Jumping through oops and dropping Dostoyevsky

THOUGHT for a minute there that I’d come up with a wizard idea for this week’s column. Letter From Tbilisi, I was going to call title it, beneath which I’d pen the single word, ‘oops’.

Could there be a more pithy and, in its own way, profound comment on the tangled web of war and peace and political football which has brought us to where we are today? Indeed and there could. Or, as the Commander-in-Chief quipped good-naturedly: “I’ll give you oops upside your head if you don’t file 900 words from wherever the hell you are.”

So here, then, is a Letter From Mainz, although that’s not quite right either, since the Irish squad and its media camp followers have actually pitched tents about 15 kilometres away from the venue for today’s game, in the leafy spa town of Wiesbaden. It is, to be sure, an elegant place, with its abundance of greenery, wide streets and spacious squares but, for what should be fairly obvious reasons, it can’t be denied that the old town is entirely lacking in the kind of big match atmosphere which normally attends our manoeuvres on foreign fields.

Switch on the television and you’ll certainly find plenty of coverage of the local team’s preparations for their first World Cup qualifier, except that the local team in question is Germany and their curtain-raiser is away to mighty Liechtenstein. As for the interloping Ireland-Georgia fixture, the only sign of it I could find in Wiesbaden yesterday was a single tricolour flying outside the town’s mandatory Irish pub which, as well as screening this evening’s game, is also advertising live coverage of tomorrow’s All Ireland hurling final. And, to be honest, it’s a close call as to which event is likely to cause the greatest excitement among the good citizens of the capital of Hesse.

Which is not to say, however, that Wiesbaden is lacking in its own points of curious historical interest. Back when the world was young, for example, the US Army base here played host to the first, fateful meeting of Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu.

John Lennon liked to maintain that the day the music really died was the day that Elvis joined the army but, as poor Lennon himself would later discover, there are fates even worse than getting your mop top cropped and being squeezed into a uniform. Or am I thinking of Stephen Ireland?

The tragic destiny of the erstwhile king of rock ‘n’ roll was to die, as they say, “at stool”, an unhappy terminal event which I recall caught the New Musical Express magazine rather by surprise. It happened that a reviewer, flushed with the punky spirit of the times, had just submitted a savage appraisal of the latest Elvis album — a cheapo compilation of ancient cast-offs — when the news suddenly broke of the legend’s untimely demise. Especially untimely for the NME, indeed, since their latest issue had already gone to press, with the result that when it duly hit the streets of a world plunged into abject mourning, its sole reference to Elvis was a damning review accompanied by the deathless headline: “The Great Cheeseburger Waddles On”.

Sometimes, ‘oops’ really is the only word. Interestingly (and here I sense a frown forming on the face of the Commander-In-Chief), the aforementioned US Army base in Wiesbaden also gave the world John McEnroe, a great gift to tennis and, latterly, to tennis coverage on the box but, I often think, a terrible loss to astronomy. Or is it just me who finds it amusing to think of him peering through a telescope at a bright celestial object and screaming “You can not be Sirius!”? And, while I’m at it, would it be fair to say that, when it came to mastery of language, McEnroe put the fluent in effluent? (By now, I sense that the Commander-in-Chief is beginning to see the ‘oops’ column idea in a better light).

ONE other name worth dropping in these parts, especially if you’re well read like what I am, is the bould Dostoyevsky, author of two of my all-time favourite books: Crime, and, the other one, Punishment. A compulsive gambler, he took a bath in Wiesbaden’s famous casino which was a tad premature, because if he’d waited, he could have done precisely the same thing at much less cost in the town’s equally famous Kaiser Friedrich Therme. And it’s nice to know that you can still do the same things here today: lose your shirt at the blackjack table and then wander naked into the hot springs.

Not that your correspondent has any time for such leisure activities, of course. All other appearances to the contrary, the road to South Africa actually begins here today with the short hop across the river to Mainz and a game against a team who are farther from home than they should ever have had to be.

The swelling ranks of the green army should ensure that the requisite World Cup atmosphere finally prevails come kick-off but while the odds seem to favour Ireland on all fronts, that’s presumably what Dostoyevsky used to think too.

Still, we trust the Georgians will understand if our sympathy for their plight doesn’t extend to imagining a scenario whereby tonight’s match report might legitimately consist of the single word, ‘oops’.

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