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I bring cause for optimism — perhaps even rejoicing.
On Monday at Cooper’s Hill, a veritable cliff in Gloucester, in southwest England, five times a seven-pound wheel of Gloucester cheese was set hurtling down a steep grade, and five times a handful of people went hurtling earnestly after it.
The men had several races, and the women had one, and the little children tumbled down Cooper’s Hill, as well, in a race all their own. They had in common, these brave hearts, not only the desire — simultaneously impish and heroic — to catch the runaway wheel of cheese, but a distinction as rogues, as well. For their cheese rolling contest — which is a tradition stretching back 200 years — had been banned by the authorities in March.
Said authorities cited safety concerns in their decision, and who could doubt their sincerity? In races of yesteryear, cheese chasers had suffered sprains, breaks and concussions, not to mention significant disappointment, as the cheese, which is traditionally given a one second head start down Cooper’s Hill, is devilishly difficult to catch. Who knows how many hours residents of Gloucester and the surrounding hamlets have spent in the company of therapists pouring out their rage and shame at finishing second to the toothsome wheel?
But courage is not absent in Gloucester, and determination blooms, or at least it did on Monday. Police cordoned off the roads leading to the fabled hill. Trespassers were warned that there would be no medical assistance available to those who sustained knocks — and worse — in pursuit of the illusive comestible. No matter. The cheese racers gathered, they shouted their challenge to England’s gray skies — or at least one rather likes to think they did — and they ran, tumbled, bounced and otherwise made their way down to the bottom of Cooper’s fabled hill, where, in dust and triumph, one Chris Anderson, previously a six-time winner of the competition, was crowned the champion once more.
So be it known that while the English have won but once the World Cup the celebrates the game they invented – and that once more than half a century ago, they are not, these Brits, without heroic distinction. Undeterred by danger to limb, if not life, banned by tyrants from the pursuit of their birthright as chasers of cheese, they have, in numbers, once more followed the cheese down Cooper’s Hill.
This program aired on June 3, 2010.
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