This month we celebrate the 37th anniversary of worm charming. That’d be ‘we’ in the Royal sense of the word, because as good as they might be for the soil, I personally find nothing charming about wriggly, beady-eyed, limbless, invertebrates. Unlike the one-time Deputy Headmaster of Willaston County Primary School, in the northwestern county of Cheshire. For it was he who initiated the first ever Worm Charming Competition, as a fundraiser during the July 5, 1980, annual School Fete.
Tom Shufflebotham (I kid you not), the young son of a farmer, won that first competition. The 511 worms the lad managed to lure out of a small patch of ground in the allotted thirty minute time span made their captor a Word Record holder. It was a title Master Shufflebotham proudly held onto for 29 years, until in 2009 he found himself being shuffled off the pages of the record books by a 10-year-old girl. Sophie Smith’s record of charming 567 worms has yet to be beaten. This despite the fact that the competition has grown to include entrants from as far away as Australia.
So popular has the small village’s competition become that a regulatory body was formed to establish rules defining the ways in which a worm can be charmed. There are 18 of them in total, decided on and overseen by The International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes (IFCWAP). For the curious the “Allied Pastimes” include ‘indoor hand gliding’, ‘underwater Ludo’ and ‘ice tiddly-winks’.
Included in the rulebook is the size of the patch of ground from which the worms must be charmed. Back in Mr. Shufflebotham’s day it was three square yards, but in keeping with EEC (European Economic Community) regulations, it is now three square meters. An almost 5 square foot difference, which might of course give Mr. Shufflebotham grounds for complaint should he wish to dispute the young lady’s record.
Another important rule concerns the use of water, which is considered a stimulant/drug and under Rule #5 is strictly forbidden. It’s a well-known fact that rainwater brings worms to the surface. What’s not so well-known is that it’s not because the worms fancy a swim, but because the vibrations made by raindrops sound similar to the sound made by underground predators, such as moles. Thus, their emergence is purely in order to avoid being eaten. Something to think about next time you step on one.
The most successful worm charmers attempt to create a similar environment, by simulating the vibrations the worms experience underground. One of the most popular ways is by tapping on the grass rapidly, which must give clog dancers a distinct advantage. The use of music is also encouraged. Although the didgeridoo-playing, samba drum-beating, Australian team might disagree. Their method reportedly yielded just three worms.
It turns out the most common way to charm a worm is by use of a simple pitchfork, which is stuck into the ground and then hit repeatedly with a stick, or other random object that comes to hand. Clog dancers beware!
2011 World Worm Charming Championship