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Michael’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 06 Jun 2007

MapNever have I been happier to write a diary entry - yes that's right, internet is on!

First point of business....


Check the pics at the website below...

Spring Bank Holiday – Monday May 28th

In England there is one thing you can count on... well two actually. Firstly, the weather forecast is even more unreliable than it is back in Australia, which even more astounding when you consider the relative size of the two countries. Having said that, anyone that puts any faith at all in a two week forecast should be committed to a mental institute. The second is that no matter how glorious the weather has been for the last few weeks, come a long weekend, the weather will turn and have everyone asking 'where'd the sun go?'. So you understand my amazement when I ventured out to the Gloucester Cheese Roll on Monday morning and found thousands of people braving the weather, but more disturbing, the lack of any planning given the conditions. I have seen some disastrous 'travel wear' in the last 15 months, but when you come across girls in mini-skirts, t-shirts and thongs, I am thankful for the skin on display, but what on Earth were they thinking? Was this just a detour on the way to the beach? And chicks heading to the roll in jeans and high heels... are you kidding me?

Anyway, for those that don't quite understand the event, and why these choices of clothing seem odd, let me explain. The Gloucester Cheese Roll is essentially a series of manic races down, and up, a 250 meter long hill, chasing a 10 pound piece of Double Gloucester Cheese. To the winner goes the accolades, and the cheese, with a small cash prize for 2nd and 3rd place. But this is no ordinary hill. The hill is STEEP. In fact, rumor has it, the hill is 1 degree of being technically classified as a cliff. Maybe that's why they had search and rescue crews with hard hats, and climbing gear, clearing the course, of beer cans, backpacks and lost shows, not bodies, after each race.

So we've established that the hill is steep, but the weather was nasty. Elsewhere in England, the Poms were playing a test cricket match against the Windies, and it was the lowest recorded temperature at an England Test Match ever, topping at just 8 degrees. Mini-skirts anyone? To make matters worse, there was imminent rain all day, which eventually did arrive.

Planning well in advance, I had arranged to stay just outside of Swindon the night before, about half an hour down the road from Coopers Hill, the site of the races. Well, it should have been half an hour... I knew the English like cheese, and I know the LOVE to queue, but the traffic getting to the Hill was ridiculous. Having made great time, and getting within a mile of the event by 1130 am, I was sure that I would be at the top of the hill prior to the noon start. WRONG. As we pulled over to the hard shoulder of the motorway to get to our turn off, we slowed to a crawl and pretty soon came to a stop. We were already on the off ramp, but it took a full 20 minutes to actually exit. Sitting in the car watching the time tick away, I pictured my moment of glory, holding aloft a huge wheel of double Gloucester in victory, probably nursing a sprained wrist and a couple bruised/cracked ribs, slowly fade away.

Eventually we spotted the hill, that due to it's location and steep gradient, almost never gets any Sun on it. Cars were still banked up on the road, and quickly were pulling over to the side and leaving the cars deciding that they were make it to the hill quicker on foot. Deciding to go with the flow, the car was pulled over, I donned my footy boots, leaving the high heels in the car, and set off across the fields to get to the hill. There were fences to climb over, puddles to dance around, flowing creeks to jump across, and barbed wire topped fences to crawl under. About half way there we could make out the tumbling mass of bodies coming down the hill, perhaps in control, perhaps not. We were still too far away to be able to tell. Race 1, staring at 12:10 pm, have been run and won, and I still wasn't at the hill. Eventually we made it to the base of the hill as the men's uphill was starting.

I have always proclaimed that the Hawaiian Iron Man and the Tour de France are probably the two most difficult test of physical endurance known to man, but after seeing the men's uphill, I think there may be room for a third event. In hindsight, having walked to the top of the hill, I know how hard it is to get from the bottom to the top. But in this event, that reminds of a 250m long, slippery, wet, muddy travellator from the final event of the TV show 'Gladiators', you need more than just speed and endurance, you need luck. A race that is over in a matter of 10 seconds going down hill, seems to take almost 10 minutes to finish going the other way. The only safe place to be is out in front. To draw on one of my favorite shows growing up, it was like an event from the show 'It's a Knockout'. People would climb this hill, crawling on all fours rather than actually running, and claw at clumps of grass with their hands. Those better prepared wore footy boots with studs, and those having put in less thought wore trainers. That's where the danger would occur, with people pulling themselves up the hill, using as much arms strength as leg strength, as clumps of grass came loose, would find themselves tumbling backwards cleaning up unsuspecting fellow competitors below them.

During the race, I made my way half way up the hill to find a comfortable spot to spectate from, having essentially decided that my chances of running were nil. Now comfortable is a relative word. Perhaps if I were a mountain goat, I would have found the idea of standing on the side of an almost cliff enjoyable, but with one foot perched half a meter higher than the other, and both constantly slipping down the hill, it was hard word just standing in the one spot. After watching the second down hill race, and seeing Potter in the Titans footy jumper come flying past, I watched the start of the female uphill and made my way to the top of the hill as well.

It didn't take long to realise that I wasn't going to get a run. With just 3 more downhill events left, one of them a female only race, there were hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get to race, in scenes that looked more akin to people mobbing a third world country food aid truck than the formal queuing etiquette instilled in British people from birth. Looking at the angry mob, and then back down the hill, it became apparent that the reasons for the push and shove was that most of the people on the hill, at least those at the top planning on running, were Aussies.

I decided to take my chances spectating from the top of the hill, in a variety of locations, rather than try and join the throng of people shoving in for a run. I spied a few creative and inventive fans climbing into the trees that lined the run, but decided to try and get as close to the fence as possible. Hearing a branch snap half an hour later just before one of the races, and the cartoon like sounds of thud, doof, ahhh, urgh, and f--k and the guy fell from the top of the tree bouncing of branches and eventually hitting the ground below, justified my decision to stick to ground level.

The races continued with people tumbling ass over tit all the way down the hill, with the biggest spills seeming to come at the half way point, and then just around the finish line as the 'hired help', a rugby team doing tackle practice, stepped up to stop the competitors from running head on into the buildings at the bottom of the hill. The competitors who'd been paying careful attention during the previous races knew to dive across the line, often taking the rugby players out at the knees, while the less aware found themselves hurting not only from the spills down the hill, but from getting hit but the front line of the rugby team. If nothing else, it made the finish of the races interesting, even if it wasn't close, and ensured that everyone's attention was kept until the last racer crossed the line.

Towards the end of the event, the sleet started falling, coming in sideways, and the hopeful racers pushed even harder to race, hoping to get off the top of the hill as soon as possible. About the only people not in too much of a hurry to get down were the guys in the banana suits, and the guy in the green Telly Tubby outfit, all seemingly impervious to the wind and cold due to their thick costumes. Having already decided to avoid the 200+ crowd trying to squeeze in for the last couple races, each containing just 15 people, I wandered back down the side of the hill, a task just as difficult as getting to the top.

As the races finished, and the bunting started being removed, the flood gates opened at the top of the hill, and those not lucky enough to race charged down the hill in a constant mess of limbs, bodies and bags. At the bottom now, my departure was delayed as people continued to tumble down the hill for ten minutes, no one making it down without falling over at some point along the way. A long walk, back through more fields, and plenty of reminiscing and arguing as to which was in fact the best race, best fall, and best injury. Thankfully, the queue to get out was much shorter than getting to the hill, and pretty soon it was nothing but open roads, with the shitty English bank holiday weather slowing us down.