Monday, 15 August 2011

This Sporting Life

I have been taken to task by one of my nearest and dearest for having expressed mild irritation at the brouhaha over the English cricket team’s recent success. It had seemed to me that for the result of a game of cricket to feature for several days as a major item in every TV news broadcast was excessive; the spectacle of smirking newsreaders telling us over and over again how epoch-making it all was – Georgeous George Alegiah was particularly gruesome – must have palled even for some sport-lovers.

I was accused of meanly resenting the “general happiness enabling people to forget their miserable dull lives”. This is not true: I like people to be happy, and if all it takes is a sporting victory then good luck to them. What I do resent is the way in which the bullying majority assume that those who do not share their enthusiasms must be perverse, unpatriotic or effete, or all three; I do not demand that they  share, say, my passion for early Assyrian stringed instruments, so why do they think I ought to enjoy listening to them wittering on about their silly games?

I suppose it is partly my fault for having nowadays stopped concealing my total lack of interest in all forms of sport. For many years, while I was making a living in a field related to sport, I had to dissemble and at times actually pretend that watching some contest or other, when I didn’t understand the rules and didn’t care much who won or lost, was my idea of fun.

But, I hear you cry, why did you ever get involved in something so unrelated to your inclinations? The answer is simple: in many jobs, the end product doesn’t really matter too much. Suppose you are the CEO of a multinational employing 4,000 people making mild steel flanges; must you be devoted to mild steel flanges? Would you necessarily want to spend your leisure time watching TV programmes about them or discussing them with your friends? Of course not, but running the company could be fulfilling work at which you were fairly competent and which you thoroughly enjoyed doing.

So it was with me, but of course all my colleagues naturally assumed that I was as fascinated by sport as they were, and it would have been churlish (and a poor career move) to have let them know how much it bored me. Sometimes the pretence was a strain.

The first time I went to Beijing (or Peking as we called it then) my interpreter told me when I got off the train from Lo Wu that my hosts had decided to honour me the next day by granting me a rare privilege. I was already excited just to be in China and I tossed about all night wondering what this surprise treat would be: a confidential talk with some of the party leaders, perhaps? A private visit to part of the Forbidden City not normally shown to foreigners? Dinner with some of their top circus stars at the biggest of the famous Roast Duck Restaurants, the one that serves 5,000 meals every day?

No. It was a seat (admittedly a good one, with arms) at a football match. The Red Army versus Albania. Three hours in a scruffy sweltering stadium with twenty thousand spectators screaming, spitting and generally carrying on, while I tried hard to pretend I was having the time of my life.

In later years I devised various stratagems for keeping up the pretence of my keen interest in all things sportive; I picked up from experts a few phrases relevant to each sport which I could trot out when at some dreary event I was woken from a light doze by someone wanting to know what I thought about it. One of those for football, I remember, was: “…well, of course, they’re keeping it very loose in midfield, aren’t they?…” Or, for cricket, something along the lines of: "...just like Gooch, really; he was always flashing at rising balls on the legside... "

I had no idea what these things meant, but neither did anyone else and I said them confidently, so they usually went down quite well.

1 comment:

Grumio said...

Ah the sporting field, Where Equal Mind and Contest Equal Go.