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Lincoln’s Tortilla the Tortoise munches to victory at packed-out Corpus fair

Georgie Cutmore reports.

Over £7000 was raised for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal at Corpus Christi’s Tortoise Fair at the end of May. Running and munching their way to victory in the races were Lincoln’s tortoise, Tortilla, and Balliol’s human tortoise, Gabriel le Dain.

After a Covid-induced hiatus, the Tortoise Fair was back bigger and better than ever this year. More than 1500 people flocked to Merton St on Sunday 29 May to attend it. While the highlight of the day was undoubtedly the inter-college tortoise race, live music performances from the likes of DJ Daniel Dipper and all-star band the Poet Laureates also graced the sold-out event.

There was a BBQ, ice-cream and other food stalls, as well as a range of activities and entertainment, including face painting, glitter tattoos and sponging the JCR committee.

One Corpus Christi student highlighted the relaxed atmosphere of the day, noting that the college had been decorated with paintings of tortoises by Corpus Christi students, and praising the range and quality of the food and entertainment offered.

The main event took place at 3pm. The tortoises were placed in the centre of a circle of lettuce, with the aim to make their way out of this vegetable racetrack. Attendees watched in suspense as the various colleges’ Tortoise Keepers set their tortoises off. Some members of the crowd even took to standing on chairs to get a better look at the race, with one spectator expressing surprise at how dramatic the race was. Tension built as old and young tortoises faced off, some moving surprisingly quickly and others looking to recover from slow starts.

Scooping victory was Lincoln’s Tortilla. He’s a new addition to the college, joining just before the pandemic, but at the youthful age of 10, it’s no surprise that he was among the more sprightly competitors.

Matt Foster, Tortoise Keeper at Lincoln, told us that while Tortilla may be ten years old, he “has the maturity of a toddler” and is a “certified ladies’ man”. On winning the race, Tortilla basked in his triumph, running over to various people and happily taking selfies with adoring fans. As Foster put it: “Some might say he really came out of his shell!”

The pair celebrated with a pint and a head of lettuce.

The human tortoise race had been similarly hotly contested. Competitors ran between lines of lettuce leaves, eating as quickly as they could, before making their way to the main attraction: a half-head of lettuce. First to the centre and to a crunchy victory was Balliol’s Gabriel Le Dain.

Cherwell spoke to Gabriel Le Dain, whose official title is JCR Comrade Tortoise, on his experience as champion of this year’s race. He recalled his path to success in the September JCR elections: “To prove myself worthy of Tortoisehood I had to eat a head of lettuce at the hustings to demonstrate my prowess”.

While he admitted that he “hadn’t practised lettuce-eating recently”, he did reveal his secret to success: pre-race preparation. He remembered being sent lettuce seeds by his aunt last summer in order to “get a head start”, following this up with the advice that “what matters is embracing the mindset of being a tortoise”.

Image Credit: Maeve Ewings

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