Throwing in the towel

Once again we must start by voyaging back through time to the author’s boyhood – still, the temporal transition does provide gainful employ for this country’s hard-pressed harpists.  Back in that bygone era, my grandparents kept a dog: a golden labrador called William.  He loved most of the things which might be considered typical of his kind: eating, going for a W-A-L-K and sleeping.  I find myself in full agreement when it comes to all of these passions – though I have rather different tastes in food: or at least a broader range of opportunities, as I recall William was quite willing to take anything edible he was offered (even when the offering was – at best – implicit).  He would also rarely turn down the opportunity to enter a body of water – however filthy it might be – an urge which I have little trouble in resisting (assuming it afflicts me at all).

The subject of this post will be another canine habit – and one perhaps especially strong in a gun-dog like William – the desire to fetch.  Back in those primitive times, the items to be violently discarded and then restored by a very willing companion were limited to sticks (usually available “as found”) and balls (normally carried with a game of ‘fetch’ very much in mind).  Taking a mild digression, I find the relationship between many (perhaps even most) dogs and the tennis ball a fascinating one.  Our best friends™ clearly love tennis balls and will go to significant trouble to obtain or regain one – however, this love seems to be expressed at its purest in the toothy destruction of its object.  I cannot help but wonder how our millennia of breeding experiments on the wolf have led to this savage bond twixt their descendants and the humble tennis ball.  Is it perhaps our development of the modern tennis ball which has cemented our role as ‘master’ in the collective canine consciousness?

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so this fool returneth to the plot (such as it is).  In those halcyon days, I would cast the stick or ball out into the world using just the power of my strong (OK, fairly weedy) right arm.  This seemed to generate more than enough separation between myself and the projectile to satisfy William and his desire for the chase.  Scroll forward through four decades (or just hit SHIFT-END) and I find very few of today’s dog-owners (or companions) seem willing to launch a projectile, for their dog to fetch, unaided.  All now seem to favour a plastic stick some 18 inches in length, which, like a modern-day atlatl, boosts the throwing force which can be brought to bear.  These modern atlatls seem to be used only for throwing balls, I’ve not seem one used on a stick – I suppose the lack of standardisation in the world of the brown and sticky has precluded mass production of a similar throwing aid.

Have we, as a species, become so physically degraded that we can no longer hurl a tennis ball far enough to satisfy our pooches’ fetching needs?  Is the happiness of our pets now dependant on access to augmenting throwing technology?  That the victors of Agincourt have sunk so low.  Why is this not a source of national shame?  The more reactionary elements of the political class are always bemoaning the loss of ‘British values’ – whatever they may be – so could it be time to restore the longbow to the National Curriculum?  A fitter nation with improved upper body strength has to be a positive outcome – and we’ll be able to satisfy our four-legged friends without the need to import plastic tat from China (improving our balance of trade).  As a bonus, the link to Agincourt would probably annoy the French: surely this must make for an almost perfect piece of public policy in this land of physically-enfeebled, dog-loving Euro-sceptics?

Football boots

It is a long time since I last wore studded football boots – we’re probably talking 1982, as by taking the Oxford Entrance Exam I managed to avoid games during my 6th form years (which was most of my motivation, if I’m honest).  For the small portion of the eighties where I was still required to chase a ball around a field, I didn’t even play football but rather hockey (or field hockey as those from colder climes might call it) which I much preferred.  This had the major advantage – from my perspective – that I was issued with a weapon (I believe it was technically called a stick) and no-one (sane) expected you to control the ball using your head.   The stick somewhat levelled the (literal) playing field between myself and my more skilled classmates (which would be most of them).  The school-issued plastic sticks were also rather more durable in a tackle than the posher, wooden sticks used by those with some technical mastery – which was occasionally beneficial.

What I most remember about those winter Wednesday afternoons playing hockey in north Kent was the school’s perennial shortage of bibs.  This meant that to distinguish one team from another, when both would otherwise be wearing identical uniforms, one team had to play in “skins” – i.e. naked from the waist up.  I don’t recall this practise ceasing in rain or however low the temperature fell.  I suspect the children of today are not battle-hardened in the same way – but I guess I should thank my games masters, as I can now get through many a winter without recourse to the central heating.

Why, I hear you cry, is the old fool banging on about sports footwear of the 1970s?  Let me assure you that there is a reason – I’m not claiming it’s a good reason, merely that it exists.

Whilst I have almost entirely managed to avoid watching the World Cup, I have caught a few glimpses of play as a videoed BBC4 documentary came to an end (or some such).  On each occasion I was forcibly struck by the footwear on display.  This seems largely to borrow from the colour palette of the highlighter pen.  As I recall, in my youth boots were generally black – well, briefly black and then caked in thick Kentish mud for the remainder of their life.  Now fluorescent yellow or orange seems to be the first choice – perhaps in case of failure of the stadium floodlighting?  However, a small minority of players have gone further with different coloured boots for each foot – generally fluorescent pink and blue.  I know the modern footballer is often not considered the sharpest tool in the box, but do they really need this much help to match the correct boot to each foot?  In my day, a simple L and R (or local language equivalent) was enough for even the most intellectually bereft of students – have literacy standards really fallen so low?

Laser Let Down

As a child growing up in the 1970s, lasers always seemed very exciting – but like so many views of the future from that period, the reality has been somewhat of a disappointment.

I will admit that lasers have achieved an unexpected ubiquity in our lives – though mostly reading spinning silvery discs (providing they are free of fingerprints) or used for pointing at rather dull business presentations (though, I still favour the stick or finger myself).  The US Navy have recently demonstrated a laser “gun” firing on, and disabling, a medium sized dinghy – which is more in line with the promises of science fiction. However, the video for this is not wildly impressive: a small fire starts on one of the outboard motors and slowly grows.  I think I could have disabled the boat faster using darts (or a sharp stick) despite my lack of skill with “the arrows” (never could manage to finish on a double, but this is probably less important in naval warfare).  It certainly doesn’t look like the action surrounding the classic rejoinder, “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die,” is going to become a reality anytime soon.

I have seen a laser mouse on offer – but, it was only a computer peripheral.  On mature reflection, perhaps a laser-equipped version of Trixie (or Dixie) would be a bit of a problem around the house (and not just for Mr Jinks), at least until someone develops a fridge with shields so that I can keep my cheese safe.

I also fear the days of computer mice (laser or otherwise) may be numbered, now that the touchscreen has become so popular.  Am I alone in rather regretting this development?  In days of yore, one spent much time and effort avoiding fingerprints on the screen and cleaning them off should they appear.  Now many devices can only be controlled by touching the screen – and none come with those white cotton gloves beloved of archivists which I would view as an essential accessory.  I know the touchscreen has been in vogue in the science fiction of recent years, but I think that along with FTL travel and artificial gravity (or acceleration as I like to call it) we must assume that genetic engineering will produce people with grease-free fingers in the future (which may explain the lack of a Star Trek: CSI).  Lump me in with the followers of Ned Ludd if you will, but I like a proper button (or preferably, more than one) and a screen viewable without the distorting patina left by sticky or greasy digits (even if they are my digits).

But I seem to have strayed from the path of my argument, like a modern motorist with a broken satnav.  Earlier today I read about the final indignity for the laser: apparently, in future the spark plugs in our cars may well be replaced by lasers.  It is claimed they will be more efficient than the current system – but, if science fiction was going to enter the world of personal transport, I have to admit I was hoping for something a bit more exciting than a spark plug replacement.  Jet packs, rocket bikes, hover cars, cars that could travel through interstellar space and/or time – even the SPV, though I never understood why you drove it facing backwards – were what we promised, and all we get is a slightly better spark plug.

In so many areas, actual technology today far outstrips anything the science fiction of my youth could imagine (though, I think we should all be grateful that the forecast obsession with silver clothing (worn with a string vest?!) did not come to pass) but when it comes to transportation we are still pretty much using late nineteenth century technology. Perhaps the time has come to re-invent the wheel?