Blessed are the cheesemakers


Imagine the scene. You are lying upside down at the bottom of a 70°-angle hill, covered in mud and grass, having careered down the slope after an 8lb cheese, crashing into others on your way down. The studs of someone else's rugby boot are still pressing into your thigh. You have hurt your arm – possibly a fracture, although it might be just a sprain. What do you do next? Do you scramble to your feet and limp to the nearest pub for a few pints of real ale to numb the pain, congratulating yourself on completing such a daredevil feat? Or do you get straight on the phone to your solicitors and demand a letter threatening legal action be sent to 86-year-old Diana Smart, the dairy farmer who made the gigantic wheel of Double Gloucester, for luring you down the hill with her tempting produce?

Gloucestershire Police seem to think that participants of the centuries-old cheese rolling event at Cooper's Hill tomorrow will go for the latter option – so much so that they dispatched three officers to hunt down this octogenarian evil mastermind to her lair, sorry, cottage, to ban her giant cheese from the race on health-and-safety grounds. The race has been unofficial since 2009 and as such is not covered by insurance – something which has caused the police to go into a meltdown quicker than a chunk of Gruyère in a fondue. A police spokesman said: "We feel it is important that those who, by law, could be constituted as organisers of the event are aware of the responsibilities that come with it so that they can make an informed decision about their participation."

What nonsense. Apart from the fact that Mrs Smart has been making cheese for the event for the past 25 years and so presumably has already made an "informed decision" about her participation, the idea that anyone would actually have a leg to stand on, if you like, to mount a legal case is ridiculous.

"Yes, your honour, I thought I was just going for a gentle stroll and didn't notice the 500ft drop. But I was clearly misled by this enormous cheese and the wicked pensioner who made it, even though she lives miles away and was nowhere near the scene on the day, may as well have dragged me down the hill herself."

"Running the cheese", as it is known to locals, is a key, if a little bonkers, tradition in our country's history. We love it because cheese itself is there to be laughed at, affectionately. The European Union can descend into crisis over halloumi or Brie, and we find it hilarious. Cheese is at the same time banal and significant, like a Sally Bercow tweet. The French, with their unpasteurised stinky Camembert, are mocked for their obsession with it – see "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" over their refusal to join in the Iraq war – but we British are equally defensive about our fermented curds. And if you want to tumble down a hill after a Double Gloucester, it's no one's fault but your own. Gloucestershire Police should remember that blessed are the cheesemakers, as someone said in Monty Python's Life of Brian, and leave Mrs Smart alone.

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