It was the weekend before the festival and we were stood on the grass across the road from Arundel’s Pub. We stood in bright clear sunlight blue sky in front of and it was raining. Great drops being blown in from a cloud that hung over the hill behind.
‘Are you here for the festival?’ the man with the black beard asked me.
‘We are,’ I said ‘And I guess it is going to be busy this year?’
‘Oh it will be, it will be. There’s your famous neighbor doing the pub quiz on Friday night and there will be all sorts on Saturday and Sunday. But you know for the eighth year running they won’t be holding the Cow Pat Competition.’
We both drew on our pints. The rain had stopped now and I could feel the sun prickling against my skin where it was wet. The man carried on.
‘There had already been a disaster that year. Bridget Cronin’s Jack Russell had eaten the crabs for the crab race. It didn’t have name at the time. She was so angry she could hardly talk to herself again. Three of her grandchildren had spent a day catching the little green fecks off the pier using her best bacon. Then she herself used her best pink nail varnish to write out their numbers of their backs. Thirty of them he ate in less than five minutes. She could only call it That Feckin’ Thing after that.’
‘The Catching the Duck went off okay although by the time the poor feckin’ duck had been caught it was near enough drowned and someone had to blow some air through its beak before it revived.’
‘The Cow Pat Competition was to finish off the afternoon. The field was marked out with squares about a yard across and then each square was marked so that it has its own number. The cow needed to be a good cow and the man whose cow it was had to be sure it was fed up well. The game was played by letting the cow into the field and waiting for it to drop its first pat. As most men will tell you if a cow goes into a new field it likes to start manuring it early as it starts to eat the grass but there is normally time for a couple of pints before it completes the business.’
‘Now the competition is in paying your five-euro for one of the marked out squares and when they are all sold if the cow drops its pat on your square then you take all the money. There was some money to be won even if you marked the field out with a hundred squares. Of course there were also various side bets to be had on the squares and the timing of her dropped pat. There were a lot of notes that would be passed around before she was done. There was even two men who liked to bet on how many pints they would drink before the game was finished.’
‘Now this year a cow called Foxtrot was chosen for the job. She belonged to Curly Fitzpatrick. As the owner of the cow he was excluded from the game in case he should tamper with her or have a better hold of her habits.’
‘So Foxtrot was led down and once the bets had concluded she was given a prod on her arse and into the field she went and then the men settled down with their pints. All was quiet for a while, Foxtrot sniffed the air, and the only sound was the pints going down and the soft grumble from the men as they settled their feet on the ground. Having sniffed the air the cow put her head and pulled at a few tufts of grass and she chewed on those for a while.’
‘There was a release of air from some of the men. Those who had bet on a longer time were still in the money and she was not going to drop an early pat and spoil the chance for a second pint.’
‘Foxtrot made her way round the field, sniffing the air and chewing at the grass and as she did so there were murmurs of encouragement from the spectators for her to move towards their particular part of the field.’
‘Into the third pint Foxtrot paused for a while and a sense of disquiet settled over the spectators. If she was to sit down and start chewing her cud then it could be a long evening. There was talk of more pints.’
‘But there would be no need for floodlights, Foxtrot lifted her tail and dropped her pat. She was in the middle of the field and people were craning their necks to see if it was a clean hit and which square it was. The previous year her pat had been on the corner of four squares and after some discussion the winnings had to be quartered.’
‘Curly Fitzpatrick walked into the field to claim back his cow and declare the winner. He had with him a list of the squares with the names against them and it was then that the trouble started.’