I am sorely disappointed. The celebrated “Tour de France” has become a sprint for a drug-testing-urine stained yellow jersey. American baseball and English football seem more pharmaceutical than fantastic, You'd get lousy odds that basketball referees are still entirely trustworthy. And the epitome of “pure sport”, the Olympics, has morphed into a five star marketing tool for GlaxoSmithKline. Sport for the sheer joy of competition seems to have made its final stand on the humble playing field of the Wallaston County Primary School, in Natwich, Cheshire, England.
In this tiny village of 2,310 souls, one fish-and-chips shop and two hairdressing salons is held the annual hunt for the wily and wild Lubricous terrestris, watched closely, as one observer noted, by a few hundred amused humans and thousands of fascinated birds. And there is not a single endorsement contract in sight. This is pure sport, a contest so pure that water is considered a "performance enhancing drug". I am, of course, speaking about the World Worm Charming Championships.
The International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes (or IFCWAP, pronounced "If Cap") has only 18 rules. Each “worm pitch” is a 3 meter by 3 meter box of manicured lawn, chosen by a random draw. In each pitch two contestants (a charmer and a “Gillie”) may use any method of their choice to entice as many worms from the soil as they can within 30 minutes - with the proviso that they may not dig or turn the soil in any way and they may not apply any liquid, especially water. Copies of these simple rules are available in 30 languages, including Tibetan, even though there is no record that anyone speaking Tibetan has ever even applied to enter the championships.
The true charm of the sport is illustrated by rule 18, which states that all “charmed worms (are) to be released only after the birds have gone to roost on the evening of the event.” Rule 18 is only one of the ways in which “Worm Charming” is differentiated from its more barbaric English cousin, “Fox Hunting”. The other
s are are the horses and the dogs. And the odd costumes.
In fact, there is no record of any creature, human or worm, being injured during this event, although the Darwin Awards does provide an unconfirmed incident in Norway in October 2002. The subject in this incident, a 23 year old human male, presumably in preparation for the competition in Natwich, tested an experimental electrical charming device by inserting one electrode into the ground while he held the second in his hand. while sitting on a metal bucket. Because of the shocking lack of notations taken by this unamed experimenter it is impossible to say if any worms were actually charmed. At the most, it may be surmised, they were bemused.
In fact the use of electricity to attract earthworms has been something of a "Holy Grail" as long as humans have been touching positive to negative. U.S. patent #1932237 was granted in October 1933 for an electric “Device for use in catching earth worms, insects, and the like”. This innovation was followed in October of 1948 by patent #2450597, which was granted for an “Earth worm disgorging device”. August of 1952 saw patient #2607164 for an “Electric device to bring earth-worms to the surface of the ground”. Patent #2770075 was granted in November 1956 for an “Electric bait getter”. This was succeeded by patient #3763593 (10/'73) for an “Apparatus for bringing earthworms to the surface of the ground”, the “Worm Rod” (patient # 3793770 granted in February of 1974).
The crowded field has become so advanced that on February 29, 1988 the Consumer Product Safety Commission even filed a complaint against P&M Enterprises of Caldwell, Idaho, demanding a recall of the “Worm Gett’r”. (No longer available.) Officially, since 1971, 23 products of the American education system have died while using commercially sold “worm extractor systems”, but in truth only God knows how many other intrepid inventors and electrically inclined souls who were too cheap to pay $5 for a dozen worms have gone to that great worm pitch in the sky. The Internet is yet still crowded with geniuses, each so thrilled and excited by their own inventiveness, that they are willing to risk their lives to outsmart a protein tube with no brain. At least the contestants at the Wallaston County Primary are merely risking their dignity, as no electricity is allowed in Worm Charming.
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