painting of the face for the
fool (he is already dressed in rags colourful rags, he just needs
his face done up to finish him off). This part of the day Ive
never seen before so I find it quite intriging myself.
As the hood party duly arrive we sneak back in the back door and try
to position ourselves a good view of proceedings. This unfortunately
is decidely more difficult than wed imagined but yet we get a
good spot by the back door to the main lounge. The hood party pour in
the front door and things get remarkably cramped very quickly. Pints
of bitter are pased over heads from the bar over to the hood party.
Dale, aka The fool, hence forth rushes very promptly and
very pale faced out of the bar towards the bathroom vicinity. His pal
and a boggin buddy quickly follow to assist him. He is looking worse
for wear I have to say, and he has a pivotal role to play in the proceedings
today. He seems to find a bit of colour for his cheeks in the bathroom
and he strides purposely back towards the main bar, passing us on the
way where we get a cracking photo of him and he comments that my wifes
wellington boots are perhaps the best he has seen for a long time
this makes her quite happy indeed.
Inside he gets his face all painted up for the day by the chief boggin
I do believe it is, so finishing up his attire for the day. Rather splendid
he looks to with his hat, his baton and his rags of coloured clothes.
This done, the hood party head straight into their barrage of three
songs for the session in this pub. We get some good camera shots and
have a half decent view of what is going on.
For those of you who fancy hearing some of the songs that are sung:
This done we get a quick pint in and have a a sit down as most people
depart the pub to head on over to Haxey. This we need to do now promptly
ourselves as some uni mates are gonna be meeting me in the Duke back
over in Haxey. Most of the family clan will also be already parked up
in the Duke aswell in what is now our corner of the Duke
pub as my Uncle Malcom solely declares and to be fair the family is
usually out in good numbers in that corner.
The church area and the high street area is much busier than a couple
of hours ago, people standing in the streets in small groups of family
and friends, all drinking cans and bottles from there bags and rucksacks.
No one seems to care about this as is practical after all (being that
you cannot physically get all these people into the bar) and the police
dotted around turn a blind eye.
I do however wonder to myself how long it will be before the funstoppers
(police, local authorites, Mr Brown and probable pedantic new villagers)
get the hump and try to put a stop to such a day on the grounds of health
and safety and all that melarky.
The Duke is all laid bare, there is plastic sheeting on the floor, pictures
have been taken off the wall and there are no chairs or tables to be
found at all. It is meant for standing room only.
Get in the pub, meet my mate Mark and his wife (who is somewhat worryingly
wearing high heeled shoes) plus Dave and Gaz (good names them eh). Have
a quick pint and a bit of banter with them before my mother catches
us and hauls us off into the corner in preperation for the hood party.
Here in the corner theyve brought their own bags of booze into
the pub also so they do not even have to bother trying to get to the
bar in such busy times.
Some guy comes in close to the bar at the end of where we are all situated
and orders twenty pints of bitter, much to the displeasure of others
waiting. Still ,these beers are for the hood party and theyll
be heading in shortly (following their trip into the Kings and the Loco).
And so they do, and so do many others behond them. Now, the place is
absolutly packed to the rafters, people are wall to wall and you really
cannot go anywhere, we have now even clambered up upon the side chairs
of our corner for a better view and to make more space.
My Uncle Malcom and Uncle Terry have manouvered themselves in with the
hood party to join in the singing (many moons ago you see my Uncle Malcom
was involved in all this officially as the fool
how ironic one
would say if you saw the guy and the braces he wears). The place has
become unbelieveably hot now and people are sweating buckets.
Once theyve got their beer, they all have a swig amongst themselves
and crack on once more into their set of songs. This is the last pub
stop of the day, the last singing of the songs and so they blast a good
version of these ones out (fueled now by copious beers). As ever it
starts with Farmers Boy (I even know a few words of this one), followed
by John Barleycorn (possibly my new favourite after this session) and
finishing with a rousing rendition of Cannons.
People filter out a bit after the songs giving some space and we get
to chat to some of the hood party a bit. There is Karl and Phil Palmer
from next door who are a few years older then me and to whom I played
footy quite a bit with when I lived in Haxey. There is Phil Coggon,
the Lord of the Hood whom weve known for years as he went ot school
with my parents, and i with her daughters, plus he was my old Taekwondo
instructor. The chief boggin and he lend us their hats to wear for photos,
very heavy they are too and very hot. Beautifully decorated they are,
it tops of both their red outfits nicely very photogenic.
Get another pint in for the road and step out back to cool down somewhat.
Stand around in the car park for a while, others do the same, some with
their pints from the pub but mostly folks with their backpacks and cans
The street is packed as we wonder on up to the church area for the session
entitled smoking the fool, a part of the day favoured most
of all by the toursits who flock here it seems. Anyhow, there is a large
throng of people (a few hundred Id say) located around the stone
mound in from of the church and so we clamber onto the garden wall of
the local old folks home to get a better view. The view is great if
a little distant to be honest, still what can you do?
hood party stroll up the street chatting away, people make space
for them to push on through to get to the church. They reach the
church and as per tradition the fool makes a run for it and the
boggins set off in hot pursuit, only it is a half hearted run for
it from the fool mind you as he has had a few jars now and the boggins
too. They catch up with him, hoist him up on their shoulders and
carry him back to the church stone. Meanwhile the bale of straw
located behind the stone has been lit and smoke is starting to rise.
From the stone,
he once more makes as elequant a speech as he can muster up under the
circumstances, cracks a couple of jokes, reminds everyone of what the
day is about and finishes off with the hood cry oose agin oose,
toon agin toon, if a man meet a man, knock him down, but dont
ot him and proceeds to leap from the stone before the flames
from the straw bale set him on fire. All good stuff for the cameras
of those American tourists.
From this point on, we can actually get on with the game itself as the
hood party leads everyone up on to the hood field to let battle commence.
Well not everyone, as a good number of people choose once more to head
back to the pub as they are either still feeling thirsty or they are
in need of more anebriation before they contemplate joining in the game
First up are the 12 sacks for the kids to chase. Volunteers hurl the
sacks from the centre of the field, the kids chase it pick it up and
attempt to lef it off the field to where they are safe. Unfortuantely
those 12 boggin chaps are trying their best to prevent them from doing
this. Cracking fun this was when I was a kid, with the added bonus of
receiveing a glass of coke and 50 pence from the local pub landlord
when you took it there (nowadays you get a whole english pound as a
My wife gets volunteered to throw one of the sacks up, possibly the
first Chinese folk to do so, and with humourous consequesnces. Firstly,
she messes up the hood cry by saying all of it except the dont
hurt him part, and then she threw the sack at head height in to
the crowd resulting in a few folk getting a sack to their head which
they were not expecting thatll teach them to be more vigilant!
No harm done and all good fun, and much laughs around.
Some twenty minutes pass before all 12 sacks are thrown off and the
kids manage toget them off the field by hook or by crook. Now it is
time for the main gig of the day. The drunken adults all gather up close
now in anticipation, so we and other folks not intending to actually
join in suitably back off a little in preperation for the main leather
hood being thrown up. The Lord of the Hood gives a sharp short speech
to gather the crown and remind people to play the game fairly and to
listen to the boggins who will control and let the game pass safely
(or as safely as one could). The leather hood is passed to some woman
as she has the honour of throwing up the hood this year (you can bid
to win this honour to throw the hood by donating a large wad of cash
to the hood charity I believe is how it works) and throws it she does.
Some few people catch it, a large sway of peole converge (possible a
houndred or more) and this sway of people (like a rugby scrum
sort of) now try to push it towards their own village.
Not much happens for a minute or two, and then they all fall over, people
cry out in pain and people pull them out, they all stand up, converge
and repeat. This is how it goes for the next few hours. Lots of pushing
and shooving (the term is to sway apparantly), collapsing
and falling, people hurt and pulled out, standing up and starting again.
Ive done it before and have no intention of doing it today as
I am well aware of the potential pain factor involved (Ive had
a badly bloodied nose in the past (others have had had broken limbs
and concussion)) and am perfectly happy spectating for a while. My mate
Dave on the other hand is all for it, and so off he goes with all my
best wishes, and my cousins Russel and Andrew are already in there.
We stand and watch a while, some people get tired from the pushing and
shooving and retreat back the ale house for a pick me up, but that is
ok coz others from the ale house turn up to take their place seamlessly
or so it seems.
Just as things settle down a little, I play with the notion of just
going and having a quick push, you know stay on the outside safish part
of it and have a quick nudge, when there is a big commotion, the sway
of people move quite quickly and suddenly and there is a huge collapse
of the sway and the thing falls in to a big heap of muddied hurt people.
It takes a while to drag everyone out of this particualr fall and the
boggins have their work cut out to restore order on this one. We count
three people carried off from the sway by others in great agony and
discomfort. This brings me back to my senses and I remember the plan
is to spectate not participate.
You can spectate for only so long as it does not compare favourably
to say football for it's action packed excitement so we (we by know
are my wife and I, Robert and Dave) decide upon a change of scenery.
The scenery in question is a fast food burger van off by the road some
couple of hundred metres away. A dodgy burger with overdone onions for
some and cones over undercooked chips with dollops of red sauce for
us. A lovely pick me up of fatty fast food.
As this sway will most likely go on for a couple of hours up here on
this muddy field, we come to the decision to take a rest from all this
fresh air and go in search of my brother who is located down in the
Kings Arms. Off down the field we set off trudging, and as we go we
see one unlucky chap in some serious discomfort being assisted by a
volunteer first aider from St Johns Ambulance brigade in his bright
flurescant coat. We all comment it is likely to be a bad outcome of
the day for him, and then I realise that the poor chap lying there is
my cousin Russel and that wed best go over and check what is going
He is in surprising good spirits when he sees it is me, he seems aware
he has hurt himself but probably the copious amounts of beer are offsetting
the reality, maybe. The first aider confirms to us he has a definate
broken ankle and needs to go to hospital asap, which he arranges by
calling for an ambulance and paramedics to get on up here (for some
reason though the paramedic staff he was talking too had no idea where
Haxey was in the world so I had to speak to them directly and use postcodes
so they could get here using a sat nav strange i thought).
After that I decide it is better I inform some other members of the
family of his condition probably his wife and his father for
starters so I head off to look for them on the field and leave the others
to have their banter with him. I find my cousin Angela and her boyriend
and send them over to Russel and then my mother and Marge and send them
over, yet finding Unlce Malcom proves astonishingly difficult
especially considering her is wearing the largest, brightest yellow
coat on the field. He gets found eventually though by people more capable
than me at spotting the thing easiest to spot.
So here we are a few of us family surrounding Russel lying on
the mud, my uncle Dave has rocked up too and has proceeded to film the
events unfolding, uncle Malcom is simply winding his son up lying down
there for his foolishness at getting himself hurt. All very stange in
that way that maybe it is not that strange.
I send the others (my wife, Dave and Rob) off on down the Kings as there
aint much for them to do here. I stay a while longer before myeslf I
am ushered away to the Duke to inform what family members are still
in there of what has happened to Russel. This I set off for, but bump
into my Uncle Terry on the way down he is on the way up as it
seems news has already filtered down to them and so he is off up for
a (concerned) look too.
Nowt else for me to do now then other than head down the Kings to see
what is happening down there.
What is happening is drinking & banter with some mates and watching
(trying to anyway conversation and questions keep getting in
the way) an FA cup third round game on the telly. Come 7pm time
the pub is beginning to swell considerably as it appears the Kings are
hot favourites to win the game as the sway is being pushed slowly but
surely down this way. My Mum and Dad & Marge have found a way into
the pub and we have all packed into our own little corner of the pub
as the sway finally arrives the landlord finally gets hold of the leather
sway to claim victory. Free pints of beer all around hoorah (well
actually that used to be the case but not so now unfortunately
in this day).
Game over. The winners for 2008 were indeed the hot favourites (can
you bet on this game I wonder?) All done and dusted. Nothing else to
do other than a have a few more pints before heading home.
There are mild cheers of victory but no real wild celebrations or party
or songs or anything much different to what it was before anyway. There
are just more and more people trying to push on it. Thus, we (except
Mum, Dad and Marge who are heading home for stew and dumplings (but
without the dumplings) choose to retreat out this particular pub and
mooch on back up the street to one of the other drinking holes.
We choose The Loco as we can see Uncle Dave and Uncle Terry already
in there, plus yes you guessed it more cousins. To be honest
everyone has probably had enough beer by now and soon everyone is heading
home to their own pot of stew and dumplings as we do for ours
(which we gladfully consume at the kitchen table watching match of the
day on the box).
It had been a great day, a long day and a most interesting day all in
Roll on Haxey Hood 2009
Darren Skelton May 2008
For more background reading on the game and all its traditions,
you can check out the following:
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