For the first time EVER, no cheeses were bowled at the centuries-old cheese rolling ceremony at Brockworth this year.
Instead, rounds of weighted foam were wrapped up in white plastic and sent bouncing down the 1 in 3 slope of Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth – to be closely followed by groups of people running, falling, tumbling, somersaulting and sliding after them.
Nobody really minded the cheese wasn’t real. It just made things a bit complicated when the winner of a mens’ race got to the bottom of the hill first – the outright winner – and another guy who physically caught the cheese thought he’d won too!
True to the spirit of the day, there was no unpleasantness. The organisers just gave both of them a beautiful big round of Double Gloucester, made by hand, seven miles west of Gloucester by Mrs Diana Smart.
It was the treatment of Mrs Smart, before the cheese rolling was held, that got me quite cross this year. The cheese-rolling, in its third year of being “unofficial” – meaning no insurance, no H&S assessments, no St John Ambulancemen on hand, no police to direct people and traffic – was looking as though it would be more popular again.
It was the international popularity of the event which led to it being “cancelled” by the authorities because of traffic and people hazards.
Thankfully, local people (bear in mind I’m Welsh first, Brockworth second) did not even countenance the possibility of this ancient and much-loved manical tradition being cancelled – and quietly continued to hold it. Brockworth hero Chris Anderson – not present this year due to Army duties – continued to win the mens’ cheese-chasing races with style.
But the police had other ideas and Mrs Smart was leaned on… told that if she knowingly supplied her cheeses to the organisers, she could be held responsible if anyone got hurt. She took note, as anyone would if warned by the police. But the advice, in my humble opinion, was nonsense and quite frankly not what the police are paid to do. If it has a smidgeon of weight in law, I’d like to see it on paper. Has selling cheese now become conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace? No.
The publicity about the pressure exerted on this 86-year-old lady (blessed are the cheesemakers) ensured that the police scored a massive own goal. It was all over the newspapers and on the TV and Radio 2 – so naturally, an awful lot more people turned up to see the crazy event they’d heard about.
But the crowds, Brockworthians, Gloucestrians, Spanish, Portuguese, Australians, Americans, were an amiable happy bunch – looking forward to being astonished and cheering one of the oldest traditions known to humanity: the sport of watching people take life and limb risks just for the hell of it.
The Iron Age people who lived at the fort on the Cotswold edge a couple of miles to the east probably undertook very similar pursuits to amuse and entertain the populace while someone stoked up the barbecue ready for the venison.
A police helicopter – how much does that cost an hour to fly? – hovered over the assembled crowds on the hill before any races started. The crowds waved – all the “catchers” lined up at the bottom of the hill to receive the racers – turned round and waved to the police too.
The crowds cheered at the “One to be steady, two to be ready, three for the CHEEESE!” as the cheese was bowled and the contestants plummeted, lemming-like, after it.
They roared encouragement, cheered the winner – Colorado-guy Kenny Rackers in a splendid stars-and-stripes skinsuit – cheered the runners-up – cheered the last man down – a guy in a panda suit who mostly came down quite carefully on his furry panda bottom, but looked cute the whole time.
They cheered the women – a Brockworth girl Lucy Townsend won it – they cheered the uphill races, they cheered the childrens’ uphill race, cheered the last kid who managed to get to the top. No-one got left in the middle this year but on occasions when a child has lost their bottle mid-hill and Dad has gone to rescue them – there have been cheers for them too.
A guy who broke his ankle in the last “cheeseless” race would have got cheered too – but it took half an hour for an ambulance to arrive and by the time they got him off the hill, the crowds had gone and many were picnicking in the lower meadows in that rarest of meterological events, Bank Holiday sunshine.
Another racer painfully dislocated his shoulder in one race – but it popped back in when he ran his second race! Apart from those two casualties, I didn’t hear of any other injuries.
Mind you, when I was a teenager, the races were held at 6pm not midday, giving contestants ample time to sink a few pints of cider or lager before attempting the plummet.
There’s a lot to be said for a much more relaxed cheese-chasing style. Contestants are much less likely to get injured… and the aches only begin when sobriety kicks in.
Colorado realtor Kenny Rackers – Cheeserolling Champion 2013
Les Girls! – Womens Champion Lucy Townsend leads the way
The Mens Uphill Race – Kenny Rackers won that too.
The cheeseless ‘unofficial’ last race… painful for the guy in red near the top.
My *favourite* cheeserolling quote of all time “….and the next day, I put the kettle in the fridge…”