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Soup of This Day #239: Smiling As The @#$% Comes Down

August 28, 2012

Early Egyptian juggling art
This piece of ancient Egyptian art depicts juggling. Or a rain of oranges – Image: Unknown, c1994-1781BC. Image cropped by Longworth72.

For the past 4 years I’ve been teaching myself to juggle.

I tend to go a little nuts with the metaphors so I probably should clarify that the juggling thing in this case isn’t 1 of those – I’m talking about the actual tossing of colourful balls into the air in such a way that they make beguiling and repetitive patterns. Preferably without caroming wildly off my head and then rolling under the kitchen table. The former is known in the trade as toss juggling while the latter is known in the trade as @#$%ing up. I already know how to @#$% up juggling – I am now learning the art of beguiling tossing.

Mostly by not juggling.

This is a strategy that I have developed in response to a couple of key things I picked up early on in my quest to juggle: a. I’m not very good at it, being stupefyingly uncoordinated; b. When you’re not very good at juggling you spend a lot of time, most of your allotment actually, crawling around picking up small colourful balls. Which is pleasant in its own way but not entirely productive; and c. You spend the remainder of your time apologising, either for hitting someone or something. This can be annoying for the whole family but in particular for the cats who have no appreciation for what I’m trying to achieve.

You can avoid all of these complications by practising not juggling. This is comparatively simple and involves writing a blog post while visualising yourself serenely juggling 7 flaming clubs.

Were I to actually try to juggle 7 flaming clubs it would not be serene – It would be arson.

Which is a nice lead-in to a football joke I read the other day. It’s based around the transfer of Arsenal’s Dutch striker Robin Van Persie to arch-rivals Manchester United. The Gunners did not want their talismatic captain to leave but quite possibly he’d had enough of Arsene Wenger’s Gallic tactics which emphasised pretty football moves over just winning stuff. Whatever the reason(s) Van Persie fled to Man U where he said lots of nice things about his new club, which in turn slighted his old 1 and its manager by comparison. Hence the following tweet:

@StupidFootball – Breaking News: Robin Van Persie’s north London apartment is on fire. Police suspect Arsene.

Robin Van Persie is quite good at juggling.

In football this is how we refer to the art of bouncing the ball on your feet, knees, head, etc., all while keeping it off of the ground. This display of ball control, also known as ‘keepy up’, can even be seen in the warm-up routines of junior matches and not always with a football.

While it might look like showing off there is a valid argument behind the practice – Quite simply, it means that you get to know how the ball handles that much better. You get to see the ball. You get to feel the ball. You are the ball. And when that ball comes flying in on the half bounce during a game, bobbling up in front of you, you have a better chance of getting it to do what you want it to do.

In my case that was almost always hoof it up-field and away from danger.

Consequently my football juggling skills stretch to flicking the ball to the right height for a volleyed punt. In the moments where I had more time my instinct was always to kill the ball, trap it dead and stationary 2 feet in front of my right boot – Then I would look up and assess options for a pass, preferable arrow straight along the deck – Putting the ball in the air was for crosses and desperate clearances.

So juggling of footballs was not for me. Not even as a goalkeeper was I fond of handling the ball. I threw all of my energy into stopping the ball from going into my net – This meant that I was great at palming the ball around the posts or over the bar.

Not juggling. If you’re a keeper and you’re juggling, something has gone wrong or is very soon about to.

I was not even good at catching a cross, preferring to punch or knock it clear. My great fear was that I would go up for the catch and somehow muck that up, dropping the ball smack into the danger zone a couple of metres out and where any stray boot could nudge it home. Much better to play the percentages, deflect it away and live to fight another day.

Or live to fight another cross, whichever came 1st.

And I was good at that – Keeping the ball out of my net. 1 time as a central defender I was in position to cut out a vicious cross but had nowhere to go with it – I was surrounded and so did the only thing I could – I volleyed the cross 1st time, sending it searing a foot or so above the crossbar to the whistles of breaths being drawn in.

I remember my keeper said nothing, maybe reading in my body language that I had it under control. A striker was not so wise and laid into me. I gave him an aggrieved stare, told him to mind his manners this side of halfway and let him know that the ball had gone exactly where I bloody well wanted it.

And it had too. I might not be able to juggle a football but I’ve never put 1 into my own net. Never in many years of playing have I scored an own goal.

Oh, I’ve stuffed up to the same degree and worse, gifting possession and goals with silly defending in the last line. I’ve conceded penalties and tripped over my own boots while attempting simple clearances. I’ve even misjudged a bouncing ball and let it run between my legs for a goal while keeping.

Or not bloody keeping as it was politely described at the time.

But never an own goal, which by definition occurs when a ball that was not on target is deflected into the goal by a member of the defending team. A good example could be seen in the recent 1st leg of Liverpool’s Europa League qualifying tie in Edinburgh against Scottish Premier League (SPL) side Hearts.

With the scores locked at 0-0 late in the game, Liverpool’s Martin Kelly sped down the right wing before cutting back a wicked cross that skidded across the face of goal. It somehow evaded the lunge of Liverpool striker Fabio Borini before clattering into the shin of the Hearts defender Andy Webster, who was in close attendance. The resultant ricochet cannoned into the ground before looping up and over the dive of the keeper and into the back of the net. It was to be the decisive moment in a game that finished as a 0-1 win away for Liverpool.

In spite of that you can’t fault Webster – @#$% happens and although it never happened like that for me I reckon that was more down to luck than anything like talent. And anyway, if you watch the footage Webster doesn’t cry over spilt milk, he just starts walking back to his position for the kick-off. @#$% happens and you get on with it – A proper defender that lad is.

He can probably juggle the ball pretty well too.

Unlike me, who I’m learning is not cut out for juggling of any number of balls. Which probably begs the question as to why I’m going to persist with it. The answer, just like for juggling, lies in the timing:

I decided to learn to juggle around the time The Noah came into the world. He was then, and still is, at the centre of my orbit. Now though he’s 1 half of a binary star system and so I have The Angus to consider as well. The juggling thing is pretty simple when you consider them – I just want to make them smile, maybe even laugh. It seems like a cool way of doing that.

Only so far I’m not good at juggling. The good news is though that it might not matter. On Sunday just past I was hanging out some washing when The Noah brought me 3 plastic eggs and requested a display of juggling.

I was hopeless, plastic eggs went everywhere, without so much as a hint of symmetry.

I tried again.

And then again. Each attempt ending with eggs scattered across a wide swath of territory.

And did The Noah smile?

He laughed. A glorious, uproarious laugh.

Imagine what he’ll do when I get it right.

Smiling As The @#$% Comes Down

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