Summer seems to spark off bizarre behaviour from people all over the world. Take a look at the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival in Gloucestershire in May. Once described by an awestruck spectator as consisting of “20 young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital”, the event has been going on for at least 200 years, and now attracts a huge international audience.
A round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled from the top of Cooper’s Hill, competitors race down the hill after the rolling cheese and the first person over the finish line at the bottom wins – you guessed it – the cheese.
Then there are the Wife Carrying World Championships, also an annual ‘must do’ for some folk. The 14th edition, held on July 4 this year in Sonkajärvi Finland, was won by a Finn for the first time in 11 years. He won his wife’s weight in beer.
Some of the more weird sports like dwarf throwing have become annual events in some countries yet banned in others. Festivals that should be banned in my opinion, include the annual Festival of the Guinea Pig held in Huacho, Peru. It starts off with a bit of fun, dressing pets up in fedoras and frilly skirts, followed by competitions for the best dressed, then the biggest, and then rather gruesomely, the tastiest guinea pig as the furry rodents are fried, grilled or baked alongside much merriment from their former owners.
Lobbing items is a popular festival theme and the tomato battle La Tomatina is perhaps one of Spain’s best-known festivals of this kind. Held annually in the tiny village of Bunol, this year it’s on the last Wednesday of August. Apparently it dates back to 1945, when some youngsters started throwing tomatoes in the city square for fun, hitting whoever was in the vicinity. A huge tomato fight ensued, and today it is an annual festival attracting some 20,000 participants from around the world who throw an estimated 150,000 tomatoes at each other.
Japan’s Matsunoyama Tourism Association suggest visitors to the area in January witness the Mukonage groom throwing festival in Niigata, where the village’s recently married young men get chucked off a five-metre cliff into a snow bank. (The song It’s Raining Men springs to mind here). For those hesitant to throw men, the bean-throwing ceremonies held at shrines and temples all over Japan on Setsubun Day in February may be a more refined alternative.
So what other options are out there this month? In Wales there’s the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwrtyd Wells on August 31, where competitors, some in fancy dress, attempt to be the first to snorkel through 60 feet of bog. In the same month the more cultured Scots offer the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this year running from August 7 to 31. It’s the biggest arts festival in the world.
Down Under’s offerings are as odd as their native animals. In Alice Springs on August 22 it’s the 48th annual Henleyon- Todd Regatta. Groups of eight people run up and down the dried up River Todd bed while inside a variety of bottomless vessels such as bathtubs, yachts and rowing boats. They race without the water because they think it is hilarious. Whatever floats your boat – it generates a huge amount of money for charity.
Compulsive liars should trot off to the village of Moncrabeau, France, on the first Sunday of August for the annual Liar’s Festival, where the biggest yarn spinner is crowned King of the Liars at the end of the event. The Turks have a penchant for wrestling; the Camel Wrestling Championship that take place in the Aegean region in January involves two camels butting each other until one gives in or is pinned down. But people do it too. This August, from 14 to 16, Turkish men or their young apprentices will be taking each other on at Elmali Oil Wrestling Festival in the tiny mountain village of Elmali until one gives up – or dies of exhaustion (well, in the old days this was certainly the case, but not any more). Oil wrestling is a really popular and ancient sport in Turkey, where the blokes wear tight buffalo hide shorts and cover themselves with olive oil.
Matches take place throughout the country for eight months of the year but the most famous and most important tournament is the annual Kirkpinar Festival in Edirne. Last month it was the 648th edition.
The Middle East’s answer to whiling away those summer days is slightly more tame than the rest of the world, although the sounds of Deep Purple and Jethro Tull rocking through Lebanon is not exactly subdued. Summer music and dance festivals (such as The Beiteddine Festival) now attract thousands of visitors and are a boon for Lebanon’s tourist industry. Jordan has the annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts at this time of year. Since 1980 it has blossomed into one of the premier international showcases for music, dance and poetry from the Arab world, and also includes performances by visiting international troupes. It used to be just in Amman, now festivals are held throughout Jordan. Saudi Arabia’s eight-day Souq Okaz festival in Taif in the Mecca Province on August 19 offers contemplations from Arab poets, writers and historians. The annual Salalah Tourism Festival in Oman is always a refreshing change from an unforgiving Middle Eastern summer, its mist shrouded, green carpeted hills a sight for sore sand scratched eyes.
And then there is Dubai’s offering – the annual Summer of Surprises event. Shopping? Eating out? Spending more money which simply isn’t there anymore? Malls are places I avoid in the summer. And tell me who is actually fond of the characterless mascot, a yellow plastic looking jack-in-the-box which makes my child scream rather than smile? Sorry Dubai, but it might be time to give Modhesh the push.