And now for yet more live event reportage and cultural pontificating. The Crab Fair is a straightforward traditional country show, it dates back to the 12th century. It incorporates contemporary culture but is in essence I suspect unchanged in its aims to celebrate local skills and give everyone a day/week off during which they will have a good time with their family and friends getting horribly drunk. One aspect of the fair that is immediately apparent and nowadays unusual is that the commentators know pretty much everyone by their first names and comment on them and their foibles throughout the day.
The highlights of the day programme are the wrestling, its odd to see yoofs in trackies so seriously doing this traditional, skilled and slightly silly form of sport, the show of vegetables and poultry are equally impressive being of very high standard and again with many young people involved.

The famous highlight of the fair is the Gurning (making ugly faces) competition; it is slightly ruined by loads of outsiders/lads, stag parties taking part, many of whom get booed and one of who hilariously drops his trousers. Boy I’ve never laughed so much in my entire life, how my sides remained joined is a miracle, this was imaginative thinking at the cutting edge of the blue skies world of management consultantcy, brilliant, it has to be the very last thing anyone would have thought of doing, all I can say is this young man will go far, very far, very far indeed. The rest of the twats are just hopeless having not made any effort, however the organisers generously give each of them a go albeit in a disgruntled manner, the compere’s laconic asides help ease the boredom. In each heat a local master is included and when these practitioners take the stage the audience erupts into chants of ‘ugly ugly’, and indeed they are. The ritualistic nature of the event is very apparent and in effect the comperes riff on that. Everyone knows what the outcome will be, and looks forward to that magical moment played out annually. Tommy Mattinson has won the competition 9 times his father before him 10 times, he is the best and his performance well honed – he goes from suave Miami style beach bum to snarling dogwolf thing, even his back seems to articulate forming an angular jackal like hump. When Tommy inevitably wins, the stage is darkened, the dry ice floods the Dias - pierced by shards of light ala some horror film, Carmina Burana pounds out, the Omen films being the point of reference – Tommy whirls on the audience, clutching the horse collar, snarling, his George Michael beard framing his barred teeth, squatting between the two Burton besuited car salesman styled commentators in matching red kipper ties, their arms spread-eagled, Al Jolson showbiz style, it’s a fleeting but powerful demonic triptych, the audience, the tradition all adding meaning, weight, humour – it is well worth the wait (and I've seen it before). I guess it would work just as well as a photograph or film clip, you didn't have to be there but then you would have to understand the place the context, the people, know the life.
But what makes me more receptive to this performance than the others I have recently witnessed – well it’s ‘real’ for one, but that’s not enough there’s plenty of real I’d rather not see. There is a naturalness about the routine, its relationship to its audience, this is a community that's playing ball, and in the image a host of pertinent references, many of them unconscious no doubt. The celebration of being of an outsider community wedded to Sellafield Nuclear Power Station – although the event long predates Sellafield. A contemporary image of the devil, the evils of society and a way to exorcise it (as per many traditional evil/death/fear type folk events) I love the references to estate agents, the use of film reference etc. The idea of transformation, the best gurn has to transform a presentable face into an ugly one, just starting of ugly and going further doesn’t cut it at all. Even the insider outsider prejudice thing talks a lot about contemporary life, of course none of this needs articulating, as you understand it all intuitively in an instance. There is a lot of Mathew Barney in this but it isn’t ultimately produced by some super privileged celebrated New Yorker pondering the fracturing of society with a bunch of seductive but clumsy references – could be that it’s just honest.

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