LUMBRICUS terrestris - the common earthworm. What is it about this creature that brings hundreds of people, four TV camera crews and a Chronicle reporter to a rain-sodden school field in South Cheshire?
It could only be the Willaston Worm Charming competition, of course!
Charmers came from all over the world to take part in 30 minutes of muddy madness - banging, tapping and stabbing the ground with pitchforks to entice the worms to the surface.
The competition, which is the unofficial worm charming world championships, celebrated its silver jubilee on Saturday with a bumper turnout, and was watched by camera crews from North West Tonight and BBC's Countryfile.
Chief wormer Mike Forster, who organises the annual worm-fest, said: 'It was a bumper year. However, the perfect wet conditions didn't help our charmers who failed to better last year's winner.'
Jubilee winner Harry Potts, who goes to Willaston Primary School, made sure the trophy stayed in the school grounds as he and mum Annette charmed 167 worms.
Last year there was a first-ever 'charmoff' with two competitors each getting 167 worms. That nail-biting scenario was only one worm away this year, with runners-up Jay, Amanda and Cobi Bateman managing to attract a respectable 166.
Some didn't fare so well, however. Tim Holmes flew from Sydney, Australia, to take part with his friend Phil Morris, of Chester. Their unique method of didgeridoo-playing, coupled with a samba drum-beat, yielded only three worms.
Tim said: 'We did appallingly. It was only when a neighbouring charmer came to help us with a pitchfork that we managed to get into double figures. It was still worth the trip though. I had a great afternoon.'
Countryfile's Ben Fogle, who starred in the BBC series Castaway, took part. He managed to lure only seven worms, but had an excuse for his poor performance.
He said: 'I had a handicap as there was only one of me, there were two of everybody else. My total should be doubled, so 14 doesn't sound so bad.'
Official worm charming rules stipulate than only two charmers are allowed on to each nine-square-metre plot. They then have 30 minutes to charm as many worms to the surface as possible. Forks may only be used to pierce the turf, and any charm-ers found digging or lifting the soil are disqualified.
The award for the heaviest worm went to Matt and Stuart Sefton, of Nottingham, who managed to charm a whopping 4.7-gram wriggler. This is still short of the heaviest ever, 6.6 grams, charmed by Willaston man James Overstall in 1987. The record of total worms charmed is still held by Tom Shufflebotham, of Nantwich, who is in the Guinness Book Of Records with 511, set in 1980.
Organiser Mike says that the event is becoming so popular he may have to increase the size of the charming area for next year's event.
'People are coming from all over Europe to take part, and there's such a waiting list for plots now that we'll have to make more of them so we don't disappoint anyone.'
I DIDN'T know whether the rain was good or bad. No one likes standing in a muddy field in the rain on a Saturday afternoon - but part of me was thinking about the worms. Worms love rain!
My worm charming buddy Max Wharton and I arrived with five minutes to go before the orders were given to begin charming. Armed with two hand forks we were confident of defying our inexperience and putting on a good show.
As the bell went, scores of excited charmers leapt across the field to their allotted plots and began prodding the earth with glee.
Our method of using stunted hand forks wasn't really working. After five minutes we had managed to lure only one worm. Max even resorted to singing his favourite Phil Collins song to serenade the worms to the surface. Our luck soon changed when a generous charmer saw our plight and gave us a pitchfork to use.
Soon we had settled into a routine, with Max poking the earth with his fork and potting the worms while I loosened the topsoil, imitating rainfall with the prongs of the pitchfork.
We knew we were on to a winner when our fellow charmers looked enviously over to our pot, brimming with worms.
We could see some of the other zany methods other people were using, tapdancing, magnifying glasses, and there was a hum of a didgeridoo on the wind. The bell went to call time and it had all seemed worthwhile.
The pots were then taken to a restricted area on the field, where they were meticulously counted by volunteers who had been training for months.
The suspense was too much to bear for the Chronicle team, so we took refuge in the pub for some well-deserved lunch.
On our return, the results were on the board, and we were thrilled to have made seventh place, with a total of 118 worms. Not bad for worm charming newcomers in a strong field of 144.
Organiser and chief wormer Mike Forster congratulated us on our total. He said 'I think special mention should go to the Chronicle team, who charmed an excellent number and were the best newcomers to the championship.' We're determined to try again next year - with a full array of charming tools - to claim the title for the Chronicle.
Who knows, those first five minutes could have made all the difference!