They say Irving Berlin kept a musical genius chained up in his attic — starving, shoeless — and whenever the composer of White Christmas needed another hit, he lowered the Stira, climbed up and told his resident hit machine to crank out another one.
Clearly ‘they’ in that sentence stands for the army of disgruntled and jealous songwriters lurking forever in the shadows of Berlin’s talent, but a similar arrangement would have been manna to this writer on Saturday.
Why? Because a combination of events outside my control led to the columnist’s ultimate nightmare.
The spontaneous combustion of a perfectly-functioning column idea due to circumstances conspiring, as if by malevolent design, to thwart one’s plans for The Killing III on Saturday evening. I am not saying this is a huge problem for you, dear reader; certainly it is not a disaster on the scale of the bank guarantee scheme.
But in this quarter it was a setback. To put the quandary in context, consider this scenario: you head up to the takeaway on Saturday night and find that what you were looking forward to all day is not available.
Run your eyes down the menu and look at the other options, and try to work out how appetising they are. Are you facing a variation on the eternal question — or my version of the eternal question, anyway — of whether it’s better to go with your usual choice when confronted by a Chinese takeaway menu, or should you chance ruining your evening by gambling that you’ll like something you’ve never eaten before? In terms of columns, the disappearance of the carefully researched and painstakingly crafted column on Saturday afternoon meant running my eyes down the menu and finding a replacement, then.
An easy fall-back would have been something on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal against England the other night: what you might call the chicken curry and chips option.
Bog standard, obvious, harmless. Everyone’s already familiar with the concept, the basic elements won’t frighten anyone. You just refer to the Swede’s occasional aberration, stellar line-up of tattoos and drop the name ‘Ibracadabra’ into the mix and hey presto, it’s nourishing enough to get you through the night.
Trouble with chicken curry and chips, though, is that it’s a tad... boring. So is Zlatan’s goal at this stage: about the only interesting thing about the Swede’s effort — which was a fluke, let’s be honest — is I understand it’s the first phenomenon to occur on the internet before real life. That’s my impression judging the speed of the reaction, anyway.
Thus your columnist moved out of his comfort zone and looked at a column possibility which bore a passing resemblance to the Chef Special, an item which is always oddly lacking in details on the takeaway menu.
The equivalent in sports columns is your outlandish connections effort, in which you draw a tenuous connection between something that exists far away from sport — say, for instance, the publication of the new Jacques Derrida biography — and extrapolate a set of attitudes and inferences from same with a view to casting a sports event — say, for instance, Castlehaven versus Stradbally in the Munster club semi-final — in a whole new light.
You’d knock 800 words out easy on mud and rain in Clonakilty as evidence of man’s eternal struggle in a random universe to achieve order. (Just throw in a knowing aside about the struggle for last orders and you’ll have them eating out of your hand).
I decided in the end, though, that that was too much of a chance to take on a Saturday night.
What about selecting the sportswriting equivalent of Kung Po chicken, a spicy concoction that will give you a bit of a kick before subsiding into comforting familiarity? The subject matter here can vary from the usual attack on cartoonish necromancers posing as GAA officials, inspired by The Hobbit’s impending release, or a general note of alarm about Declan Kidney’s front row options, resounding like the alarm siren on the human’s ship in Prometheus.
The great advantage of this column is that, much like the majority of the dishes on offer in your local takeaway, the constituent parts usually just need one or two adroit substitutions to apply in a different sport altogether. For example, you can begin with a faux worry for Mike Ross’s continuing health, sigh with false concern about the conveyor belt of tight-head props which seems to be jammed somewhere, and wind up with a whinny of fabricated exasperation about the future for Irish scrummaging.
Replace the running theme above with the quality of GAA administration in the county of your choice, or Giovanni Trapattoni’s command of English, and this versatile dish — er, column — can brighten up any occasion.
In the end I cheated a little, though. As you can see, I didn’t pick any of those options but went with something entirely different.
Maybe Saturday evening’s chicken tikka masala was just the inspiration I needed.
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