Forgotten fairytales slay the Cinderella stereotype

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Stories lost in Bavarian archive for 150 years and newly translated into English offer surprisingly modern characters

Erika Eichenseer, a retired teacher who has dedicated herself to exploring Franz Xaver von Schonwerth’s work since the 1990s, on fairytale trail in woodland outside Regensburg, in Bavaria Photograph: Philip Oltermann for the Guardian

Once upon a time … the fairytales you thought you knew had endings you wouldn’t recognise. A new collection of German folk stories has Hansel and Gretel getting married after an erotic encounter with a dwarf, an enchanted frog being kissed not by a damsel in distress but by a young man, and Cinderella using her golden slippers to recover her lover from beyond the moon.

The stash of stories compiled by the 19th-century folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth – recently rediscovered in an archive in Regensburg and now to be published in English for the first time this spring – challenges preconceptions about many of the most commonly known fairytales.

Harvard academic Maria Tatar argues that they reveal the extent to which the most influential collectors of fairytales, the Brothers Grimm, often purged their stories of surreal and risque elements to make them more palatable for children.

“Here at last is a transformation that promises real change in our understanding of fairytale magic,” says Tatar, who has translated Schönwerth’s stories for a new Penguin edition called The Turnip Princess. “Suddenly we discover that the divide between passive princesses and dragon-slaying heroes may be little more than a figment of the Grimm imagination.”

Many of the stories centre around surprisingly emancipated female characters. In The Stupid Wife, a woman hands out her belongings to the poor but recoups her wealth after scaring off a band of thieves. In The Girl and the Cow, the heroine releases her prince after grabbing an axe and whacking off the tail of a large black cat.

Schönwerth’s decision to start collecting folk stories was directly inspired by the Grimms, who praised his efforts. In 1885, Jacob Grimm remarked that “nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear”.

But while the Grimms collected their stories across the social spectrum, mainly in Hesse and Westphalia, Schönwerth’s tales were recorded predominantly among workers in Bavaria’s Upper Palatine region.

While the Grimms maintained an academic distance when processing their material, their deeply religious Bavarian counterpart had a tendency to dive straight into a world full of talking animals and mystical apparitions. Some of Schönwerth’s notes suggest that he shared some of his interviewees’ belief in creatures such as the Holzmädchen, or woodland maidens, who came to help the peasants at night.

Most of the tales don’t set the scene with “Once upon a time”, but start in medias res: “A prince was ill”, “A prince was lost in the wood”, or “A king had a son with hair of gold”.

Schönwerth’s critical revival is largely due to Erika Eichenseer, an 80-year-old retired teacher who has dedicated herself to exploring and promoting his oeuvre since the early 1990s. She runs regular storytelling evenings and theatre workshops inspired by Schönwerth’s stories across Bavaria. A fairytale trail in the woodland outside Regensburg, featuring contemporary artists’ takes on some of the stories, was unveiled in September.

Having at first been told that Schönwerth’s 30,000 pages of literary legacy in the city archives contained only records of local customs and sayings, she eventually unearthed more than 500 fairytales that had been gathering dust for more than 150 years.

The tales she discovered, says Eichenseer, weren’t children’s fairytales in the way we know them from the Grimms, but stories that explored the transition between childhood and adulthood in fantastical ways.

A number of them feature long periods of sleep, after which the main characters wake up with a changed shape or appearance. “People often say fairytales are cruel,” says Eichenseer. “But life is cruel. And children know that.”

A 2012 Guardian article on the discovery of Schönwerth’s tales triggered an avalanche of requests for interviews and commercial offers from around the globe, including an email from Warner Bros inquiring about film rights. “I just didn’t get back,” says Eichenseer; her nephew told her the studio mainly made action films, she says.

In the rest of Germany, interest has so far remained subdued. While Tatar insists that no other folklorists from the period measure up to Schönwerth, fellow fairytale expert Jack Zipes has questioned the tales’ literary merit, suggesting that there were “literally 50 or 60 collections that are more interesting than Schönwerth’s”.

The fact that some of Schönwerth’s folk tales were republished in the 1930s as part of a Nazi drive to foster “Aryan” traditions may have tainted their legacy in Germany.

Eichenseer has a different theory: “In Germany, there’s this attitude that goes, ‘We’ve got our Grimms, and we don’t need anybody else.’ The Grimms were better at selling themselves. Schönwerth was always a bit too shy.”

Source: TheGuardian

Tom & Jerry


Tom and Jerry cartoons carry racism warning

Tom and Jerry cartoons come with a warning about prejudice

Tom and Jerry cartoons on television are being accompanied by a warning that they may depict scenes of “racial prejudice”.

The classic cat and mouse cartoons, some made more than 70 years ago, carry a warning for subscribers to Amazon Prime Instant Video.

There have been claims of racist stereotyping in the depiction of a black maid in the cartoon series.

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society.

Tom and Jerry, once a staple of children’s television on British television, is being presented with a cautionary note about “ethnic and racial prejudices”.

‘Trigger warnings’

Amazon’s streaming subscription service, formerly branded as LoveFilm, includes the cartoons in its comedy collection.

But Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by the caution: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

The wording is similar to disclaimers accompanying some collections of the cartoons on DVD.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by cultural commentator and professor of sociology, Frank Furedi, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life”.

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” said Prof Furedi from the University of Kent.

Tom and Jerry was first produced by the MGM film studio in 1940. The cartoons, directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and produced by Fred Quimby, ran until 1957, with carefully choreographed chase scenes set in the homes and gardens of suburban America.

There were more than a hundred short films made in this original series, winning seven academy awards. These included the Cat Concerto in 1946, the Two Mouseketeers in 1951 and Johann Mouse in 1952.

In the subsequent decades there have been numerous re-launched television versions of the series, with varying styles and varying degrees of critical approval.

The claims of racism are longstanding. When the original versions were shown on US television in the 1960s some scenes were edited.

There have also been complaints about the characters smoking cigarettes, with changes made to recent screenings.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Who invented music?

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Did early humans, or even animals invent music?

Music may have originated with animals, allowing our distant ancestors to communicate and build societies

Chimpanzee lead guitarists are thin on the ground. The stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall sees few lemur violin virtuosos. Conventional wisdom has it that music is a relatively modern human invention, and one that, while fun and rewarding, is a luxury rather than a basic necessity of life.

This appears to be borne out by the archaeological evidence. While the first hand axes and spears date back about 1.7 million years and 500,000 years respectively, the earliest known musical instruments are just 40,000 years old.

But dig a little deeper and the story becomes more interesting. While musical instruments appear to be a relatively recent innovation, music itself is almost certainly significantly older. Research suggests it may have allowed our distant ancestors to communicate before the invention of language, been linked to the establishment of monogamy and helped provide the social glue needed for the emergence of the first large early and pre-human societies. There is also emerging evidence that music might have even deeper origins: some monkeys can distinguish between sound patterns in ways similar to how humans can recognise slight differences between melodies.

A literal reading of the prehistory of music begins about 40,000 years ago, with Europe on the brink of a momentous change. The region was then home to the Neanderthals, who had inherited it from earlier human species stretching back a million years. But now a new species of human – our own – was racing across Europe. Homo sapiens were clever in a way that Neanderthals were not. Perhaps most importantly, they were armed with much more effective weapons. Within about 5,000 years our species had spread and multiplied so effectively that it may have outnumbered the Neanderthals 10 to one. Not long afterwards the Neanderthals vanished entirely.

The dramatic pace of this change suggests there were some fundamental differences between our species and the Neanderthals. The evidence on (and in) the ground strengthens the case. For instance, the Neanderthals sometimes lived in caves but for the most part didn’t bother to decorate them, although evidence published in September 2014 suggests they may have created some rudimentary, abstract art, etched into a wall of a cave in Gibraltar (see video on original article).

However when our species arrived cave walls became canvases for impressively ambitious paintings. Modern humans also began carving human figurines and animals out of bone and ivory shortly after they arrived in Europe. And, to go with their new fascination with the visual arts, they began making bone and ivory musical instruments.

“There is a clear musical tradition,” says Nicholas Conard at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who helped discover many of the best examples of these early instruments. “In southwest Germany we have eight flutes from three different sites.”

These artistic endeavours might at first glance seem irrelevant to our species’ remarkable success at the Neanderthals’ expense.

Sourc: BBCNews Read and see more.

The Day A Doctor Changed The World Forever

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Photo Credit: Riley’s Children Foundation

I love reading the “story behind the story” of why things happened and turned out the way they are today. For example…where did the name “Sloppy Joe” come from? Where did Walt Disney begin his Disney World empire?…etc. Well, I recently read the following story on a site “Gabe’s Fascinating Stories” that fell into this category. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In the early 1950’s an Austrian educational specialist published a study in America called “Why Johnny Can’t Read.”  His study argued that the Dick and Jane primers used at that time throughout American schools to teach children to read weren’t working.

He believed they were horrible educational tools; according to him they were stupid, pointless, tasteless little readers.

Reblogged: The Day A Doctor Changed The World Forever. Read more and find out who this person was.


The Mountain that Eats Men


Bolivia’s Cerro Rico mines killed my husband. Now they want my son

Potosí’s silver-lined ‘mountain that eats men’ is on the brink of collapse, threatening the lives and livelihoods of 15,000 miners

Bolivia’s cavernous Cerro Rico, also known as ‘rich hill’ and the ‘mountain that eats men’, looms over Potosí city. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty

It was the mountain that bankrolled Spain’s colonial empire, the Spanish Armada and the European Renaissance. The Cerro Rico, or Rich Hill, produced an estimated 2bn ounces of silver, making Potosí, the Bolivian city beneath it, the world’s largest industrial complex in the 16th century, according to the UN’s cultural body, which named it a world heritage site in 1987.

But last week, Unesco added Cerro Rico and Potosí to its list of endangered sites, owing to “uncontrolled mining operations” that risk “degrading the site”.

In 2011, after nearly 500 years of constant extraction, the mountain’s iconic summit was at risk of collapse. Engineers from the state mining company, Comibol, raced to save the 4,824-metre peak, filling a 50-metre-wide crater with ultra-light cement. There are plans to plug further gaps with mineral-stripped rocks, but, despite these measures, the summit continues to sink a few centimetres every year.

But Carlos Colque, Comibol’s general manager in Potosí, says there remains a risk of collapse as long as miners continue to work above the 4,400-metre mark in the labyrinth of tunnels that honeycomb the mountain. The silver mine remains Potosí’s economic mainstay. “We can’t kick the miners out and leave them without work, the government wants to relocate them but they say they want guarantees,” he says.

About 15,000 cooperative workers mine for silver, tin, lead and zinc in the mountain, which is pocked with hundreds of pitheads and criss-crossed with up to 20,000 tunnels. But the vast majority do not receive health insurance or pension benefits, and the cooperative sector routinely flouts basic safety laws.

“Cooperativism is not put into practice here,” said Jhonny Lally, who heads Potosí’s civic committee, an umbrella group of organisations and unions. “The bosses share the profits while those who work in the mines are just labourers, they’re as good as slaves with no insurance or benefits.”

The powerful cooperative sector is a key ally of President Evo Morales, who is seeking a third presidential term in October. The sector has grown in the past decade due to high international commodity prices. It generates 88% of mining employment and accounted for 48% of Bolivia’s $3.7bn mineral exports last year, according to state figures. Cooperative miners are exempt from paying taxes (compared with 37.5% paid by the private sector, plus royalties).

The work is precarious and dangerous. Many miners, including children as young as 11, brave toxic gases and the risk of mine collapses or electrocution with tools that have changed little since colonial times.

Dario hungrily devours a plate of rice and beef stew outside the Paillaviri mine at dawn. He has worked in the mine since he was 11. The 15-year-old, who is small for his age with a long, tinted fringe and a racking cough, says he can earn up to $300 a week, almost double Bolivia’s monthly minimum wage.

Inside the mine, a Comibol lift stands redundantly as workers descend using scores of wooden ladders into the myriad tunnels that extend more than a kilometre below. The company no longer mines in the mountain.

Jorge Palomino’s father was accidentally killed in the same tunnel that he and his brother and cousin continue to drill for tin. “If we die, our families will be on the street,” says the 33-year-old as he reaches into a bag of coca leaves and presses some into his cheek.

Palomino works with dynamite and a hydraulic drill. He would rather use new mining technology but says his cooperative cannot afford it. “If we have to do it with tooth and nail, we’ll get the mineral out,” he says.

Some historians estimate that up to 8 million men have died in the Cerro Rico since the 16th century, when indigenous and African slaves were forced by the Spanish to live in the tunnels they mined. Since then, the landmark, known as the “mountain that eats men”, has continued to live up to its fearsome reputation.

Paulina Ibeth Garabito, director of Musol, an organisation that helps miners’ widows, estimates that four workers are killed every month. While firm statistics are hard to find, police figures from 2010 and 2009 registered 22 and 19 deaths respectively from mining accidents.

Garabito says miner numbers are rising – as are the number of deaths – many of which are not registered. “The widows don’t get any compensation, the cooperatives do whatever they can to avoid paying out,” she says.

But more than mining accidents, the biggest killer is silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of silica dust. Workers call it mal de la mina and, as few use protective masks, it is the biggest occupational hazard.

Vilma Menacho’s husband was 34 when he died from silicosis. She was left with two sons and massive a debt for his hospital treatment. She works as a miner’s cook by day; by night she guards a mine.

“At first we looked to each other for moral support; we had very low esteem,” says Menacho who runs a support group for miners’ widows in Potosí. “Our husbands had been very machista, we weren’t allowed to do anything or be involved much in society.”

She describes her “impotence and rage” that her 17-year-old son is now a miner due to the lack of alternative employment. “That’s how we lost our husbands and, because of our needs, our children go back down the mine.”

“Potosí is a mining town, it always has been and it always will be,” says Carlos Mamani, president of Potosí’s federation of cooperative miners. “If we stopped working, all economic activity in the town would be paralysed.”

He says the sector has not made enough profit to modernise mining practices, and working conditions cannot improve without more funding from the government.

Potosí’s grim but fascinating history has made tourism an important secondary industry. Former miners give tours of their former workplaces, while in the city’s red-tiled colonial centre tourists can visit religious buildings and the mint the Spanish used to count the silver ingots. Cerro Rico may no longer contain the riches it once did, but it continues to lure men to their deaths.

Source: The Guardian

Qhapaq Nan


Unesco grants Inca Qhapaq Nan road system World Heritage status

The Inca trail linked Cusco, in modern-day Peru, to distant parts of the empire

A road system built by the Inca Empire has been granted World Heritage status by the United Nations cultural agency, Unesco.

The Qhapaq Nan roads go through six South American countries.

It was built in the most diverse terrains, linking communities in the Andes mountains to fertile valleys, rainforests and deserts.

Unesco described the system as an engineering wonder that must be restored and preserved.

The decision was taken in the Qatari capital, Doha, where Unesco‘s World Heritage Committee is gathered to consider the inclusion of 40 cultural and natural sites to the list.

The Andean Road System was built over hundreds of years and was used by the Spanish when they arrived in South America in the 16th Century. It was used mostly for trade and defence.

It covers some 30,000 km (18,600 miles), from modern-day Colombia in the north to Argentina and Chile in the south, via Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Historians believe the Inca trail was used to keep the the Andean city of Machu Picchu supplied

The six South American countries have agreed to work together to preserve the ancient route

Parts of it are still preserved, but most of the route has deteriorated since the Inca Empire was defeated.

“We still cannot see the entire road because a large part of it is covered by vegetation,” said Fernando Astete, chief archaeologist at Peru’s Machu Picchu site told AFP news agency.

The route system used to link the Inca capital, Cusco, to distant areas of the empire.

“The Qhapaq Nan by its sheer scale and quality of the road is a unique achievement of engineering skills. It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology,” Unesco said in a statement.

Unesco says that granting the Qhapaq Nan roads World Heritage status will make them eligible for much-needed restoration funds.

Source: BBCNews

Peru displays pre-Inca shroud returned from Sweden

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The BBC's Arrun Soma: "A very delicate homecoming"

The BBC’s Arrun Soma: “A very delicate homecoming”

An ancient Peruvian funeral shroud dating back to the pre-Inca period has gone on display in Lima after being returned from Sweden.

The Shroud of Gothenburg is described as uniquely complex, with more than 80 hues of blue, green, yellow and red woven into a pattern of 32 frames.

The shroud is one of four ancient Paracas textiles being returned, under an inter-governmental agreement.

They were smuggled out of Peru by a Swedish diplomat 80 years ago.

Researchers believe the images on the shroud functioned as a calendar of farming seasons.

The shroud, which has gone on display at the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History in Lima, shows condors, frogs, cats, corn, cassava and people.

Another 85 textiles are expected to be returned by 2021.

They were produced by the civilisation that flourished in the Paracas peninsula, in the south-west of modern-day Peru.

Although the shrouds are around 2,000 years old, archaeologists say they are perfectly preserved.

The Paracas funerary bundles “had been lowered into dry, cold and salty desert sand, protected from factors of deterioration such as oxygen and UV light,” says Sweden’s National Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg.

The shroud that has gone on display in Peru is one of 89 textiles being repatriated from Gothenburg

The textiles feature condors, frogs, cats, corn, cassava and humans

Source: BBC News More pictures

Georgia’s gold mine dilemma


The gold in Sakdrisi hill is too much of a temptation for the government

What is worth more: a unique historic site or gold that lies within it?

That is a question Georgians have been grappling with since their government gave permission for industrial excavation to start at what scientists claim is the oldest known gold mine in the world.

The archaeological area, known as Sakdrisi, is a small grassy hill in the Bolnisi region, in the picturesque foothills of south-eastern Georgia.

For 10 years Professor Thomas Stoellner, a leading specialist in mining archaeology from the University of Bochum, Germany, has been studying the archaeological record at Sakdrisi together with his Georgian colleagues.

“When we went to do the first survey we found hammer stones – typical mining tools – thousands of them,” says Prof Stoellner, who believes that tunnels inside the hill date back 5,400 years.

Video of artifacts

“At once I realised the importance of the site. When we got the first value carbon dates, and they were around 3,000 BC, it was clear that this was an exciting find which had never occurred in pre-historic mining.”

Recently discovered artefacts including a unique set of spiral gold earrings found in neighbouring Azerbaijan can be traced to Sakdrisi, according to Prof Stoellner.

‘No proof’

The Georgian government used to share this excitement and Sakdrisi was a protected cultural heritage site. But that status has been removed, and Professor Stoellner’s views are being challenged.

“It’s not proven that Sakdrisi is an ancient gold mine – it’s just an assumption,” Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili recently said at a meeting with university students.

Does that change in position have much to do with the mine’s potential as a source of employment and revenue in the region?

Sakdrisi sits on prime territory licensed to a commercial gold mining company, RMG Gold. The Russian-owned company is a major investor in the Georgian economy.

Source: BBC News

How the world went nuts

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Nutella: How the world went nuts for a hazelnut spread

Nutella, the nutty chocolate spread, is turning 50. Last year some 365 million kilos was consumed – roughly the weight of the Empire State Building – in 160 countries around the world. Half a century ago, in a small town in northern Italy, this would have been unimaginable.

In the hungry months after the end of World War Two, a young confectioner has a vision – of an affordable luxury made of a small amount of cocoa and lots of hazelnuts. His name: Pietro Ferrero.

“My grandfather lived to find this formula. He was completely obsessed by it,” says the current boss of the family business, Giovanni Ferrero. “He woke up my grandmother at midnight – she was sleeping – and he made her taste it with spoons, asking, ‘How was it?’ and ‘What do you think?'”

The way the family tells the story, it’s a modern fairytale. Pietro was a humble man who lived in an enchanting region famed throughout the land for its delicious and abundant hazelnuts. Times were hard and chocolatey delights were not for the common people. Still, he dreamed of a magic formula that would enable everyone to enjoy his sweet treats.

There’s a happy ending, too. Ferrero’s tiny business in the picturesque town of Alba goes on to become the fourth most important international group in the chocolate confectionery market, with an annual turnover of more than 8bn euros (£6.5bn; $11bn).

When Pietro had his vision, the Piedmont region of Italy, and its capital Turin, was already famed for its chocolate industry. It was the birthplace of Gianduja, a creamy combination of chocolate and hazelnuts. But only the rich could think of buying it.

“Chocolate was so expensive, it was really high-end, nobody could afford it, at least in Italy,” says Giovanni Ferrero.

But in 1946 his grandfather launched Giandujot, or Pasta Gianduja. Produced as loaves wrapped in aluminium foil, it was a sort of solidified Nutella that had to be cut with a knife. The first spreadable version – Supercrema – came a few years later.

“This was a big success,” says Giovanni. “It was the first brand that allowed people to enjoy confectionery at a very accessible price, even if it was not fully confectionery. This is how everything started.”

Spreadability meant that a small amount went a long way, helping to break down the perception that chocolate was, as Giovanni puts it, “only for very special occasions and celebrations like Christmas and Easter”.

It could also be eaten with bread, which formed a big part of the diet at the time. People who never ate chocolate got the Supercrema habit.

But it was Pietro’s son, Michele Ferrero, who turned it into Nutella, relaunching it with its now famously secret recipe and iconic glass jar. His father was a man obsessed, says Giovanni, just like his grandfather.

“My father said, ‘We can push it further, there are new technologies, there are new ways to integrate this winning recipe,'” he says.

“Nutella was born the same year as I was born, 1964, so I have a small brother in the family! And it was not just an Italian success but a European success.”

The Italian post office has marked the anniversary with a stamp

The name gave the product instant international appeal. It said nuts. It also said Italy – “-ella” being a common affectionate or diminutive ending in Italian, as in mozzarella (cheese), tagliatella (a form of pasta), or caramella (Italian for a sweet).

Fifty years on, Nutella is a global phenomenon, produced in 11 factories worldwide, and accounting for one fifth of the Ferrero Group’s turnover, along with other products such as Kinder and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The company is the number one user of hazelnuts in the world, buying up 25% of the entire world production.

But how did one brand of hazelnut chocolate spread manage to creep its way into so many kitchen cupboards for a full five decades?

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How far can you throw your knob?

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Dorset knob throwing contest attracts thousands

The savoury biscuits must be thrown underarm and one of the competitor’s feet must remain on the ground

More than 5,000 people have attended a “knob throwing” competition in Dorset.

The Dorset Knob Throwing and Food Festival event in Cattistock involves participants tossing the locally made, spherical biscuit as far as they can.

The longest throw was by Dave Morrison, who tossed his knob 21.8m (71ft).

Organiser Nigel Collins thought up the idea after seeing a Yorkshire pudding throwing contest at a Yorkshire food festival.

‘Very rural’

He said: “We used to throw knobs occasionally as a child because they’re the size of a golf ball, so the whole thing gelled from there.

“Most of the contest is taken in good heart and there is no food wastage. Everything that is left over – even the broken bits on the ground – goes to feed local chickens.

“We needed funding for the playing fields, village hall, cricket club, and football club. We’re a very small village, very rural, and we needed a unique event to get people here.”

The savoury biscuits, made by the Moores family since 1880, have to be thrown underarm and one of the competitor’s feet must remain on the ground during the toss in order for it to count. The best of three is measured and recorded.

The winner receives their winning biscuit and a plaque, while their name is added to a board in the village hall.

The record is still held by Dave Phillips with a throw of 29.4m (96ft) in 2012.

Other events included a knob eating contest, knob darts, knob weighing, and knob painting.


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