What ho! The Chap Olympiad celebrated ten years of vintage tomfoolery last weekend in no small modicum of style.
Held again at Bedford Square Gardens, it was heartwarming to see the event’s usual hallmarks both large and small. There are picnickers all around tucking into thoroughly British fare. The whimsical rules and scoring of the Olympiad’s games make Mornington Crescent look like University Challenge. Compere-cum-commentator Tristan Langlois is on top form again dispensing wit drier than a vermouthless martini and funnier than Bojo’s failed attempts at PR. And as for the games themselves? More bonkers than ever.
After the competitors are frisked for unsportsmanlike items (training shoes, bottles of water etc), the Olympic Pipe is lit and passed around by Gustav Temple, editor of the Chap Magazine, the august body behind this particular shindig.
A series of challenges ensue ranging from the frantic and frenetic to the barely mobile. The Tea Pursuit and Umbrella Jousting (where participants clamber aboard a bike holding an umbrella and a briefcase) see what is possibly the first use of Boris bikes as part of a sporting contest. The Tug Of Hair pits two teams against each other, pulling on a twenty feet long moustache until one team topples over. In Well-Dressage, individuals mount hobbyhorses and prance around to music while Not Tennis is the epitome of anti-sport with two players invited to do anything but play tennis.
The sports are half of what makes up this six hour-plus experience. Much of the crowd came prepared in vintage attire, hoisting picnic hampers and parasols as appropriate. Officially, alcohol cannot be brought into the venue, which led to all kinds of cunning japes including booze-filled flasks hidden about the body or pints of gin stuffed down pantyhoses.
Splendid outfits aside, there is plenty to gawk at around the field: the occasional celeb can be spotted amongst the throng and there’s no end of admirers for the half time act. Known variously as Sir Leopold Aleksander, the Lion Of London and The Mighty Moustache, the “Victorian strongman” has monikers as impressive as his muscles and his witty banter raises his displays of pure brawn.
Has a decade of this silliness dulled its edge or gone to its head? Maybe. It seems that the persistent minority of attendees whose modern attire is stubbornly anachronistic has only increased over the years. Also, the food and booze prices (£6 for a meat or veggie burger, £7 for a glass of Pimms and £15 for a jug of the stuff) would give Wimbledon’s caterers a run for their money. It has its vociferous critics but we remain fans of this unique and fun afternoon. Somewhere in a field in England, there’s still a place where the clocks haven’t gone forward and anyone with a score in their skyrocket can relive this nation’s glory days in glorious sunshine.