What does a steep hill, a lump of cheese and assorted idiots, cranks and nutcases have in common? Answer: They all come together in England for a day of mayhem every year. The annual Cheese Rolling contest has been raced, won and lost for many years in front of crowds of people. As is tradition a steep piece of turf known as Cooper’s Hill is the venue for this madness. Cooper’s Hill sits on the picturesque outskirts of Brockworth in the county of Gloucestershire. Both men and women are equal participants during this annual chaos. Runners, a loose term if ever there was one, risk not only their pride but also their necks, lives and limbs as they pursue a large, rolling block of cheese down a hill in a traditional contest.
The custom is thought to be part of an old fertility rite celebrating Spring and Summer. This writer believes that older and more saner fertility rites work to equal effect, dinner, wine, chocolates and flowers spring to mind. The object of this mayhem is to catch the rolling cheese as it travels as fast as a car, the prize is given to whoever reaches the finish line first behind the cheese. The winner of the chase gets to keep the prize and occasionally a night in hospital. And who doesn’t want a seven or eight pound block of Double Gloucester cheese? The most recent winner of this epic sporting event declared that he had “gone faster than everybody else and bounced better than everybody else” to reach the finish line first. Asked if he ached, he said “only when I laugh”, the comment coming through a gap of numerous missing teeth. The gap could have been caused by a collision in a Rugby game or cheese chasing. Who knows?
The participants also share a common trait with Japanese pilots during World War 2 who flew planes into US ships; both are on suicide missions. The Japanese motivation was fueled largely by nationalistic fervor. The motivation displayed by the cheese chasers is fueled by something more in the liquid form. It would appear that two potential broken legs is worth the risk for a lump of cheese and a few pints. Empires were built on such nonsense. Its not all chaos, people do take it seriously. A number of years ago the winner was a member of the local rugby club and wearing the team jersey he declared his passion by kissing the club badge, much in the fashion of today’s elite athletes. To the delight of the crowd the gentleman proceeded to kiss the sponsor’s name on the shirt. All heady stuff when taking into account that the sponsor is “Old Peculiar” a very well know and extremely potent local brew.
Now, I hear you asking; is it only the men engaging in this stupidity? Well! The answer is a resounding NO! There is a ladies race over the same course, however I’m readily assured, they are not chasing the same cheese. It is a well know tradition in tennis circles that the male and female winners at Wimbledon always dance together at the tournament gala. It’s unknown whether the respective gender winners in Brockworth perform the same at their after event party. Of course 5 or 6 pints of “Old Peculiar” could be a deciding factor in that outcome.
Local emergency and ambulance personal are always on duty. After all, there are always assorted bruises, bodies and egos to attend to. It is not know if the emergency personal are present the following morning to pick up the residue outside the local pub. The local vicar is also always on duty to, allegedly, provide spiritual guidance. However, being partial to a pint himself it’s not know if he’s there to provide the last rites or the last orders at the pub. The organizing committee of the event have tabled the International Olympic Committee with a view to participation in the next games. However, the French representative immediately vetoed the proposal and stated ” that’s a ridiculous idea, whoever heard of chasing Double Gloucester cheese down a hill? Only the English. What’s the problem with a Camembert and a nice Merlot at the finish”? The French representative added “we could have tables with white cloths at the bottom of the hill.” That really would be silly.
There are many great and traditional events in England going back many years. The state opening of Parliament, trooping the colour at the Queen’s birthday parade and the remembrance day ceremony to name just three. We can now add cheese chasing to the list. We could give it an international flavor (excuse the pun) and send a team from Wisconsin to challenge the double Gloucesters. The winners get to keep a block of cheese to be exchanged every year. The event in Wisconsin could take place on Super bowl Sunday at Lambeau Field. Now! That would be something to flavor (excuse the pun again). What ever the future holds for this epic and monumental sporting event, we could all agree it’s insane madness with no apparent enjoyment whatsoever. I’ve booked my plane ticket, increased my life insurance policy and written my victory speech for next year and I’m on my way. I’ve savoured the “Old Peculiar” in the past and it’s worth the concussion.