The Tricks And Tools Of Worm Charmers

Mike Forster, chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes, reveals how to coax worms out of the ground. The 30th Annual World Worming Championship was held Saturday in the United Kingdom.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The story of England's International Worm Charming Competition begins in 1980. It's a classic tale: Boy meets worm, boy falls for worm, boy charms 511 worms out of the ground in 30 minutes. That boy was the first ever worm charming world champion - say that three times fast - an Englishman named Tom Shufflebotham - I'm not kidding.

Since then, the charmers challenge has been held annually in the village of Williston. This weekend marks its 30th anniversary. For a little dirt on the worms, we're joined now by Mike Forster. He is the chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes, which runs the competition. Welcome to the show, Mike.

Mr. MIKE FORSTER (Chief Wormer, Founder, International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes): Thank you.

HANSEN: Why on earth, I mean, charming worms? Why?

Mr. FORSTER: Why? Well, basically they're there. Like mountains, you have to climb them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORSTER: It's also a lot of fun, raises lots of money for charity and it's just a world event that people want to take part in.

HANSEN: All right. So, how does one charm a worm? You buy it a drink?

Mr. FORSTER: Oh, no, no. Strict rules, you can't actually use water or any form of liquid on the plots. The main method is to put a garden fork into the ground and you waggle it back and to for all of your worth. In South Cheshire we call that twanging. We have a refined version of that called twikeling(ph) - that's like a rotary action. And you can actually tweak as well - that's charming worms from a distance with a long-handled fork, in case you're a bit squeamish of the worms, you don't have to get too close.

HANSEN: Oh, so it involves an implement not like, I don't know, playing a cobra snake charming, you know, music doesn't help. It has to be…

Mr. FORSTER: Well, I actually do play music into the ground. I have several titles on the worm label, as I call it, such as "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and "The Green, Green Grass of Home" and Handel's "Water Music." And this year I'm going to try the "1812 Overture" with those big canons at the end and see whether they work.

HANSEN: Oh my. If that doesn't get them out of the ground, nothing will.

Mr. FORSTER: Absolutely.

HANSEN: Is there something biologically going on here? I mean, why would a worm respond to the stimuli and come to the surface?

Mr. FORSTER: Well, the science part of this, we're told by the boffins that the actual vibrations that we create, the worm believes it to be rainfall. And contrary to popular opinion, the actual worm doesn't like rain and comes up to escape the burrows being flooded. Of course, the worm then doesn't realize it's us making the vibrations and there they are and then we pop them into a pot and then they're counted.

HANSEN: And then they're set free.

Mr. FORSTER: Absolutely. Rule 18 incidentally says that at the end of the event the worms must be released so that the birds don't have a feast.

HANSEN: Well, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Mr. FORSTER: It is. It's really good fun.

HANSEN: Mike Forster is the chief wormer and founder of the International Federation of Charming Worms and Allied Pastimes. The 30th Annual World Worm Charming Championship is being held this weekend. Thank you so much, Mr. Forster, and good luck.

Mr. FORSTER: Thank you very much.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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