An Olympiad of gentlemanly events
The annual Chap Olympiad is a celebration of gentlemanly arts. (Stephen Dowling)
If you come to England expecting waxed moustaches, cucumber sandwiches, the tipping of trilbies and regular use of the word "jolly", then you may leave a trifle disappointed. Unless, that is, you pay a visit to a particular corner of central London on 7 and 8 July.
In the same month that Stratford’s Olympic Stadium plays host to a smorgasbord of athletic feats, Bedford Square Gardens, a stone’s throw from London's bustling Tottenham Court Road, is playing host to a rather more select Olympiad – where the wearing of running shoes would be firmly frowned upon.
The eighth annual Chap Olympiad – where you certainly won’t find pole-vaulting, shotputting or beach volleyball taking place -- is the brainchild of The Chap magazine, which celebrates the Edwardian age of the early 20th Century – the age of Brylcreem, brilliantine and British bounders. This Olympiad's contestants must master events as various as the gin 'n' tonic relay – where the use of one’s butler is strictly prohibited – and umbrella jousting, where rivals battle each other on old bicycles with nothing more than a reinforced copy of the Daily Telegraph to protect them.
A 2005 article in the magazine imagined a chap-friendly Olympics. The Chap’s editor Gustav Temple said, "We wondered what would happen if we tried actually to stage some of the events mentioned therein. The result was a fun afternoon in Regent's Park with around 30 people." Now the event has its own “stadium” (a raised stage) with a capacity of 1,500 people, bars and portable toilets.
Does one have to be a proper gentleman to take part? "As long as one dresses like one, or can pass oneself off as a gentleman, one is 'in'. Most of our Chaps are absolute phoneys anyway; the whole fun of the event is a celebration of the arts of the gentleman, by people who have possibly never even met one," Temple said.
Of course, this raises the question, what exactly the discerning chap or chap-ette wear to the event? "Obviously no sportswear," said Temple. "Costumes can range from 19th-century military uniforms to tweed suits with caddish waistcoats (double-breasted, usually silk) and cravats [wide, cloth neckties]. We only ask that no denim is brought into the stadium, nor anywhere near it. Synthetic fibres passing on the outside of the perimeter fence around Bedford Square Gardens can cause distress to the athletes, who may lose their concentration on performing cucumber sandwich discus [tossing a cucumber sandwich on a plate, discus-style] and could lead to serious injury of one’s little finger."