Saturday

Part 1: Fear, Freedom and the Fromage Fray

Chapter Two from True Brits
FEAR, FREEDOM AND THE FROMAGE FRAY: CHEESE ROLLING ON COOPER'S HILL

PART ONE: THE UNLIKELIEST REBELS

For Iris Peasley and the other guardians of the event, there was never any question of cancelling it altogether.

No one said as much; it was more of an unspoken conviction: Who are we to stop it?

For that matter, who were the county council—or the media—or any other critics to stop a centuries-old tradition that was bigger than all of them put together?

Iris had lived on Cooper's Hill for all but three of her 74 years—so long, in fact, that she could remember all the emcees from the past century.

Even the cottage she and her husband lived in had links to the tradition, having been the home of Bill Brookes, master of ceremonies for more than 50 years starting in the late 1800s.

For Brookes, the event was so important he chose to be buried in his top hat; another emcee had his ashes spread on the hilltop. Iris' uncle had also served in the post, and her father had been chairman of the organising committee for many years.

So many of her friends and family members had worked so hard to carry on the tradition that she would have felt deeply responsible—guilty, even—for letting them down.

And in the past year, the organisers had lost not one but two members, including Iris' own sister. Feeling duty-bound and bloody-minded, the committee resolved, at the same meeting where they cancelled the public spectacle, to hold a clandestine race on the usual date—only this event would take place just after dawn, while their critics were sleeping.

So at six a.m. on that chilly Bank Holiday Monday in May 1998, Iris, her husband, and a group of unlikely rebels trudged out to the hill to defy the handwritten, black-and-white sign planted in the middle of the slope:

CHEESE ROLLING CANCELLED.

Photo by Jean Jefferies, from her book,
Cheese Rolling in Gloucestershire
* * *
©J.R. Daeschner

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