Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Thought That Counts

A pal came back from a nice trip to Holland and presented me with a carrier bag full of stuff. She's too generous and wonderfully good at getting decent presents.

I snatched the bag gratefully. It's been a while since I got a prez.

“Ooooo. What's in here?” I plunged a hand in, feeling quite jolly excited. I hardly ever do cool, except with strangers.

I was hoping for cannabis cake. My fingers felt something round - a bit like a muffin but rather more solid. Maybe it had gone stale. I didn't mind if it was a week old.

It turned out to be cheese. Paprika gouda cheese. Oh well.

“Go on,” she urged. “There's something that'll make you laugh. Just your thing.”

My fingers found two little objects that clanked together.

A tiny pair of china clogs on strings. Kind of cute but not exactly hilarious and so far, no cannabis. I'm an ungrateful cow sometimes.

“It's probably in the bottom of the bag. Keep going” she said.

A tube of something.

“Oooh cannabis chocolate...???”

“It's just white chocolate, you noggin. You like white chocolate.”

Yes I do but sometimes I just crave an illegal substance. Never had one, but that doesn't stop me craving one. Chocolate is ok though. It contains nil calories as long as you don't pay for it personally.

I groped further in the bag. My fingers felt something knitted. A scarf. A scarf with a pom-pom?? Probably not a scarf, then.

Oh. A hat. A hat like the hat in the film “About a Boy.” A hat to engender sympathy from the soft-hearted but much more likely to attract raucous ridicule from those of sound mind.

You could have cut the anticlimax with a knife.

“See. It's funny isnt it? Do you like it?” she smiled.

“All the cyclists were wearing them in Amsterdam. They're really warm apparently.”

Subtext: “You're completely indiscriminate about what you wear so here's something to make grown men weep and small children roll in the gutter with mirth.” Bee-atch.

“Well, it looks warm,” I said. I pulled it on. From nowhere there were at least four phones produced so the owners could eagerly snap amusing pictures.

I did look completely ridiculous. The hat is grey and cream knitted woolly hat with a grey pom pom on top. It has ear flappy bits and woolly extensions like plaits dangling down past both ears.

I simply can't imagine what kind of woman would look good in it. I certainly don't. It makes me look like a Greenham Common woman with special needs or a Swiss weather clock girl who had been kept in a cupboard by her dad for so long that she lost all her fashion sense.

“Oh yes. It is warm. I'm glowing already. Thank you.” I doubt it sounded very convincing but at least I tried.

“You can wear it on your bike under your helmet or something.”

She means well and usually has impeccable taste but has revealed nakedly that she knows nothing about cycling or helmets or hats. Reminded me a bit of my Aunty Gerty who bought me a cap gun for Christmas when I was five. Dad thought she'd got the labels wrong and it was meant for my brother but he was incensed to find she had bought it for me. She worked at the toy factory and was ahead of her time, staunchly resisting sexist stereotypes. Dad gave it to my brother anyway.

I have accepted it in the spirit with which it was given – as a joke hat. I'll wear it on Bonfire Night, to a firework display at least thirty miles from home where no-one knows me. I'll wear a pair of dark glasses to make extra-sure I can't be identified.

Thereafter I will save it for my eccentric old age and wear it, along with a fur coat, while pedalling along on the Oxford bicycle I've promised myself with a big basket on the front carrying two Tibetan spaniels.

It will be clear where the hat originated. People will see the "Amster" knitted in large cream letters across the back of it (the dam is out of view over my right ear).

People might assume I've been at the tea and cannabis cakes. They might even be right.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Curlers talk.... costs lives

I'm going to visit Aunty Ivy soon in Wales. She's in her eighties now, still lives in the same council house she's lived in since she was married and you know what? If I get there before midday, I bet she'll be in her curlers.

She used to tie a nice flowery satin head scarf over them if she popped down the road to the shops in her housecoat and slippers for a pack of Capstan or whatever she's smoking these days.

It makes me feel a bit guilty actually. I don't smoke and I don't use curlers. I don't even have a housecoat.

I'm failing in my duty to keep alive these proud family traditions; traditions which were alive long before Hilda Ogden was even a twinkle in a scriptwriter's eye.

I'm at that age where, by rights, I should have been in curlers for at least a decade and in nylon housecoats for five years.

All my aunties used to wear curlers – overnight and definitely for the morning. They smelled of setting lotion. Some of my aunties used to enjoy going out on the town, ballroom dancing, so the hair was an important part of going out.

My life is infinitely more boring then theirs. I work and cycle and DT man is not cut out for tripping the light fantastic so there is no call for glamorous high-maintenance evening hairstyles.

Mumsie was of the old school – although perhaps with the advent of Strictly Come Dancing it's a school that has built itself a glitzy extension for the millions of extra enthusiasts – she was a ballroom dancer so there would be an early bath and hair wash and the rollers would be in from 4pm.

She kept them in an old Roses chocolates tin – yellow, pink and blue for different quantities of curly volume on different parts of the head. I used to do the back ones for her, marching down the head to the nape of her neck. It was a kind of privilege, bring allowed to help with mum's curlers; one of those peaceful, intimate little gestures that re-enforce the bond.

Come to think of it, I'm probably the first woman in my family not to use curlers. My favourite nan didn't go for curlers often – preferring an intricate system of metal hair clips and clamps like miniature man-traps to seize recalcitrant waves and force them into position. I have a hazy memory of using one to inflict minor bodily harm on my brother but I carry not guilt. Low-risk torture in the home is merely preparation for life and anyway, isn't that what big sisters are for? Nan's head was so heavy with metalwork that a half-decent magnet situated out in the back yard would have held her firmly against the wall. That and the metalwork in her substantial stays.

My posher nan did curlers too but she went in for perms and wash and sets for the big occasions like funerals or when her church choir did a gig in another church further up the valley.

Long, straight, unfeasibly shiny hair (yes the hair models in magazines have “shine” solution ironed on to it) still seems de rigeur these days. No-one much wants the shorter waves of the incomparable Sophia Loren, the soft longer style of Lauren Bacall or the ditzy blonde curls of Lucille Ball.

Except in Liverpool, that is. According to the Post earlier this year the trend which Aunty Ivy has been keeping alive for all these years is coming back big-time.

Girls are once again going out in their curlers.

“There’s no shame in going out into town shopping in rollers; in fact it’s almost a status thing. It announces the fact you’re going out that night and intend to have the biggest, most gorgeous hair possible,” said Andrea Daley, a stylist at Barbara Daley Hair and Beauty in Lime Street.

“Putting curlers in gives the hair body and bounce, rather than make it curly, and it will give your style longevity helping it last through the night.”

Maybe it's time for me to eschew the hair straighteners and do battle with the styling lotion and some big fat rollers.

Then I just need to get a housecoat. Cerise nylon, I think. With a big patch pocket full of pegs. Oh and probably a plastic rain bonnet – in case I get caught by a shower as I'm popping to the shops in my fluffy slippers.

I have a responsibility not to let these traditions die – besides, Aunty Ivy will be proud of me.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Dear Diary

Everyone has a book in them. I wrote my book when I was about thirteen. It was a chunky A5 size garishly-floral five year diary which I kept at the back of the bottom drawer.

I recorded my life. There were no statistics, no graphs, no pie charts. I don't do numbers. I do words and pictures. It was the roller-coaster of teenage emotions; as much a cliché and more so than that last phrase. Home life, school life, personal life, very personal life, meals, music, friends, enemies (there were none, actually but I was very afraid that psychotic first year Mandy Phillips who I saw every morning on the way to the school bus would one day catch my eye, take some mysterious offence and duff me up thoroughly).

I wrote in it every day and shared my innermost thoughts. It might have been a publishing sensation. I was a diarist of the Wilde school.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensation to read in the train,” he said.

Mine was no-holds-barred. No point otherwise. I wouldn't have taken the risk of reading it in public, mainly because it was so obviously a diary with its yellow orange green and black padded flowery cover.

So it was with some interest that I noted the review of a new book out today – Cringe: Toe-Curlingly Embarrassing Teenage Diaries, Letters and Bad Poetry, edited by Sarah Brown – a brilliantly simple yet amusing collection of teenage diary extracts.

This, from Pip Hawkes(14) rang a few bells. "I’ve just decided —– well — not decided — but found out — I’m nihilistic! God – Dad’s just come in and told me to tidy my room — it is BLOODY TIDY!! He must have had a bad day at work — WANKER. "

Liz Banks, at 15, was a little old to have written this, but I completely sympathise about Rob Andrew. "Why am I unhappy?

Because mum and dad row Because I have school work to do

Because Rob Andrew [England rugby union fly half] and Graeme Hick [England and Worcestershire batsman] are married Because I have GCSEs next year

Because I am ugly

Because Adrian didn’t fancy me

Because I’ve done no art [I was referring to art homework, rather than art generally. I think.]

Because I have no friends I like

Because my room’s a mess

Because there’s a Conservative government."

I like a lot of the extracts from this book, which is odd because I don't tend to have much empathy with other people's diaries. I didn't recognise the Adrian Mole thing. Similarly I couldn't relate to Bridget Jones (although I did enjoy the film) and the singleton's obsession with control over cigarettes and chocolate.

But I did recognise some of my old self – or should have been young, only partially developed self? - in these extracts.

The blindly polarised black-and-white emotions of my teenage years are all there, albeit expressed differently.

This, from Jo Wickham is a perfect textual strop. “I hate Mum. She said I can’t have a coat as I still fit in my old one. I’m gonna feel like a prick if I wear a coat everyone was wearing last year. She’s such a bitch. It doesn’t cost that much and I need a coat. She’s such a slapper. She’s only doing it coz I get most things I want so she wants to say no, so I’m not spoilt. She’s such a bitch. And I’ve lost my keys and she’ll have an eppy if she finds out. Oh I hate her and I hate myself for losing them. God I’m pissed off — I know it’s only keys but if I’ve lost them I’ll go mad — I hate losing things but I do a lot. Oh I’m soo mad.”

I was too much of a bolshie control freak to ever smoke or try drugs but Claire Bateson (18) illustrates the breathtakingly self-obsessed dream-world of LSD: “I am writing this on acid, the tail-end of a trip. I need this time alone with pen and paper to express myself. I feel really happy to be me – more gorgeous and beautiful than ever before, me in all senses. Feminine – oh so feminine – and the prettiest, most beautiful girl that ever lived. I am so pretty tonight, in the red light and the flickering of the candle. I am a goddess, and only James has truly seen and appreciated this.”

My diary was much more likely to have read “I hate my dad. It's so stupid having to be home by 9pm. It's sooo unfair. My brother is an idiot. I keep telling mum I hate kidneys but she keeps making me eat them. I saw Alison being bullied today and didn't do anything about it. I hate them smoking on the bus. It makes me smell terrible. Roger P. looked at me today, I'm sure he did. He is still wonderful. I wonder what his voice sounds like. Mr Davis has never heard of Bigbury. Mr Cross leaned over me again in Eng Lit, too close. I could smell his breath. Wrote a love letter to Roger. Finished my portrait of Elton John..... Steve gave me Enigma Variations. We were on the phone later for 94 minutes. A new record. Just as well it was free.”

I don't keep a regular diary now but if I'm emotionally fragile, the first thing I do is reach for a pen or the keyboard and write great wodges of stuff. Seems to work and I leave these scrolls hanging in cyberspace like so many Serrano hams – tasty chunks of perfectly expressed consciousness never to be found.

Distance, instead of lending enchantment, lends a particular ludicrousness. Reading back a month later always reveals the pathetic cow. There are still lingering traces of the bolshie teenager but I argue more with myself these days.

I was fond of writing in code for a while - code as recommended by the I-Spy Book of Spycraft. It held up the writing though so I reverted to plain old English.

The raw undisguised, uncoded truth proved to be my undoing. My sainted mumsie did the one stinky, misguided – and subsequently regretted - thing she ever committed in her life; she read my diary.

I got home from school one day and she confronted me, white as a sheet, zombie-starey-eyed, shaken and ranting incoherently. I gathered she had found the diary but she was unspecific as to which bits had particularly shocked or offended her.

It could have been one of several things. She'd led a sheltered life up until then and had mistakenly presumed I was doing the same.

She hadn't told dad, which was just as well. I asked for it back but she announced “I've burned it.”

I believe she did. It was that good.

All for the best though, probably.

This was back in typewriter days when a computer would have taken up the entire first floor or the house.

If it had been now, I would have been spilling my guts all over the internet. Oh what a foolish and regrettable thing to do...

And lastly, his sweetly illustrates the tribulations of the romantic cyclist:

Andy Foster (15) Sunday, February 23 [after church youth club]
"There was no push away when I put my arm around her. But ahhhh I didn’t get a kiss off Gemma at the end because I was on bicycle and couldn’t get off in time before she’d disappeared"

Veggie trouble

Why bother to eat weeds then there are so many perfectly pleasant vegetables?

To stir-fry nettle tips, toss dandelion leaves in salads and munch fat hen from the woods (can't recall it's Latin name but it's definitely edible and salady) just seems unnecessarily esoteric when you can tuck into lovely pile of steaming runner beans and a jolly good King Edward-based champ, buttered swede and carrot or brilliant shredded Savoy cabbage.

And it must be said that sprouts are an absolute joy.

But who, in their right mind, would want to eat a thistle?

People around Roscoff love them. There are hectares of them growing in the fine sandy soil. Artichokes along with rose onions, are the local speciality vegetables.

Artichokes are outstanding architectural plants thrusting those proud green global heads skywards. The stems are enormous. They could have been designed to be Oberon's mace but Oberon would have to be a pretty beefy king of the fairies to hold one up without getting a bad back.

The leaves remind me a lot of acanthus, beloved of William Morris and used often in his designs.

So as I was taken out for a birthday supper in Roscoff, it seemed only fair to try the local produce and go for the artichoke starter before the seafood platter and (and I was hoping it would be good and it was) that gorgeously custardy Far Breton tart.

Of course I'd had previous artichoke experience. From memory, they were an inch or or long, a soft kind of leafy thing pickled in some kind of vinaigrette. I'd had them from various delicatessens. Tasty. I imagined they must be extracted from deep within the giant heads that we'd seen in the fields.

The artichoke the waiter placed in front of me was bigger than anything we'd seen growing outdoors. They must expand when they're cooked because this baby filled the entire plate; a substantial round of green bracts that looked like a half-closed water lily.

There was a small pot of mayo-type sauce alongside. DT man tucked into his “safe” choice of fish soup, much amused.

I cast a furtive look at the nearest diners. No-one else had a giant green vegetable in front of them. I would have to experiment. I gingerly picked at one of the bracts. It came away easily. It was far too tough to eat but there was a fatter bit at the base which was quite nice if dipped in the sauce first.

Mmm. Not unpleasant. I continued until there was a pile of greenery to one side and my diligent plucking had revealed a central boss that just looked odd - like I'd revealed a small alien craft which might fire up, lift vertically, laser me in the eye and shoot out of the window.

Think about it. If aliens are among us, vegetables would be a damn good place in which to hide. Especially if their craft can withstand boiling water.

By now, I'd lost interest in green things and was thinking about langoustine and another glass of fizz. I pushed the remains to one side.

I had sent a pic of the artichoke from my mobile to no 2 son in London. We send each other food pics to make each other envious. He was still at work. He was much impressed and even texted some advice on tackling it.

'S'ok.' I replied confidently. 'It is done. I have eaten it.'

I could have sworn that I had eaten it. The waiter had other ideas when he came to clear the plates.

“But madame...” he cried in consternation.

“...you 'ave left ze art!!”

Bloody drama queen, I thought. It might be art to you sunshine but seventeen leaves is enough for anyone. He was taking the Pissarro.

He shrugged and made one last desperate effort with me.

“But ze ART....ze art is ze best part!”

I waved it away and he took it, rolling his eyes (men have been doing that at me a lot lately but he was the first) and muttering Frenchisms under his breath.

“He's cursing you,” grinned DT man. He loves it when I upset other men. It helps him feel less victimised.

“E is saying 'ze bloody eeenglishwoman she knows nuzzink.'”

Wrong on both counts. I'm Welsh and I know when I've had enough thistle. Thistles are tricky.

Much easier to ask for a plate of onions next time I want to try the local veggie without getting into trouble...


There have been developments on the fffffridge fffront. That chap who was so contemptuous of my interest in his fridge has capitulated and revealed all.

That just demonstrates the power of a blog. The depth of curiousity about fridge contents and the solidarity shown by my brothers and sisters here persuaded him that it would be churlish to withhold access for a moment longer.

He still thinks it's quite sad of me to want to know but hell, I can live with that. I'm quite looking forward to a visit to the Johnny Onion Museum very soon so that will represent new depths of freakery, according to the friends who have vowed never to come on holiday with me. But that is their loss. They will never know the joy of diving for the purple sea urchin.

So the contents started normally enough with UHT milk (Yuch!!!) and eggs "Unidentifiable date" - pretty well guaranteed salmonella, then.

He fished out something solid of irregular shape in a plastic bag. He dropped to the floor. It didn't even crack. He had no idea what it was.

"Quite dense," he said. "A bit scared to try that."

Tellingly (though obviously I didn't say a word) he put it BACK in the fridge!

Course, if he was a serial killer, he would say something like "a bit scared to try that" wouldn't he? Ah-haaaa. It would be quite a convincing cover story if the object was in fact a body part that he'd air-dried like serrano ham. I could just imagine him hacking bits off and devouring them if he gets the munchines while watching a movie.

An empty bottle.

Sugar. Peanuts. Precisely. Who would want chilled sugar? Just imagine your builder "Oh four sugars for me darlin' - not too warm thanks."

The sugar thing completely fits in with my theory that people who aren't really interested in food fill their fridges with other things like boxes of matches, packets of screws or in this case, an empty bottle and sugar.

The freezer was no better. A weird lump of leaves in cling film. An opened ice lolly and a bag of what looked alarmingly like babys' testicles. Dozens of small, opalescent white orbs.

"They are for soup."

Yeah right. Serial baby killer. Definitely. That could be the only explanation. There was absolutely nothing in fridge or freezer, apart from the ingredients for a hideously smelly and possibly fatal omelette.

Fortunately I won't be invited for dinner. Especially now if he reads about the "serial killer" thing. My curiosity is satiated but when it comes to appetite satiation, I'll go elsewhere.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Is there such a phenomenon as Bank Holiday bloodlust?

There might be something in it. The Mods and Rockers always used to enjoy a nice Bank Holiday punch-up at Weston-super-Mare or Brighton.

Cheese rolling ('Cheesy' yesterday) is a Bank Holiday tradition involving the Roman-style spectacle of lemming-people risking limb and life hurling themselves down the steepest hill I've ever seen.

Admittedly, it's a bit tame for the Romans what with the "catchers" waiting at the bottom of the hill to stop uncontrolled contestants impaling themselves on the fencing. The Romans would have had hungry tigers and lions salivating at the foot of the hill and the chasers might have needed determined prodding to go down. But the whole massed chorus of baying cheering hoi polloi struck me as the kind of crowd you'd get in on a big night at the colosseum.

The other big Gloucestershire bloodlust tradition hasn't been seen for many years. It was a good one; firing a woman out of a cannon across a river.

It must be twenty five years ago at least that a guy called Joe Weston-Webb would rock up to Tewkesbury on Bank Holiday Monday with his human cannon. It was a big black home-made job about the size of a fire engine. The human was a girl called Mary, who was no more than 17 and looked 13. She probably lied about her age. A slight, slip of a thing with no glamour about her whatsoever. Not for her the Las Vegas showgirl glitz, the Madonna brassiere, the skimpy bikini or humungous improbable implants and Tangoed body. She dressed in jeans and an anonymous baggy T shirt. She looked as though she was taking a break from the milking parlour.

Her only protective clothing was a black helmet which could have been salvaged from the World War I.

Large crowds would gather alongside the River Avon after paying their groats or whatever was the currency in those days and Mary would climb on to the cannon and let herself gingerly down into the tube. The plan was to emerge head first.

There would be a significant delay of 45 minutes punctuated by announcements about delays for "important safety checks" while many hot dogs and beers were sold to the expectant masses.

Joe's henchmen had a net waiting somewhat optimistically on the other side of the River Avon.

Call it tension, call it boredom, but one or the other, or both would build until the crowd yelled along with the final countdown to blast off.

There was a minor explosion half as loud as a shotgun, wisps of smoke from the cannon and we would wait muttering "Oh my God. She's toast" until Mary's helmet appeared from the end of the muzzle. She would wave to assure everyone of her continuing health and disappear again for the cannon to be reloaded.

If we were really lucky, there would be another slightly louder explosion and Mary would be expelled, legs and arms flailing. Breaths would be held as everyone plotted her brief trajectory into the river. She generally popped up to the surface pretty quickly. Rescue personnel would heave her on boat their boat and take her to the bank where she'd clamber up to a heroine's welcome.

After at least two successive years of broken promises, there was a definite feeling that the crowds were calling out for more. Plopping into the river wasn't enough. After all, she was supposed to be shot clear across the river. That was the point. People don't like failure and lack of blood. It's tedious. No-one dared admit it but the ghouls had only turned up in order to see either a girl shot clear across the river or fodder briefly roasted inside the cannon.

I was told on the quiet that the stunt was quite safe as long as Mary landed in the river. The real risk was if by some quirk of nature, she actually did make the distance because, er, there was no direction-finder on the cannon, the net wasn't actually that big and it was much easier to miss the net than the river.

So imagine the brown trouser moment the Bank Holiday when there was really quite a large explosion (think a dozen boiled-dry eggs exploding in a saucepan in a small kitchen) and Mary flew in a perfect arc, (legs and arms aerodynamically trained by now) and cleared the Avon by an alarming margin.

It was one of those horrifying slo-mo sequences. It was looking as though, this time, this one time she was flying so far that she was also going to clear the net.

There was a choral "Ooooh..." then silence.

Some sensitive souls flinched and turned away. Mary ricocheted from the very edge of the net and bounced into the middle like a broken puppet.

The silence continued. She lay crumpled and still. Then she twitched, stretched and waved a cheerful arm with a fist clenched in victory.

She had done it. A roar of approval from the satisfied spectators. They hadn't seen blood but they had very nearly seen a tragedy. They seemed content. Jubilant, even. My knees were jelly and I felt a bit sick. For once, Joe had lived up to his promise. I vowed never to go again. Too traumatic.

I didn't need to worry. That was the last such event in Tewkesbury. I suspect that the fact that Joe had at last succeeded in his aim induced Health and Safety to step in and produce a thick raft of conditions which made a repeat performance impossible.

Joe went on with his shows elsewhere catapulting girls, wrestling crocodiles, racing goldfish.

I'm not sure he shot Mary ever again. It would be nice to think it was her swansong. She is fine, by all accounts because, dear reader, Joe married her.

I last heard of him on "Have I Got News for You" which reported a story about him using his cannon to fire chicken muck at unwelcome intruders. At least he's not firing the wife.... well, I don't think he is.. . maybe only on Bank Holidays.

Monday, 25 May 2009


“It was never like this. This is mad. Absolutely mad.”

Capt. Sensible shrugged and frowned. He hates crowds. So do I, usually.

“It's unbelieveable.” said the son no 2's girlfriend.

“Random,” said son no 2.

We were among several thousand people gathered at Cooper's Hill near Brockworth, Gloucestershire for the annual traditional blood sport of cheese rolling. An eight pound Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling and bouncing wildly down the slope, which varies between 1-1 to 1 in 3. People are invited to run and bounce wildly after it. They always do. The first one down wins the cheese. Hurrah.

There are four races for the chaps and one for women. In between, there are uphill races for youngsters.

Moving to Gloucestershire from Wales as a child, it was an amazing spectacle. Where I came from, the only Whitsun event was the church parade which involved wearing a new dress, white ankle socks and new white kid-leather shoes. The only danger was that of one of the banner-bearers fainting and small children being asphyxiated under a ton of heavily embroidered material.

It's a bit odd taking children to an event where the contestants might well snap a thigh bone bloodily in front of their eyes or dislocate a shoulder or break a neck. But I suppose people used to take the nippers to bear-baiting and cock-fighting before television came along.

No-one really knows how it started or when. I like to think it was a Morris Men's picnic near the flagpole at the top that got a bit drunken and lairy. Someone nicked someone else's handkerchief and a quite-cross Morris man kicked the cheese course over the edge in a fit of pique causing several hungry Morris Men to attempt to rescue it.

Today the interest was unprecedented. The usual route to Brockworth was completely jammed – so congested that the police had to close a major road and display warning signs and diversions on the M5. Knowing the geography, our party took a little detour and walked the scenic route to Cooper's Hill from the local Roman villa.

The sight that greeted us was most definitely Roman seasoned with a few Mexican waves. We joined a cheering, jostling, baying crowd of several thousand people clustered closely at the top, sides and base of the famous hill. There was absolutely no chance of getting to the sweet spot at the side of the hill where I used to sit with friends; a spot where you really appreciate the speed at which people are tumbling, tripping and falling as they rush headlong after those cheeses.

The crowd thickened. Not that it wasn't quite thick already. Why, for instance, do people take the tiny and defenceless to such massively popular events? A woman with nose rings and tattoos pushed through with a startled-looking prem baby in a baby carrier, his nasal tubes still connected indicating a certain vulnerability. Another woman pushed by thrusting a lost, tear-stained little girl in front of her. A man carried a petrified Jack Russell puppy.

Soon it was nearly impossible to move. Interesting to observe people at close quarters. The smelly, the pissed, the only vaguely interested, the foreigners, the relentlessly loud but witty young Ozzies. I mentally checked those people nearby who I felt would, in emergency, walk on my head without a qualm. I was jostled quite violently by a St John Ambulanceman proving that even the angels of mercy are not without their mean streak. I felt, to be honest, a bit kettled - even in the absence of the Metropolitan Police.

The going was good. Yielding underfoot without being slippery. From the bottom of the hill we saw the cheeses and the competitors bouncing and tumbling and lurching and falling and looking dazed as the crowd cheered and applauded. We had a grandstand view of the St John Ambulance persons and the casualties.

The races are open to anyone who says they're over 18. There has never been drug-testing, in fact, it's the only sport where it's an unwritten rule to get rat-arsed before the race. Alcohol dissipates any unwelcome self-preservation instincts which might cause jarring of bones. It makes you bounce more softly. At least, that's what some have told me.

Suddenly someone yelled “NAKED MAN COMING THROUGH!” The crowd did a simultaneous “Eeeew” and parted like butter under a hot knife. He was indeed naked. He'd chased the cheese wearing only a jockstrap and now some wags had stolen his clothes. Some people just so ungrateful for entertainment.

The paramedics called 'Make way!” and stretchered an unlucky competitor through the crowd on a spinal board. A woman in front of me raised her camera above her head and snapped a picture; a photo of an injured person who she probably didn't know. Something to show the girls in the office.

It didn't feel much fun to be standing with ghouls hoping for a good shot of a snapped bone protruding or someone with a suspected C2 fracture.

We'd all had enough by then anyway. We'd done the traditional Bank Holiday thing of being in heavy traffic, standing in a massive crowd watching a Great British Tradition.

We had sometimes watched it through binoculars from my mother's back garden in Brockworth, sitting in deckchairs drinking iced lemonade. On reflection that was probably the most civilized way to do it.