Sporting Blog

Sunday 12th May

Unusually, and perhaps uniquely, the focus of this instalment of the Plog isn’t curry of any description, travelling to gigs or model seaplane construction. No, this time, it is going to be sport.

Before I crack on, though, I briefly need to touch on the developing saga of the phenomenon that is women’s food going wrong in public. The feedback has been tremendous, and it seems that there is a definite trend for Her Indoors’ nosh to deviate from the straight and narrow. Not a rule, but a definite and perceptible trend. Only today, during a simple purchasing operation involving two cans of Tango and two plastic cups, her plastic cup had bits in. Bits. It seems that no public catering establishment from the Savoy grill to the Mr Softee Van in Ruislip is immune from the risk of Bird’s Nosh Malfunction, hereinafter to be referred to as BNM syndrome. I had an email from a wise female Plogee with a couple of sorry tales of overseas BNM, hinting that this is a global pandemic, but also with the corollary that if the dining party includes a woman and her mother, the BFM peril probability is exponentially increased. In these instances, it appears that the usual roles of chap and ladyfriend are transposed into those of bird and mum. It also appears that the probability of disaster is increased, as is the magnitude of the emotional fallout upon receipt of, say, the hairy Lasagne Al Forno. It may be that further research will demand that the whole Mother-Daughter arena of this research will need to be classified under its own heading. Watch out for MNM in future posts.

Back to the sports desk here at The Gables now, and this weekend has been marked by two significant incursions into the Wild Whacky World of Sport Firstly, and most spectacularly, it was Ferret Racing day down at the Ruislip Lido today. It was a beautiful sunny morning for it, and so it was with a spring in the step that Her Indoors, her folks who were down for the weekend and I set off for the big event. I had in my mind’s eye a sort of miniaturised greyhound track with the ferrets furiously chasing after a mechanised toddlers hand or something at high speed whilst betting slips, tip-offs and bungs changed hands amidst the cheering throng. I was also a little unclear as to the precise appearance of a ferret, being only familiar with the usual Ferret-In-The-Trousers sort of half-arsed pub humour, and was expecting a sort of rodent pantomime horse affair made from two guinea pigs in line astern in a rugby sock. Whilst I got the general proportions right on the internal drawing board, a ferret is a highly streamlined muscular missile of a rodent, with a fierce face and a big squirrel’s tail poking out of the back. Friendly enough to be stroked by the children when held carefully by the minder, ferrets have a powerful bite which really marks them out as the bovver boys of the riverbank. Not for nothing did Kenneth Grahame have hordes of the chaps play the part of the unwanted rough squatters at Toad Hall. Revved up now and excited by the thought of these miniature marvels of the animal kingdom approaching the rodent sound barrier, I bought my betting slip, but I suppose there was a bit of a clue in that the stake was in units of 10p, maximum bet, 10p.

The race track itself was not what I’d expected. It consisted of three rather beautiful wiggly transparent pipes suspended in a frame. Each tube was about one ferret in diameter, and it turned out that the race consisted of each ferret being placed at the end of the tube, going to the far end (about 15 feet) and then coming back again. I thought it would all be over in a flash. I was wrong. There is great excitement in a ferret race, but it’s not really about raw ferret-on-ferret speed. A ferret race is one of pure inclination on the part of the beast itself, and is impossible to predict making it more like ferret roulette, or Ferette. The one I’d backed, in the green collar came rocketing out of the trap at a fairly slow amble, and then stopped for a bit to sniff the air. It was getting hot, and I’d imagine that it must have been getting like a strange tubular greenhouse in there. Being a seasoned pro, I can only guess that my ferret than recognised the smell of hot polymers and previous ferret related exertion, and continued his amble to the far end of the pipe. The watching crowd was going bananas, but from observation I deduce that ferrets are not overly concerned with the notion of playing to a crowd, or perhaps are just too damn cool. Having sunned himself a bit at the large chamber at the far end, he started to amble back, but his rivals in the blue and red were now hot on his heels, and I could have sworn that Greenie nearly broke out into a semi-trot on the return straight! I’d won! Presenting my betting slip at the end, I was offered the choice of a can of Tango or a Ferret key fob. Still smarting from the earlier Tango-related BNM, I opted for the key fob, where it now resides in pride of place near the desk fan in the home office, or shed.

I mentioned earlier that Her Indoors’ folks were down for the weekend. The reason for this was that we’d come into some tickets for another sporting event, the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley, and as they’re all from Wigan, excitement was running high. Now I’ve always had a bit of a funny relationship with soccer. I have absolutely no hand to eye co-ordination at all, a trait I share, incidentally, with Her Indoors. To digress briefly, one of the saddest things you can ever see is us attempting to play Frisbee over at the park. Where other couples effortlessly spend graceful laughter filled afternoons elegantly transmitting the beautiful shimmering gyroscopic disc to one another over daisy filled pastures, our game consists of the eponymous ice-cream lid flying erratically all over the place, or in fact more often than not refusing to fly at all and rolling into the undergrowth like a stray wheel in a Keystone Cops movie. Our afternoon of Frisbee fun mainly consisted of Frisbee retrieval, involving far too much going to far flung corners of the field and bending over in gorse bushes, I can tell you. It’s Barnes Wallis’ worst anxiety dream, folks.

Having hopefully painted the picture now, you can understand that as a seven-year-old I ended up being the PE class cliché of “We don’t want Peter this week, he was on our side last week”. Although I can clearly remember wanting to be able to fit in and play The Beautiful Game with my chums at Downsway Junior Mixed and Infants, I had such a total lack of aptitude that in spite of trying to memorise all the players’ names from my Tiger Book Of Football 1971 and having Mum sew a big number four on the back of my red T-shirt to make it look a bit more soccer-savvy, it was clear from the first blast of the whistle that this was not going to be a path for me. I took solace in the world of Airfix planes, and later on at secondary school when you could have music lessons instead of doing Games, playing the sax.

Wind forward forty two years and I have a shed, or home studio, stuffed to the gunnels with Airfix planes, and a series of woodwind instruments in the boot of The Volvo ready for instant deployment at any venue around London or the Home Counties. It was therefore with some surprise that I found myself taking time off from the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers Diorama in order to go to Wembley, and oddly, not for a curry. This was the first football match I had ever attended, and was really my first engagement with the world of soccer since I put the Tiger annual 1971 back on the bookshelf in the bedroom and got out that year’s Airfix catalogue.

It was great that Wigan won. I’m sure that you’ve seen it all over the news. Aside from feeding the very English desire to celebrate in the victories of the underdog, it is a wonderful thing for the good people in Wigan, who will hopefully see an upswing in business and commerce in their home town as a result of this. Having never been to football match, It was quite different to how I thought it would be, making an interesting parallel for me with the Ruislip Lido ferret race. For a start, on the TV, the crowd noise is very compressed, and it seemed to me that the chants, cheers and songs, although loud were not as deafening as I’d expected. It all seemed gentler and sweeter than I’d expected. Eighty-four thousand people had turned up to watch, which is an astonishing number of people to behold, even with my experience of the huge droves of jazz fans who turn up to the monthly do at the Beckenham Rhythm club. So many, in fact, that it just becomes a giant swaying mass encircling the green acre on which, if there were no ball, Her Indoors says, twenty two men would be just dancing a piece of free form improvised ballet.

Mind you, they didn’t half dance it quickly. Just in terms of running, my powers of comprehension were left benumbed. Up and down the field non-stop for two lots of forty five minutes. Laid out straight, each chap must have sprinted a distance at least equivalent to that between The Gables and the Big Waitrose over in Rickmansworth and back. And then they kick a ball around. As someone who can’t even push a spacehopper along in an intended direction for two feet whilst standing next to it, the marksmanship of these chaps was stupendous. All in all, it was like being dropped suddenly into a parallel world with an altered reality from the one I normally inhabit- huge eager crowds, mind-bending standards of physical co-ordination and fitness, and short sets- two forty fives! In a funny way, I’ve always thought of the Football world as existing on a parallel track to the one I’ve ended up on. Not kitted out by nature with one atom of the necessary sporting DNA, I’ve proceeded along with my set of stuff occasionally glancing over at Planet Football, as you sometimes do out of the train window when the tracks run alongside a motorway. It was odd therefore to find myself at the level crossing. Mind you, when we got back to the Gables, it was time for the Wigan Victory Party. History had been made, and so to add appropriate gravitas to the event, Set Meal C from the Rice Wok was ordered, with an upgrade to king prawns. Food as a reward for success. All back to normal then.

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