Tuesday 31 March 2009

The hell of clowns playing football

All my life I have suffered from two total blind spots: sport and practical jokes. The point, if any, of both activities completely eludes me.

Hell for me will be an eternal game of football played between two teams of clowns, in which much time is devoted to balancing booby-traps on the crossbars.

Nevertheless, after hearing (repeatedly) that marriage is all about compromise, on Saturday I attended my first ever point-to-point meeting. My wife likes that sort of thing and assured me that I would enjoy it, as it would allow me to engage in some of my favourite pursuits: talking to beautiful young women and eating and drinking to excess.

As usual, she was right. But out of a misguided sense of politeness, I also tried to pay a little attention to the event itself. I placed modest bets on some races, and attempted to watch them or at least pay attention to the loudspeaker commentary. As people blithely chattered over this, it gradually dawned on me that mine was very much a minority interest. I was as much out of step as when I go to Glyndebourne to see the opera.

This should have come as no surprise. Over the years I have declined invitations to more great sporting occasions than you could shake a stick at, explaining that it is a criminal waste to give a coveted ticket to someone like myself. The reaction of the organisers ranges from puzzlement to mild offence, usually accompanied by an assurance that none of their other guests has the slightest interest in the sport concerned, either. This is borne out by my experience on the rare occasions when I have relented and gone along, to find that many of those attending never leave the hospitality tent.

Yet why should a group of consenting adults who want to get together for a few drinks on a Saturday afternoon feel the need to do so in a farmer’s freezing, muddy field under the cover of watching some horses run round in a circle, rather than simply arranging to meet in a nice, warm pub? The Government has not actually made that illegal. Yet.

I am similarly baffled by the pleasure that many people will take in inflicting practical jokes tomorrow, All Fools’ Day. (Say what you like about the Government, at least they picked the perfect date for the launch of their new generation of unitary councils.) Here I am at one with Wikipedia, which sternly pronounces that “There is a thin line between practical jokes and hooliganism, bullying, vandalism and sadism.”

Many of my friends are puzzled by my attitude, since I am constantly getting into trouble for my tendency to joke about almost anything, however tragic or politically incorrect. Yet I completely fail to see the simple joy in tripping someone up, snatching their chair away or taping a superannuated kipper to the back of the radiator in their bridal suite. Why fill tomorrow’s newsprint and airwaves with lame spoofs when there is so much to laugh at in the real world, from the Home Secretary’s husband’s mucky films to the Prime Minister’s attempts to pose as the saviour of the planet?

As I write, it is precisely one year since I clicked open the fateful email that led me down the totally unexpected path to marriage and parenthood. Naturally I assumed that it was a cruel hoax, and came within a whisker of pressing the “delete” button rather than replying. Although my wife and I seem to share an eerily similar sense of humour, I still worry that our first April Fool’s Day together may be the occasion of some ghastly prank or crushing “Gotcha!” revelation. What could be worse? For me, only receiving gift-wrapped tickets to a Premier League match or a traditional circus.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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