Morning Story: Let's put our crazy side on parade


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Presumably  Wales can lay claim to a swag of cultural icons.

But I can think of only four: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Roald Dahl, Dylan Thomas - and the lesser known Bog Snorkelling Festival.

The latter is a truly splendid carnival where folk "swim" two lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat-bog. Competitors must wear snorkels and flippers, and race without conventional swimming strokes.

You can imagine the spectacle.

I'm fascinated with it.

Fascinated because it takes place in this middle-of the-road, old school Celtic nation, where conservatism is the order of the day.

At the risk of unfairly judging this country of leeks and coal, it's decidedly un-Welsh.

And I'm fascinated because it's senseless.

Bog snorkelling occupies the same frivolous circle of indulgence as Pamplona's Running of the Bulls and Buffalo's chicken-wing eating competition.

In spirit it also mirrors Spain's La Tomatina, where 120 tons of ripe tomatoes are thrown about in a fruity Mediterranean melee.

Dating back to the 1950s, legend has it this festival was sparked by two brawling men in eastern Spain who raided a vegetable stall for weapons.

All the above festivals are gratuitous, excessive, decadent, indulgent but most importantly, counter-intuitive.

It's why tens of thousands flock to them every year to chalk up something crazy.

Such rites of passage need make no sense at all.

I mention such frolicsome fruitiness only because the psyche contrasts with our own self-conscious festivals.

Us Kiwis, it seems, refuse to offer ourselves up for ridicule.

And I'm at a loss to explain it.

We may not have the natural unbridled passion of the Spanish, but the Welsh prove a conservative national temperament needn't preclude public silliness.

The contrast was underscored last week as I walked through Hastings CBD and spied a poster publicising this weekend's Blossom Parade.

Now, I'm reluctant to slam this historic piece of Hastings' schtick. But I do worry that a flotilla of floats still floats our boat.

All I read from that poster was "No tomatoes, no bulls, no bogs".

Where is our indulgence? Where is the collective chance to let our hair down?

We need more of the absurd.

Something dangerous. Something Roald Dahl-esque. Something fresh.

Something the Albert Hotel didn't die watching.

To me, a festival's success is surely measured on how many out-of-towners it pulls.

Our local business associations, council and marketing agencies need to up their game. Forgive me for being uncharitable but these local groups currently rival horses in their ability to sleep standing up.

Has the warm weather gone to our heads?

Is the pyjama-wearing public symptomatic of an insidious slumber party hosted by the Heretaunga Plains?

Every spring Hastings is forced to watch a re-run of the old family favourite. If we complain, the ushers tell us to pipe down the movie's a classic.

Tradition, of course, is crucial. But the Albert Hotel has taught us we need to maintain tradition, or risk rendering it derelict.

I'd prefer to focus on living traditions. Nostalgia, as someone wise once said, is denial of the present.

But here's the thing - my kids love the parade. This year, for my sins, I've agreed to take them, again.

I'm tempted to head along on Saturday with some over-ripe accessories.

That idea would fly.

I mean, where better to stage the country's biggest annual food fight?

Maybe I should spend this week studying the parade route. I'll stretch my throwing arm and hone the aim with a few oranges in the backyard.

Come Saturday I'll don pyjamas to blend into the Hastings crowd before moving quietly to a grassy knoll on Queen St, and unleash.

On that very knoll in years to come there'll be a monument erected in memory of the first tomato thrown - "On this spot on Saturday, September 15, an unknown fat man let loose a tomato and painted the town red".

What better way to add a little juice to the Fruit Bowl.

This Saturday folks, tomatoes are a condition of entry.

Mark Story is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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