The Bright Report, it read. Beneath the coat of arms which seemed to contain a hot air balloon of some description (among other hard-to-make-out things) was a Latin motto: Homo in Absurdum.
As I advanced towards it, my foot found a piece of scrap on the cobblestones. I looked down to see a set of skid marks – something anachronistic in this quaint setting. I had inadvertently kicked a loose wingmirror. I picked it up and examined the chipped maroon paint. Looked expensive – carbon fibre, maybe. It seemed wrong to leave it there, perhaps someone inside was looking for it.
I walked up to the door. It was polished mahogany with a large brass knocker in the centre. It was shaped like the head of a cat – the lever dangling from its mouth. Pasted next to it was a handwritten note:
No hawkers, snake people, kale people, or people named Augustus. If your name is Alcub, you are six five years too early – please come back later.
As I was pretty sure that I was not one of those things, I reached out and pulled the knocker. Okay, this is going to sound ridiculous (much like everything else that you are about to read), but I’m sure I heard the cat head purr. The knock echoed.More info →
Movement in the undergrowth – the snap and slap of bodies running through grass and thick leaves. A flash – and another. Still my words seem to have no effect. I sat down on the sand – showing them that I was no threat. This seemed to do the trick.
Four people emerged. They could not have been older than teenagers. Each clutched a small metallic rectangle – arm outstretched, a point of light shining from the strange item. Traditional weapons of some unusual design, I realized.
I raised my hands and told them that I posed no danger. Their language must have been so beyond mine that verbal communication was of little use.
As they steadily stepped closer, encircling me, I became aware of their traditional dress. Both the males and females (there were two of each) were dressed similarly: blue denim-like pantaloons, and flamboyant shirts printed with palm trees or dolphins. These must have had some cultural significance that I have yet to fathom.
Their rectangles flashed. They nodded to each other. Without warning, they all surrounded what I believed to be the dominant female. They glanced at her rectangle, each making a grunt of approval in turn. It seemed that showing reverence for her secured her favor.
Once this little ritual was concluded, they turned to me. They regarded my clothes (which had become stained and ragged as I paddled here all the way from Portsmouth) and my skiff with rapt curiosity. It seemed likely that I was the first Englishman to wash up on their shores.
“Carmichael,” I said thumping my chest.
The strangeness of the Queen’s English made them laugh. After a few minutes of confusion, I eventually established that the dominant female was called “Darla”. The others made do with simpler names: “Her”, “Him”, and “Dave”. They touched my hair, tugged gently on my shirt, and examined my boat. I presumed that they were checking me for weapons. After I satisfied their search, they took me by the arm and led me into the jungle.More info →
The big cheese wheels of Gloucestershire, England, have long been famed for their flavor, aroma, and down-hill acceleration. Indeed, the Double Gloucester Down Hill Cheese Chase has become a mainstay for the local community for many years. From Cooper’s Hill to Deadman’s Cheddar, the world championship calendar takes international competitors around the English countryside. No hill or kneecap is safe.
While this event is widely renowned for its sportsmanship, wacky costumes, and fatality rate, few know that the cheese wheels – that most vital component of the chase – undergoes a grueling process of certification. Many believe that a wheel’s first time down a grassy slope is during the event at Cooper’s Hill, but this is not true. The wheels are thoroughly tested and certified before they can even bare the name “Double Gloucester”.
I travelled to Cleeve Cloud, the highest hill in the Cotswolds, to find out more about the process. There, a group of professional cheese rollers were braving the cold and the rain.
“Wobblers and jumpers – those are the ones you got to look out for,” said Mr X.
“Or square ones,” said Mrs X. The cheese rollers nodded solemnly. “We had a couple of rectangular ones slip through one year. It was just sad, really.”
“How did they slip through?” I asked.
Mr Y hissed through his teeth. “Couple years ago…was like the wild west out here. No regulations, no Terroir 14 forms, nothing. You could get a block of feta through.”
“Or wedges,” said Mr X grimacing.
“All you had to do was fill the right turophile’s hand with a few grams of pule and you were in,” said Mrs X.
They assured me that those lawless days were behind them. Now there was nothing but honest, certified cheese.
I walked with them to the top of the hill. According to legend, the Romans took advantage of the angle of Cleeve Cloud to perfect their own caseiculture. It is a rich cultural heritage that the cheese rollers are proud of.
“Gives the cheese extra flavor,” said Mr Y. “History.”
I watched them set up their tape measures, yard sticks, cheese wire, and various lumps of Double Gloucester. Scientific tools and rind-to-revolution ratios aside, I came to understand the real secret of the process. It is easy to miss – especially when you get lost in the technical jargon of cheese making – but it was there. It was in the laughter of the testers, the way they helped each other up, the way they cheered when they got a good roll.More info →