Tuesday, 23 February 2010

On Sport

I haven't yet established whether I'm allowed to tell you about my sister falling over while running on Saturday, so instead we are going to consider that other fine bastion of cold, dangerous activity, the Winter Olympics. I LOVE the Winter Olympics. I like the Summer Olympics too, of course, in the way that one likes things like the Large Hadron Collider, lawn bowling and Live Aid - you have a number of people doing pointless things they quite enjoy, in a way that has no detrimental effect on me, and which is probably Quite Good for building up various intangibles like world harmony, community spirit and sporting effort.

But I LOVE the Winter Olympics.

My reasons are several-fold, viz:

1. It's insane. Genuinely, deliciously, wonderfully insane: grown adults going out in the cold to fling themselves down a hill on a tea tray; fancy dress on ice; sports called 'Nordic Combined' and 'Skeleton Bob'; curling. Every day reveals something new and unexpected, and all of it is based on 'what 12-year-olds do when it snows'. For all any of us know, that may even be the criterion for selecting a sport as an Olympic event. Any year now, they'll add Snowman Building and the line up will be complete, resplendent, and wonderful, and I will love it even more, and I will enter, and I will win.
The thing about sport, of course, is that it's pretty much all insane, but in most worldwide sporting events we are expected to take it seriously. We may not know why we have to care which set of 15 men can get the ball into the net more often than all the other sets of 15 men; we may not know why it matters which chap dives into the water slightly more elegantly than all the other chaps; and we may, at 3am, fail to understand why we stayed up to watch people propel themselves from A to B in a boat - but this we know: it matters, and we must keep repeating that. In the Winter Olympics, however, there is no such pressure: it's ok to think the bobsleigh is a load of blokes in a box having a laugh, and it's fine to laugh at the curlers and their furious brushing - because, at heart, the bobsleigh team are a load of blokes in a box, and the curlers are essentially taking part in competitive housework - and I like that.

2. Anyone can do it. Seriously. I challenge you to find a single event in the Winter Olympics that you couldn't at least have a stab at on a snowy day, provided you had a hill, skis, a tea tray and an ample supply of floor brushes. And perhaps a box with wheels, or a pram. You have those, you can host your own Winter Olympics. You can't say that about the regular Olympics. For that, you need your high jump, your gymnastic equipment, a big pool... Of course, you have your running, but we all know how I feel about that. You could host a football match, but who can't? Regular Olympic sports fall into 2 categories: the mundane-no-real-equipment-needed-things-you-might-do-in-the-summer-if-you-had-a-group-of-people-at-a-loose-end (running, football, cycling, volleyball) and the exotic-need-lots-of-fancy-stuff-and-extensive-training-to-be-able-to-stay-alive (fencing, synchronized swimming, weightlifting).
But the Winter Olympics just depends on the weather being right. I'm not saying you could be good at the events (although please refer to Cool Runnings for evidence that you can), but you could have a reasonable stab at them and not die. Eddie the Eagle would have been laughed out of the Summer Olympics: in the snow, he's a hero.

3. Anyone can win. Again, I refer you to the Jamacain bobsleigh team as featured in Cool Runnings. I know that technically, anyone could get a bit jammy at any sport and win because everyone else was having an off day, but that's to do with freakish luck rather than an inherent component of the event. Equally, I know that Winter Olympians train very hard, and there is a lot of skill involved and so on, and if I went out there, I wouldn't win, except maybe at the snowman building. But I might. A false move on the running track and you can probably catch up. A misplaced oar need not be disaster. But ski off the mountain, and you ain't getting out of that one quick. Fall off the tea tray, and it's at the bottom of the hill before you're out of the crowd. And thus, the underdog comes through.

So this is why I like the Winter Olympics, and I trust that when I get my petition together to add Snowman Building, you'll all be signing it and cheering me on.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The WhyNotSmile Guide To St Valentine

14th February is a day which suits WhyNotSmile well, being, as it is, a day devoted entirely to despair and crushing disappointment, and an opportunity to shore up the already hard-pressed greeting card industry. You will have heard the story about the primary school in England which banned children from sending Valentine cards in case some of them didn't get any and were scarred for life. Now WhyNotSmile was that child, and can testify to the common sense of this approach, but on the other hand, the annual devestation afforded by this ritual was very helpful in shaping my well-rounded cynicism and lifelong depression, and so was not entirely a waste.

But how much do we really know about St Valentine? As it turns out, not much, except that there may have been lots of him as it was, inexplicably, a very popular name in Those Days. Thankfully, this has not stopped the growth of a rich tradition of making things up, and it is to this that we now turn.

One would think that being patron saint of love would keep one fairly busy, but now that Clinton Cards have been enlisted, old Val has a bit of time on his hands, which he uses to turn to his other charges, viz:

1) Engaged couples, happy marriages, lovers. blah blah blah.

2) Bee keepers. Which is nice. Because it is good that bee keepers have their own patron saint. It may also go some way to explaining why so many Valentine's Day cakes are inscribed with 'Bee Mine', even when they do not have pictures of bees.

3) Epilepsy. Because love and chronic neurological disorders go together like a horse and carraige, if the carriage has a chronic neurological disorder.

4) Fainting. See point 3.

5) Plague. Because St Valentine has something for everyone, even those of us who are more likely to catch the plague than receive a pretty bunch of roses and a nice box of chocolates from the man of our dreams. And those of us who would, in fact, rather catch the plague than see more of our time and money go towards the annual beefing up of salaries for the fat cats who sell flowers and chocolates and other nice things which we do not need and do not at all want, because we are quite happy with what we have, thank you very much.

And that is the spirit of St Valentine, and I trust we all feel better for it.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Slightly Worrying Development

I've spent most of the past week at Kingdom Come, which will be blogged about in due course, but today I wish to register a concern. Apparently, mysterious lights have been seen over Belfast. Now, most of you will have heard of the giant meteorite which fell to the ground from the sky above Ireland during the week, and initally I was happy that these lights are in some way connected.

However, today I was told that they have been seen, not just over Belfast, but over my street. That's right: actually over Smile Street. Frankly, this has freaked me out. It's all well and good when mysterious lights are appearing over other people's houses; we are all quite capable of distinguishing that kind of light from an alien invasion, but now that they're over my. actual. house, I'm less confident.

Anyway, if I disappear, you'll know what happened. Please tell the police.