If you find the same old acts are clogging up the nation's fields,
the more intrepid festival goer may care to venture a little further
afield for a truly memorable experience. Bill Borrows is your guide
A festival doesn't have to be middle-class tossers from the home
counties wearing ethnic print T-shirts, drawstring pants , and "eye-catching"
headgear, taking mind-altering substances and sleeping with their
friends in rotation. Take my word for it, it can get a whole lot
more mental than Jocasta dropping acid for the first time and giving
Toby one off-the-Wrist even though she's supposed to be seeing Angus
and Toby hasn't really got over Phoebe yet. There are plenty of
festivals weirder than Glastonbury.
Here are some of the best, with details of when and where and a
rating out of 10 indicating the chances of bumping into anyone with
parents who "made a lot of money in the eighties". Ten is bad news.
THE KEPPEI KRABTASTIC WORLD CRAB-TYING CHAMPIONSHIPS (May,
Not really what you might expect from a nation dedicated to the
cult of machismo. Whereas American rodeo riders rope cattle and
steers and then jump from moving horses, the brave inhabitants of
Keppel Sands (Queensland) take 10 steps into an arena filled with
big crabs and try to tie their claws together before getting nipped.
Almost unbelievably they are forced to go barefoot. Only a militant
vegan would consider this cruelty towards animals.
THE BUN FESTIVAL (May, Hong Kong) 4/10
This is a festival which has lost some of its edge since a bad accident
in 1978 saw a huge bamboo scaffolding decorated with buns collapse
and injure several people. It is still, however, pretty bizarre.
It is designed to placate the spirits of the dead (victims of either
the plague or the pirate Cheung Po Chai in whose lair - Cheung Chau
Island - it takes place) and as a concession to the spirits of the
animal kingdom is entirely vegetarian. The "floating children" appear
on the third day, the main day of festivities, but are actually
juveniles in hidden harnesses on top of poles. Leave the acid at
home. Buns are now handed down from the scaffolding to stop intoxicated
revellers climbing the traditionally unstable structure.
THE CAT FESTIVAL (May, Belgium) 7/10
Belgium is something of a surprise package on the festival scene.
The Cat Festival in Ypres is only one of many but, given that (until
1817) it used to involve throwing live cats off a belfry to see
if they would land feet down, it deserves a mention hare. Today
the cats are made of material but the original impetus for the event
stemmed from a rising cat population. No doubt there was a huge
campaign not to ban the pastime conducted along the same lines as
that recently co-ordinated here by the pro-hunting lobby. "You just
don't understand," the wealthy, in-bred and slightly dim burghers
of Ypres will have argued. "It is the most humane method of controlling
the cat population. We have personally seen them drag babies from
rudimentary perambulators and rip their heads off. Have you?" It
should be noted that the annual goat-tossing from the church belfry
in Manganeses de la Polvorosa (Spain), although outlawed since 1992,
still continues and involves the almost certain death of an animal.
Perhaps the pro-hunting lobby can relocate.
NEAR-DEATH PILGRIMAGE (June, Spain) 1/10
Since the death of Franca, Spain has gone festival-mad, indulging
both its predilection for over-the-top sanctimonious religious worship
and a well-documented love of partying. This is a festival held
in Pontevedra, Galicia, for people who consider themselves lucky
to have escaped death that year. Taunting the Grim Reaper to a reckless
degree perhaps, many arrive in coffins before jumping to their feet.
Amusingly, one person en route to the festival in 1994 was killed
instantly when his car collided with a coach.
COW FIGHTS (June, Switzerland) 10/10
Not really a festival as such, more a case of humans in Valais making
a spectator event of the natural competition for social ascendancy
between Herens cows - slow bovine creatures of minimal worth -in
ad orgy of horn-locking. Much like the Tara and Tamara column-inch
war in this country.
SEAMAN'S DAY (June, lceland) 9/10
Only really listed here for its cheap gag potential but still a
100 per cent guaranteed bender with enormous potential for death
by alcohol poisoning. A rare opportunity to eat both blackbird and
NAADAM (July, Mongolia) 1/10
The major festival in the country is called "The Three Manly Sports"
(or, in Mongolian, "Eryn Gurvan Nadom"). Those sports are wrestling,
riding and archery. It is a nationwide event and competitors wear
tight-fitting shorts and a harness over a bare chest. This uniform,
they are loath to disclose, was introduced a couple of centuries
ago to confirm that those involved were, indeed, men. This measure
was introduced after a champion wrestler subsequently became identified
as a woman. The sound heard at the time was believed to be that
of either Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, or possibly both, turning
in their graves.
THE LUHYA CIRCUMCISION CEREMONY (August, Kenya) 2/10 (until
it appears in Mane Claire)
Not much room for gender identification problems here. This is an
annual event held in Kakamega between the 18 tribes who farm the
area. It is a massive initiation party for teenage boys which, unlike
this country, does not involve sniffing glue, buying a copy of Fiesta
or, indeed, driving one. Not for the squeamish.
LA TOMATINA (August, Spain) 6/10
Held in Bunol, near Valencia, this amounts to the biggest food fight
in the world. It is a hormone. charged free-for-all involving 110,000
kilos of tomatoes and any person able to throw a ripe red borderline
fruit/vegetable at anyone else Origin depends upon perspective,
it was either: (a) a bizarre political response in 1945 to the continuing
influence of Franco or (b) a chance occurrence after a lorry-load
of tomatoes spilled on to the streets of Bunol around the same time.
Whatever. It is the most fun it is possible to have within the constraints
of the law, involving, as it does, underage boys and girls, fruit/vegetables
and extreme violence. This is a solid-matter variant of the Wine
War in Haro (also Spain). Use your imagination.
THE BAYREUTH WAGNER FESTIVAL (July,Germany) 0/10
A really strange one this, dedicated as it is to Stephanie Powers'
co-star in Hart To Hart and the former husband of Natalie Wood.
But where's the logic when David Hasselhoff is the number one recording
artist in Germany?
THE MOOSE SHIT FESTIVAL (July, USA) 5/10
When the snow melts in Alaska it reveals millions of fields full
of moose shit. Alaska is a lonely country and, consequently, the
inhabitants of Talkeetna arm themselves with what's at hand for
the annual festival. The line-up of events includes dancing, drinking
and throwing slit at targets and each other. Whatever is left over
is used to make jewellery, which, presumably, was where Gerald Ratner
did most of bulk-purchasing.
THE HUNGER HOOTING FESTIVAL (August, Ghana) 2/10
In Accra, the firing of guns and incessant drumming indicates a
good harvest and the beginning of the festival to celebrate it.
Citizens run around shouting, "Thursday people, Thursday people"
which commemorates the day of the week the founders of the city
-arrived there. It is, basically, a huge feast with an unusual side
interest for the mothers of twins who daub their children in white
clay and cook them a meal of yam and eggs. Obviously.
THE CACI WHIP-DUELS (August, Indonesia) 7/10
Essentially a graphic illustration of the Far Eastern concept of
entertainment, two men whip each other until bleeding occurs. The
blood is then collected and used as an offering for the spirits
of ancestors. The subsequent welts and scars are much admired by
women of Ruteng. There is, it is believed, soon to be a sister festival
in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
Bill Borrows is currently writing a book about some of the weirdest
festivals in the world. Global Warning: Bizarre And Savage Writing
From Five Continents will be available from Virgin Books early next