Glib and a contradiction in terms

My life might appear a predictable round of gig going, interspersed with trips to experience diverse other art forms. I suppose there is also my continuing need to work to fund these outings and my various, increasingly improbable range of, what I shall call, hobbies – and you might call grounds for future interventions. However, every so often I either surprise myself or am myself surprised by what my life delivers.

Only this past week, I was shown photographic evidence that a quote from this very blog will appear in a PhD thesis. I never expected this nonsense to appear in an academic work, well not outside of a psychiatric case study. I trust its inclusion will not adversely affect the granting of a doctorate or otherwise bring to a premature close a potentially glowing career in the tenured echelons of one of our most prestigious halls of learning.

The regular reader will have noticed that the topic of sport is rarely covered in these pages. I have, at times, in my life been able to maintain periods of interest in a few sports (usually serially, rather than in parallel): but, generally the tendency of everything to be reset annually (or every four years in some cases) has allowed my interest to wane after a couple of seasons. I seem to have a similar issue with most TV series and fear both may be a sign of the ever diminishing nature of my (a) attention span and (b) time on earth.

Despite this, yesterday I found myself on a bus heading into a previously unvisited eastern portion of the city (or I may have strayed into Eastleigh) to see the cricket (or at least a cricket). It is scarcely twenty-five years since I last went to a cricket match and people may ponder as to the cause of such an urgent return to the game. More astonishingly still, for the first time in my life I actually paid real money to attend! I can only blame peer pressure, curiosity and, perhaps, an eye to some fresh content. Whatever the cause, I found myself seated mid-wicket to see England and Pakistan battle it out in a One Day International at the aptly named Ageas Bowl (I never found the Ageas Bat nor Ageas Field).

The view from the cheap seats!

In an attempt to fit into a cricketing crowd – of some 25,000 people! – I decided to wear white trousers: and let me say, such a choice does add considerable excitement, jeopardy even, to any day (or it does if you wish them to remain white and not be sentenced to an immediate return to the laundry). I quickly learned that cricketers no longer wear white: England were in in shades of blue and Pakistan in a rather natty green, so my hopes of a last minute call-up were dashed (my complete lack of ability at any aspect of the game might also have counted against me, I suppose). Initially, my memory of the rules of cricket was decidedly rusty: though I found – as at music events – if you only applaud when a decent number of the rest of the audience are doing the same, you rarely come unstuck. However, over time, I discovered that I did retain a surprising amount of basic cricketing knowledge from the last millennium: the fielding restrictions rather grandly referred to as ‘power play’ had clearly been added more recently.

I am forced to admit that I rather enjoyed my time in the sun, watching other people work. There were a decent number of boundaries (one Jos Buttler seemed to connect his bat rather solidly with the ball and produced a rich harvest of sixes), a smattering of wickets and only a very brief stop for rain. The game was competitive and went to the wire – though I did have to leave before the end to make it to a later engagement. The seating was more comfy than it appeared, though I was a little disappointed by the selection of beer and food on offer: I was expecting something more upmarket somehow. Still, I did discover an unexpected ability to carry three pints in very flimsy plastic vessels through a crowd and down a flight of stairs without spillage: big hands have their uses!

I may return to a sporting arena, in a purely observational capacity, before another quarter of a century elapses: than again, I’ve made that sort of rash promise before…

However, the week’s most unexpected occurrence took place on Thursday evening. I’d been invited to NST City to a rather undefined event linked to the fact that they will shortly be staging The Audience by Peter Morgan. I had previously been lucky enough to go tothe first read-through: which, if I’m honest, suggested they didn’t have much more to do. The play was already very funny, well acted and left me weeping: not something I had ever expected to be caused by a fictional portrayal of Harold Wilson. I strongly suspect it is going to be very good on stage and will take the risk of recommending it before seeing it properly made flesh.

I think I was expecting to see the model box and perhaps a little talk about their plans for the staging and to be out in half-an-hour. I did indeed see the model box, but the evening was (mostly) about the process of directing the play, the extensive background research, decisions on design and staging and the like: this was all very interesting. Towards the end of the presentation, there was a need for two ‘volunteers’ to act out a scene and be directed, to further help the audience to understand the process. As someone well-known to the staff at NST (and in many other places), I had been primed to ‘volunteer’ if the rest of the audience were proving a little reticent (FGF rather than FHB). As a result, I found myself on the main stage of NST City playing the role of Margaret Thatcher to a small, but all too attentive, audience. My fellow ‘volunteer’ played the part of the Queen. I think this must rank as the strangest thing I have done in my 53+ years on this planet.

We were provided with the script and not expected to perform in costume, but after the first read-through were given some direction before a second run through. I would have to admit that I enjoyed myself immoderately, but then I believe it is always more fun to play the villain and I managed to channel considerable venom into my performance. As we returned to our seats, my co-star noted that our ‘ordeal’ had gone rather well: though observed that it helped that I was a professional. While, there are some am-dram genes in my ancestry (a polygenic trait, if ever there was one), the only acting I have ever done is in the creation and delivery of what I like to call my personality in a range of social settings: I could hardly claim that any of these many performances could be classed as professional. Still, my experience of public speaking probably did help (as did the print size of the script as I had not brought my reading glasses!).

In the bar after the performance, people were very kind about my stage debut – and did not (so far as I could tell) resort to any of the cunning, double-edged phrases used by actors to apparently compliment the terrible performance of a friend. I fear I have acquired a certain fame in Southampton for my portrayal of our first female PM: while I don’t think there is any video evidence out there, there are some photos….

This lady’s not for turning!

I have always assumed that the only role I could even slightly convincingly play on stage would be myself and it would be tricky to turn this into a career, despite the precedent set by Sean Connery. I am now wondering if I have greater range than previously imagined and am expecting my Equity card to arrive in the post any day now. I’m sure the offers from auteurs of film and stage can’t be far behind…

… and release

In my younger days, I showed very little promise when it came to physical prowess.  When sports teams were picked at school, I could reliably expect to be chosen second (or, on a good day, third) from last: yes, I didn’t even reign supreme when it came to sporting uselessness.  In consequence, my rather tardy choice to attempt gymnastics, when few would be foolish enough to hazard such a course of action, delivers a regular stream of surprises and minor epiphanies.

When hard at work hanging from the rings or the bar, I often find that I don’t recognise my own body – it seems weirdly swollen, deformed or corded by the effort expended.  On the plus side, I do give very good “vein” which is much appreciated by the National Blood Service, but seems to have few other practical applications.  Over time, the once impossible becomes merely very difficult and ultimately can even feel quite restful (compared to the new impossible now being attempted).  There seem to be a number of components to making progress as a geriatric gymnast – though these only become apparent in retrospect.  A chap (or at least this chap) needs the following:

  • To develop a certain amount of strength and stamina – often in the most unlikely of places – before an action can be attempted.  Once the attempt is possible, the necessary anatomy does then start to adapt more rapidly to the demands placed upon it.
  • To gain sufficient confidence that a manoeuvre will not result in sustaining a terrible injury – which often comes down to working out how to safely exit an unwanted position in a hurry.
  • To work out how to lock parts of my body together (and to work out what they are doing when out of eyeshot) as most gymnasts seem to go for clean body lines and a minimum of flail.
  • The final element is to work out how to release the parts of my body which shouldn’t be locked.  This is usually the last part of any given progression to be mastered – it can take a long time to work out how to unlock just the muscles I want (and indeed to work out which ones these are).

As each activity is mastered, another harder one becomes available to try – and I have the impression that there is likely to be no end to this process.  As I achieve each new summit, a whole range of much higher peaks suddenly becomes visible.  Whilst this could be off-putting, I find it rather encouraging and pleasingly the continuing ascent requires very little equipment (though does benefit from high ceilings and a minimum of breakables within a nine foot radius). I don’t need to keep find heavier weights, just moving the dead-weight provided by my body slightly differently offers all the challenge I could ever need.

As the most discerning of regular readers might (perhaps) have realised (but don’t feel bad if the fact had passed you by), I am mildly obsessed by my trek through the foothills of gymnastics.  I have started looking for opportunities to see more advanced students in action – though I’m looking more for something impressive (that I might one day be able to try) than anything which would score 6.0 points in a formal setting.  In pursuit of this interest, I stopped off on the Southbank on my way home from Cambridge to visit the interior of a giant, inverted purple cow.  I was slightly disappointed to find the interior of the cow was even less anatomically accurate than its exterior, but still like to think of myself as being seated in the rumen (which is more roomy(rumy?) than the reticulum, omasum or abomasum).  This visit was not just to critique the veterinary research carried out by the Udderbelly Festival, but to see a show called Bromance.  This involved three young chaps of the sort of varying heights which that most famous of house-breakers, Goldilocks, would have found familiar (I think she would have plumped for Beren as the baby-bear analogue: I feel the dead hand of JRR Tolkein at his naming).  The piece involved the confluence of physical theatre, dance and circus-style gymnastics and was very entertaining (and daunting, if inspiring, for me).  I strongly suspect the theatre and dance elements existed (at least in part) to allow the cast to recuperate for/from the gymnastic elements – especially, as on the day I saw them they were onto their second performance by 18:00).  On the plus side, none of the lads seemed vastly more hench than me (and I could check as by the end they were down to their boxers – always handy for the audience member looking for training tips) which offers some hope – though all did seem more generously buttocked than I (something for me to work on, perhaps).  I also noticed that two of them sported bandaged knees, and one had some sort of shoulder support – so their mastery (and performative frequency) had not come without cost.  In addition to their far greater mastery of the art, I particularly noticed their skill with dynamic activities – whereas my strengths (such as they are) lie with the hold (it is more than enough challenge to achieve a hold, little resource remains to move around).  My own increased dynamism will have to await an increase in confidence: at the moment I have little faith that my body in motion will perform as desired (and the spatial volume which may be affected by failures will also increase significantly).

Anyway, I had not really expected all this mid-life idiocy to have any positive benefits to the rest of my life – well, except, perhaps, from keeping me from the ever weakening grip of the NHS for a little longer.  It turns out that I was wrong, as I learned at my singing lesson last Thursday.  One of my many major challenges with my plan to become a singer is my very poor breathing skills: I’m not at any obvious risk of turning blue, but singing does require a chap to breathe beyond the level of mere subsistence.  I have always tended to breathe from my chest, and even towards the sunlit uplands thereof, which is far from ideal: I should be breathing from rather lower down.  Well, on Thursday, I suddenly found I was breathing from the correct portion of my body (a portion I could feel complaining at the work thanks to that morning’s training session) – finally I was able to release the relevant muscles to breathe properly.  I’m not sure my singing has ever been better – despite the challenges of the roulade (which is not just a tasty desert).  I owe it all to gymnastics!  Or so I think (though I’ll admit that there may be easier to routes to improved breath control).


As the regular reader will have guessed by now, this post is about belonging (bee-longing?  I don’t know why I bother: an Olympic standard of pun for the title and that’s all the response you can muster).  For the avoidance of doubt, unlike Channels 4 and Five, I did not think of the title first and then create a post to fit it – the post came first, the title was merely fortuitous (though fortune does favour the prepared mind).

In an attempt to forestall readers calling social services on my behalf, I would like to make clear that whilst I am often alone (even when technically I’m not) I am very rarely lonely.  I’d also like to avoid any visits by men (or women) in white coats arriving with the intention of taking me away – though given the under-funding of mental health services, this risk has declined substantially over the years (despite no positive change in the state of my mental health).

The above, which is not an uncommon style of opening to a post, has given me the idea to set up a tribute band called The Disclaimers.  This will involve a pair of Scottish lawyers (ideally twins) singing the songs of the Proclaimers, but with suitable legal caveats to prevent any contract (express or implied) being formed added to the traditional lyrics.   So, for example, there would be no warranty as to whom my client will wake up with nor whether he will cover the full 500 miles on foot.

Anyway, we should probably get down to focusing on my crippling lack of belonging.  Many people feel a strong sense of loyalty to their place of birth or where they spent their childhood, but sadly I feel little if any to attachment to the East Midlands (though, admittedly, I was forcibly removed before I was even six months old) or east or north Kent (despite a significantly longer sojourn).  I’m fairly obviously British – probably more so when abroad where I feel the need to keep some aspects of the stereotype alive (so I drink more tea and carry an umbrella) – but don’t feel the need to make a big song-and-dance about this fact (it was no more my choice than having blue eyes or going grey annoyingly early) and certainly have no desire to own (let alone fly) a Union flag.  Some (particularly those of my gender) tie their colours to a sporting team – but I’m not terribly interested in sport and whilst I am willing to support a team when required, I feel no need to be consistent in my choice over time (perhaps down to the rapid rotation of personnel which may frustrate my faltering attempts to form an allegiance).  I suppose politics is an alternative team sport which a few still use to define themselves, but all the available teams are so patently idiotic that this has been a non-starter for me.

Whilst work can be entertaining, I’d prefer not to think I belong there – though I do have some knowledge and experience in common with others in the energy industry.  So, we come to my leisure hours and what we might describe as my “hobbies”.  I have come to realise that almost all of these can be pursued perfectly successfully alone – and, as a result, this has very much been the nature of my of pursuit.  Even when I am out-and-about enjoying culture, this doesn’t normally involve talking to other people – as, in general, audiences are expected to keep quiet.  Last Sunday, I went to an art gallery, a theatre and to a sci-fi film festival – and so covered several of my areas of interest – but at none did I find myself thinking “these are my people”.  Usually, I find myself looking around thinking that I really don’t fit the demographic here – but brazen it out anyway.  Given that I am very much part of the ethnic majority, and being male, middle-aged and middle-class the world is supposed to be arrayed for my benefit, it is perhaps odd that I so rarely feel that I belong – more that I’ve managed to sneak in when someone’s attention was distracted, but could at any moment be found out (at which point I shall deny everything and then run for it).

For as long as I can remember, I seem to have had the ability to be part of a crowd, but also stand-alone wryly observing events for some imagined journal (imagined no longer!  My wry observations now have a home and this is it – though beware, as wry always carries a risk of egotism) like some alien preparing a report back to his distant masters (perhaps I should try twisting my ears? No, nothing – well other than slightly sore ears).  Mayhap everyone feels like this, or it’s just another aspect of the mild eccentricity that I am too lazy to rein in.  Not so long ago, I saw the film X+Y (about an autistic maths prodigy) – which, unusually for a film about maths, I enjoyed (though I have no idea as to its factual accuracy) – and some of the protagonist’s interactions with the world bore the ring of familiarity.  Being blessed (and cursed) with a good memory, I can remember when, where and from whom I learned a large number of the social tricks I use to pass for human in everyday life.  However, I have absolutely no reason to believe I am even mildly autistic (and I am certainly no prodigy!), bar a few humorous gibes directed my way over the years.

Readers should not feel sorry for the author, he has a very happy existence without any strong feeling of belonging to any group (except C1).  Let’s face it, many of the world’s problems do seem to be come down to folk over-doing their feelings of belonging and attempting to inflict them on others.  I keep myself amused with a wide (and ever widening) range of divertissements – and seem to laugh far more often than news reports would suggest is typical (or, for the less charitable, normal).  Within the last twenty-four hours I have:

  • discovered two lovely new words deckle – as in deckle edged (and there’s the name for my first-born sorted) – and limerence (disappointingly unrelated to the Limerick);
  • re-discovered and become mildly obsessed by John Dowland’s work for lute and soprano.  I’m trying to decide whether the theobro is low enough pitched to accompany my voice with a transposed version of his oeuvre; and
  • come into vague acquaintance with Richard Yates (nothing to do with the Wine Lodges, it would seem) and so have ordered Eleven Kinds of Loneliness from Hive (even a callback, this boy should be on the stage).

How could I not be happy with such riches arriving on a near daily basis?  Who needs to belong? Though if any would like to join my small band of minions, recruitment continues…

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!)

A bridge too far?

I learned to play Bridge while at school – which may tell you something about my age and social background (or may not).  I did not live anywhere terribly posh during my school days and my schooling was provided by the State.  Perhaps curiously, I was taught by my chemistry teacher – which I suspect he did in his own time (Bridge certainly wasn’t on the curriculum) – or this may be entirely normal (a web search suggest this link between chemistry and contract bridge may not be entirely uncommon).  I have no idea whether today’s young people are exposed to the delights of Acol and Blackwood whilst in their teens – I fear they may have superficially more exciting things to do than we had in the early 80s.

Bridge is a very cheap hobby (unless you bet on the outcome): all you need is a deck of cards, three friends (or you could use complete strangers, but this may be harder to arrange without an inappropriate degree of coercion) and a pen and paper to keep score.  I played at school, at my grandfather’s and most recently on a holiday in Iceland.  I do find it is becoming harder to find people who are both able and willing to play Bridge, which is a pity – or perhaps I just move in the wrong social circles.

But why is the old fool banging on about Bridge?  Well, you should blame HMRC for I learned in the news today that the Courts have agreed with HMRC that Bridge is a game rather than a sport.  I think I’d always known this: it is clearly a card game (like cribbage, whist or Newmarket), I am not aware of any card sports (though this may be a result of my sheltered upbringing).  Confusingly, when I was forced to play sports at schools, the lessons were described in the timetable as “Games”.

One might wonder why the judiciary and excise should be bothered by this difference – well apparently sports are not subject to VAT while games are.  Yes, it is the whole Jaffa Cake debacle again whereby cakes and biscuits have different VAT treatment and the courts had to decide into which camp the orangey treat should be placed.  I suppose I shouldn’t blame HMRC, they merely enforce the laws of taxation – it is government that creates these laws.  I find it hard to explain why successive UK governments have decided that sport and biscuits are good, but games and cakes are bad.

I suppose sport has supposed health benefits – though does also seem to generate an awful lot of injuries (everyone I know who played football in their twenties had totally wrecked their knees by their early thirties) which is not something which I would expect from playing Bridge.  I suppose sport might also have benefitted from the Victorian vogue for muscular Christianity.  However, I fear it does give the impression that the State is rather keener on brawn than brain and I’m not sure this is going to help us in the “Global Race” (which is apparently so important to the current government), unless this race is a rather more literal one than I had previously understood.  It also seems to reinforce the school stereotype that “jocks” are more lauded than “geeks”.

The preference for biscuits over cake is unfathomable – does the state have some issue with raising agents?  Was this an attempt to support British biscuits against an onslaught of imported cakes (a flood of gateaux and torte)?  I suppose baking powder et al work their magic through the production of carbon dioxide, so perhaps this is an early attempt at green taxation to tackle global warming?  Still, I can’t imagine that the baking of cakes is a major contributor to atmospheric CO2: even given my own consumption.

What other weird incentives is our VAT system giving to the good folk of the UK?  I seem to recall there is some strange difference in treatment between hot and cold food – with cold food favoured (very much not the position taken by generations of mothers – but I suppose for much of history they were not given the vote and even now are rare in government).

Many in this country (and probably others) whinge about the European Union and its supposed legislation on the curvature of bananas and the definition of carrots as fruit (so that the Portuguese can make jam out of them).  I really don’t think we need to look to Europe for such irrationality, perhaps we should focus our efforts on our own taxation system.  That way we could reduce the scope of confusion and expensive court cases and rationalise the incentives we provide to our citizens.   Let’s have a level playing field: whether it be of grass or green baize.  Let’s have fair competition between the cake and the biscuit!

How do you feel?

I had grown used to the conclusion of any sporting endeavour being followed by a microphone being stuffed under the nose of the winner.  The poor chap, or chapess, is then asked how they feel – usually before they have had a chance to draw breath, and often before they have actually stopped moving.  The answers are seldom revelatory: after winning, all seem to evince some degree of pleasure in the result and could probably truthfully admit to being rather knackered (though the latter is not often mentioned).  I have yet to hear anyone admit to a deep feeling of existential angst or question the relevance of their recent activity (and the years of training which led up to it).  In fact, it seems to me that we could take the answer to the question as read – and not bother asking it in the first place.

Those who do not win are allowed slightly longer to frame an answer to the same question (basically, they can think while the winner is answering), but sadly this time is rarely put to good use, with the same platitudes being trotted out time after time.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise – we do not, after all, watch (and indirectly pay) the sporting for their searing philosophical or emotional insights or, in some cases, even their ability to string together a coherent sentence.  Equally, we do not expect our great philosophers, playwrights and poets to complete the 100m dash in under 10 seconds – though I fear it may only be a matter of time before such an event is televised for our viewing pleasure.

I’m sure when I were a lad, the athletically-inclined were allowed to be good at their sport and not expected to speak in public (unless they wanted to) – so I think this must be a new ‘idea’.  However, so ‘successful’ has it been that it has not remained limited to the sporting arena – or the much older sphere of the grieving relative.

I’ve just been watching coverage of the Proms on BBC4, and have discovered that soloists and conductors are subjected to the same treatment as our athletes.  As they walk off stage, they are ‘nabbed’ to find out how they feel – and, their answers are only slightly more illuminating than those of the sporting.  Whilst the musical have probably used less energy than an athlete (though in most cases will have been performing for longer), they tend not to be in such good shape, and so they also tend to be somewhat breathless and have not generally spent their recent performance preparing answers to inane questions.

Could I suggest to interviewers that if the answer to the question is blindingly obvious (or the question is clearly inane), then don’t bother asking it!