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Olney: Pancake Race

It’s one of the puzzles of modern life, as to how society ever managed before the recent phenomena of ‘non jobs,’ of which - strangely - there appears to be a proliferation in those sectors where vast amounts of public money are spent, with seemingly scant regard for accountability. However, who would have wanted to be a ‘Risk Assessor’ in 19th century Olney, for on Guy Fawkes night the town annually succumbed to the ancient custom of booting a ball of blazing rags around the town - on one occasion through a draper’s shop window. In fact on November 5th 1886, following the close of the commercial day small gatherings of people began to saunter up and down the High Street, and before long two fiery balls were being kicked about. When these were periodically extinguished by the puddles, they would then be kicked into a large fire in the middle of the highway, to re-emerge in a triumphant blaze of flaming glory. Yet despite frightening a few horses, little harm was done, and one participant, who became rather too exuberant, was even ‘allowed’ to be rescued from the police by his companions! As if balls of fire weren’t enough, there was also another custom guaranteed to give a jobsworth a fit of the vapours, for Olney is famed for the Shrove Tuesday ‘pancake race.’ This is thought to have origins from 1445, and by tradition the race began as a final celebration before the long fast of Lent. Then with the outbreak of World War Two the tradition came to an end, until in 1948 the vicar chanced upon some old photographs, and the custom was recommenced. Yet not only was a national interest rekindled, for in America curiosity was aroused in the town of Liberty, which in consequence issued a challenge to Olney. Thus began the competition for the ‘Transatlantic Pancake Trophy,’ with the sound of the town crier’s bell sending the competitors off along a 415 yard course, from Olney Market Place to the churchyard gate. In fact a similar race was even begun at Seeley’s Bay, Ontario! Of course, today the danger of tripping over a pothole, or smacking one’s self in the face with a frying pan - not to mention the risk of being struck by a piece of falling space debris - is too horrendous to contemplate, and so, in keeping with modern thinking, perhaps it might now be best to instead stage a ‘virtual’ race, via a computer link. However, since this would involve sitting down, it couldn’t possibly be considered without a prior assessment by a Posture Awareness Co-ordinator, although it’s doubtful if one could ever be found for less than £35k a year.