When people speak of health and safety putting the brakes on many so-called Great British activities, you can guarantee that it won’t be long before somebody mentions Gloucestershire and its fantastically bonkers pursuit of cheese rolling.
Many poorly-informed sorts would have us believe that the archaic and utterly pointless practice has already been put to the sword (or the knife) amid concerns that grown men and women chasing a dairy product down a bumpy, rocky hill is somehow dangerous.
Well, it is. But, thankfully, the practice, arguably the most famous thing that happens in the West English county, has not yet been given the chop. However, it is true to say that the health and safety spotlight has now been turned upon the brave men and women who bravely do battle with a disc of concentrated milk. The reason?
The event is just becoming too popular. In a day and age when eccentricity and gratuitous silliness seem to be dying out as everyone becomes just a little too self-important and obsessed with tech products, it seems as though there is still a public appetite for following some very British activities.
Nigel Cooper, the chairman of Cranham Parish Council, sounded like a character from a Monty Python sketch when he told This is Gloucestershire, presumably with a straight face:
‘The sight of brave young men and women chasing a cheese down an almost sheer drop on Cooper’s Hill has provided immense enjoyment and exercise for local people for years, and for free.’
However, Gloucestershire County Council’s Mike Collins says: ‘What are we going to do about cheese rolling? One thing is for sure, it can’t continue as it is because quite frankly it is a victim of its own success.’
What he means by this is that the area accommodates about 5,000 people at a stretch. However up to as many as three times that number of spectators arrive to try and catch a glimpse of what’s going on, leading to concerns about their safety more than that of the competitors themselves.
Mr Collins says that accidents and instances of personal injury are commonplace on both sides of the spectator/competitor divide, and as the event’s notoriety continues to spread, more needs to be done to look after the interests of those who attend.
‘That day in May (2009, when the event attracted record crowds) was chaotic with no police at all, limited parking and stewarding. This resulted in people arriving late, as a result some missing the event altogether. A record number of ambulances were needed, there were casualties amongst both competitors and spectators. It is important that everybody who comes along enjoys themselves and that they are safe.’
The council proposes turning the cheese rolling into a kind of one-day festival, with greater organisation and a better, more polished infrastructure. This, however, horrifies purists such as Mr Cooper:
‘What is now planned would end all of that. My second concern is practicalities. What is now planned would turn this simple event into a mini Glastonbury, with music, grandstands, stalls camping, and cheese rolling as a sideshow,’ he says.
It’s easy to empathise with those on either side of the debate, but it must be admitted that, in today’s society, you cannot have one rule for one event and a different one for another. If the character of the occasion can be preserved whilst reducing accidents, then that is to be applauded.
Source: BBC News
Date Published: January 17, 2011
Author: David Brown