|Worm charming in Willaston|
On Saturday, June 27, the best worm charmers in the world will descend upon Willaston County Primary School in Cheshire, England, armed with stobs, rooping irons, worm fiddles and other unique and ingenious devices created for the sole purpose of luring the humble earthworm from his subterranean abode.
Welcome to the wonderful world of worm charming- a competitive sport that can trace its origins to the earliest days of mankind. Yes, long before Abner Doubleday thought about baseball or James Naismith concocted the game of basketball, there was worm charming.
It has long been known that vibration attracts worms to the surface, and humans have been taking advantage of this phenomenon for thousands of years, luring earthworms to the surface so that they can be used as bait to catch fish. Humans probably learned this trick by watching certain species of birds and turtles, who "tap dance" on the soil in order to attract worms to the surface where they are consumed.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in worm charming, both as a skill and as a sport. This skill may be nothing more than a time honored tradition, but worm charming festivals and competitions exist so that this unique skill is passed on to new generations, ensuring its survival.
There are numerous techniques and devices used in these competitions. Worm "grunting" is performed with the use of a wooden stake, known to professional grunters as a "stob", which is driven into the soil, and a "rooping iron" which is dragged across the stob in order to produce a vibration. This is very similar to worm "fiddling", in which the teeth of a dull saw are dragged across the top of the stake to produce the same effect. Some grunters and fiddlers also sprinkle the ground with beer, tea, and other liquids to attract the worms (though this is prohibited at the World Worm Charming Championships).
While there are many worm charming competitions throughout the world, perhaps none are as prestigious as the World Worm Charming Championships in Willaston. In 1980, a farmer named Tom Shufflebotham managed to charm 511 worms from the ground in 30 minutes in the first worm charming competition with formalized rules, an event that has grown to become the Wimbledon of competitive worm charming. The sport is governed by the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes (IFCWAP), a body established by Gordon Farr and Mike Forster. The World Worm Charming Championships website describes the IFCWAP thusly:
The International Committee of IFCWAP is formed by Mike Forster, Chief Wormer and Mr Gordon Farr, Former Headmaster of Willaston School, who now enjoys life long Presidency and meets only once a year and at other times of national crisis.
Competitors compete for the top prize, which is a trophy of a golden worm, which is passed on to a new winner each year. Another trophy, depicting a silver worm, goes to the competitor who charms the heaviest worm (For the record, the heaviest worm recorded weighed in at 6.6grams and was charmed by Mr J. Overstall in 1987).
For more information on the World Worm Charming Championships, including competition rules (available in more than 30 languages), be sure to check out www.wormcharming.com