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Soup of This Day #372: Just To Make The Good Parts Last

Hajós Alfréd Sports Pool
This is an aerial view of Budapest’s Hajós Alfréd Sports Pool. This swimming complex is named for Hajós Alfréd, the 1st swimming champion of the modern Olympics (1896), where, in very cold and rough weather, he won the 100m and 1200m events. It wasn’t just swimming he excelled at either – He was at 1 time Hungary’s national 100m sprint champion. And the 400m hurdles champion. And the discus champion. He also played football for his national team, and upon retirement from playing, was the manager of that same outfit. In 1924 he also won an Olympic medal for architecture, that being his post-sporting career. He in fact designed the above swimming centre that bears his name – Photo: Civertan, 2008. Civertan is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72..

Swimming legend Michael Phelps may be coming out of retirement for the 2016 Olympics. This is significant news – Phelps, aka The Flying Fish, is arguably the greatest male swimmer since Flipper the dolphin.*

Who was fictional and a dolphin.

The Flying Fish by contrast, is very real, albeit barely believable – He’s won an astonishing 57 gold medals across the Olympics, World Champs and Pan-Pacifics. That haul included 6 gold at the 2004 Olympics, a record 8 gold at the 2008 Olympics and 4 gold at the 2012 Olympics. All told, Phelps has won 22 Olympic medals, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time.

And he’s still only 28.

A comeback is definitely on. I can speak with some authority on this, having once retired temporarily from competitive swimming. Sure I was around 11 at the time, but the scene was tough then so I feel like I was justified. The water was cold – Beverley Swimming Pool was an outdoor, unheated model – And people used to shout at me a lot – It was not great for my self-esteem.

So I quit, regaining my afternoons, evenings and the feeling in my extremities. I didn’t recover any self-esteem though, mostly because I’d quit at 1 of the things I was good at. This was particularly rammed home for me when I got dragged from my retirement to compete in a mandatory school carnival and placed 6th in my age bracket for the 50m freestyle.

That result was particularly chastening as I reckon there were only around 7 kids in my age group capable of effectively swimming 50m of freestyle without floundering. I beat 1 of them.

Stung by the realisation that I liked winning more than losing, I got back into training and returned to serious racing in time to sweep the pool in the 13 year-old category. It’s true, I was helped by the fact that at least 1 of my main competitors had left Beverley to go to a high school in Perth, and the other 5 had decided that girls were more interesting than swimming, but I’m content in the magnitude of my achievement.

It wasn’t a fleeting return either – I went on to win the 14s and the 15s – both at Beverley and then in the subsequent inter-school carnivals. All of this though, and there is a warning here for Michael Phelps, meant a lot of hours in water cold enough to make a penguin pause. 1 time the day was so wintry and the water so cold that the coach, who I’ll call Jay, advised the handful of parents who had been cruel enough to bring their kids along, that training should not go ahead on the grounds that hypothermia would surely prevail.

Sadly the club president thought that was being too weak. Even sadder was that the club president was my dad, and so I and 6 other unlucky kids got to do laps around the icebergs. We just about survived, although I had a further trial to face before that day was out.

Dad took off and left me to cycle home.

This was character-defining though and I did get an unexpected fillip from Jay. As I lay on the pool-side concrete, desperately trying to soak up any warmth I could before riding into a stiff gale, Jay ambled past, surreptitiously dropping a lolly bag in front of my iceblock hands. He muttered something about a reward for sticking with it in stupid circumstances and a warning around not telling my dad about the lollies, and then wandered off in search of the other kids. He had a lolly bag for each of them – A sugary apology for the ordeal and a sort of implied criticism of people who make kids swim in Antarctic conditions.

Of course Michael Phelps will have access to better facilities and so his comeback will hopefully be a few degrees warmer than mine. It will most likely be successful too – There are others closer than me to his level that have achieved a great deal ex-retirement. Take Australia’s Libby Trickett – Famous for her brilliant smile as well as her swimming, she has amply demonstrated both across an elite career interrupted by a temporary retirement. She won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics but then captured 2 gold, a silver and a bronze at the 2008 edition. This was seemingly enough for Libby and so she retired in late 2009.

And then returned 10 months later, earning a relay team spot for the 2012 Olympics. That was parleyed into yet another gold medal and some even more brilliant smiles.

Or there is Geoff Huegill, aka Skippy. The Australian won silver and bronze in the 2000 Olympics but then slumped into retirement in 2006. This was initially marked by depression, drugs and weight gain before he got his life back together and returned to the pool. There he won national titles and qualified for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, capturing 2 gold and a silver in that competition.

Success for Phelps in this 2nd coming is not guaranteed though – There is the tale of Ian Thorpe to consider…

The Thorpedo was Michael Phelps before Michael Phelps was Michael Phelps, superstar of the pool. A swimmer with freakishly large feet and thus a prodigious kick, Thorpe held the swimming world in his thrall from his peak in 1999 through until 2004. Highlights include the 2000 Olympics, where the Australian thrilled his home crowds, winning 3 gold and 2 silver medals, making him the most successful athlete of those Games.

Better was to follow in the 2001 World Championships, with Thorpe gaining 6 golds and 4 world records. He seemed unbeatable.

By the 2004 Olympics though, Thorpe was waning – Although it wasn't apparent from the raw results – The Thorpedo adding 2 gold, 2 silver and a bronze to his Olympic tally.

That precious metal masked a plateau in performance though – None of Thorpe's times were world records. Perhaps he was becoming jaded – Whatever he was feeling, he took some time off.

It didn't seem to help. Upon his return he struggled to set the kind of times he was accustomed too. A spate of illness and injury further crippled his competitiveness, and by late 2006 he tearfully announced his retirement.

Ian Thorpe though was not done.

He sat out the 2008 Olympics and then in 2011 dramatically announced his intention to compete in the 2012 Olympics. The timing of his career rally though left him with a less than ideal preparation – He had scant time to adjust his body to the rigours of competition.

It showed too.

The Thorpedo struggled in the Australian Olympic Trials. Attempting to qualify for the 100m and 200m relay teams, he started well, clocking a 5th fastest effort in his 1st 200m heat. That though was the high water mark – He faded badly in the semis, finishing well outside the qualifying pack and committing the cardinal tactical sin of posting a slower time than he'd done earlier. At least he'd made the semis in the 200m – In the 100m he couldn't manage even that, and just like that, his comeback was done.

Since then Ian Thorpe has struggled. He once expressed a fear that swimming was his safety blanket, and shorn of that, depression has apparently been a factor. As has alcohol and injury. Currently he is in a Sydney hospital fighting off a serious infection, body and mind seemingly both out of whack.

It's impossible to tell if Thorpe came back too late or shouldn't have come back at all. Maybe he should have put more into his brief media career – He did once front 'Undercover Angels', a reality TV show, loosely modelled on 'Charlie's Angels', wherein Thorpe mentored a trio of young woman doing good deeds.

As it turned out, the best deed they could have done was to quietly kill the show, and give Ian Thorpe a charisma upgrade.

Hopefully Michael Phelps will avoid all of that. Hopefully the Flying Fish will be able to skip across the water again and hopefully he will enjoy it while he can.

Whatever happens, I'd like to think that he, Libby Trickett, Geoff Huegill and Ian Thorpe each have somebody close by who can reward them for sticking with it in sometimes stupid circumstances by giving them a lolly bag.

Thanks Jay.

*Flipper was generally played by female dolphins and ‘his’ characteristic ‘voice’ was apparently obtained from a kookaburra’s cry. Hollywood huh?

Just To Make The Good Parts Last

Soup of This Day #371: We Go Again

The Shankly Gates
The Shankly Gates at Anfield. In this view the Hillsborough Memorial is to the left of those gates and is mostly obscured by the fence. In spite of this latter obstacle those 96 are never forgotten – Photo: Alan Murray-Rust, 2013. Alan Murray-Rust is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Today, April 15th, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

It has been a quarter of century since 96 fans of Liverpool Football Club went to Hillsbrough Stadium in Sheffield to see a Saturday afternoon FA Cup semi-final between their beloved Reds and Nottingham Forest, and didn’t come home.

The passage of time has not made that last bit any less desperately sad. Football is not about death. It is not about misery. Yet these were thrust into that football match that day and there is nothing that will make that seem any less wrong.

Nor will the gross injustices that have been heaped upon the families of victims and their communities ever be lessened by the cover-ups, cowardly denials and self-serving evasions.

The Truth will out and instead of the slurs and slanders intended, it will instead cast in warm relief the strength of the families, their community and this football club.

For today, and ever, my thoughts are of those 96 plus 1 more – My mum died a few days shy of the 3rd anniversary. Cancer claimed her, she had nothing to do with Liverpool FC, bar her youngest son’s obsession. Yet she had arranged for a 1989 shirt to be shipped out to that son, no small feat in the days well before internet shopping. So when she died in 1992, I had a note attached to my wall – It simply read:

‘In memory of the 95 + 1′

A year later it became ’96 + 1′ as the final direct victim of that day at Hillsborough was claimed. There were others – By some reports at least 3 further victims took their own lives, unable to handle the aftermath of the tragedy. I can’t and won’t judge those – I can no more look through the photos of those 96 than I can the 1 – It hurts my heart a little too keenly.

Something that gives me a measure of hope though – The fight for justice for those 96 and all who suffered out of that day has been relentless and ever carried forward. Against newspapers – 1 in particular – police and politicians, there has been a quiet and determined strength – A resolute courage and an inability to lie down that surely inspires.

This Sunday just past Liverpool played Manchester City in a pivotal match – 1 that may see the 1st top flight title in 24 years for the Merseyside giants. It was an emotional affair, coming as it did this close to the anniversary, but it was just a football match. It was wonderful that the Reds won but it was just a football match. Still, the words of Liverpool’s captain, Steven Gerrard, issued immediately after the final whistle bear some relevance here – Gathering his teammates together he gave a rallying cry:

‘This does not @#$%ing slip now. This does not @#$%ing slip now. Listen, listen. This is gone. We go to Norwich, exactly the same. We go again. Come on!’

You could take Steven Gerrard’s words and apply them to the fight for justice over Hillsborough – That would surely be ok, Gerrard himself lost a cousin that day. Now there is a long overdue inquiry, an airing of the actual Truth. It’s not done though and those charged with doing justice need to hear this:

‘This does not @#$%ing slip now. This does not @#$%ing slip now. Listen, listen. The lies are gone. We go for the truth, exactly the same. We go again. Come on!’

Best be listening, best be remembering. Justice for the 96. Justice for all. You will never walk alone.

Matt, 15th April, 2014

Soup of This Day #370: Shine Like It Does

Saint George
Saint George 1-on-1 with the dragon. The dragon is clearly offside, having got in behind the last defender, however it appears as if Saint George is stabbing the fiery lizard with a corner flag so let’s just call that play on then – Image: Paolo Uccello, c1460. We think Paolo Uccello is not affiliated with Longworth72 but can’t be sure. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Sportswear giant Nike recently revealed the kits that the England football team will wear when playing in this year’s World Cup. The launch was a little mired in controversy, mostly because the replica jerseys will retail for a relatively expensive £90 (A$160).

90 English pounds is a large sum for the average fan who seeks to don the same cloth as their heroes and thus participate in the England World Cup experience. That cost is particularly egregious, the cynics will claim, given that the England World Cup experience will inevitably end in a penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Sure, Nike do offer a low-fi ‘Stadium’ version at a reduced price of £60 (A$100). It’s made from recycled plastic water bottles and wicks away sweat and spilled beer like an industrial extraction fan. It looks like the real deal, but while the ‘Stadium’ jersey has the same basic construction, it does not have the same level of technology as the authentic model – Missing out on the aerodynamic fit, laser cut ventilation holes and something called ATOM fabric. All of this means that the authentic kit is lighter and more comfortable than the ‘Stadium’ model, plus it has boosted ‘moisture management’. Which I think means that you can urinate on this bad boy and you’ll end up dry, smelling of cut grass and winning.

And that’s just the physical tech – There’s also the intangible vibe – The ethos behind the authentic playing kit for instance is not necessarily born out in the ‘Stadium’ version. The former has within it’s strands a calling that is much loftier than that held by your average fan.

‘You can see subtle references to the armour in the pinstripe, which carries a hint of shine, and the white satin tape on the shoulders. We wanted to add some small detail that echoed the glow of the armour worn by St George.’

Which is noble.

Saint George is the patron saint of England – His cross motif adorns the English flag. According to the popular legend, this knight was on his way home from the Crusades whence he came upon a princess who had been offered up to a dragon as sacrifice in a deal designed to secure water rights. The maiden was apparently used in lieu of a sheep.

It’s not clear if there were no sheep available or wether the locals valued their sheep more than their princess.

Fortunately for the latter lass, George was a decent sort and so took pity upon her – He engaged the dragon in a match, slayed it good and proper, and thus was able to free the princess and her community from being beholden to said dragon from there on in. In gratitude and recognition of their rescuer’s faith, they all had a tall glass of cool water and then took up Christianity.

Here at Longworth72.com, I try to respect all beliefs and those that hold to them.

Except for folk who hold that the moon landings were faked – That belief is irredeemably stupid. In the case of Saint George though, I’m willing to accept the whole, George-killed-a-dragon premise as viable. There was a dragon and it was set to eat a maiden. George was a brave knight and he fought and killed the dragon. Good for George (And the maiden, who by all accounts was admirably stoic throughout her ordeal). I am down with all of this.

I’m not so sure about a football shirt echoing any of this though. Football does not feature actual dragons. There are, it’s true, sometimes dragon mascots, but those are, and this bit is crucial to our understanding of what constitutes a dragon vis-à-vis the Saint George incident, typically just people dressed up as dragons. Actual dragons of the fire-breathing, maiden-consuming type are not with us any more, except in the imaginations of the same people who believe that the moon landing was faked.

Sadly for the latter, there is no evidence that the moon landings were faked and, since the initial codification of Association football back in 1863, there have been no recorded instances of dragons needing to be slain. So the England football team will likely not need to slay a dragon. It is likely that they will not need to rescue a maiden either – I suspect that local security forces will be tasked with that should such interventions be required. Instead, the England team will need to just play football and as part of this endeavour will need to wear appropriate kit.

For sure, there’s nothing inappropriate in kit that has been inspired by Saint George, but I figured that the £90 is a fairly steep price to pay and so I’ve decided to take a look at this from another angle in order to determine if the cost is justified for a fan – The England football team are paying homage via their kit to Saint George but would the kit of Saint George have paid knightly homage to football?

It might seem like that question has an obvious answer, however a deeper look reveals a conundrum that is as opaque as a knight’s shield. There is for instance, no distinct provision for the wearing of plate armour in football, but neither is it explicitly prohibited. FIFA’s laws simply state that players are required to wear basic equipment, including:

‘…a jersey or shirt.’

Saint George most likely wore a cloth surcoat over his armour. This practice had become more common during the Crusades as it helped the armour to remain cooler under the hot sun. A surcoat is a fairly good approximation of a simple jersey – But is it too simple? FIFA tell us that, for playing footabll:

‘Jerseys or shirts must have sleeves.’

Surcoats could have sleeves or be sleeveless. Let’s go ahead and assume that Saint George’s 1 had sleeves. Even if he hadn’t then it would be a trivial matter to have 1 of the serving wenches sew some on so this is the least of our saintly George’s problems with the surcoat. Of greater import is that FIFA does say that:

‘The basic compulsory equipment must not contain any political, religious or personal statements.’

St George was returning from a Crusade and so likely wore a cross emblazoned upon his surcoat. This is a a little bit political and a whole lot religious. And given the whole ideological premise of the Crusades, he was unlikely to take kindly to a referee insisting on the removal of a symbol of faith. Still, should he have really wanted to play football, he could have acceded to this requirement by simply slipping on another, plainer, surcoat.

He would need to make sure that whatever surcoat he wore, it wasn’t what the kids today call a ‘onesie’, because that would look daft and FIFA reckon that:

‘A one-piece playing suit in place of a shirt and shorts is not permitted.’

This could be a tricky criteria to meet, especially if we look under the surcoat and at the armour – Technically Saint George would have been wearing armour of many different components, and although the whole might be described as a ‘suit’ I think though that we can say that it is not of a single piece.

Which leaves us with the nub of the issues facing Saint George – Even if FIFA says it’s ok, why would anybody want to wear a full suit of dragon-proof armour in a game of football? The laws of the game do provide a possible answer:

‘A player may use equipment other than the basic equipment provided that it’s sole purpose is to protect him physically and it poses no danger to him or any other player.’

A suit of armour, as worn by Saint George would be necessarily protective, given the proximity of a fired-up dragon. But in wearing this protection, is St George endangering other players? Or himself?

Probably not. And yes.

The latter is because Saint George would be undoubtedly be putting his body under extreme stress. English scientists conducted a study in 2011, in which they determined that a full suit of armour would mean that the wearer:

‘…used high levels of energy, bore immense weight on their legs and suffered from restricted breathing.’

Saint George would probably not harm any other player because, a. He couldn’t feasibly run fast enough to catch them and, b. He’d have keeled over from exhaustion anyway.

Saint George’s kit then, is not for football. Football is about running around and kicking a ball. FIFA’s laws are simple because football is simple.

A last thought – Somewhat fittingly the average weight of the armour that was tested in that study was 90 pounds. Let’s call that 90 pounds, the cost of fighting a dragon. £90 though, is too heavy to be the cost of supporting your national football team, particularly as they lose in a penalty shoot-out to Italy.

Whose jersey apparently massages the wearer throughout the game. Wonder which saint they got that idea from?

Shine Like It Does

Soup of This Day #369: ‘Cos I Ain’t The Way You Found Me

F12berlinetta
A Ferarri F12berlinetta. It’s alright, but it doesn’t float in water – Photo: Nan Palmero, 2012. Nan Palmero is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This is Soup #369. It immediately follows Soup #367 in the batting order of Soups. Keen mathematics types and postal delivery workers will have spotted that there is a discrepancy in that line-up order – Specifically, it appears as if Soup #368 is not stepping up to the plate in it’s appropriate place.

To which I’d only partly agree – It’s true that Soup #368 isn’t where it should be if we’re talking about regular 3-dimensional space. If though we look at time as being the ’4th dimension’ and combine that with space into the spacetime continuum, then I think we can all agree that Soup #368 is right where it should be.

Back around Soup #304.

You see, Soup #368 was written and published at the end of March, 2013. That’s a little over 12 months past and that release date saw it listed between Soup #304 and Soup #305. I did this because Soup #368 was a review of the Boston Red Sox 2013 MLB campaign. Since the end of that campaign was some months away – Technically the campaign hadn’t actually started when I published Soup #368 – I figured that it was best to number that Soup such that it would numerically sit at a point past the end of the season it was reviewing.

Basically, my review might have been called a preview, accept I was over those, and so I changed the number so that it fitted the profile of a review.

So how accurate was my review?

Not as accurate as if I had actually done a conventional review – The kind that waits until after the games are all done. That would have been close to 100% accurate, whereas my Soup #368 review of the Boston Red Sox 2013 MLB campaign was only 96.9% on the money.

The Red Sox won 5 more games than I accounted for. This though is what I’d call a good surprise.

I don’t, as a general rule, like surprises. I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my adult life and so if anybody jumps out from behind a couch, wearing a silly hat and brandishing streamers and balloons, I’m liable to lose my @#$% on them.

What I can handle are good surprises.

Good surprises are 1s that have a positive outcome – That’s a pretty obvious facet, but it’s not the only 1.

Good surprises need to happen in slow-motion for me. For instance if somebody were to call me up out of the blue and tell me I had won a Ferrari F12berlinetta, this would not be a good surprise. It might ultimately be a positive 1 – I could get from 0 to 100kmph in 3.1s – But I may also lose my @#$%. The net result is not necessarily a happy 1.

Also, there is no room in our carport.

If instead, somebody was to call me up and tell me that I had a 1 in a million chance of winning a Ferarri F12berlinetta, and then subsequently call me up each day thereafter with steadily improving odds, until I predictably won a F12berlinetta, well that would be ok. I would have had ample time to get my head around the carport issue.

It’s hard to imagine the Hyundai comes out a winner in that.

This slow progression to a fait accompli is what a baseball season is like. The odds change each day and mostly they follow a gentle trend. Occasionally they don’t – The Boston Red Sox 2011 MLB campaign is a case in point – In that season it looked for most of it as if we were all getting F12berlinettas, only to have to watch them being crushed by monster trucks.

I don’t like monster trucks. I’m always surprised by them and they definitely won’t fit in my carport.

The Boston Red Sox 2013 MLB campaign did not feature monster trucks. It started ok, with no expectations of exotic supercars and it just got better, until 1 day in October, when Sox fans realized that all along they’d been driving the perfect car anyway.

For instance, in April I said 16 and 11 with an opening day win against a CC Sabathia struggling for control. The latter happened – CC gave up 4 and the Red Sox beat the Yankees 8-2. The 16 and 9 though became 19 and 8.

And then my 18 and 12 May became a 15 and 15 May. That’s a net difference over 2 months of 0. So that’s ok – No real surprises, apart from me thinking that R.A. Dickey would be better for the Jays than he was. That was a bit of a downer, but hey, that’s just knuckleball.

June I said was 13 and 14. It was 16 and 11 so the gentle trend started heading back up. That carried through to the All-Star break where I had Boston at 55 and 42. They were actually at a pleasant 58 and 39. This was nice but since 2011 happened, no Red Sox fan gets complacent across the back half of the season.

By September I had the Sox at a steady 76 and 61. The Sox had themselves at a decidedly rosier 81 and 56, and that level of disparity was pretty much how it ended – Me: 92 and 70. Reality: 97 and 65.

And the Red Sox won the World Series.

That was a good surprise. I’m still feeling the afterglow now, 5 games into Boston’s 2014 MLB campaign.

That’s what good surprises do – The build up is slow and sustained – Expectations are held in check and consequently every day is a good day. 1 time some years ago I got told I had to quit playing my beloved soccer due to a neck injury I’d sustained. I sobbed and fumed for a couple of weeks, sometimes both together, hot tears marking my face. Then I got a 2nd opinion and I could play again with some remedial action. I still remember my 1st match back, the feeling of walking out onto the pitch, the smell of the grass, the buzz of not caring whether we won or lost – It was a good day.

That was the 2013 Red Sox – They were an expensive wreck in 2012, posting a 69 and 93 record. Going into 2013 they had cut some big money off of the payroll and really, were just looking to play ball. And maybe because of that, they had an absolute ball – A great big, gaudy, fun dancing ball with silly hats, streamers and balloons and nobody hiding behind a couch. True, there were no Ferrari F12berlinettas but there were DUKW vehicles and they’re just as welcome.

I’d like that again please.

Only I’m not going to expect it. Nope. Instead I’m going to predict that the 2014 Red Sox win a good number of games and are around the postseason bubble in September. I reckon 92 wins sounds about right…

Let’s go Red Sox!

‘Cos I Ain’t The Way You Found Me

Soup of This Day #367: All The Commotion

James Hunt
The #20 Brabham BT20 in this photo is being driven by James Hunt. His cavalier style earned him the nickname, ‘Hunt the Shunt’ early in his extraordinary career – Photo: Gerald Swan, 1969. Gerald Swan is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Dear Tobacco Industry,

The other day I was at a public function when the MC gave the audience the standard no-smoking-please message. As she paused before her next scripted announcement, 1 of her senior colleagues casually interjected, promising us a ‘funny story’ about smoking.

He explained that when he had 1st commenced work there, many years ago, every 1 of his new colleagues smoked. Then he paused for a beat before delivering his killer punch line:

‘They’re all dead now.’

There are some things you can’t spin.

Tobacco is 1 of them. It causes cancer, among other evils, and via that bastard disease it kills people. Today, there is almost nobody who disagrees with that premise, including you guys – The very industry that still profits from the provision of those killer leaves. In 2014, your aggressive championing of your product has subsided to a sort of mumbling about restriction of commerce – There is absolutely no mention of the health or lack thereof of consumers, either directly or otherwise.

That otherwise is marketing by association and last century you got quite good at practicing that ad nauseum (Quite literally for some smokers, who developed emphysema and suffered from quite a bit of nausea as they died) via the sporting world. From the mid 1900s it was known that tobacco was a significant hazard to health, yet tobacco advertising was an ever-present part of the sporting world for decades thereafter. Why?

Because scientists and their bureaucratic overlords might tell us that a pack a day will kill us, but there is an inherent and attractive contradiction when your sporting idols, the very models of health, are implicitly enjoying the cool flavour of tobacco. Even when those bureaucrats wised up and banned you from airing direct TV and radio advertisements, as happened in the US in 1970 and here in Australia in 1972, you worked around this impost by sponsoring sporting events, such as Formula 1 Grands Prix.

Sure, you weren’t advertising on TV, but having your product name emblazoned on a sleek and futuristic car as it’s speeding image was broadcast to millions of viewers is a pretty good substitute. Health bureaucrats had mundane 2-dimensional billboards watching over mundane urban roads in a mundane and passive silence, while you, being such fine purveyors of death, had 3-dimensional billboards that could sexily blast along the sexy road circuit of Monaco in 1:30.28, and with a sexy deep-throated roar for a sexy accent. The former is like Nicholas Cage’s Seth in City of Angels, while the latter is like Nicholas Cage’s…

Ok, so I can’t think of a Nicholas Cage film where he’s the epitome of sexy. It’s just not my thing. Neither to be honest, was City of Angels, in which Cage played a morose angel called Seth, who was supposed to guide those near death through to the other life. That’s pretty much what health officials were doing when competing with tobacco advertising in Formula 1. For most you see, it’s better to live 5 years as James Hunt than 100 years being hounded by a miserable sod of an angel that looks like Nicholas Cage.

James Hunt was a wonderful advertisement for smoking tobacco.

He’d also have made a rip-snorting advertisement for cocaine if it had been legal. That it wasn’t didn’t stop him from indulging in it – Hunt was as famous for his vices as he was his piloting of a Formula 1 car – He was often pictured, cigarette in mouth and racing suit half undone, with a girl or many in close proximity. In the weeks leading up to the climatic 1976 Japanese Gran Prix, Hunt allegedly had sex with 33 British air hostesses. It didn’t distract him from his driving though – In a rain-swept race he finished 3rd, pipping Niki Lauda to the title by a solitary point. His car for that race was a McLaren M23, liberally branded with the name of a major cigarette company.

That company would be linked with McLaren and others in motorsport for some time. They even went on to sponsor a young drivers program, with Hunt acting as a mentor.

Here in Australia, that same company branded the Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback of legendary touring car driver, Peter Brock, as he won the 1978 Bathurst 1000.

And it wasn’t just motorsport that was sullied down here either – Another tobacco company sponsored cricket, and such was the nature of that game through the 1970s and 1980s, that players smoking in the dressing room was surely not that unusual a sight. It was only with the Australian banning of tobacco sponsorship of sporting events in 1992 that the death knell was sounded for tobacco in cricket. Even then there was a notable hold-out – Shane Warne, who would go on to amass the greatest number of Test wickets of any Australian bowler, debuted in 1992 and proceeded merrily along a James Hunt-like path, chasing cigarettes and sex.

Sadly James Hunt is no longer with us and wasn’t really around to nod appreciatively at Warne’s exploits – In 1993 the Formula 1 driver-turned-commentator died at the comparatively young age of 45 from a heart attack. Heart attacks can be associated with tobacco use, although it’s unclear in Hunt’s case as to whether tobacco was a factor. It could have also been the cocaine, the marijuana, the frequent and reportedly wild sex, or a natural genetic proclivity for heart attacks.

What I can say with some certainty is that tobacco killed my Grandad Brian, almost 25 years ago. He smoked and had done for a large portion of his life. Cancer resulted, metastasised and then painfully and horribly, it killed him. I still miss him – He was both nuggety and gruffly good-humoured, a tough gold miner who liked to tickle his grandsons’ faces with his whiskers as he tucked them in to bed at night. He told me how lasers worked and paid me to scrub rust off the towbar of his caravan. I loved and respected him dearly, but cancer and the tobacco that caused it care nought for any of that.

See, some things you can’t spin. Shane Warne, known as the ‘Sheik of Tweak’, managed to spin out 708 Test wickets in his career – I reckon though that he couldn’t find an ounce of turn in what tobacco did to my Grandad. You could even have etched the story of my Grandad’s death into the tread of a tire attached to the rear of a McLaren M23 and had James Hunt rev it up on a wet track before dropping the clutch and you still couldn’t have spun up any good out of what played out.

@#$% you. @#$% you and the horse you rode in on.

Yours, most sincerely,

Longworth72

All The Commotion

Soup of This Day #366: And Dance The Blues

Christmas Spider
A Christmas spider. These ornate Australian arachnids like to play as a team, making large community webs – Photo: Fir0002, 2005. Fir0002 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I’m ok with spiders – Most of them anyway. They generally don’t freak me out and I’m comfortable at having most species of the 8-legged critters closely inhabiting my world.

The notable exception to my comfort level with arachnids is Latrodectus hasseltii, more commonly known as the redback spider.

I have zero tolerance for the redback.

Which is a problem because they’re ever-present in the urban Australian environment. This is the same urban Australian environment that I am also ever-present in. We don’t, it’s true, sit down together often, but we are forced to hang out on occasion.

Actually I sit down while the redback hangs out, sometimes under the chair that I’m lounging in, about an inch from my arse.

There it sets what is rather wonderfully called a gum-footed tangle web. You’d think that nothing that is bad in this world could create a gum-footed tangle of anything. Instead it sounds like the kind of description you’d apply to my dancing – My feet are adhered to the floor as if it was fly-paper and yet a tangle of limbs is as sure as if there was a game of Twister. In spite of this, my dance floor grooving has only ever trapped bewildered looks, so no real harm has been derived from it.

The redback web by contrast ensnares all manner of bystanders and sadly for them, this net’s creator has intentions beyond those behind my good-natured locomotions. Basically, the redback spider wants to envenomate it’s helpless captives with a complex concoction, before sucking out the resultant liquefied insides.

That. Is. Not. Why. I. Dance.

To be fair to the redback, it’s not like they’re trying to entice victims in under false pretences – Just 1 look at 1 of them and you’re operating under no delusions that contact with this spider is a good thing. Their appearance bespeaks malevolence, exuding a brooding evil, with an inky-black body marked by an almost contradictory garish red stripe.

That red mark is a warning that a relationship with it’s bearer is not going to end well. It certainly doesn’t for the male of that species – Redbacks are members of the Black Widow family. The female cannibalises the male after sex.

So the redback spider isn’t a great standard-bearer for spiders. In Australia I’d give that role to Austracantha minax, which I’ve always known as the Christmas spider. They are so named because they become prominent around Christmas time each year and also because they look like tiny Christmas ornaments, the kind you might hang on a tree and gaze at, fondly remembering yuletides past.

That’s my kind of spider – I’m all for Christmas and for a bonus, according to Wikipedia, these ornate little critters give a bite that is:

‘…only mildly painful.’

Given that everything in this country bites, then ‘only mildly painful’ is as good as a warm hug. This festive arachnid is clearly for everyone.

Except maybe sporting outfits.

Your typical competitive team wants a mascot that is going to strike fear in the hearts of opponents and inspire confidence in the minds of fans. That’s just not what a Christmas spider is about – That’s more Redback territory.

Take the Perth Basketball Association (PBA) teams in Western Australia’s State Basketball League (SBL) and Women’s State Basketball League (WSBL). Founded in 1964, their men’s and women’s outfits have been known as the Perth Redbacks since 1984. On the court and they’re dangerous too – The women have won the WSBL title twice (1989 and 2000) while the men have won the SBL title 3 times since the league’s foundation in 1989 (1989, 1990 and 1997). The Perth Redbacks can also count Australia’s most successful basketball export among their alumni – Luc Longley, who won 3 NBL rings with Chicago.

And then there are the Southern Redbacks, the South Australian men’s cricket team. This outfit has has been a part of Australia’s premier domestic cricket competition, the Sheffield Shield, since it’s inaugural season, 1892/93. They have subsequently won the Shield 13 times and featured a host of great names, including Clarrie Grimmett, the Chappell brothers and imports such as Barry Richards and Garfield Sobers. Great stars of the game all, but they dim in comparison to South Australia’s brightest cricket representative.

Donald Bradman.

No gum-footed tangle, the Don, without question the greatest batsman to have played cricket, began his career playing for his native New South Wales but moved to South Australia in 1934. Thus began a relationship that went beyond Bradman’s exploits on the field – Where he retains the record for the highest score by a South Australian player (369). As well as playing, Don Bradman was a committee member of the South Australian Cricket Association from 1935 until 1986.

All of that though is history. Of late, mirroring the recent record of the Perth Redbacks, the Southern Redbacks have not seen much success. They last won the Sheffield Shield in 1995/96 and since then have finished 6th and last, 9 times. Had they finished last this season just completed they would have taken the wooden spoon home for a 5th consecutive season, an outright record in the modern, 6-team, era. Mercifully though, they managed to avoid that dubious honour with some style – They were in fact in contention for a spot in the final, right up until the conclusion of the regular season – Had they beaten, or even taken 1st innings points against Tasmania, they would have made it into at least 2nd and therefore a play-off for the Shield.

Sadly for those cricketing Redbacks, they struggled from the off, scoring just 212 runs in their 1st innings at Tassie’s Bellerive Oval home. The Tigers by contrast were less gum-footed at the crease and so managed to edge 1st innings points.

By a venomous 439 runs. Which is awkward and left the South Australians needing to make up those 439 runs before Tasmania could even be forced to bat again.

The Southern Redbacks got nowhere near their prey, being all out for a paltry 123 and thus losing by a deadly innings and 316 runs.

So maybe the name isn’t working out for them. I’ve found a use for that 8-legged handle though.

I’ve lately been battling depression. Again.

Winston Churchill dubbed his battles with depression, ‘the black dog’, and with respect to dogs of all hues, I think that this is a fitting description to apply. By envisioning bouts of depressions as visits from a dog, I feel like the depression loses power – I’m no longer defined by it, instead it is this corporal and external thing – A dog. Given that dogs are a person’s best friend, this black dog seems like it can be managed with some training.

So I think I have the dog under control. This black dog though isn’t my only problem – Depression and anxiety often go together and for me, the latter is an immediate problem.

Recently I was asked to find a personal descriptor for anxiety in the same way that Churchill had found a black dog for his depression, and after some thought I went with the redback spider. Because when anxiety is visiting I get adrenaline surges, waves of fear that seem to liquify my insides and leave me unable to move – Trapped in a gum-footed tangle.

Yeah, I’m not comfortable with the spider in the way that I am with a dog, but I’m not comfortable with anxiety either. I can deal with the spider though – I can dose it with bug-spray or I can squash it. I usually do both. I’d like to be able to do that with anxiety – Hose it’s sorry arse down and then flatten it with something serious. Like a basketball or a cricket bat.

I think that’s doable too – Anxiety has very physical symptoms – Sometimes so strong that I can feel like my heart is about to explode or that I can’t breathe, almost as if I’m dying. A redback spider bite is potentially fatal too but here’s the thing…

Since 1956, when an anti-venom was developed, nobody in Australia has been recorded as having died directly from a redback bite. I figure on telling myself that my own personal redback ‘bites’ won’t kill me either…

And Dance The Blues

Soup of This Day #365: Went Down To Santa Fe

Earthrise
From any point on the moon, Major League Baseball (MLB) games are best watched on TV, especially when it’s cloudy – Photo, Bill Anders, 1968. Neither Bill Anders or NASA are affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This Saturday the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks will be opening the 2014 MLB season at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). To clarify – That is Sydney in Australia, rather than Sydney in, say Canada.

The latter is a port community that was founded in 1785 and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It currently has a population of just over 31,000 but no apparent cricket stadium.

Sydney in Australia is also a port community, and it was founded in 1788 and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It currently has a population of just over 4,627,000 and is replete with a rather wonderful cricket stadium that is capable of housing the entire population of Canadian Sydney with some room to spare.

I needed to clarify the difference as Australia is not the most intuitive place to launch the predominantly American MLB season. Canada is a more likely location as it is conveniently situated immediately adjacent to the United States of America, home to 29 of the 30 MLB teams. Even more appropriately, the 30th team is actually Canadian, being the Blue Jays, who can be found in Toronto.

To clarify – That is Toronto in Canada, a scant 2,000km along the Trans-Canada Highway from Sydney in Canada, rather than Toronto in, say Australia, which is a scant 137km up the Pacific Motorway from Sydney in Australia. The Australian Toronto has no apparent baseball stadium.

True, the SCG isn’t a baseball stadium either, although it has featured the sport previously – The Chicago White Sox played an exhibition there in 1914, which is barely 100 years and 2 World Wars ago. As per it’s name though, the stadium is largely host to cricket and so a fair amount of work was required to prepare it for baseball. Most notably, 200 tons of Californian clay needed to be shipped in and then laid out in the pattern familiar to MLB fans everywhere.

The SCG curator though drew the line at harming his beloved wicket. That hardened strip of turf needed to remain ever-present just behind 2nd. All around though was a chaotic re-imagining of a classic MLB ground.


I hope the games aren’t rained out.

We are however an industrious lot down here, particularly in respect of sport, and so the task was completed in under 3 weeks. The SCG then is ready for baseball and everyone is excited about the opening contests of the MLB season. And why wouldn’t they be? The players will be visiting a lovely country, showcasing their skills for hospitable people and having the chance to get up close and personal with some of our wonderful wildlife. The excitement must be overflowing.

Or not.

The Dodgers’ Zack Greinke announced back in February that:

‘I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it. There just isn’t any excitement to it. I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.’

Generally, it’s fair to say that Zack probably won’t be hired by the Tourism Australia people any time soon.

More immediately, this could be seen as a public relations problem, a potential slur on the country of Australia. Australian baseball fans, such as me, could get upset that players like Zack could not get excited about visiting our home turf. In particular, Zack’s Dodgers have the largest payroll in the MLB – A staggering $231m. Surely that kind of money buys a little professional outreach. But no, Zac Greinke has taken his 2014 salary of $26m and announced that he’s got no enthusiasm for taking MLB on a trip most ordinary Americans would surely appreciate.

Fair enough I reckon.

The players are entitled to not be excited by coming all the way down here – They’ve had their regular pre-season routines heavily disrupted and then they’ve got onto a plane for the 17 hour flight to a timezone that is 18 hours ahead of what their body-clocks are used to. When they’ve got off the plane and gotten over the jet lag, then they’ll be meeting the wildlife.

Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Here’s the thing – It’s not personal but animals in Australia want to harm you. Take kangaroos for instance – These bounding marsupials can sometimes be chased by dogs. A defencive method that some kangaroos have adopted against an attacking canine is to lure it into a water source, like a backyard swimming pool, and then use those powerful hind legs to hold the offending dog down until it drowns.

That’s just not nice.

The platypus is another well-known symbol of this country. On paper it’s patchwork physiology is endearingly cute. In reality though it has cute little hind otter-feet that conceal spurs that deliver a venom capable of causing what Wikipedia says is:

‘…severe pain to humans.’

Which does not read like a cute kind of thing because it isn’t a cute kind of thing. It’s not cute at all.

Then there is every tourist’s Australian animal dream moment – Cuddling a koala. Which is not a bear and you’d probably think on face value that the lack of bear-liness is a positive. The thing is though that koalas sleep a lot. Like almost all of the day. And if you wake them up then you will get, a. Urinated on, and b. Flayed. Imagine a baby Edward Scissorhands getting dragged out of a deeply satisfying nap and in some ways you might end up preferring an actual bear, like a Kodiak for example.

And just to really put the ‘wild’ into wildlife – All 3 of those examples are vegetarians. They’re the ‘nice’ animals. Don’t let’s look at the fact that 10 out of the world’s 10 most venomous snakes are Australian. Or crocodiles – An animal that has evolved over the past 100m years to kill and eat stuff, with occasional breaks to digest the stuff that it killed and ate.

Just a quick Australian crocodile primer: Freshwater crocodiles are dangerous. Saltwater crocodiles use freshwater crocodiles as toothpicks. Saltwater crocodiles can be found in fresh water too. Just don’t go swimming.

Yep it’s tough down here, mostly I think because it’s a tough environment to live in. This then flows through to the sport that we embrace – Our cricketers play for 5 straight days under the scorching Australian sun and will still amiably accept a draw at the end of that.

Baseball then, has got some impressing to do in hostile surrounds.

And if it succeeds, what then? The 2 baseball teams that are visiting us represent the Greater Los Angeles Area (18.1m) and Arizona (6.6m). The last time MLB entrusted it’s opening weekend to an overseas locale, it went to Tokyo in Japan (Greater Tokyo Area, >35m). We’re talking big markets.

Australia is not a big market – The population is around 23.4m and some of us live a distance from our Sydney – Over here in Perth, we’re around 4,000km away from the SCG. The diameter of the moon is only around 3,470km. So I and a good number of my fellow Australians will be watching the game on TV.

Where we would have watched it if it had been in Tokyo again. Or Sydney in Canada. Or maybe Dodger Stadium. The latter would make more sense – Baseball is a bit like the Australian wildlife – Sure, you can see it in a zoo but the best experience is to hop on a plane and fly to it’s home to see it in the real wild. You might get bitten but that’s pretty much what MLB baseball is hoping – That enough Australians will be bitten and smitten by the MLB that we adopt the game as 1 of our own.

You can’t do the adoption thing if a koala bites you. We have laws about that.

So I figure then that MLB has got this wrong – Instead of flying 2 teams across the world to bring baseball to a few Australians, what they should do is fly a few Australians across the world to see baseball in it’s natural habitat. I volunteer me for this – Don’t worry, my hind spurs are not venomous.

Went Down To Santa Fe

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