The Worm Charming World Championships in Willaston
PUBLISHED: 15:31 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:14 20 February 2013
The Worm Charming World Championships in Willaston marks its 30th anniversary this <br/>year, as Paul Mackenzie reports<br/>Main photographY by John Cocks
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With just a couple of months to go before their big event, the charming people of Willaston are busy practising their twangs and perfecting their tweaks. Gillies across the village are rehearsing their role, trying to guard against PWG, and garden forks are being twickled and twacked.
Although they sound like archaic terms passed from generation to generation, they are actually words coined in recent years as part of a ritual which has become a staple of village life.
The apparently quiet village near Nantwich is home to the Worm Charming World Championships which, for a day in June, attracts the attention of people all over the world.
Hundreds take part in the annual event - which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year - all competing to take home the coveted golden worm. Last year the trophy, which depicts a worm rampant, was taken home by 10-year-old Sophie Smith and her dad Matt who charmed 567 worms in the allotted 30 minutes.
Twicking, twanging and the rest are the technical worm charming terms for waggling a garden form about in the soil and are among the tactics employed by competitors to lure the worms out into the open. The use of water is banned but much of the charmers' effort is spent on trying to create a vibration which the innocent worm may mistake for rainfall.
But while the aim of the event is to bring worms out of the soil, the pressure of the competition also brings out the worst in some people. One man has been banned for life after arriving on the school field with worms down his trousers.
'We became suspicious when we saw he was wearing cycle clips,' said championship organiser Mike Forster. 'We became even more suspicious when we realised he had come by car.'
The championships are now overseen by Mike, the Chief Wormer, and his fellow members on the committee of the International Federation for Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes. They have drawn up a list of 18 rules which govern the competition and which have been translated into 30 different languages.
'The championships are 30 years old this year. At that time my children were at the school. Now my eldest is 33 and we have people who were children at the school when we started coming along with their children,' added Mike, who was the Willaston village policeman for more than 20 years and is now a driving instructor.
'A year before the proper event began, the school's deputy headmaster John Bailey had the original tongue in cheek idea for a 10p a go stall at the school fete. The competition evolved from there. It was done as a one-off initially but we can't let go of it now.
'As there's a school in the village I am sure the worm charming championships will continue. The event raises about two or three thousand pounds but charities come and take part and people are sponsored to charm worms as well so exactly how much the event raises is an unknown quantity. It must be in the region of 10,000 but it's not all about raising money, it's about having fun.
'It has become a ritual that people here are used to. You don't realise how 'daft' it might seem to the rest of the world when you are involved but people must see some sense in it because they keep coming and I get enquiries from all over the world. We have to take it seriously because it's a competition which someone will win.
Sophie Smith broke the record last year, in fact three people smashed through the 511 barrier - that was the old world record which had stood since 1980. Sophie had her dad and her uncle working as a tag team of gillies because her dad got tired and needed a rest.'
Mike has been fielding emails from around the world for months from people wanting to secure one of the 144 three metre square plots for this year's event, and its popularity has led to similar events being staged elsewhere.
During the winter months - the off-season, as Mike calls it - he helps others grasp the idea of worm charming by talking to schools and WI groups. 'I take a worm charming simulator which uses fake, rubber worms to demonstrate the problems with PWG, that's premature worm grasping.
'It normally affects children under five and women over 40 and is the name given when the charmer grabs for the worm too early. It can result in one of two things happening: the work going back underground and not coming out again, or a tug of worm which invariably ends with the worm being divided in two.'
He's undoubtedly right, in these times of heightened sensitivity over animal rights, to take PWG seriously and, he admits, he has also been accused of upsetting the balance of nature with the mass extraction of worms from the soil.
But, he points out: 'Rule number 18 states that all worms caught must be returned after the birds have gone to roost.
'In most years we charm more than 10,000 worms and last year the count was the highest ever so we can't be doing too much lasting damage to the worm population and last year's heaviest worm was 6.1grammes - that's the heaviest for almost 20 years - so I don't think they're suffering.
Someone did suggest tagging the biggest worm and seeing where it pops up next year but I'm not sure about that.
'I think of it as a day out for the worms, a chance for them to see friends and relations they might not have seen for a year.'
So, with all those years of experience and inside information, what technique does Mike favour? 'I use the fork,' said.
'I have a vast array of garden forks, about 12 of them, all different styles and all for different soil types of weather conditions. My children tend to buy me forks every Fathers' Day or birthday.
'I play music as well, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, The Green Green Grass of Home, Handel's Water Music - things on a theme, really. My daughter is a dance lecturer and she taps out a quick 42nd Street. She might bring a whole troupe along this year. Just think of the vibrations that would generate.'