People from Wiltshire are known as Moonrakers. They used to keep their illicit alcohol in barrels and hide it underwater. They’d be seen by excise officers at night raking the barrels out of the water – when challenged they’d act stupid and say they were trying to rake the moon.
Not to be outdone, the people of Dorset thought they would like a nickname too and came up with the idea of calling themselves sunrakers. The problem was that no-one could come up with a plausible explanation for the expression. So was born the Dorchester Sunrakers festival.
Initially, the festival confined itself to people competing with each other to come up with either the most ridiculous or the most plausible explanation for trying to rake the sun. As the years went by the festival expanded into a general excuses festival, where people came up with the most ridiculous excuses for various every day situations such as being absent from work, why their child can’t come to school, or why they forgot about returning their library book.
The most popular contest is the Excuse of the Year award. This is given to the most ridiculous excuse for someone doing something they’re not supposed to. In 1987, the winner was Miss Brenda Marlow from Doncaster who won for her famous retort to a traffic warden that her bike wasn’t parked on the yellow lines: “My bike isn’t parked illegally at all – my bike is parked between the yellow lines and no part of the tyre is touching the lines at all.”
The Sunraker excuse contest is still going strong although people who enter on a yearly basis can’t repeat any of the previous excuses they have used otherwise they will be banned from the contest for life or “kept in the dark” as the rules say. This rule was introduced after Doris Randall from Dorchester kept giving the same answer year after year – the excuse was “Because it’s there” – and the judges couldn’t stand it any longer and needed an excuse to ban Doris.
Some of the winning excuses as to why people would want to rake the sun include:
“So I could guarantee good weather on my summer holidays,” “because I’d like to be getting a nice sun tan when I’m asleep,” “so I don’t feel so bad about suffering from insomnia,” “every day will be Sunday and I won’t have to go to work again,” and “so my cat, who’s half-blind, could find his way home at night.”
This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker