Friday, August 29, 2008

Ferretting around



From the November 1992 Harper's:
Mr. Reg Mellor, the "king of the ferret-leggers," paced across his tiny Yorkshire miner's cottage as he explained the rules of the English sport that he has come to dominate rather late in life. "Ay, lad," said the seventy-two-year-old champion, "no jockstraps allowed. No underpants-- nothin` whatsoever. And it's no good with tight trousers, mind ye. Little bah-stards have to be able to move around inside there from ankle to ankle."

Basically, ferret-legging involves the tying of a competitor's trousers at the ankles and the insertion into those trousers of a couple of peculiarly vicious fur-coated, foot-long carnivores called ferrets. The brave contestant's belt is then pulled tight, and he proceeds to stand there in front of the judges as long as he can, while animals with claws like hypodermic needles and teeth like number 16 carpet tacks try their damnedest to get out.

From a dark and obscure past, the sport has made an astonishing comeback in recent years. When I first heard about ferret-legging, in 1972, the world record stood at forty painful seconds of "keepin' 'em down," as they say in ferret-legging circles. A few years later the dreaded one-minute mark was finally surpassed. The current record-- implausible as it may seem--now stands at an awesome five hours and twenty-six minutes, a mark reached last year by the gaudily tattooed little Yorkshireman with the waxed military mustache who now stood two feet away from me explaining the technicalities of this burgeoning sport.

"The ferrets must have a full mouth o' teeth," Reg Mellor said as he fiddled with his belt., "No filing of the teeth; no clipping. No dope for you or the ferrets. You must be sober, and the ferrets must be hungry-- though any ferret'll eat yer eyes out even if he isn't hungry. So then, lad. Any more questions 'fore I poot a few down for ye?"

"Yes, Reg."

"Ay, whoot then?"

"Well, Reg," I said. "I think people in America will want to know. Well -- since you don't wear any protection -- and, well, I've heard a ferret can bite your thumb off. Do they ever -- you know?"

Reg's stiff mustache arched toward the ceiling under a sly grin. "You really want to know what they get up to down there, eh?" Reg said, looking for all the world like some workingman's Long John Silver. "Well, take a good look." Then Reg Mellor let his trousers fall around his ankles.

[ . . .]

Loyal to nothing that lives, the ferret has only one characteristic that might be deemed positive -- a tenacious, single-minded belief in finishing whatever it starts. That usually entails biting off whatever it bites.

[ . . .]

Reg Mellor, a man who has been more intimate with ferrets than many men have been with their wives, calls ferrets "cannibals, things that live only to kill, that'll eat your eyes out to get at your brain" at their worst and "untrustworthy" at their very best.

Reg says he observed with wonder the growing popularity of ferret-legging throughout the '70s. He had been hunting with ferrets in the verdant moors and dales outside of Barnsley for much of a century. Since a cold and wet ferret exterminates with a little less enthusiasm than a dry one, Reg used to keep his ferrets in his pants for hours when he hunted in the rain -- and it always rained where he hunted.

"The world record was sixty seconds. Sixty seconds! I can stick a ferret up me ass for longer than that."

As DH said after reading this: "Ow, ow, ow!" The ferrets' tenacity does explain why Danny wished he'd brought his ferrets on our field trip when we found the rabbit warren. I'm trying to think of any strange American 'sports' that are as weird as this, but can't right now.

2 comments:

abritdifferent said...

I can't think of any either, but I am sure there are plenty of things down south.

For some reason, I also thought of gurning. Don't ask me how I linked that one!

Canoez said...

Ok, What's 'gurning'?

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