Saturday, 10 March 2012

Steve Investigates – Apple Bobbing (or Fruit in General Bobbing)

A truly disturbed artist's impression of bobbing
for apples

Wooooo and indeed very hooooo, I have a request, for a while there I was thinking my appeal for stuff to investigate was going to fall on deaf ears but no, we have had a request for my noted investigative services and I’m hot on the heals of the matter, like a sharp eyed lurcher after a rabbit. Anonymous asked “Why do we bob for apples rather than pears, or frankly any other fruit?” Which is a very good question, well played anonymous.

To answer this fruity inquiry we have to go back many centuries, we’re talking pre Magna Carta times, when Britain was nothing more than a bleak, rocky, cold, wind-swept outpost on the edge of Europe. While Marco Polo was stomping about central Europe on an elephant and Genghis Khan was laying waste to vast swathes of Central Asia and Eastern Europe with his Mongol Hoards, Britain was making do with internal feuds and the occasional spat with the damned French. Being King in those days was almost like being manager of Chelsea, no matter what you did or how well you performed you knew that one day someone would decide that you weren’t doing such a good job and slice your head off, which is a perfect example of how times have changed and how much more advanced we are nowadays, because Andre Villa-Boas didn’t get his head cut off, he got a big fat cheque for £10,000,000 instead.

So what’s all this got to do with apples? Well nothing really, the king of England was not the official apple bobbing champion of the world, Genghis Khan never bobbed for an apple in his life, he spent more than 10 years on a horse and you can’t bob for an apple when you’re sat on top of a horse, no matter how many peoples head’s you can cut off in one afternoon. It’s just not ergonomically feasible, that’s why in Polo matches the riders aren’t required to bob for an apple every time they score to get an extra point, it’s just too hard a thing to do, like licking your own bell end, you aren’t supposed to do it so you shouldn’t try.

But what did happen was the traditional “Ye Olde English fete”. Today, fetes are little more than car boot sales with a falconry display and brass bands and vegetable growing competitions but back in ye olde England times the summer fete was an important community event, they would be hosted by the local robber baron to show that he had a mellow, pleasant side and that he cared for the small people. Almost every village in every rotten borough and shire in England would hold an annual summer fete and these were the one day of the year when everyone forgot they lived in abject poverty and went and had a nice day out.

There would be many exciting attractions for the impoverished masses to enjoy, there would be the obligatory bear, badger and otter baiting booths, witch ducking stools and Morris dancing competitions that would often turn very violent as the kicky bell tinkling dance jousts heated up throughout the day, regular chants sprang up from the partisan crowds.

Morris Dancers
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” was one of the more popular witty asides, this would be directed at the scoring judges if the home crowd felt that there had been a scoring injustice. “You only sing when you’re tinkling” and “Who’s the wanker with the bells” would be other popular songs, which would be aimed at the opposing Morris Men’s star dancer to put him off, but probably the biggest crowd pleasing favourite chant was, “you’re going home on the back of an ox cart” which was usually sung when an errant stick had caught one of the dance troupe in the eye or throat, this would happen quite often if the frenzied dance routine became a bit uncoordinated and wild.

But obviously only a moron would subject a small child to a feral crowd of partisan, semi-racist idiots in the name of sport and so children were generally kept well away from the frightening scenes of the Morris dancing, and so, in order that the menfolk could have some “me time” away from the constant nagging of the wife and kids there would be a “family zone” set up, this would include such things as Punch ‘n’ Judy performances, conker shies (coconuts weren’t invented until much later), petting zoos, swings and slides, Krazy Golf and the very, very popular “dunking the small child in a barrel” tents.

People would queue up for hours to pay half a groat to have their child dunked in a barrel, or a full groat would get you a family package of up to three kids. Then after the dunking and Morris Dancing the whole family, including the, by now, sodden and pacified children, would spend the rest of the day wandering the fete watching bear maul bear, throwing rotten tomatoes and dung at the village idiot in the stock and watching the witch ducking by the light of the early evening dusk.

As the sun set and the birds put themselves to bed the family would crawl back to their freezing cold hovel and spend the next 363 days living in abject poverty, waiting for the next year’s summer fete so that they could dunk their least favourite small child in a barrel, that’s if he or she hadn’t died of the plague obviously.

An cruel, undeserved
stereotype of a Scotsman?
This went on for hundreds of years, with only minor lulls as the men went off to fight wars against the French. But, as society changed and people moved from the agricultural countryside to the industrial towns with their smoke stacks and their tenement ghettos, people started to question the logic of just dunking a small child in a barrel, they felt that it was a cruel thing to do to a small child, plus now that the small children were away from their idyllic lives picking potatoes and cow dung on farms and were now working in factories, mills, up chimneys, down coal mines, on ships in His Majesties Navy or as prostitutes, it was felt that they needed to be able to stand up to the rigours of a 14 hour work day and therefore needed to eat more fruit.

But kids will be kids and they can be such fussy eaters at times and so through a mixture of bribery, coercion, sleight of hand, chicanery and trickery, a few mouldy apples would be added to the barrel so that the “supposed cruelty” of dunking a child for no good reason was mitigated and the child got at least one of its five pieces of fruit a day, much like modern day Scottish people.

Essentially, apples fuelled the industrial revolution, this meant that small children could be better exploited, work longer hours, get paid less than a full sized adult and get their tiny, grubby, malnourished, fruity fingers inside very heavy threshing, grinding, milling or looming machinery if it broke. So, because of apples Great Britain was able to strut around the globe, sticking its marvellous and imposing flag in hot places all across the planet, stripping all of the mineral wealth out of that country, exploiting the local indigenous population, press ganging them into slavery, transporting them from one bit of empire to another and making them work for even less money (no money) than the child labourers/prostitutes back home and generally being the biggest empire the world has ever seen. All because of apples, and apple bobbing.

Of course that was until The Bosch turned up on the scene, World War I started when the Germans started to think that they needed a bit of an empire as well, and so, for four years, while most of France and Belgium was turned into mustard gas and death flavoured mud the brave English boys who went off to France to fight for freedom and the British Empire were fighting Germans instead of apple bobbing.

Things were never the same again, people tried to go back to the way things were before the war but it was impossible to recreate those carefree apple bobbing days. Days when half the people at the annual fetes didn’t have a leg, an arm or an eye missing, days when people didn’t keep twitching from the dark memories of shell-fire, barbwire and piles of stinking, bullet ravaged dead bodies. It’s hard to fully concentrate on apple bobbing when the man who runs the booth has a nervous breakdown halfway through your turn, so people moved on and found new, modern ways of enjoying themselves. Ways that meant that they didn’t have to look at people with no legs or half a brain or a silly big bit of German shrapnel sticking out of their shoulder.

Americans invented the teenager, hamburgers, drive-ins and rock n’ roll and by the time the 1960s turned up people were openly against dunking children at all, even for apples and the very idea of dunking a child had reached faux pas levels of social unacceptability and people who did it were thought of as worse than communists.

Dame Barbara Castle
So it was almost thumpingly inevitable that Britain would move towards a “no dunking” society, and it wasn’t long before Roy Jenkins, Dame Barbara Castle and other left leaning windbags started their policy of shuffling the social order of things by allowing women equal rights, throwing all manner of gay friendly policies into a largely sceptical world and putting a big rubber stopper into the bottle marked “dunking small children in a barrel of water.” And so since then it hasn’t been the done.

Nowadays the rules regarding dunking of any kind are so complex and detailed that it almost isn’t worth the bother of having an apple bobbing tent at your fete at all. The rules require any apple bobbing booth owner to obtain two health & safety permits from the local council, an official fire marshal and ambulance crew must be on standby, all apple bobbing booth worker must wear a high-visibility jacket, be trained in CPR, be able to prove they can swim with their pyjamas on and not be on any sort of sex crime register. And so that’s basically the story of apple bobbing.

But there was a second part of the question, why do we only bob for apples and not pears, or other fruits? Well the reason is quite simple; apples are the largest indigenous fruit in Britain that float in water. Berries float but they’re far too small for small children to bob for, plus you need several berries to equal the same fruity goodness of an apple so it’s logistically easier to bob for an apple as opposed to a gooseberry or a bramble. Pears, despite the novelty shape and general airy, lightweight, pleasant texture don’t float in water. This is how you tell an apple from a pear, and before you say I know the difference between an apple and a pear, well pah to you sir. There are varieties of apple that are pear-shaped and there are breeds of pear that are as round as any apple, so in case you fancied a pear you should always dunk the piece of fruit in water just to make sure it’s not really an apple.

This bureaucratic red tape fuelled silliness combined with the emergence of flavourless, mass-produced, ugly, slightly evil French apples means that unfortunately the long tradition of apple bobbing amongst our current generation of MP3 loving, facebook trolling, X-Factor ogling youngsters are far more interested in Apple iPads than apple bobbing these days.

A pear
And of course pear bobbing as well, which would no doubt have been considered one of the "danger sports" like BMXing or Bungee Jumping or Whitewater Rafting and there's a genuine, really real reason why pears are such a poor choice of fruit for bobbing, and the reason that pears are not floaty is because pears are actually made of lead, which gives them a very high mass and that makes it impossible for a pear to float in water.

Also Superman famously couldn’t see through lead, and so if you were a supervillain and you wanted to kill Superman all you would need to do was hide a piece of Kryptonite inside a big, juicy pear and voila you have a massive anti-superman weapon of devastating power, and tastiness. And the high lead based content of a pear is the reason why Beyonce Knowles can’t swim; the pear-shape bottomed singer also sinks to the bottom of a pool when she tries to go for a dip. This was found out on one inauspicious occasion when Jay-Zed had to plunge into a pool to save the warbling pop starlet from a drowning incident that may have led to questions similar to the ones that Michael Barrymore had to answer when that guy ended up at the bottom of his pool, pumped full with opiates and with a World War I German helmet stuffed rudely in his fundament.

On the other hand an apple is made up of nothing heavier than the tiny remains of dead waterboatmen, money spider silk and sugary air, so they do float in water and so when dunking for fruit became popular during the industrial revolution it made sense that you don’t want to go to the trouble of beating a small child until it understands that working for 14 hours a day for very little money in a hot, stinking factory with no windows, air flow or natural light, and that’s literally swimming with leprosy, angry fleas, dental caries and gonorrhoea is perfectly ok for a 10 year old, (and it’s also perfectly normal for all small children to have at least two fingers missing as well) only for that long-term investment in a 10 year old to be lost when it drowns itself while bobbing for the wrong piece of fruit because instead of trying to sink it’s rotten gnashers into bobbing on the surface for an apple it went in far too deep and tried to reach a pear that has sank to the bottom of the barrel, and so, because of this, apples were designated the official bobbing fruit of England.

Kiwi fruit
Of course they could have tried more exotic fruit like a mango or a banana, which do float in water, but it’s difficult to peel a banana with your teeth, especially if you’re trying to do it upside down in a barrel of water that’s had probably 20 or 30 other dirty children upside down in it before you. Oranges are the same, and lemons. Despite these fruits being better at solving many childhood illness and deficiencies than apples they couldn’t be used for dunking because they’re tropical and nobody apart from the queen/king had seen one before 1876, which lead to Charles Dickens writing Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, about the scandal of the oranges and how they were kept away from the huddled masses in their shithole tenements and about how an orphan boy becomes a lesbian after tasting a kiwi fruit for the first time.

And so we’re back to apples for bobbing again. They also taste far better as a pie than oranges do, and probably just better than lemon because you have to add meringue to those if you want it to be a universally liked pie, whereas apples can make a mighty fine pie on their own, although oranges do make better marmalade, plus there’s a modern trend for people making roasted pear pies and they can be very tasty, especially if they get doused in booze. Anywho, I’m drifting somewhat, essentially it’s apples for bobbing, but any fruit you like for pies.

There, apple bobbing done!

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