The summer of sport

I believe this summer is a bumper one for the sports enthusiast – in that, added to the usual roster of annual, summer sporting events we have both the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.  My interest in all sports is limited at best – a few I can watch for 10-15 minutes and be mildly diverted, but then my attention drifts and I feel the need to wander off and do something more interesting.  This is much like my view of spending time on a beach, unless combing or twitching.  I fear I have a rather specialised form of ADHD which only affects me when involved in activities that can absorb many others for long periods.

I am not wholly uninterested in sport – there is definitely some interesting ethnography, anthropology and sociology to be done in the sphere.  I’ve also enjoyed playing tennis and 5-a-side football (both badly) over the years and have had great fun at both Worcester cricket ground and Portman Road where the sport was accompanied by some corporate hostility (I don’t see much hospitality, so I make an effort to enjoy it when I do).  Looking back on it, all of these examples of enjoyment might be traceable back to the pleasant company as much as to the sport or any associated alcohol.  Perhaps I should try watching sport in a more communal setting?

Any way, I seem to have wandered from my point – yes, there was one.  The reader might think that with our television schedules chockablock with events of little interest to yours truly, I would be bemoaning the tyranny of the majority (or at least, the more substantial majority) – but no, I say bring it on!  It is all too easy to vegetate and allow the haunted goldfish bowl to provide my entertainment – but this summer, I have a positive incentive to go out and do something less boring instead (to paraphrase the title of a somewhat suicidal kid’s TV show of my youth).

This all sounds a great – if somewhat middle class – plan for self improvement, or at least some potential for future blog fodder.  However, it doesn’t seem to be working out quite as intended.  I do rather seem to be filling the void in the TV schedules with the siren call of Netflix and its novel content – all available at my beck and call.

Readers will already know of my White Collar habit, though I believe this is under control. I’ve also watched all the available episodes of Grimm – which is quite entertaining.  Oddly, the hero is rather less appealing (for some reason) than the supporting cast who are much more fun.  It has also driven home the importance of Health and Safety when dealing with the occult.  Twice now our hero has knowingly tackled villains who can hurl poison into the eyes, but despite access to an impressive array of medieval weaponry and potions he has yet to invest in a simple pair of safety glasses.   I’ve lost count of the number of characters in action-based series and films who could have had a much easier ride if they had taken even basic precautions – or frankly, mastered their vanity long enough to wear a pair of specs rather than contacts.  My putative superhero (who as we know is already short, gay and ginger to shake up the genre norms) will also be myopic and will sport a stylish pair of glasses.  I will admit this will place him at a brief disadvantage when entering warm buildings during the winter months, but this is a small price to pay for the eye protection (and will often save him from buying the first round in the pub!).  When time permits, he will also work on at least a basic risk assessment before going into bat against his fiendish foes.

After Grimm, I have progressed onto Hemlock Grove – which is very strange but I rather liked (and the Telegraph didn’t – which is often a good sign).  It has a very strange dynamic and not an entirely satisfactory end, but does have what I imagine are rather more realistic 17 year olds than most US drama.  As it was made by and for Netflix, the teenagers are allowed to swear, smoke, drink and do all the other things which I’m pretty sure they do in the real world, but you never see on television.  This does rather add to the realism, which probably helps to ground the supernatural elements.  Also, I think Famke Janssen may be the natural successor to Carolyn Jones: Ms Jones, for those who have forgotten, played Morticia Addams in the black and white TV series of the Addams Family – and for me is still the yardstick against which all other femmes fatales are measured (well, her and Lauren Bacall).  Actually, seeing photos of Morticia as part of the research for this post, I’ve realised that Victoria Coren-Mitchell has something of the same look facially – which might explain quite a lot (and save me several months of therapy).  I wonder if VCM could be tempted into a similar black frock?

Any way, before this post becomes any more revealing, perhaps I should move on (to spare my blushes, if no-one else’s).  I will also blame my book habit for some of the “lost” time – and I can certainly recommend The Humans by Matt Haig (so good that I rationed the chapters to prolong my pleasure) and the Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (very odd and not at all what I was expecting – which is a very good thing).  Both of these were acquired from real bookshops on the off-chance – I think both had staff recommendation attached, which are so much more effective than the automated nonsense perpetrated by the on-line booksellers of the world.

So, I’m rather enjoying this summer of sport so far – though probably not in the way I am supposed to!  Vague guilt does suggest I really ought to do something of a little more moment or import – not just abuse Netflix and my library (and the UK’s physical bookshops).  Still, while it remains vague I shall probably continue to ignore it – and I do have the explosion of “going out” that is Edinburgh looming large on the horizon which will provide a truly prodigious amount of alternative culture.  So, I shall assuage these tendrils of guilt with the argument that my current activities are providing some vital pre-emptive balance to my life.  (As you can see, I was a sore loss to the Jesuits!)


Delayed gratification

An art which we are slowly losing (perhaps) in our impatient, always-on, easy credit society.  So many now expect their wants and desires to be satisfied NOW, not even in 5 minutes time.  I am no more immune to this process than the next man (or, probably, woman) – though whenever I am waiting impatiently by a printer I do try and remember the days when dot-matrix was the height of technology and the printing of a 10 page document was a major undertaking (rather than a 60 second wait).  Nevertheless, delaying one’s gratification can add significant savour to its eventual delivery.

A couple of weeks back, I was in West Wales aiming once again to ascend the greatest, if not actually the highest, of Welsh peaks: Cader Idris.  I last accomplished this feat (unaccompanied and without the use of oxygen – other than that supplied by nature) in 1983: I know this as I used some of the photos I took at the time in my AO-level Geography Project.  I’d hoped to repeat the ascent (by the pony path) when I visited the area in 2010 and 2011 but the weather had not played ball, with the peak shrouded by cloud, even on otherwise sunny days.  This year, I was determined – and the weather forecast positive – and so began the ascent despite the clouds once again hiding my objective from view.  Before attempting such a daring feat, I had (of course) fortified myself with cake from T H Roberts – the finest cake supplier in Dolgellau (and, for my money, the realm) – something I had missed these past three years (and all the sweeter for it).

As the ascent continued, blue sky began to appear on the horizon – but Cader itself remained stubbornly occulted.  As I reached the Saddle, I too was engulfed in the clouds – but there were occasional breaks through which the sun-lit view was briefly revealed.  On reaching the summit, these shafts of clear view grew more common and broader and the stunning scenery of Wales was revealed in ever larger chunks and longer glimpses.  This produced a truly magical effect, and made me (at least) appreciate the views all the more.  As the descent began, the clouds lifted and all was revealed.  Often the descent can be an anti-climax as you’ve already seen everything and reached the top – but on this hike, the views going down were all new which added to the whole experience.   I can truly say that the mountain did not disappoint, and it was well worth the 31 year wait!

I must admit that I was not alone on the mountain that day, though it was hardly crowded – well, unless you count the skylarks and meadow pipits who were out in force (serenading me, I like to think).  Some hardy souls were already coming down as I began my ascent – these foolish folk who had seen nothing but cloud should have enjoyed a little leisurely cake before their day began.  In this case, gratifying one desire to delay another paid dividends.  Never underestimate the power of good cake to make your day a better one!

I like to think that my gymnastic training was helpful on the hike – all that balancing on one leg was really handy – but it was by no means essential as I dragged both of my parents (who, in the traditional manner, when lacking access to a TARDIS, are a tad older than me and who had not indulged in similar training) up there with me.  Lest you feel I am overly cruel, I didn’t force them with the aid of a rawhide whip – though they hadn’t intended to make the whole ascent – it just happened and we kept thinking the summit was closer than was actually the case as (a) it was hidden and (b) it was more than 30 years since any of us had last made this climb.

To silence the doubters among the readership, here is a picture of me lolling insouciantly against the trig point at the summit (with one parent – the other was holding the camera).

Top of the world, ma!

Top of the world, ma!

I should also point out that like the heroes of those Republic Serials of the 1940s (think King of the Rocket Men), my hat did not leave my head at any point on the climb – however, energetic I was (though no frenzied fist-fights broke out in my case).  It is never a mistake to be stylish!

Baffled by the news

I try and avoid the news, on which topic more will follow in a coming post, however I do occasionally catch brief snatches in between the songs on 6Music or before something interesting and informative (or just amusing) on Radio 4.  Two recent stories have left me somewhat baffled.

A woman who was found grossly incompetent at her recent job, rather than more competent but criminal, by a jury of her peers has described this as a “vindication”.  Not sure the very public announcement of my uselessness is something I’d describe thus – and not sure those who lost their jobs (or paid her salary) would view matters in quite the same way.  The ethics training inflicted on me by “the man” has been pretty clear that neither ignorance nor stupidity is any defence in law.  I may be wrong but I’m fairly sure that her employees have been caught making inappropriate payments to public officials – and this is very much within the scope of my training.  Is “the man” fibbing to me? Or is it one rule for the plebs and another for the patricians?  I am always amazed at the ability of those benefitting most from capitalism to draw a high salary, but then escape any responsibility for those actions that the man, woman or dog in the street might expect to be a basic consequence of their highly paid position.  Obviously, I do realise this is sour grapes on the part of the dog who is merely upset that no-one is willing to pay it a vast salary for something it is completely unable to do.

In another story, the government has decided to ban khat (and not as I first heard, cats – though this would probably have more logic given their very destructive influence on our native fauna).  I presume this is on the basis of the huge success we have had banning other drugs: the trail of dead young people and the volume of drug-related criminal behaviour and the cost of detaining at Her Majesty’s Pleasure those miscreants actually caught.  Then again, given the recent history of our entirely legal food companies and their flexibility with the ingredients, perhaps criminal gangs are the safest suppliers of drugs to the nation’s young.  I presume this ban will vastly increase the profitability of the khat trade and encourage the entrepreneurial with flexible morals to enter the field in droves.  I do sometimes wonder if the Home Office is taking backhanders from various “industries” to keep them very profitably illegal.  Would that I could engineer such a ban on something I am capable of cheaply producing – drivel perhaps?

Talking of the costs of prison, I have heard it said – though this may be a zombie statistic – that it is cheaper to keep a child at Eton than in gaol.  Given that we are short prison spaces and rather long public schools (in my view), an obvious solution presents itself for future young offenders: pack them off to boarding school.  If nothing else, we should have better educated felons and perhaps a broader mix of backgrounds in the cabinet a few years hence.  Just a thought…


A life, summarised

Earlier today I wandered into town to seek a new lightbulb (or compact fluorescent equivalent – for which the word “bulb” seems a rather poor descriptor given its form).  A little time later I returned from town, sans “bulb” but with four new books and a bottle of wine (and one of marsala).

If there had been some cake consumed in the interim, this journey would form a near perfect précis of my life (or, at least, my nature).

By the way, the lack of the object of my excursion was not down to any lack of application on my part – but to the strange uniqueness of the required fitting for my lamp.  I rather fear that my lamp may be the betamax or laser-disc of its species – and its obsolescence all too built-in.  Oh dear, back to a summary of my own life…