Chariots of Highfire
On the night before Exeat, a large number of boarders gathered around the slippy slide for the inaugural ‘Chariots of Highfire’ event. The event had been called off the week before due to poor weather, but this actually allowed the boys and girls to spend more time designing their chariots. Many hours of effort went into making, designing and painting them. Who would have thought it would be possible to turn a large cardboard box into the Titanic? Or to incorporate working airbrakes, parachutes and rudders into a design called HMS Slippery, aka ‘The Beast’!
Conditions were perfect for chariot racing on Thursday evening – the slippy slide had been prepared thoroughly with hosepipes, washing up liquid and baby oil by a crack team of Chariot Mechanics, the sun was shining and the going was good to soft which would surely benefit the heavier chariots. After supper the Chariot Parade took place in the paddock and each team had the chance to show off their chariot to the judging team and to answer questions on its design. Several teams looked more than a little nervous as the chariots were scrutinised. There had been some talk of illegal use of wire, contrary to International Chariot Racing Regulations, but to the relief of all, Head Judge Mrs Backhouse declared that all the chariots had passed and were fine to race. The winner of the best decorated chariot was ‘Titanic,’ crewed by Edward, Alikahn, Louis, William and Benet. In the Junior section the winning design was the Challenger II tank built by William and Louis.
After all the build up, the time had finally come for the racing to start. For those of you not familiar with the international sport of Chariot Racing, the idea is to take a large cardboard box, decorate it and modify it into a new design, take it to the top of the slippy slide with a crazy driver inside, and then push it down a set course (a bit like the start of the bobsleigh event at the winter Olympics) – whoever records the quickest time is declared the winner. Unsurprisingly there are many thrills, tumbles, crashes and generally much excitement, with everyone getting soaking wet in the process. The Junior Boarding House went first and soon showed how fiercely competitive they were. Louis and William’s tank looked amazing but did not survive its maiden run down the slope, the Cardboard Boxers and the Mini-Racers both did well too, but in the end the Red Racers crewed by Destiny, Sara, Lucy and Celeste won with a super speedy time of 6.12s.
Next it was the turn of the seniors. Some may talk of ‘Super Saturday’ in the London Olympics or of England winning the Ashes in 2005 as the ultimate in sporting spectacles, but these pale into insignificance compared to what happened next in a small corner of Hampshire. A succession of dedicated - some might say foolish - boys and girls threw themselves at break-neck speed down the slippy slide propelling their chariots before them in a bid to become champions. The Y6 team of John, Tanish, Jeffrey, Bronson and Darren set the pace early on and immediately set a new course record; however this merely served to drive the other teams on. Horatia, Poppy and Cecily’s chariot called Grease Lightning certainly lived up to its name and then a deadly rivalry developed between Titanic and HMS Slippery (crewed by Josh, John, Ptolemy and Euan). Each team kept breaking the record and edging into first place. In the pit lane the teams were even spotted stripping their chariots of excess weight and modifications - brakes are for wimps not racers! - in a bid to streamline and shave those vital few milli-seconds off their times.
All the time a large crowd of excited spectators, who obviously bought into the Chariot motto of ‘If you’re not crashing you’re not trying hard enough’, roared on their encouragement in the manner of Roman citizens baying for blood in the Colosseum.
Although they were never in contention for a podium place, special mention must be made at this stage of Luella and Olivia’s entry called ‘Duct Tape’. In a highly eccentric move they abandoned the idea of actually using a chariot and instead simply tied themselves together with brown packing tape before throwing themselves down the slippy slide. Effective it was not, but the crowd roared their approval. To the huge disgust of everyone. Mr Baker disallowed their next attempt of doing a three-legged sprint down the slope on health and safety grounds. At the end of the evening all the teams sat exhausted with their chariots left in various stages of disrepair. At one point it looked like it might be a draw for first place, but Chief Timer Mr Rennison declared that HMS Slippery had just won with a winning time of 5.03s (a new World Record).
Chariot Racing on a gorgeous sunny evening was a perfect way to spend the evening before Exeat and it was lovely to see so many boarders taking time to make their chariots and then race them down the hill. In a world of iPads and addictive games like Fortnite, it is great to see that our boarders still have the chance to simply be boys and girls having great fun outside in our lovely grounds.