“If you feel the need to go cheese-rolling before next spring, why not visit Canada?”
The offer is intriguing. Though I notice on further examination that I am, sadly, too late and said event has already passed into history (16th August 2008)
I am not aware that there has ever been a point in my life where I have felt the need to go cheese-rolling. Nor, as far as I can tell, is this desire ever likely to arise in me. If I were to visit Canada (and such an event does seem attractive) then it is unlikely to be for the rolling of cheese for any purpose whatsoever.
And yet every year hundreds of people arrive at Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire (next event 25th May 2009) and chase a whacking-great cheese down a hill.
The website is vague as to the origins of this particular pastime (in short: a cheese is released to roll down a very steep hill, people chase after it and the first to the bottom wins – it is rare for the cheese to be caught, though this has happened) – though the event is said to date back 200 years.
One is forced to wonder how such an event came to pass – perhaps two stout young fellows were out walking with their pet cheese (very easy to look after a pet cheese – no exercise or feeding required) when it got off the lead and rolled down the hill. Very possibly they chased after it and had such a whale of a time they decided to invite some friends along the same time the next year…
Or maybe not.
When you think about it it’s weird the things that we do purely because “It’s traditional”. For instance – fireworks on November 5th (celebrating failed attempt by the French – well, a French man - to destroy parliament), Christmas trees (brought in by Prince Albert because it was popular in Germany) and Morris Dancing (people in baggy white shirts desperately trying to dry their handkerchiefs through the medium of dance – presumably so they can wipe the black make-up off)
Weddings are another example - a positive minefield of Traditions That Must Be Followed from the Stag Night (bridegroom to either be found naked handcuffed to railings, or - increasingly - go on an army weekend to prove manhood prior to wedlock), on to the Bride wearing white, borrowing something blue and all the way through the ceremony to the Tradional Not-Remotely Amusing Nor Interesting Speeches Which Must Last 12 Hours and the DJ playing "Come On, Eileen" (curse you Kevin Rowland!)
And we all do this without question (with the exception of Morris Dancing, which is only performed by those ignorant of personal embarrasment in public) – often creating our own superstitions: throwing spilt salt over our shoulders to blind the devil, avoiding stepping on the cracks in the pavement in case the Bears come to get us (a genuine problem in some parts of the USA, but not generally in the streets of Croydon.
More recently, and timed to coincide with the end of the Olympics, England was home to the annual Ditch Snorkelling event – where swimmers must traverse a specially dug trench through peat bogs using no recognisable swimming stroke (and I’d like to see Michael Phelps have a go at that one!)
Also – the traditional British Barbeque. Men who wouldn’t be seen dead in front of the cooker can’t wait to don an Amusing Apron (either depicting a skeleton or a pair of breasts – this is also Tradition with a capital T) and prepare a Salmonella Special at the first hint that the August rain will hold off for half an hour.
And in every small village of England we keep these daft old traditions rolling year after year, despite the fact that we will never catch the cheese and despite the attempts of Health & Safety to stop us making stinging nettle stews to an age-old recipe (one lady was nearly thrown out of her local competition for producing a vegetarian version, but they let her off in the end)
I even started my own – the traditional New Year’s Day cycle ride, though sadly this year I had to break the 3 year old tradition when I had a bad cold. So far it has not caught on outside my own street and I can only think I need to add some spurious element for this to happen – i.e. the New Year Naked Cycle Ride, or the New Year Clown Costume Ride (this would probably be preferable to my neighbours)
I can only hope that when generations ahead people set out on their bicycles across the Mendips, clad only in a funny pointed hat and white baggy suit with pom-poms they will take a moment to wonder which stupid bugger it was that started this particular tradition and thank that lost name for keeping another slice of “Britishness” well and truly alive.