“It’s every Englishman’s God-given right to thrash a firm young pair of buttocks until they are raw,” bellows sixty seven year old retired Colonel Mervyn Dynge-Wallace, flexing a vicious-looking cane as he stands outside of the Houses of Parliament. “I’m damned if I’m going to let some bunch of bounders in Westminster stop me from exercising that right!” Dynge-Wallace is one of over a hundred residents from the Dorset village of Upper Dicker who have gathered outside parliament to protest at moves to ban their annual ‘Thrashing Festival’ on health and safety grounds. “This is a tradition which has been going on for hundreds of years,” explains Upper Dicker’s vicar, the Reverend Alan Swack. “The St John’s Ambulance people are always on hand to administer first aid if needed, but frankly, the damage is all cosmetic! They’re all able to sit down again within a few days!” The festival – which has been held in the village every Easter Bank Holiday Monday since at least 1423 – starts in the church yard, where four villagers have their trousers pulled down around their ankles by the vicar, before the rest of the villagers drag them through the streets in chains, until they reach the village green. There, the four unfortunates are shackled across barrels, and their bare bottoms mercilessly thrashed by the mob, who are permitted to use any blunt instrument which can be wielded in one hand. The ritual culminates with the villagers forming a ring and dancing around the green, whilst a man dressed as a ‘Hobby Horse’ hits each of their still shackled victims on their raw and bleeding buttocks with a large knobkerrie known as the ‘Banging Stick’. “Originally, the four ‘thrashees’ were those villagers who had committed the most and worst crimes and misdemeanours during the previous year,” says Swack. “But since 1843 they’ve instead been chosen by lot from the adult population of the village. The whole thing is just a bit of harmless fun – a symbolic driving out of evil for spring! I suppose you could say that it represents a sort of annual moral rebirth for the village!” Nevertheless, following recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive, the festival is set to be outlawed. “It is quite true that under the Dangerous Recreations Bill, which MPs are voting on today, activities such as the Upper Dicker Thrashing Festival will become illegal in their present form,” explains Hugh Hogger, Minister for Public Safety. “Not only is this activity quite clearly highly dangerous, but we feel that it is also setting a very bad example to local children and could actually be encouraging violence!”
However, Hogger holds out some hope for the villagers, pointing out that if the festival can be made to conform to the new safety guidelines contained in the Bill, there is no reason why it cannot continue. “If, for instance, the thrashing instruments were to be rendered innocuous, by covering them in foam rubber, perhaps, and the bottoms were only tapped symbolically (whilst clad in protective kevlar underpants, of course), then I can see no reason why the festival couldn’t continue,” he opines. Not surprisingly, such proposals are met with hostility by the villagers. “You can’t have a bloody ‘Thrashing Festival’ where nobody actually gets thrashed,” blusters Colonel Dynge-Wallace. “I’m telling you now – I’ve had the honour of being the ‘Hobby Horse’ for the past six years and nobody is going to muffle my knobkerrie!” There are strong suspicions that the health and safety argument is merely being used as a convenient excuse to close down the festival. “I think we’re just a scapegoat for the rise in rural violent crime,” claims Fred Cobb, a local farmer. “They won’t admit that it is really down to the fact that they’ve banned birchings, and corporal punishment in schools – even parents aren’t allowed to smack their kids now! It’s lack of discipline that’s the problem! But no, instead they blame us, claiming that an annual demonstration of the effectiveness of community-approved physical chastisement is setting a bad example! It is political correctness gone mad!” Cobb and his fellow villagers fears that the ‘Thrashing Festival’ is doomed to go the same way as cock fighting, badger baiting, hunting with dogs and other country leisure pursuits. “They’ve already banned the New Year South Twatchell ‘Nude Hunt’ down in Devon, not to mention the annual ‘Fiddlebow Flash’ over in Surrey,” he muses. “If they succeed in outlawing our little celebration then nothing will be safe – they’ll be going after that cheese-rolling thing in Gloucestershire next, or telling kids they can’t do that Pooh-sticks business! This is just another assault on traditional rural lifestyles by bleeding heart liberal townies!”
Whilst the popular press and many media commentators have rallied behind the villagers of Upper Dicker in their fight to preserve their traditions, some dissenting voices have been raised, notably that of Dr Adam Wipp of the University of Dorchester. “The origins of these violent rituals are nowhere near so harmless as these people would have you believe,” Wipp – who is an expert on British folklore and traditions – told The Sleaze. “The ‘Nude Hunt’ held annually in South Twatchell, for instance, in which a gaggle of naked young women are chased for miles by a group of green-clad men adorned with twigs, leaves and large wooden phalluses, originally involved the Lord of the Manor and his cronies hunting down local virgins, to ascertain – for breeding purposes – which was the fittest! The present-day mock beating with phalluses of the girls as they are caught, is simply a ritualisation of their rape in the original ceremony!” He also reveals that the apparently innocuous August Bank Holiday tradition in the village of Fiddlebow, in which a local dignitary exposes his genitals – which are blackened with soot – to local schoolchildren, after which a group of chained villagers in blackface are ritually thrown into the river to clean their faces, actually originates with an eighteenth century sex-offender. “Back in 1753, the local squire tried to avoid detection whilst exposing himself to young gentlewomen by blacking himself up with soot,” explains the academic. “Consequently, every black person in the district, both slaves and freemen, were drowned by an angry mob! The squire himself was exposed when he flashed the vicar’s wife during a rainstorm! His family subsequently had him packed off to the colonies where he could only bother native women, who, they thought, were probably more used to the sight of naked male genitalia.”
Wipp firmly believes that these events, along with the Upper Dicker ‘Thrashing Festival’ should be banned. “All of these so-called festivals and traditions are nothing more than ritualisations of distasteful sexual practices and represent attempts to preserve an archaic class structure,” he opines. “Take the Upper Dicker business – the ‘Hobby Horse’ part has only existed since 1698. Before that, the local Lord would actually ride up to the ‘thrashees’ on his stallion, which would mount and bugger them! Any who survived would be given a pardon! Also, far from being local miscreants, the victims were originally simply outsiders, suspected intellectuals or anyone else the local Lord didn’t like!” Indeed, Wipp fears that the present Upper Dicker festival may be perpetuating some of these less appealing traditions. “Although the ‘Thrashees’ are supposedly chosen by drawing lots, it is notable that for the past three years they have included the only two homosexuals in Upper Dicker, the only Asian resident and the only CND member,” he points out. “Not only that, but the Health and Safety Executive’s investigation was the result of a complaint made by one of last year’s ‘thrashees’, who claimed that he nearly bled to death from lacerations to his buttocks! The only reason that assault charges weren’t brought was because one of the ‘thrashers’ was the local public school educated MP!” Nevertheless, despite the presence of many similarly educated MPs, the Commons looks set to finally outlaw the barbaric practice of public canings for the purposes of entertainment.