The Great Cheese Rolling Disaster
It ended in much the same way as it began: with a broken neck.
If you had have asked me at 10 that morning, I probably would have predicted that yes, carrying an anonymous paraplegic man uphill through two kilometres of muddy field would have been the most out-of-the-ordinary thing that would happen that day (anonymous not for privacy reasons, but because his name somehow didn’t surface in conversation). As it would happen, I’d have been very wrong.
Still bitter at the fucktardery of our couch surfing host (let’s call him Dickhead), my friend and I hauled the slightly worse-for-wear and equally exhausted Anonymous off our backs at the foot of the Cheese Rolling run and bailed.
Usually if I’d agree to throw in some petrol money, I’d do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m broke but I’m not a complete wanker. But this time I made an exception. Dickhead was the kind of guy who offered you a place at his house, but alas – upon arrival you find that the bed is his. With him in it. He was the kind of guy who held firmly to the belief that insult was the way to a lady’s heart, or probably more accurately, her nether regions. Dickhead was the kind of guy who didn’t take the time to Google a wheelchair-accessible route to an event that had “hill” in its title and simultaneously refused to chip in any manual labour when it came to getting his friend to the top because he had “twisted his ankle” the previous day.
And so off we toddled.
Atop the run, we were greeted by the familiar faces of our nomadic pals and prepped ourselves for the event ahead with a few stretches and some room temp cider of the 2L plastic bottle variety.
If cheese is your thing, then this event is for you. If throwing yourself head first down an exceptionally steep gradient is your thing, then this event is for you. If a combination of the aforementioned tickles your fancy, then the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival is your twisted dream come true.
With my lack of travel insurance shoved to the very back of my mind, I stumbled and tumbled down the slippery slope that was in no way metaphorical. Greeting me at the bottom were my cheese rolling companions, one of whom was honoured as the overall winner of the festival, and another who took himself gingerly to the attending ambulance. We waved goodbye to our injured friend as he set off to the local hospital with the festival champ and the metric dickload of Gouda, who both tagged along as moral support while the rest of us headed back to our campsite (or more accurately a paddock on a farm with an unknown owner). The intention was to set up a fire, kick back with a few Savvy Bs and patch up any war wounds obtained earlier that day. As luck would have it, rest and relaxation were not on the cards just yet.
The tents had been crushed and smeared with what could only be described as bubbling cow diarrhoea. The food and possessions in and around had suffered the same fate. Barrelling towards us from the other end of the paddock, the culprits were not hard to spot. And so we took it upon ourselves to resettle. Huddled on a tarp sheltered only by a tent fly hanging from a branch – faecal matter slowly dripping onto us below – we pondered our collective regret for our lack of lighter, food, tent and cheese. Luckily, we still had a few lukewarm froffs to lift the mood as the clouds opened above and threw some torrential rain our way.
As day turned to night and spirits began to fade, hope emerged from the fog in the form of a familiar character with a giant wheel of cheese and another clad in nothing but a hospital gown and neck brace. As it would transpire, X-ray results take their sweet time on a bank holiday and it hadn’t looked like our Glaswegian friend was going to be moved into a “fit bird ward” any time soon, so he’d checked himself out and they’d returned to join the gang. And so the fun continued all the way up until the police called.
The results were in: his neck was broken. And he shouldn’t move an inch.
The directions to the ambulance (cheers NHS) were tenuous at best: “Go to the end of the road. Climb the fence. Walk until you see a cottage and then go to the front of it and climb the next fence. Go down about a hundred metres to where a tent is hanging from a tree. Yep we are in there. No, he’s not, he can’t bend down far enough to get in. Yes, he’s just standing in the rain.”
The ambos came bearing more bad news: it was too dark to safely stretcher him up to the ambulance, and the terrain was too much for the ambulance to handle. But they weren’t without a solution: what they needed was a monster truck ambulance. And to our shock, these actually exist.
So it was settled: they’d bring in the monster truck, cut away the fences, roll on down and pick him up. Cool. Except that the fences weren’t ours and there was bound to be a very grumpy farmer. Add to that an escaped herd of gastro-ridden cattle terrorising the countryside and the whole scenario was sounding less than ideal. And with the police on their way the whole trespassing thing was becoming slightly disconcerting. We did what any good friends would do: packed up our gear and hightailed it out of there. Ain’t nobody got time to get deported.
The cheese rolling champ stayed behind to bribe farmer Joe with some cheese (successful) while rest of us trekked up the road doing our best to avoid the condescending glares coming from the passing string of emergency vehicles which, in the end, tallied six: five ambulances (including one monster truck ambulance) and one police car. Trudging through the rain that night with our shit-soaked equipment eating out-of-date scotch eggs, we had just about hit rock bottom, when what had to be a mirage appeared ahead in the moonlight. In reality it was a few sheets of corrugated iron held up by some steel poles, but at that point it could have been the Grand Hyatt. And with cheese on the way, things could only get better.
If you were to ask other cheese rolling victors what became of their prize Gouda, I’m not sure what they’d say. But I’m almost certain they wouldn’t have eaten it by the spoonful, coupled with a four-quid Shiraz under a tractor shelter in the shitting fuckfest that is England’s summer rain. But gazing into the sky as our singular firework exploded above, the echo enough to make a few homeless pooches out of pets, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Cover by Paul Townsend