I’m currently staying with my elderly father, primarily engaged upon combining mowing the lawn in between the rain showers and watching sport on television.
On Friday we watched an hour or two of the first cricket Test Match between England and Sri Lanka at Headingley – with eight wickets down, Bairstow and Finn were cementing England’s recovery progress from a mini-collapse on the opening day towards a match-winning first innings total.
Watching sport with my elder and better has the attendant complication that his understanding of the latest rules of the activity in question is about forty years out of date [as opposed to my twenty].
Thus I have to field a near-incessant stream of queries of the ilk “Who is that?” (as a new bowler comes on to bowl or any batsman prepares to face a ball) … “What’s happening now?” (as an umpire’s decision is referred upstairs) … “Where is this game taking place?” (about every ten minutes) … and “What is the population of Sri Lanka? (this one of his particular favourites, deployed whenever a non-GB country is playing against a British team).
On the last of these, as in now my practice, I nipped to the computer, tapped into Google, obtained the answer and then added it to the postcard that sits on the television room mantelpiece which contains an ever-lengthening list of the populations of countries that my father has asked about.
[Since you ask, that of Sri Lanka is 20.8 million].
During a break in proceedings we were returned to a studio overlooking the ground in which three gents discussed the state of play. Who were they, I was asked. I’m in my mid-sixties so I’m pretty sure I got the first two correct [David Gower and Michel Atherton], as would have my father ten years ago, but – and I trust this is not a reflection of any racial prejudice on our part – neither of us had the faintest idea of the identity of the presumed former Sri Lankan great sitting to the right of the screen.
Yesterday we began by watching the first half of the first Aviva Premiership semi-final of the day [Saracens v Leicester Tigers] which kicked off at 1230 hours. I’m slightly more up to date on rugby than cricket so once we’d got past issues such as where the game was being played, which were the team playing in green and white, who was the large Tigers centre from one of the Pacific Islands [Manu Tuilagi, originally from Samoa] and then the population of Samoa [easy to discover because it was already enshrined on my mantelpiece postcard], we got down to business.
For some reason my father gets particularly exercised when an attacking player jinks past or outruns his opponents (“Why don’t they tackle him, for God’s sake?” Answer: “They’re doing their best, Dad …”).
I always find this complaint slightly ironic because, as any re-acquaintance with footage from the halcyon days of amateur rugby will soon starkly confirm, the defensive skills of modern rugby players are infinitely superior to those of their elite counterparts of yesteryear.
After a break in order to visit another elderly relative for tea, we returned home to settle down and watch the FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United on BBC1.
I was not much taken with what appeared to be a concerted effort by the FA to make the opening of the event more modern and relevant for modern audiences by staging an attempt to mount a mini version of a [American Football] Super Bowl entertainment spectacular.
This involved lots of pageantry, a military band, some sort of music combo either rapping and/or performing a hip-hop number, a choir of ladies to sing Abide With Me and a young lady in a scartlet dress and stiletto heels to lead the singing of the National Anthem.
Sadly, the hip-hop (rap) interlude did not qualify as music in our household … the ladies choir seemed incredibly amateurish … and the lady in scarlet missed her cue and ended up following, rather than leading, the rendition of God Save The Queen.
The verdict on the FA’s spectacular from our sofa was regrettably a miserable 3 out of 10.
The verdict on the game from the same vantage point – at least up to the scoring of the first goal by Crystal Palace after about 78 minutes – was not dissimilar.
In short, it was a bore-fest. It seemed as if Palace had come to ‘park the bus’ in front of their goal and place all their chips on the occurrence of some instance of luck, or possibly the hope that Manchester United would eventually ‘punch themselves to a standstill’ in the style of George Foreman against Muhammad Ali in Zaire. Meanwhile United seemed to have adopted the strategy of passing the ball endlessly sideways – a la Butch Wilkins – instead of going forwards.
As it happens, we did not see the denouement and thereby missed any late drama and excitement that other viewers enjoyed. By then we had switched channels to watch an hour-long documentary on the Battle of Jutland beginning on Channel Four at 8.00pm …