Independent on Sunday 11 June 2000 (The Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race!)
Last June, Simon Thackray paid a visit to his local baker in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, and presented him with an unusual request. Would he mind loaning the use of his industrial oven for the baking of a giant Yorkshire pudding, 3ft in diameter?
Thackray, a sculptor from the nearby village of Brawby, explained that he was organising The Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race, for which he required at least six of the traditional Yorkshire dumplings, each big enough to hold a small oarsman, each coated with lashings of yacht varnish and each thoroughly pond-worthy. Thackray had dreamed up the event a few years earlier, while drinking at his local pub. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he mused, “to sail down a river in a giant Yorkshire pudding?” Before long, he had crafted a scaled-down prototype from a shop-bought pudding, powered by a small electric motor. It had its maiden voyage in his bath.
This floating battery model inspired The Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race, the second of which took place yesterday on Bubb’s Lake (Bob’s pond) in Brawby. Despite its name, this isn’t actually a race. Rather, it is an enactment of a “mythic legend” penned by Thackray’s friend, the poet Ian McMillan, and recited by him to a bemused crowd in what looks like becoming a regular event. A peculiar mix of history and fiction, the legend also celebrates the history and traditions of Brawby (whose name is thought to be derived from the Danish god of poetry, Braggi), by way of a tour of the village after the race, and a mass of declaimed information of questionable usefulness. (Did you know, for example, that citizens of Brawby were for several centuries immune from arrest or punishment by the local sheriff’s of officers?) The highlight of the enactment is the “race” itself. Five junior oarsfolk, dressed in brightly-coloured safety gear, paddle valiantly aboard pudding vessels in a bid to save “The Thing” from the grasps of a temple of doom, aka “The Shad”. “There is,” says Thackray unhelpfully, “a start but no finish.” Not unlike the colourful stars of the Edward Lear nonsense rhyme, The Jumblies, who went to sea in a sieve, then? “Yes, indeed,” muses McMillan. “It’s as bizarre as a Dadaist event from 1930. Tristan Tzara would feel very much at home.”
The picture here depicts a tense moment from the event as seen from the pond-side, including an unfortunate sinking in the background. The frantic paddling of the leaders echoes the Herculean stirring that goes into each boat’s creation. The recipe for one boat comprises 50 eggs, four bags of flour, 25 pints of milk, beaten and baked, lined with industrial foam-filler and given its characteristic glossy finish with layers of of yacht varnish.
The beauty of the boat race, McMillan believes, lies in the juxtaposition of the real and the imaginary. “The story itself has become a local legend, and soon it’ll be like Woodstock: people will pretend they were there – people will want to say, ‘I was there when it all started’”.
That may or not be true. But what isn’t in doubt, in case you were wondering, is that it really wouldn’t be a good idea to try this at home.