A tip o’ the Dutch cap this morning to Jasper Kuin for showing Dutch courage in the face of health and safety regulations.
It is a Bank Holiday week-end; it used to be called Whitsun, but in these secular days that has been changed to ‘Spring Bank Holiday’ – however some things never change. The Gloucestershire Police are in full force yet again ensuring that no one chases a potential welsh rabbit down a hill side.
Last year they so terrified 83 year old Diana Smart, the last traditional Double Gloucester maker, that she would be prosecuted if her 9lb Double Gloucester resulted in anybody getting hurt in the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling event that she withdrew her offer to supply the cheese. Competitors had to chase a plastic cheese instead. You sue the cricket ball manufacturer if Bosanquet bowls a googly that lands on your head?
This year they have tried a new tack – they have banned vehicular traffic from a three mile radius round Cooper’s Hill, thus ensuring that only the hardiest and fittest of spectators ever reach the event. The traffic ban is allegedly to allow a fleet of ambulances to reach the Hill in the event of Gruyere-some injuries.
In 1997, 33 spectators were injured (an injury is something that the St John’s ambulance crew attend to, so could be anything from a wasp sting to decapitation by Dolcelatte) and thus 1998 was the first year of three since the fifteenth century – or Pagan times if you count the earlier tradition of rolling burning brushwood down the same hill (to ensure fertility in your women and your cows) – that the event has been cancelled. Foot and Mouth disease understandably did for them one year; an earthquake in Algeria in 2003 meant that the ‘search and rescue’ team were unavoidably elsewhere and St John’s ambulance decided that they couldn’t possibly take the responsibility of attending without the sniffer dogs and searchers trained to find bodies under 9lb of Double Gloucester…
Even during the war years, as Messerschmitts screamed overhead and rationing meant no-one was willing to spoil 9lb of protein, the annual event took place – the Ministry of Food gave permission for a small ration of cheese to be supplied to fit inside a specially weighted wooden ‘cheese’.
But in 2010, the lawyers won – it was not possible to obtain insurance for spectators, and the Cheese Rolling Committee gave in and retired. All was not lost, committed locals took over and still held the event – hence the appearances of local plod, and renewed efforts from frightening elderly lady cheese makers, to forcing those who wish to watch the spectacle to walk three miles first.
They will be rolling a cheese down a one in two gradient again this year – but a Dutch cheese, from Gouda, courtesy of the Flying Dutchman, Jasper Kuin.
Pagan traditions never die, they just go Dutch. As it happens, Whitsun originated from a Pagan tradition too.
*Can anybody explain to me why ‘Single Gloucester’ has ‘protected origin’ status, but Double Gloucester doesn’t?
* Warning, this blog post may contain traces of nuts.