This article is actually older than my computer’s ‘Odds & Sods’ file, so I have had to painstakingly transcribe it from the tattered paper copy. It was written when the sporting prowess of our proud nation, recently somewhat revived, was at rock bottom. This was the age of Eddie the Eagle; when noble, heroic, somewhat dopey loser was the best we could aspire to, and when the Soviet Union had cornered the market in food queues. Somehow, as I typed it up, some of it sneaked up-to-date and a little of the New Normal just crept its way in…
It is not that I am a bad loser. I am a very good loser. I have had lots of practice. It is just that the attraction of being magnanimous in defeat is beginning to pall after so many years of solid defeat. Fifty four years ago I was a bright-eyed, newly sports mad 7 year old and England were about to win the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first and only time – crucially beating the old enemy, of which we have so many. Everything in my sporting garden was looking rosy. Unfortunately the roses have now contracted black spot, green fly, fire blight and, if I am not mistaken, Blind Pugh. What looked rosy in ’66, looked sickly in ’76, terminally ill in ’86, was having its chest pumped in ’96 and is now looking like the rotting stump that stands where yesterday’s Clematis used to bloom. English sport is a cottage garden that has been concreted over and had a municipal toilet built on it. The building has been vandalised, the urinal blocked, the one working tap merely squirts water down the front of your trousers; the tornado-breath of the electric hand-dryer, no more than an angel’s fart. English sport has fallen down the toilet and is waiting for somebody to flush it away. Fortunately the chain has been nicked and the ball-cock buggered. The various games that we have, from time to time, adopted as our National Sports – football, cricket, being bloody minded – have all been mastered and perfected by others. Perhaps it is time we invented new ones. Games in which we stand a chance of winning…
ALL-IN QUEUEING – A team game in which points are awarded for the rapid formation of a queue in the most inconvenient of places for the most obscure of reasons. Find a queue snaking back from the only ‘Out of Order’ cubicle in an otherwise fully functional public lavatory and at its head you will find a true British sporting hero. Find a three hundred metre socially-distanced line meandering back from a single pack of catering-strength Andrex and there, with his/her hand on the prize, will be the pride of our nation. Where else in the world would people queue on Boxing Day for a new pair of pink lycra boxer shorts, a box of crackers for next year’s dinner and a half price pair of novelty socks? Main competition might be expected from the Russian team, 20,000 of whom have been known to queue for a single steroidal, unipedal chicken – cause of death, starvation – especially when the beetroot has run out. Special bonus points will be awarded for:
- Unerringly choosing the slowest moving queue
- Being too embarrassed to confront queue-jumpers
- Swapping queues at the very moment the ‘Closed’ sign goes up.
A special individual medal will be awarded for the competitor most adept at annoying the living hell out of the other queue members by constantly sniffing, removing the facemask in order to cough more comfortably and engaging others in conversation at unfeasibly close quarters. There is special provision for those joining the ‘Six items or less’ queue whilst pushing a trolley piled high with ninety seven different brands of multi-pack toilet rolls, a five litre tub of Marmite and a gross of LED candles, whilst faking an Albanian accent.
TALKING LOUDLY TO ‘FOREIGNERS’ – A direct head-to-head confrontation in which a simple message has to be conveyed from the first party to the second, without the benefit of a shared language. Chinese whispers, but without the vocal restraint. Potential champions may be found in any pub throughout the country – as long as the landlord is not too fussy over the ‘mask wearing thing’. Acceptable opening gambits include ‘Do you speak English?’, ‘Parlez vous Français?’ and ‘Oi, Miguel, I’ll have another one of these – in a clean glass this time, s’il vous plait…’ Points are awarded for:
- Steadily increasing your volume until only a complete idiot could not understand what you are saying, irrespective of their mother tongue.
- The deliberate use of confusing sign-language.
- The use of totally inappropriate words or phrases in a language that is unfamiliar to both participants.
- Making derogatory remarks, very loudly, despite the fact that the other party speaks exceptionally good English – just not Pissed-Up Estuary.
- The blank refusal to speak to anyone who could, just conceivably, be French.
Judges can also award bonus points for:
- Repeatedly mentioning The War (parts one and two) and the ’66 World Cup.
- Deliberately misreading the proffered phrasebook and asking ‘How long is your Norwegian pigtail?’ in a ‘language’ that was last used in the school playground.
- Pointing exaggeratedly at the nearest Public Convenience as a matter of principal.
Main rivals here are the Americans, who have been known to shout very loudly even at we Brits, in order to make us understand their plain English – which of course, is mangled beyond all recognition and has vowels missing all over the place.
PREDICTING THE WEATHER – Ah, truly our National Sport: 67 million competitors cannot all be wrong. This is a straight-forward knock-out event, the winner being the most consistently inaccurate over a pre-determined period extending anywhere between breakfast tea and bedtime toddy. Bizarre methods of prediction e.g. the detailed examination of badger droppings, chicken entrails, the contents of last week’s hankie and the Met Office computer are advantageous, as are dire warnings of killer winters in June, backed up only by the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail and a half-eaten fir cone. There are no points available for predicting that it will rain. Of course it will rain.
THE SUPERMARKET DECATHLON – A multi-discipline event suitable only for the most dedicatedly anti-social of all competitors. The ten events are:
- Leaving your trolley parked diagonally across the narrowest of aisles whilst you enlist a shop assistant to help you search for a brand of garden peas that does not exist.
- Unerringly finding the trolley with the wonky wheel and moaning about it to every member of staff you encounter as you zig-zag aimlessly around the store.
- Unfailingly reaching the checkout with the only packet of ground almonds in the whole store that does not have a barcode.
- Finding the woman with the booze samples.
- Avoiding the woman with the manky cheese samples on sticks.
- Finding the only packet of dried lentils with the split seam.
- Attempting to pay with obsolete Polish currency at a ‘Card Only’ checkout.
- Getting your tie caught in the checkout conveyor.
- Buggering the barcode reader by laying a humbug on it.
- Demanding a recount.
WHINGEING – Traditionally thought of as a uniquely British activity this event has been adopted and perfected by other nations, notably France and Australia, although the French, as ever, play to a slightly different set of rules involving burning lorry tyres and blockading ferry ports, and will almost certainly refuse to take part unless the Brie is ripe enough to make its own way home.
The main aim of this game is to bore the opposition into submission by means of unfettered self-pity, overwhelming disaffection and mindless obstinacy, the whingeing often building to a mind-numbing crescendo of tedium resulting in the Ultimate Grouse, or so-called Terminal Moan.
Topics for discussion are strictly controlled: illness, bills, bad luck, youth, the government and the weather. Other grievances can be voiced, but will not score points – ask Theresa May. Competitors will be closely monitored throughout and any argument having a solid basis in fact will be discounted. Championship standard whingers are able to whine without pause for reflection in the face of any amount of explanation, mitigation or supplication until the lights have gone out and the ‘draught sausage’ has been laid across the front door. Many contestants are capable of boring themselves to sleep.
Main Arenas include the Post Office, the Supermarket, the Bank, the pub and The Houses of Parliament – although true champions appear to be able to find me just about anywhere.
LOSING – I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one to you. In the UK, losing, as long as it is done gamely, makes you a winner and nobody likes a winner. You lose, you win, you lose…