The Cheese-Rolling, Vegetation-Wearing, Bog-Snorkelling Land of My Ancestors
November 03, 2010
Lately, I’ve noticed something about myself. I’ve recently taken up the hobbies of gardening and bird watching. I like dark murky beers that most people think cost too much and taste too bitter. I read P.G. Wodehouse and watch Monty Python. I rather enjoy the sound of bagpipes. Blimey! I think I might be turning British.
As it turns out, I already was British in a way. Some research with the MCPL genealogy databases revealed what I already suspected (albeit from some rather hazy family lore): I am indeed a son of Britain, Scotland to be exact. So, I thought I’d cast about a bit to find out more about those cousins of mine over in the Mother Country, the British. Among the many items I turned up was the book True Brits: a Tour of Great Britain in all Its Bog-snorkelling, Shin-kicking, and Cheese-rolling Glory by J.R. Daeschner.
In America, unless you’re a Native American, history only goes back a few hundred years. The British, on the other hand, have thousands of years of history and traditions to spare. The British are also noted for their tolerance of eccentricity. Put the two together and you get things like cheese-rolling, the Burry Man, and bog-snorkelling.
First, let's take a look at the venerable tradition of cheese-rolling at Cooper's Hill near Gloucester in the Cotswolds region of England. The name is slightly misleading as this is not a culinary technique, but a race down a VERY steep hill in pursuit of a rolling wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. The winner gets the cheese. As shown in the video below, the participants must:
A) Really like cheese.
B) Be unaware that it can be purchased.
C) Have a very good health insurance plan.
If you thought placing one’s self in extreme bodily danger for trivial reasons was recently pioneered by Johnny Knoxville and friends, you’ll be amazed to find out that Brits have been doing it for over 200 years.
Warning: if the brief sight of a man in a rather skimpy pair of underwear offends you, you might want to avoid the following. Likewise, if you found the “Agony of Defeat” sequence in the old ABC Wide World of Sports intro disturbing, you might want to skip this video.
Now on to Scotland, the misty land of kilt wearers, mysterious aquatic monsters, and my ancestors. Here we find the Burry Man. Every year on the second Friday of August, a man covers himself entirely in a suit made of burrs and is paraded around the town of South Queensferry bestowing good luck on its citizens. What is a burr? Think of a giant version of a cockleburr. Now imagine being completely covered with them, with only tiny holes for your eyes, nose, and mouth.
To earn their good luck, the residents of South Queensferry offer the Burry Man money and "a wee dram" (Scottish for "a whole lot") of whisky at every stop, which he must drink through a straw. The whole process takes about nine hours. Given that the suit leads to overheating and dehydration and has no facility for bathroom breaks, this appears to be a rather difficult way to get free drinks.
Finally, let's move on to the glorious Celtic land of Wales, famous for its rugged mountains and ruined castles. The town of Llanwrtyd Wells doesn't have any of those, only a muddy bog which isn't much of a tourist attraction. How to solve this problem? Hold the World Bog-Snorkelling Championships, of course. Unlike cheese-rolling and the Burry Man, bog-snorkelling is a recent development since snorkeling gear wasn't available in the 17th century. All that is required for bog-snorkelling is that you have snorkeling gear and the desire to swim 110 meters in 40° F bog water (which is only slightly thinner than mud and filled with rotting vegetation) without using any traditional swimming strokes.
Clearly, these British are a bunch of loonies. My kind of people. I think I'm going to enjoy my newfound Britishness. Cheerio!