Poohsticks

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For the band, see The Pooh Sticks.

Poohsticks is a sport first mentioned in The House at Pooh Corner, a Winnie-the-Pooh book by A. A. Milne. It is a simple sport which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner. The annual World Poohsticks Championships have been held at Day's Lock on the River Thames in the UK since 1984.[1]

History[edit]

Poohsticks was invented by English author A. A. Milne for his son Christopher Robin Milne.[2] The sport first came to prominence when it was described in the author's book The House at Pooh Corner[3] as well as in the Disney animated featurette Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. Winnie-the-Pooh, the protagonist of the book, accidentally drops a pine cone into a river from a bridge and, after observing how it appeared on the other side of the bridge, devises the rules for Poohsticks. Pooh continues to play the sport with the other characters, Christopher Robin, Tigger and Eeyore.[4][5]

The sport was first developed at a bridge located in Ashdown Forest, close to the village of Upper Hartfield, East Sussex, England. Built in 1907 and originally called Posingford Bridge, it is considered to be the bridge on which Milne and his son first played the game.[5][6] However, it is uncertain whether the sport was first played at the bridge then written into the story, or vice versa.[2] The bridge maintained the public's interest and a campaign to rebuild it in the late seventies was considered important enough to feature on the BBC Nine O'Clock News. The bridge was subsequently reopened by Christopher Robin Milne and officially renamed as Poohsticks Bridge.[7]

The site was so popular that in 1999 the East Sussex county council made an appeal to Disney as the old wooden bridge had been worn down by an overwhelming number of visitors.[8] The company provided a substantial donation towards the estimated £30,000 needed to replace the bridge. Partly rebuilt in 1979, the donations from Disney, building firms and members of the public funded its complete reconstruction. The newly built and modernised bridge retained its precursor's original style.[9] A plaque was also placed to commemorate the occasion and thank those who financially contributed to the project.[6] The sport can still be played in Ashdown Forest to this day and the site regularly attracts tourists from as far afield as the United States and Japan.[8] However, visitors are now advised to bring their own sticks, as previous visitors have caused damage to the trees in the vicinity.[2][10]

Rules and strategy[edit]

A sport for two players or more, in the traditional version of poohsticks the participants must drop a stick simultaneously on the upstream side of a bridge and run to the other side. The winner is the player whose stick first appears on the other side of the bridge.[1] Alternatively, players may decide upon a starting point on a river and a finish line further downstream. The winner is the player whose stick first passes the finishing point.[4]

It is generally agreed that the stick must be made of organic materials, preferably willow, and not of any artificial materials.[10] All participants must drop their sticks at the same time, usually after a referee shouts "drop", "twitch" or any other agreed keyword. Additionally, no advantage may be gained through either dismantling the bridge or the use of any self-propelling stick devices.[11] The stick must be dropped, not thrown, into the water and any player who is deemed to have thrown their stick is disqualified.[10]

Poohsticks is considered to be a sport of chance yet some players claim skill is involved. Some strategies involve the way in which the stick is held before it is dropped and trying to find the fastest route in the river.[5] Author Ben Schott outlined a throwing method as a winning strategy in his third book, Schott’s Sporting, Gaming and Idling Miscellany, but his method was dismissed as cheating by competition organisers.[10] In any event, the turbulence around the bridge supports make the path of the stick very difficult to predict and may vary according to the season.

The traditional game has inspired filmmakers and screenwriters and has been portrayed in the 1998 film Into My Heart with Rob Morrow and Claire Forlani, BBC sitcom To the Manor Born and also in a Marks & Spencer clothes advert where models, including Twiggy and Myleene Klass, played the game. The popularity of the game was underlined when it featured as a question on long-running British quiz series University Challenge.[5]

World Poohsticks Championships[edit]

Little Wittenham Bridge with the lock keeper's house beyond

Following the closure of the short-lived Oxford University Poohsticks Society,[citation needed] Poohsticks was brought to a larger audience by the World Poohsticks Championships. The Championships take place annually at Day's Lock on the River Thames near Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England and have attracted over 1,500 visitors to the event, including many international visitors.[4] The championships feature an individual event and a six-person team event.[2] Players come from a wide variety of countries including the United States, Japan, Kenya, Australia and England.[4][5][12] The event takes place from Little Wittenham Bridge which is about 100 yards (91 m) downstream of the lock.

The sporting event was started in 1984 by the lockkeeper, Lynn David, as a fund-raising event for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).[2] He noticed that people occasionally snapped sticks from nearby hedges to play the sport and he then came up with the idea of a competition to aid the charity. He put out a box of sticks and a collection box and it soon became an annual event.[5] In this version of the game a finish line is set up further downstream and the winner is the first to pass this point.[13] The competition originally took place every January but it was moved to March due to icy weather in 1997.[14]

Day's Lock from Wittenham Clumps (or Sinodun Hills) in summer

The event proved popular with the local community and even attracted the attention of the foreign media.[15] After Lynn David's retirement, the running of the event was taken over by the Rotary Club of Sinodun, based in nearby Wallingford.[5] Additionally, the funds raised were divided between the RNLI and charitable projects supported by the Rotary Club.[13] Twenty years after its first edition, the event had grown in popularity, attracting visitors from across the globe, and had been broadcast on television in countries including Russia, Japan and Czech Republic.[16] Additionally, VisitBritain, the official British tourist board, named it as a highlight in its collection of "Quirky British Events".[17] Throughout its existence it has raised around £30,000 for the RNLI.[18]

The Championships were at risk of decline when in 2008 the Rotary Club declared that its members were simply too old to stage an annual event of its size. The Sinodun president, David Caswell stated: "The trouble is there is a lot of heavy work staging the event. Some of our members are over 70, and it was just getting too much". However, the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires declared that they would continue hosting the event, thus preserving the competition for future generations. The President of Oxford Spires for 2008–2009, Liz Williamson, stressed that it should continue as the event was popular locally and demonstrated quirky English nature to a worldwide audience.[5]

Winners[edit]

The winners of both the individual and team events receive a trophy, and the second and third placed individuals and teams also receive a smaller trophy. Despite claims that the game involves skill more than luck, no team or individual has ever won the competition more than once. The individual competition usually involves winning three rounds of matches before receiving an entry to the final.[5]

Year Edition Date Individual event Team event
1984 1st Annual Championships  ?  ?
1985 2nd Annual Championships  ?  ?
1986 3rd Annual Championships  ?  ?
1987 4th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1988 5th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1989 6th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1990 7th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1991 8th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1992 9th Annual Championships Sue Rayner, Wootton[citation needed]  ?
1993 10th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1994 11th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1995 12th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1996 13th Annual Championships Théo Welch-King, a five-year-old from Abingdon[1]  ?
1997 14th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1998 15th Annual Championships  ?  ?
1999 16th Annual Championships  ?  ?
2000 17th Annual Championships Blair DeBart, 18, from Brixton[citation needed]  ?
2001 18th Annual Championships Cancelled[19]
2002 19th Annual Championships Rachel Banham (age 11) Wantage[4]  ?
2003 20th Annual Championships Becky Aram (age 10) Wantage[4] Australia[4]
2004 21st Annual Championships Susan Young from Didcot, Oxfordshire[13] Czech Republic[13]
2005 22nd Annual Championships Matthew Blair (age 28), Rockville, Maryland, USA Japan[1]
2006 23rd Annual Championships 25–26 March 2006 Harry Norton Shaw, an eight-year-old from near Abingdon[1] Team Natural Colour Cotton from Milton Keynes[1][20]
2007 24th Annual Championships Bob Jones of Carterton[12] Bears for Life from United Kingdom[20]
2008 25th Annual Championships Lydia Leece, aged ten[21] Sticking to the Prize[21]
2009 26th Annual Championships Phil Davies[22] Cytoarchitechno (from Oxford)[22]
2010 27th Annual Championships Cancelled - the flow was too heavy[23]
2011 28th Annual Championships 27 March 2011 Saffron Sollit, aged nine[24] Team Kelly[24]
2012 29th Annual Championships 25 March 2012 Aidan Eltham[citation needed] The Tiglets[citation needed]
2013 30th Annual Championships 13 October 2013 (after high river levels forced cancellation on 24 March)[25][26] Alex Marshall (aged 30) of Mornington, Australia[27] We don't spell love we feel it (from Oxford) [28]
2014 31st Annual Championships 30 March 2014 Simon Critchley [29] Blantz Family[29]

Notable Poohsticks Societies[edit]

Rotary Club of Oxford Spires[edit]

Although not a Poohsticks Society as such, the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires[30] is responsible for the World Pooh Sticks Championships held annually since 1983 at Days Lock in Little Wittenham, near Abingdon, on the River Thames.[24] The Championships were voted 'Britain's Favourite Quirky Event' by Countryfile magazine readers in 2012[31] and are carried out with the aim of raising money for a variety of charities.[32]

The logo of the MCPSS, circa 2013

Magdalen College Pooh Sticks Society[edit]

Revival of the Oxford University Pooh Sticks Society has begun thanks to students in Magdalen College, Oxford, with the creation of the Magdalen College Pooh Sticks Society (MCPSS) founded in April 2013 which mixes classic Pooh Sticks games with commentary and rules in the style of radio programme I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Of late the club has become increasingly well-known inside the University and is no longer a society dedicated purely to members of Magdalen College.[33]

Pembroke College Winnie the Pooh Society[edit]

Founded in 1993, students of Pembroke College, Cambridge, pay homage to the works of A. A. Milne in a variety of ways, including playing games of Poohsticks alongside events such as visits to the 'real-life' Hundred Acre Wood.[34] The Society has gained significant fame at the University of Cambridge and claims Her Majesty the Queen as an honorary member.[35]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "23rd world Pooh-sticks race held". BBC. 2006-03-27. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and You". BBC. 1998-03-13. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  3. ^ A. A. Milne. (1928) The House at Pooh Corner, London: Methuen. ISBN 0-7497-0116-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "New 'pooh-sticks' World Champion". BBC. 2003-03-16. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Davies, Caroline (2008-11-02). "Poohsticks fans club together to save the game". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  6. ^ a b "Disney to save Pooh Bridge". BBC. 1999-09-11. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  7. ^ "A Short History of Pooh and Winnie". PoohCorner. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  8. ^ a b "Appeal to save Winnie the Pooh's bridge". BBC. 1999-08-10. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  9. ^ Halstead, Robin (2008-03-21). "Great escapes: Days out with a difference". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  10. ^ a b c d Marsh, Stephanie (2004-10-19). "Want to win at Pooh Sticks? It’s all in the throw". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  11. ^ Barritt, Owen (2003-03-21). "The Official Poohsticks Rules Of The Pembroke College Winnie-The-Pooh Society". The Pembroke College Winnie-The-Pooh Society 2000-2007. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  12. ^ a b "It's Pooh Sticks Time!". BBC. 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Czech team takes Pooh-sticks gold". BBC. 2004-03-29. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  14. ^ "Thaw to bring wave of misery". The Independent. 1997-01-04. Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  15. ^ "Pooh's Pastime Noted In a Village on Thames". The New York Times. 1987-01-06. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  16. ^ Townsend, Ian (2008-10-27). "Oxford rotary club steps in to save Pooh Sticks championship previously run by a Wallingford rotary club". Herald Series. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  17. ^ "Quirky British Events For 2008". VisitBritain. 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  18. ^ "Pooh sticks championships return". thisisoxfordshire. 2002-03-01. Retrieved 2008-11-03. [dead link]
  19. ^ Ellery, Ben (28 March 2010). "Health and safety fears scupper Pooh sticks race". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  20. ^ a b "Successful return for Pooh Sticks". United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. 2007-03-29. Retrieved 2008-11-03. [dead link]
  21. ^ a b 2008 World Pooh Sticks Championships Results. The Rotary Club of Sinodun. Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
  22. ^ a b Crowds enjoy pooh sticks championships. Scotland on Sunday (2009-03-29). Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
  23. ^ Ellery, Ben (27 March 2010). "Pooh sticks event cancelled". Oxford Mail (Oxford: Newsquest Media Group). Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  24. ^ a b c "Girl wins Oxfordshire World Pooh Sticks Championships". BBC Online. 2011-03-27. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  25. ^ "Pooh Sticks World Championships 2013". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  26. ^ "World Pooh Sticks Championship hit by high river levels". BBC Online. 2013-03-22. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  27. ^ "Australian Alex Marshall is World Pooh Sticks Champion". BBC Online. 2013-10-14. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  28. ^ "Pooh Sticks contest braves the downpour". Oxford Mail. 2013-10-14. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  29. ^ a b "Local heroes claim honours at Pooh Sticks competition". Oxford Mail. 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  30. ^ "The Oxford Spires Rotary Club". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  31. ^ "CountryFile Awards at Poohsticks.com". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  32. ^ "All you need to know for 2014 at Poohsticks.com". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  33. ^ "Pooh Sticks Society a Winnie-er". The Oxford Student. 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  34. ^ "The Poohsticks Cam Bridge Crawl". Pembroke College Winnie the Pooh Society. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  35. ^ "Happy 90th birthday, Winnie the Pooh: The bear of very little brain (but VERY big bank balance)". The Daily Mail. 2012-06-11. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 

External links[edit]