How Does Devizes Confetti Battle Compare to the World’s Most Bizarre Festivals?

Perhaps the most interesting part of our chat with DOCA coordinator, Loz, and definitely, the most controversial was the carnival’s date change. Still social media comments groan that Confetti Battle was traditionally on a Wednesday. Yet, bringing it to a Saturday makes it feasible for higher attendance, particularly tourists and day trippers.

Loz expressed it could be as renowned as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, and intends to diversify and extend the concept to interest a wider audience. In Devizes we take it for granted people annually gather in the Market Place to fling confetti at each other, without contemplating how bizarre this notion is to outsiders. Bizarre attracts adventurous visitors, hunting for something different; they’d come, they’d spend money, but less likely on a Wednesday evening.

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This morning I read a blog about The Rainforest World Music Festival, three days partying in the rainforest near Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia. Okay, the English was poorly translated, but the photos wowed. Given I’ve jested the word “festival” these-days seems to be a new-fangled soundbite whereby anyone can pop up a gazebo, hire a man with a guitar, sell some tinnies and allow gatherers to piss on his rhododendrons, and dub it a festival, it got me thinking exactly what constitutes a festival, internationally, how bizarre do some get, and how does our Confetti Battle compare?

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Investigation exposed some pretty outlandish and curious events, and some complete bonkers. Many you’d need to pack a suitcase for a lengthy flight for, others it seems are not so far away. The Coopers Hill Cheese Roll in Gloucestershire cropped up more times than injuries undoubtedly caused there, but nowhere have I discovered mention of Pewsey’s locally eminent Wheelbeerow Race, or Devizes and the weird custom of lobbing confetti at each other. Think outside the box, or Brittox, it is a tad weird, guys; but both on weeknights.

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Do they compare in weirdness to a moose dropping festival? Talkeetna, Alaska, it’s not snow falling from the sky, but moose poo, painted white and dropped from a helicopter! Or the International Hair-Freezing Contest in Yukon, Canada, where, as the name hints, using only water and the frosty air, contestants freeze their Barnett Fair into the most peculiar and eccentric shapes?

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Go under, check my pubes

While some are just ascetically bizarre, like the Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, or Florida’s Underwater Music Festival, it’s the theme of many which alarms or amuses; Roswell obviously has a UFO Festival. Devon’s Blackawton International Festival of Worm Charming, is a thing. The World Bog-Snorkelling Championships in Llanwrtyd Wells and Ashbourne’s toedium smack down, the World Toe Wrestling Championships are too.

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I want to be just like him when I grow up

Wife Carrying Championship, anyone? The wedding vow of husbands metaphorically carrying spouses in times of sickness is taken a smidgen too literally in Sonkajärvi, Finland. Awards for the swiftest, toughest and amusingly costumed pairs are handed to contestants who carry their wives across a 254-metre obstacle course. But at the Festa del Cornuto, outside Rome, the Festival of the Horns, the men of cheating wives’ parade, crying and smashing possessions they gifted them to honour and console their woe.

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I’ll give you put the cat out!

Confetti Battle is a tad more family-orientated, like Krampusnacht in Germany, where every December an anti-Santa hands every naughty kid a lump of coal. Why not dress as devils and jump over our babies, because it has constituted a festival for over four-hundred-years in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain? If you think Don Quixote in a Lycra Satan suit leaping over your darling isn’t quite psychologically traumatic enough for them, how about Tokyo’s Naki Sumo, where oversized sumo-wrestlers square-up in a ring, each holding a baby, the contest being the first to make the other’s baby cry? Supposed to ward off evil spirits, so if your kid sees no fear in the wrester, the referee jumps in donning a scary mask to ensure a change of nappy is needed.

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Think that’s scary? You should check my nappy, pal!

Some are pleasant, like the Cheung Chau Bun Festival in Hong Kong, where competitors’ climb sixty-foot towers of sweet buns which line the streets. Or the Floating Lantern Festival in Hawaii, and Beer Floating in Finland; steady, floating down a river in an improvised raft gulping Carlsberg. Others equal this pleasantness but add humorous elements, like the village of Brawby, where the Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race takes place over Bob’s Pond.

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Who left that sausage in here?

Food leftover fights are commonplace, La Tomatina in Spain, The Battle of Oranges in Ivrea, Italy. I mean, sure, Rayne in Louisiana has a Frog Festival, and turkey testicle eating contests are widespread across the USA. Alongside the sinister Day of the Dead Festival, Mexico has Noche de Rábanos at Oaxaca, or “The Night of the Radishes.”

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We are the Radish Army, arm your salad!

Korea has the Boryeong Mud Festival, where if you thought Pilton can get pretty filthy on a rainy July, you should see these lot engaging in mud photography workshops or having mud massages. But mud is great for the skin, ambiguously, especially the Boryeong mud used in their cosmetics. Or the valued tradition of Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama, where 9,000 naked Japanese men wrestle for sticks thrown by a Shinto priest. If the winner puts the sticks into a wooden box with rice, he will be contented the whole year.

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Anyone got a chewing gum?

Equally as cringeworthy to me, but hey, you might fancy the Japanese Kanamara Matsuri, or festival of the penis. They have penis artworks (unsure if they’re pictures of dicks or drawn with one, like drawing using a fat, wax crayon in your left-hand,) penis-shaped sweeties and carved vegetables, decorations, and a phallic mikoshi parade. Yet again the logic centres around a shrine once popular for prostitutes to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases. But legend has it, a Vagina Dentata demon lurks inside vaginas to castrate young men on their wedding night. If told that, you’d be celebrating the prosperity of your manhood.

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I always dress like I’m Nigel Farage

Finland’s Air Guitar World Championships claims the ideology would end wars, stop climate change and eradicate all bad things. So, all of them have a history, or logic behind them, no matter how bizarre they may seem. Peru’s Cat Food Festival, for example, you may think this annual gathering in Cañete, where they munch on cats is to cull an overpopulated stray cat problem, but no, they breed the animals especially for human consumption at the gig. Apparently, cat meat has aphrodisiac properties and also prevents ailments in the bronchi; I’ll skip it and just try the veg, thanks all the same.

At least Thailand’s annual Monkey Buffet Festival isn’t as bad, despite the alarming name, it’s the monkeys who get a feast, not us nibbling on monkey meatloaf. They honour the descendants of a monkey warrior in Lopburi, and it’s a crowd-puller. Seems disease-spreading blood-sucking pests get honoured, The Great Texas Mosquito Festival brings three days of carnival to Clute; food, drink, games and rides, craft or cooking workshops.

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Hey, where’s the KP Skips?

Confetti Battle roots to Carnival in 1913, where confetti and rose petals were thrown by the crowd at people in the procession. The tradition evolved into a fully-fledged battle around 1955, started by Jim Jennings, but the reason is unknown. Maybe we need to make one up; a nobleman’s wedding that went horribly wrong?

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I’m just nipping into Greggs

Even bulls rampaging around the streets, averagely injuring three hundred people and killing fifteen at the Fiesta San Fermin, doesn’t stop people gathering and making a festival out of. Why then, should changing our relatively harmless confetti battle from Wednesday to a Saturday bother you?! I’m not suggesting we have a penis fest, or eat cat, but what Devizes has is unique, and could be on this list!

Devizes Confetti Battle
Devizes Market Place – Saturday 31st August 2019
Entertainment starts from 7.30pm
Battle commences 8.00pm


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Chatting Carnival with Loz

With a nail in the offside rear tyre, I’ve got a three-quarter of an hour window to nip to Mike Woods and stop for a drink at Times Square before the school run. Prioritise Worrow, prioritise; erm, just a cup of tea thanks, you get a little biscuit on the side anyway.

Loz Samuels beats me hands down when it comes to time management, it’s her second visit to coffee shop today, chatting and encouraging the progress of DOCA. Whenever I catch her, Loz laments how crazy it’s all been, yet I suspect she wouldn’t have it any other way. Appears to me she personifies the satisfaction of commitment so much it’s scary; procrastination not in her agenda, unlike me who lives by its golden rule.

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Skipping the announcement of Vinyl Realm’s second stage at the Street Festival, as despite being the reasoning for arranging the meeting, I measured both Pete and I too enthusiastic about the prospect to wait till now. Seems Loz wanted to concentrate on the subject of carnival and the nearby sub-events, opening with a partnership project with Amesbury Carnival. “We’ve created a six-feet high puppet of a mammoth,” she explained, confirming after some deliberation of the crane’s availably, it will stomp its way through our procession.

I note it’s the kind of thing you see at carnivals in South America or the Caribbean. “Yes,” she agrees, describing a second mahoosive moveable puppet of a Neolithic woman, “it’s quite colourful, because the theme is Through the Ages, so it works, it works well for them (the sponsors) because they wanted something to do with heritage.”

There was me thinking about an old British Pathe film showing a Devizes carnival of yore, but Loz explained the theme is more general, not as I thought, a historical look at Devizes Carnival. “No, just through the ages, you know, could be the future, could be aliens, but maybe someone will interpret it like that.”

So, carnival is on the 13th July this year, a change that’ll bring the walls down and make life no longer worth living, according to “traditionalists” on social media. In our last chat with Loz, we enlightened the reasoning for the change, aside the fatigue of DOCA’s volunteers with a full fortnight of events, the hesitancy of schools to contribute during summer holidays has opened up. Schools are able to work on their projects earlier in the year, and workshops have been running in seven participating schools, with others coming. The theme, Loz explains, is suitable for their curriculum too, be it Victorians, or pirates for example; one positive reason to change. Loz stressed how pleased she was with this change; carnival wouldn’t be carnival without the children.

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We move onto the notion that the subevents, the Colour Rush and the strictly Devizes “thing,” The Confetti Battle can now be on a Saturday too, rather than weekdays as previous. “So hopefully,” she nods, “there will be masses there. We had four thousand there last year, and on a Wednesday night when you’ve got to get up next day, it’s quite late….”

“It’s going to be different every year, I mean,” she continued, “how many times are you going to go to Confetti Battle when it’s the same old thing?”

I agreed, despite my kids loving it when younger, they consider they’re getting too old to bother. “But they might do this year,” Loz interrupted ardently, “because there’s gonna be massive inflatable crazy things that’ll appear in the crowd!”

Loz’s hopes for additions to this year’s Confetti Battle are from Willy Wonka’s rulebook, golden tickets to win £50 in the bags of confetti, and more side attractions will add to its appeal. “The Confetti Battle could be nationally known,” she continued, comparing its potential to the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, “but not on a Wednesday night. People aren’t going to be travelling from, say, London on a Wednesday night.”

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Confident to grow this unique element of our carnival, Loz continued to express advantages of the battle commencing over the weekend, taking down the rigs in order for market the following morning will be a thing of the past, meaning a more elaborate setup. She had a meeting with the astatically pleasing festival, BoomTown, aiming to create a visually stunning spectacle with wider appeal.

If cynical of her ambitious outlook, Loz claimed, “the sky’s the limit, if we can raise money to put into it, then we can do it, we can do anything, so, it’s a start, I’m aware people are sceptical about changes but if we stay as we are, we’re not going to grow, we’ve no potential to make money, our arts funding will decrease.” Seems logical to me. We talked of possibilities, of Caribbean carnivals where the procession concludes into an arena for a concert afterwards. “I think it’s really exciting,” she stated, “doors are opening now.”

The crucial thing to note in this chat, is that this is only Loz’s third year at the helm, finding her feet has been uphill, with a system only documented only in her predecessor’s head. She now feels in a position to build on past experiences and deliver us the large-scale outdoor events we will be talking about through the forthcoming ages.

So, let’s get things straight right now, DOCA’s program of events is ever as lively, but with a few changes:


Saturday 6th July: Carnival Costume Making Workshop @ Wiltshire Museum:

Help prepare a large-scale costume to walk in this year’s parade. Families and children aged 8+ are invited to make some spectacular back pack style costumes. This will be a group making session working on revamping backpacks which will match with costumes made by our school groups, in either Medieval, Tudor, 18th Century, or Victorian style.

Artist and costume designer Abi Kennedy will guide you through making a colourful back pack, a fun and creative afternoon is promised. No experience is necessary.


Wednesday 10th July: Skittles Night @ The Wyvern Club

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Saturday 13th July: Devizes Carnival Through the Ages.

Entrant registration from 4pm, Procession starts at 6:15pm.

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Sunday 18th August: Picnic in the Park @ Hillworth Park


Sunday 25th August: International Street Festival @ The Green


Monday 26th August: International Street Festival @ The Market Place

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Friday 30th August: Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s Music by the Canal

6.30pm until 10pm @ Devizes Wharf.


Saturday 31st August: The Colour Rush

Starts at Green Lane Playing Fields and finishing in Market Place.


Saturday 31st August: Confetti Battle @ The Market Place

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UduL by Los Galindos @ The Green
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An award-winning Catalan circus company who inhabit a traditional Mongolian yurt which will be located on the Green for three days. Saturday 24th August: Doors 7pm Show 7.30pm, Sunday 25th August: Matinee Doors 1.45pm, show 2pm. Evening Doors 7pm Show 7.30pm, and Monday 26th of August: Doors 7pm Show 7.30pm. Minimum age recommended from 7 years. TICKETS: £5 Early bird price until 31st July, thereafter: £7 each, £5 for under 16’s.


Shop Window Competition

Shops around town have placed one item in their window, during Street Festival fortnight, that they don’t normally sell. Spot them all and be in with a chance of winning £25! Entry forms will be available online throughout the Street Festival Fortnight or from Devizes Books and the Town Hall. Completed forms can be left at the Town Hall.


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Storm in a Teacup; Concerns Over DOCA’s Carnival Change….

Images by Gail Foster

 

It’s easy to make a storm in a teacup in this hurtling era of social media: put one slightly erroneous newspaper article into a mug, brew some pretty strong local feelings on the issue, add a poll to a Facebook group as required; best served boiling.

 
Face it, it’s a lot harder to motivate yourself into actually helping out.

 
It’s clear the Front page in this week’s Gazette and Herald has been wrongly perceived as scaremongering, and failed to focus on the relevant points. Perhaps a slow news-week, but the intention to highlight the Devizes Outside Celebratory Arts (DOCA) need for funding has exploded into a social media frenzy over its date change, and employment of its key manager, Loz Samuels.

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If you felt like the article “was more concerned with one job loss than possibly losing an historic carnival,” consider without someone in Loz’s position, there would be no carnival at all. Besides, Loz expressed she only breezed over the fact her contract runs out with reporter, Joanne Moore, it was not supposed to be the key angle of the piece.

 
When a newspaper decides to run an article, it’s their prerogative which images they place, not the subject’s. Loz was as much surprised to see her own face on the front page as you, and is keen to point out, while funding for carnival, and the plethora of other events DOCA arrange is getting harder each year, it’s much the same as any year.

 
Loz herself works tirelessly with a team of volunteers to provide us with these fantastic, and mostly free events in Devizes, for what my tuppence is worth, she needs to be saluted and thanked, rather than dismally criticised for changes the committee as a whole have decided upon, and in their expert judgement, for good reasons.

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I ask Loz if she feels some people simply don’t like change, being the poll revealed a huge majority feel the date for the carnival should remain the same, in September, as opposed to being shifted forward to July. “More sceptical than not liking I think, until they see it, they’re afraid of the change.” She points out that Weymouth carnival has had to be stopped, expressing her concerns about the number of volunteers, and fund-raising needing to raise over half the cost, after the Town Council’s contributions. The Arts Funding Council require twenty-percent of costs secured before paying out, and in struggling times, local businesses and organisations find it hard to sponsor as much.

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I ponder if popular opinion has not considered every tiny element which makes up DOCA events, every factor which needs to be taken into consideration. The Arts Funding doesn’t cover anything non-art, such as road closures and insurance, the availability and commitment volunteers are able to contribute thins, and yes, while Loz has concerns, and with less time now to arrange the carnival procession, she also confirmed she’s feeling far more optimistic than the newspaper article conveys. “In March,” she elucidates, “we should know.”

 

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Loz pointed towards the school’s eminent participation in the Christmas Lantern Parade and its workshops, to highlight the potential of the carnival’s date change. There is hope local schools will be able to organise themselves better, given the procession is within term-time, that the Confetti Battle and Colour Rush, the latter a vital fund-raising event, can be popularised shifted from midweek to a Saturday, but most of all, Loz stressed on the fatigue of the volunteers after a fortnight’s full schedule of activities, by the time the actual carnival arrives “they’re shattered!”

 

I find this very easy to believe, as a punter, I confess I overdo it at the Street Festival and by the following week, when carnival moves through town, I’m like “really? Can I be bothered?!” Given the choice I’d take the Street Festival over the carnival any day, but I think both are as vital as each other. A reply suggesting organising positions should be unpaid infuriated me, considering how much work is necessary to stage such events; could you do that as a hobby, my friend?

 

In fact, go against popular opinion as I may, I fully support the change of date, seeing it as a great decision which although must’ve been tricky to call, will benefit the town as a whole. Many a comment on this Facebook poll incensed me, truth be told; a stab at why DOCA paid for outside bands to play at the festival, when this year, as previous, I’ve felt the bookings have been justified and welcomed; didn’t see anyone complaining when we danced in the Market Place, a place usually reserved for wandering across from the shops to catch the bus.

 

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I did stress to Loz I’d like to see the wealth of local musical talent represented too, though she pointed out timeslots and the need for breaks in performances on the main stage, so that the circus side acts and street theatre could be heard. I offered the idea of a second stage for our local heroes, and Loz remarked it’d be another grand for a PA, and we’re back to stage one with the lack of funding.

 
Giving more clout to the need to support and attend the year’s fund-raising events, such as the impending Devizes Festival of Winter Ales at The Corn Exchange on the 15th and 16th of Feb. With a beer and cider selection curated by local Stealth Brew Co, it does indeed host local musical talent, such as George Wilding who will be playing this year, “and a cabaret too!” Loz enthusiastically added.

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We breezed over successful city carnivals, such as Bath, whose sponsorship from local business are obviously more plentiful, attraction much wider, and solely concentrate on carnival, unlike DOCA who take the Street Festival, Picnic in the Park, The Confetti Battle, Colour Rush, Christmas Lantern Parade, and Winter Ales Festival under their wings; forgive me if I’ve missed one out, but that’s a truckload of things to arrange.

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In an area as affluent as this, Arts Funding will always give with one eyed squinted, it really is up to us support and fund DOCA. So please treat this bulletin as cautionary, consider damage done by taking our major events for granted and do whatever you can to help DOCA. One phone call with Loz, confirmed my already concrete notion that she is thoroughly dedicated to this position, is worthy and capable of the task. Think, while we have other great events in our wonderful town, they usually come with a price tag.

 
You know what? I blame the bad weather, yeah, the stresses over national politics and so on; understandably tetchy in February, but decent summer entertainment is that one time to put cares aside, let your hair down; don’t let austerity take it away.

Devizes Outside Celebratory Arts (DOCA)

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