Fox-Tossing and Octopus Wrestling - Sports too cruel and crazy to be true

Last week I threatened you with Ed Brooke-Hitchings and if I have my faults, no-one has ever accused me of welshing on my threats.
Fox-Tossing and Octopus Wrestling - Sports too cruel and crazy to be true

Ed wrote the book Fox-Tossing, Octopus Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports, and we spoke during the week.

He explained that now he’s immortalised cheetah racing and cat-burning (yes), he’s being buttonholed all the time.

“People are telling me things about what their grandparents did and so on, there’s enough for a second book.

“The book is the highlight stuff, there are obviously related things but some of them would be too similar to each other.

“Really I wanted to include the craziest things, so that readers would have the feeling every time they turned the page, ‘is that a joke, it’s too strange to be true’.”

Or too cruel. Cat-burning is exactly what it says on the tin, for instance.

“I’ve had to be careful to show I’m not endorsing that,” he says.

“One lady thought it was a memoir.

“It’s that kind of stuff, stuff we don’t read about from a different era of morality - but I think it gives you an idea of just how hard daily life would have been if you saw something like cat-burning as a giggle.

“You had much lower life expectancy, disease, war - you’d think nothing of strapping on a helmet and trying to head-butt a cat.

“I was careful not give the sense I was making fun of the crueller things - anyone I was ridiculing was human.

“But that tips into other areas.

Bear-baiting is where theatre came out of, for instance - bearpit owners wanting to use their facilities out of season.

Collars were put on dogs for wolfing (wolf-huntin) - the wolf went instinctively for the dog’s throat so studded collars were put on the dogs, but nobody is aware of that.

“I was trying to find new ways of seeing the history of everyday things as well.”

He can also point to clearer modern parallels.

Take the English village of Stamford and its bull-running - chasing a bull through the streets and then torturing it.

“A couple of centuries ago, when there was a move to abolish bull-running, the people of Stamford responded with ‘who are these people from London who don’t know our traditions’.

“That’s the same argument put forward nowadays in Britain by fox-hunting advocates, which is ironic.

The RSPCA came about eventually, however, because of these sports, as people reacted against it, but those changes took a long time.”

They don’t all belong to the dark ages, either.

Ed pointed out that ski ballet was being televised in 2000: “I’d recommend the routine of Hermann Reitberger if you want to look it up on Youtube, it’s particularly pained and emotive. I’d classify it as too ridiculous to carry on, but you look at some of the sports Red Bull are endorsing . . .”

Finally, what about my old mate Jacco Maccacco, the fighting ape?

“I came across some other monkeys but Jacco Macacco seems to be a particularly memorable one. It was an example of how far people had to go to present a novelty, I suppose.

“It’s shocking and brutal but also somehow cartoonish, it’s so sadistic and silly.

But it does paint a really vivid difference in atmosphere.

I live in London and it’s hard to believe it’s the same city.”

The book’s published by Simon and Schuster and is in shops now.

Beauty and the beast of drugs

I think everyone’s been very hard on poor Maria Sharapova, the lady who has overcome a staggering array of medical problems to somehow find whatever humble level of proficiency allowed by her string of illnesses ...

See? It’s hard to take Maria seriously, whether because of the resounding turnipheadedness of the Russian sports authorities backing her, or the straight-faced praise for her owning her narrative, a view of proceedings which should indicate to you the exact proximity of the Apocalypse and the necessity to learn exactly how to kill, dress and cook your own meat.

For this observer the key lesson was not Sharapova’s laughable inability to hire someone who could check her emails properly, despite pulling in almost 30 million dollars last year, but learning just how moveable the goalposts are in the anti-drug wars.

Legal for Sharapova for ten years, then illegal.

If this is enforcement, what hope is there really?

People don’t seem too exercised by the freedom to use meldonium (aside: thanks to whoever named this substance. After clinical overkill with the likes of clenbuterol and stanozolol, not to mention the anonymous synecdoche of the ‘clean’ and the ‘clear’, at last we have something vaguely sinister.

It could only have been improved if they’d swapped vowels and named it maldonium altogether.

The Great Quiff begins to wear thin

A list of random objects I’d like to see again, part 44: the red carpet rolled out for Donald Trump that time.

Don’t say you’ve forgotten it already, the scene at Shannon Airport when the great man descended to make his announcement about taking over the golf course in Doonbeg.

There on the tarmac we had a senior minister of the (last) government.

We had comely maidens. We had a harp.

It’s not that long ago we were so eager to get into bed with the Great Quiff that we rolled out the red carpet.

It might be worth noting the complaints this week of the village of Briarcliff Manor in New York State - they claim engineers at a Trump golf course nearby made illegal alterations to the course drainage which resulted in their village being flooded.

Nothing like that could happen here, obviously. Bad planning leading to floods? Please.

Come on you boys in blue fails to get airing

Páirc Uí Rinn Saturday night.

No, the world didn’t stop turning on its axis when Cork came out on the field in blue with a gold C rather than red and white, though it was strange to see.

It was an absorbing game with a gripping finish, with one regret - we lacked the implementation of a suggestion by a Dublin journalist some weeks ago.

I deeply regret that at no point in proceedings Saturday night did we hear a few bars of ‘Come on you boys in blue . . .’

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