It's been a while since this landmark event but in my defence I took pictures on the phone I left with Viv and wasn't able to download them until now… so here we are!
It all happened in my home town and in particular the area called Old Leigh, a marvellous old part of town right by the water where the fishing boats came in and dropped off their catch at the famous old cockle sheds -- the most famous being Osborne's which has been there for generations. Once a year Old Leigh holds a regatta, one cornerstone of which is the cockle eating competition.
My brother Jan won this competition a couple of years ago so had convinced his son, Rupert, and myself to enter as a group. The rules were fairly simple: eat a pint glass full to the brim with cockles without pepper or vinegar or indeed any other seasonings faster than the others.
Now cockles aren't my favourite shellfish. I far prefer whelks but covered with pepper and vinegar. Cockles are OK but like I said not my favorite.
Jan said we should arrive around 12 noon, eat a couple of bowls of local shellfish, maybe oysters, have a beer from the wonderful Crooked Billet pub and then stroll down to the competition.
So that's what we did.
The cockles were awful.
I don't know how you can take fresh shellfish which are inherently moist and make them taste as dry as Jacob's Cream Crackers. But without seasoning, they were inedible.
For me, that is, for the chap across from me who'd shown up late (and who Jan later said was last year's champion and the guy he'd beaten out into 2nd place a couple of years back) was swallowing them as though he was simply pouring them down a drain. He couldn't have tasted them but again he didn't chew either.
Next to me Rupert was trying to chew and I felt for him as that was absolutely the wrong approach -- it was my approach too -- as I could also see Jan open his throat and pour the things straight down his throat too. Clearly this would be a 2-horse race as the 2 other guys were adopting the entirely wrong gulp/chew approach too.
And then it was all over. The guy across from me finished with Jan close behind. Rupert and I quietly thanked the graces that it was all over and surreptitiously emptied our squirrel like cheeks filled with half chewed cockles back into the pint glass. I think all in all I probably finished no more than a quarter of a pint.
It certainly taught me a lesson though.
Great time through!
Osborne's Cockle Sheds