The daily grind 3: You’ve got to take your hat off to play like that.


It is going to be another day of black, wet, gusty weather. It’s past nine-thirty, but as I wash up my breakfast things, the morning outside the glass kitchen doors is sombre enough for me to leave the kitchen light on.

When the washing-up is finished, there is nothing else to do.  I listen for a long minute or two, dish-cloth in hand, to the soft, close-grained pattering of the rain on the low roof above.

Aquarobics, breakfast and the washing-up are done, the dog’s been out, and there’s no point putting a wash on in this weather. Emphasising the point, the rain intensifies and the pattering quickly swells and deepens to a steady, packed roar. No supermarket shopping is going to get done either, not in this. I wring out the cloth, dry my hands, and walk through to the sitting-room, beyond whose west-facing french windows the rain is gusting and squallish, rattling on the glass like stones and battering the white blossom from our almond tree. On the terrace outside the door, raindrops are splashing white and high like hail, generating large bubbles which are borne for an instant on the water now pouring across the tiles and down the steps.

I pick up the book I’m reading, Heart of Darkness. I started it yesterday, having been meaning to read it for the last forty years, or whatever it has been since Apocalypse Now. Within five minutes I come across the following:

“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you–smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute, with an air of whispering, Come and find out.” 

I find I can’t read this without hearing Swiss Toni, the car salesman from The Fast Show (“You know, Paul, colonising a vast continent is a little like making love to a beautiful woman”), and as I read on I am reminded time and again of his self-approving drawl:

‘’You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.”

Come to think of it, there might be a bit of Ray Mears in there too, having one of his earnest moments. Either way, I’m having a job taking Conrad’s damaged, raffish philosopher-adventurer as seriously as he takes himself, and this looks like another book, masterpiece or not, which I am going to abandon half-read.

This is becoming a bit of a habit. In the last fortnight I have given up on two, one called ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ and another called ‘Big Brother’. The second is apparently quite good, but there we are. It can be something quite small which makes me sicken, turn and run, as Seamus Heaney might put it. Many years ago I read Robert Ludlum novels (I can’t explain this) until one day, I came to the words “The door opened, and standing before me was quite simply”. They were at the bottom of a page, and I felt so ill at the thought, the sure knowledge, of how Ludlum would continue the sentence that I closed the book without turning the page, and never read a word by him again.  I also left in the middle of the last two films I saw in a cinema, and I did the same during a performance of the dreary and interminable La Traviata in Sydney Opera House a couple of years ago, though that was a case of not going back in after the interval (I had applauded enthusiastically, thinking it was the end, and had to be told there was more of it still to come.)

The rain has stopped and a cautious sun has come out.  In our small back garden there is a cheerful, omnipresent dripping and trickling and gurgling. Fat water-drops glisten, and a blackbird has started singing.

Coming back indoors, I switch on the television (we are able to receive British channels). I don’t know how last night’s football matches went, so I settle down to watch a re-showing of Manchester United versus Sevilla.  United are playing negative, leaden, clueless football, and as the game goes on the crowd become anxious and quiet, with Gary Neville taking a dim view of United’s ‘low energy levels’. (Appendix 1). At half-time I take the dog out again. Meanwhile, crafty Sevilla are happy to wait their chance, and sure enough they get it with twenty minutes to go, just as I rejoin the game. In a matter of minutes they are 2-0 ahead, and United play even worse from then on, going out of the Champions league without a struggle. It’s the end of a bad seven days for English football fans, with Spurs going out of Europe as well, and England’s only world-class player getting a nasty injury at the weekend.

Outside, it has started raining again.


Appendix 1. Punditry and Language: sayings from televised sport.

For what they are worth, the entries below were gathered over the last year or so. I hope to share more in future posts.

Unintended double-entendres

·         “You’ve got to take your hat off to play like that”. An admiring Alan Smith (Sky Sports) produced this all-time favourite a year or two ago (but you wouldn’t even have to take your wellington boots off to play like Manchester United did against Sevilla.)

Vacuous Jargon

·         “Low (or high) energy (or concentration) levels”. The difficulty with this bit of jargon, widely adopted by ex-players, lies in the mystifying use of the plural form. ‘Low’ is fine with ‘energy’, and I suppose we could meaningfully speak of a single ‘low level’ of it, but how many low levels can a person’s energy be exhibiting at any one time? The same question can be asked about concentration levels.

Mixed Metaphors and other malapropisms

·         “He’s thrown his name into the hat” for selection. Ex-rugby player Steven Ferris said this of Lions second-string Courtney Lawes, who had played well in a midweek match. It was a notable feat on Lawes’ part, as he was presumably throwing his hat into the ring at the same time.

·         “This is the environment where you sink or swim, and traditionally we’ve seen Exeter guys who’ve come through the system – when they get in the pressure-cooker they swim.” An Exeter Chiefs ex-player.

·         “Gloucester have been victims of their own downfall’. The sorrowful judgement of a BT Sport rugby pundit after a game in which Gloucester committed tactical and technical errors.

General drivel

·         “For the players of Pochetino, Mourinho, Guardiola, there’s a level of work ethic that has to happen”. (Gary Neville)

·         “Trippier and Davies are two good fullbacks – completely different to a certain extent, but very talented.” (Jamie Redknapp)

·         “As a fan, when you cross that white line, you’ve crossed the line” (Frank Lampard, speaking about the West Ham pitch invasion)