July 16th, 2013
The Essence of The All England Open Stone Skimming Championships
I wasn’t exactly sure where at the Wateredge Inn the English Stone Skimming Championships’ equivalent of the darts oche would be, because, despite having handled the PR for it in two previous years, I had always been elsewhereon the actual day. I needn’t have worried. Having parked the car across the road, I immediately heard the less than dulcet tones of organiser Ben booming through his megaphone.
“Get over here now and stop cuddling your pint”, he bellowed, as half a dozen men nervously looked down at their pint of bitter and questioned whether they had been singled out by the maniac on the meg!
As I approached, I noticed that the afore-mentioned Ben had assumed a king-of-the-castle position on the wall between Inn and lake and was modelling the very-good-value, official championship T-shirt, priced at only £7 from the merchandise tent!
My eyes then became affixed on his feet, dancing around on the stonework, simply because he was also parading up the catwalk in Superman socks!
Eager, have-a-go heroes were registering to enter these official stone skimming championships and selecting their ‘weapons’ from the buckets of local Lakeland stones, of the regulatory proportions allowed under international stone skimming rules. We were already up to number 41 and it had only been going for 30 minutes!
Lakeland Radio were fiddling with their buttons and a photographer from the Westmorland Gazette had assumed a seemingly perilous position on the opposite wall, leaning down into the gulley from which competitors had to skim.
I noted two little toddlers dressed in hoodies bearing ITALIA on the back. I was considering investigating their nationality, but was too busy speculating as to whether they could possibly have entered the under 10 age group category, given that they were attached by a rein to their father’s wrist!
Ben had turned his attention to a group of ladies from Liverpool. “Come on: I can see you … get over here now ladies and see if you can win the wonderful prize. You could win a stay at this wonderful hotel”. The group giggled nervously and then, amazingly, bowed to the pressure. This was an enlightening moment, as this was the first time I had heard anyone say that the course was biased against left-handers.
“This is left-handist”, said one. Half-a-dozen relieved women instantly moved their handbag to the other shoulder, having received this news like manna from heaven!
“And I want to see you skimming in a minute, Jane”, boomed Ben. I looked at the lake, which resembled a very choppy sea and realised that this was a getting-the-feet-very-wet mission, even if one got over the embarrassment of appearing a total dork.
“Just waiting for the right conditions”, I replied, smartly! I was, however, by now realising that there was no escaping entry, this thunderbolt of realisation arriving as Ben was simultaneously barking to another woman: “Well, I don’t call that very supportive, Missus. Fancy letting your man enter and not backing him up! What’s wrong with you!”
By now, his eyes had alighted on a man, woman and baby buggy, the baby being parked up in the opposite direction – perhaps to avoid the shock of Ben’s superman socks!
“Great, come on down”, he yelled, “and how about you my dear”? he shouted into the megaphone, as if addressing someone in Bowness, rather than a group only three yards away.
“I think the baby would be more use, but he’s asleep”, replied hubby. I looked at the girl from Lakeland Radio, who was obviously thinking the same thing. I could see the morning headlines … “Miracle baby sleeps through decibel drama”!
I had a tactic up my sleeve and it basically revolved around stepping up and doing the right thing when there were as few people around as possible. I surveyed the scene and it was going the right way. The folks in the beer garden seemed even more shaky about a skimming session after Ben had singled out an errant judge, who had skipped off to his car and abandoned his post by the marked-out lane, and urged everyone in the beer garden to boo him!
“Come on people, don’t leave us stuck in that awkward position of 69”, bellowed Ben. Obligingly, number 70 stepped up, made their attempt and retreated from the scene. Ben had now turned his attention to the Windermere Lake Cruises’ vessel, The Swan, just pulling in to the Ambleside Pier.
“Right, get off that boat and come down here and enter the skimming championships” he urged, as the sound waves bounced off the water. Heads turned from the jetty and there was just the odd chance that someone might take up the invitation.
Faster than Barbara Windsor rushing to be first on the stage to collect the Soap Awards trophy for Best Serial Drama, I hot-footed it to the registration desk, filled in my form, almost forgot to collect my stones and swapped my footwear.
“And here we have number 71, a very special contestant .. Jane from Catapult PR .. the best PR company in the world”, boomed the boomer. I wanted to die, recalling how I was once in the loo at our first PR awards and suddenly heard our administrator telling another agency’s employee, by the wash-basins, how she very much doubted if anyone would be able to beat Catapult! (You know those films where the baddies are searching for their victim in the cubicles and so the victim leaps on to the loo seat so their feet don’t show .. it was a bit like that and I wasn’t seen for the next 20 minutes!).
Anyway, despite the recollection of this nightmare, I nervously took to “the oche” and foolishly tried to emulate the man, who it later transpired was a ‘professional stoneskimmer’ who toured from event to event, by taking note of the conditions and getting some loft prior to the first skip on the surface. My stone went flying six-feet out of bounds to the left!
“That was an unusual technique, Jane”, said Ben, supportively, chortling into the megaphone. I tried with my second stone. It plopped as what I myself had described as a down-under in the press release, just as a wave washed over my feet and filled by pink pumps with lake weed! By now, I just wanted to get out of there and although number three was a better effort, it didn’t even skip once! All that time spent skimming from the beach at Cadaques had just been fruitless and I would be disowned by my son, or would have been if he had bothered to come with me!
Now, it was clear that I needed to hide away for a while, so I went in search of the people I’d dealt with on the phone and who had obligingly stepped up for various broadcast slots during the past fortnight. I was delighted to learn that the release had been used in The Independent and also broadcast on Radio Cumbria during the morning. This was already adding up to a bumper haul of coverage for this year. Despite this, I was not expecting any gift of thanks, having long ago decided that my PR efforts will have to be rewarded in heaven, but was delighted to be surprised with a bottle of bubbly and a wonderful white. I instantly knew these would be fabulous, given that the person presenting them is a wine merchant. Lucky me!
I exited the scene to the tones of Ben the Boomer enticing more people to the water’s edge, realising that he had missed his vocation in life and really should become a game show host. I could put the words in his mouth right now. “Higher than number 71 … yes, a full four feet!”
By this point, I had gushed something about doing the PR again next year, even if I had to do it for free. At least I’ll have a full 12 months to get some stone skimming practice in! I had left them to round up the next 200 contestants with two clinking bottles in my bag, lots of thanks and a kiss from Ben the Boomer, socking it to them in his Superman socks. What more could a girl want… oh yes .. someone to evaluate all the press coverage for me!