With the Olympics fast approaching, the eyes of the world will son be focused on Britain – the global sporting community will converge on our humble islands expecting to some some of the most striking feats of human ability and also with high hopes of London, the venue, to provide the hospitality, service, culture and most importantly the facilities which the athletic elite demand.
But beyond the hyperbole of the Olympic advertising campaigns, following the torch and even getting caught up in “the Olympic spirit” many will get to see the UK and London hospitality for the first time. The colonial past of Great Britain in particular means that many will have their views on the once great ruling power. But rather than focus on what makes the Great Britain “great” in the clichéd sense, the rich and varied past still exists today in it’s bizarre and strange traditions.
Here are five of the strangest traditions which can still be seen in great Britain today, and may surprise those among you who already live here:
There are few places which could make a competition out of something so daft, but Great Britain is one of them. Perhaps adding “competition” implies a level of earnest to Gurning which isn’t quite there. “Competitions” see members of the public putting their heads through a horse collar (don’t ask) and weaving their facial features into the most humours and often disturbing ways possible. To “win” at Gurning you don’t have to be the fittest, fastest or most determined – although I’m sure determination comes in there somewhere – but really, rubbery skin, a few pints of bitter and a toothless grin often make for some of the most striking Gurning victories.
Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill
Let me set the scene, men, women and children flock to the Cotswolds, to stand atop Cooper’s Hill and peer out over the steep and uneven 200m to the bottom. There is a sense of anticipation, excitement and nerves along the lines of people waiting, until they take their marks and set off as fast as they can over the crest of the hill chasing a rolling cheese. Yes you read that right, a rolling cheese. This is one of the most craziest traditions witnessed in Great Britain, not only because their prize is a battered cheese, but because of the inherent danger in doing it.
So you take a handful of people and send them off running down a near-vertical uneven slope, as you can expect injury is never far behind. Concussion, sprains, broken bones and sometimes worse are to be expected. It’s all part of the fun of competing apparently… although, I’d say this is a much better activity for spectators myself.
Bog snorkelling is an activity which contains all the hallmarks of a legitimate competition and a hair-brained scheme concocted after one-to-many pints down the pub. This is rather self explanatory though, you race down a stretch of bog-water in a snorkel gear and flippers in order to see who is the fastest. It doesn’t sound too bad, at least it wouldn’t if the bog water wasn’t well, bog water.
You couldn’t make this up, seriously. Well, worm charming, believe it or not, has some of the more “normal” roots here. Initially used to collect worms for fishing bait, in the 1980s it was transformed into a competition and now even a world championship. Competitors take to a 3x3m square of grass land and had to “charm” as many worms out of the ground as they can in 30 minutes by beating the ground, playing music into it and anything else they can cook up.
Probably the most predictable on the list and as such is the most quintessentially “British” of the the bizarre traditions here. Morris dancing is a old-English folk dance which is to be set to live music, and focuses on a choreographed dance between two or more dances where they wave handkerchiefs, bang sticks or even cross swords in time with each other. Morris dancing does have a far more international grounding than most believe involving the United States of America, Finland, Cyprus, Australia and more.