29 August, Serbia – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’
Of all the events we’ve done on ‘All Over The Place’ I didn’t think that the Shepherds’ Heptathlon in Bacinci, Serbia, would be one of my favourites. And I certainly wasn’t expecting that after 20 minutes driving down a dirt track in the middle of nowhere this morning. When we emerged from the orchards and scrubland into a small valley with a vineyard and a stagnant pond I still wasn’t convinced, but within minutes we were plunged into (fairly small scale) madness. We emerged from the bus into the baking hot sunlight surrounded by happy shouting Serbians cooking food on stoves under gazebos, pigeons and rabbits on display in cages, locals riding up and down in their horse and carts, donkeys braying in paddocks, it was all going on.
Some of the crew were slightly taken aback by the toilet facilities (a hole in the ground), but as a seasoned Glastonbury veteran I pretended it didn’t bother me, and before long we were launched into the 1st of 7 very loosely shepherd themed events we were due to take part in that day. I beat Johny in the standing long jump and rock throwing, and was looking like I might even be on track to win 1st prize in the whole competition – a small donkey (no joke) – until Johny beat me in the corn cob husking event (we both had sore hands after that one) and the shepherd’s rod tug of war. I got one over on him in the pumpkin wheelbarrow race, beating him by less than a second, but then he just wouldn’t play dead and drank a pint of orangeade through a straw faster than me.
By this point Johny had formed quite a fan club, and the crowd were chanting his name as we approach our last event, which we were both dreading – a sprint across the stagnant muddy pond on a barely floating bridge made of crates carrying a woolsack stuffed full of straw. As several “shepherds” (some of whom might genuinely be shepherds for all I know) slipped and got a soaking all I could think about was not getting a mouthful of that muddy water, and I was quite pleased with myself for getting to the other side in reasonable time. Not so pleased when Johny beat ME by less than a second.
By the time we’d reached prize giving it seemed everyone in the village wanted a photo with our afro sporting victor, and a few even considered me something of a celebrity. One man very sweetly asked me to go back to the UK and tell everyone how friendly they are in Serbia. Well, for what I saw today I couldn’t argue with that. It took us over half an hour to say goodbye to everyone with all the hugs, kisses and presenting of gifts to the BBC crew that took an interest in them to come all the way here and show kids back home how you don’t need a lot to put on a fun day for everyone.