08 January 2009

Ich trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch Lager mit Chips!

...oder Benylin mit Paracetamol...

No, no, I'm fine, thanks for asking. Don't worry about me, I'm only riddled with cold virus and can barely stand up for need of a solid vertical surface against which to prop my dizzy self. I'll get my own grapes and fancy chocolates, then.

As Johan Cruijff almost said, every advantage has its disadvantage. For instance, my voice is currently a good flattened fifth below its normal pitch. Each time I speak, I set off seismometers in Peru and cause any woman in earshot to blush. Yet, as if nature realises that such wanton sexiness could well be so powerful as to send the planet into reverse rotation, my body is full of snot from the chest upward, rendering me horrid to all living beings.

But there is at least one incontrovertible pleasure to be had about being laid up at this time of year, and that's having the chance to watch darts.

That's right -- wondrous, glorious darts. And this isn't the Nurofen Cold & Flu talking, either. I love darts. I love how it's easy to play but astoundingly difficult to play well. I love how it's not enough just to score big if you can't finish well (like how in golf, you can be terrific from tee to green, but if you can't putt well, you may as well have stuck to that book-keeping course you abandoned to pursue your dream). I love how it's unforgiving of error: so narrow are the margins that a slight mid-match deterioration in form can be catastrophic, and a small improvement can turn swill into wine (or cheap lager, anyway). I love the crap walk-on music and the super slo-mo replay of the dart shuddering as it hits the board.

I love how, even though the action moves at a pelt, it is technically a stop-start game; it allows a player to think himself into a useful or self-sabotaging frame of mind before each dart. I love how, even though a player is trying to do better than his opponent, he is basically playing against himself: wrestling with his own mind and whatever capricious force seems to be guiding his darts.

I love how, at its best, it is almost unbearably dramatic. There is little better than a high quality, neck-and-neck darts game. Most of all, perhaps, I love how it's presented in such a simple form that anyone can understand it, even if tanked up on fizzy ale (or strung out on cough medicine).

But I'm 'hip' to "what's what". I keep an '''ear''' to the ''''ground''''. I'm aware of the great questions of our age, the conundrums which tax the cerebral fortitude of our finest thinkers: is string theory really the key to understanding the differences between general relativity and quantum mechanics? How can the conflicts in the Middle East possibly be resolved? Don't the verses of 'What's Up?' by 4 Non Blondes sound just a tad too much like Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' to be a co-incidence?

But it seems that the greatest riddle of all is: is darts a real sport?

This we know because it was earnestly debated on BBC Radio Five Live's late morning phone-in programme the other day. (Why was I listening to that show? Because I'm an idiot, okay? Happy now?) The sages who contributed put forward several claims as to why it is not a sport: it's just a pub game, no better than shove ha'penny; its prevalence of fat biffers, one ex-world-champion example in particular; it's not a sport if you don't have to change your shoes to play it; one can't put it in the same category as archery because the latter has traditionally been the domain of the upper classes ("the sport of kings", as the caller in question put it).

Why they worry? Is it not a wonderful thing that human ingenuity has been able to channel our natural instincts for play and competition in so many ways? It may be that one derives less pleasure from someone throwing a flighted spike at a sisal disc than from some people kicking an inflatable orb around a field, but that does not make the former less legitimate. They're just different manifestations of the same thing.

What I'm really intrigued about is why it should be so important to distinguish between sport and games. To take the darts/archery comparison mentioned above: what separates the two activities? What renders one a 'sport', dignified by its presence at the Olympic Games, and the other merely a 'game', of a lower class, fit for scoffing at and little more?

Forgive me if I come across as overly fanboyish in my willingness to defend darts, but I detect some snobbery. Snobbery comes in various guises. For example, as I was saying to the Rainiers the other day, if one were to compare the award I won to that which you...oh, what's that? You didn't win an award? (Chuckles) Oh...oh dear! What a shame! Just leave, leave right away. And do curtsey on your way out, won't you?

The darts-is-not-a-sport line reminds me more of those who would have us believe that English is a citadel that needs defending from the linguistic barbarism of txtspk and apostrophe abuse and the neglect of a coccygeal remnant of an obsolete case system. 'Sport' is not a concept so precious that its definition needs to kept scrupulously pure. Darts is not "beneath" anyone or their favourite sport. Allowing darts to be considered a sport will downgrade your own chosen passion -- be it a code of football or a racquet sport or a racing sport or whatever -- not a jot. There is no need for neurotically Trussian fussiness because, to repeat, it's all the same thing and -- more importantly -- it's all great. There is something in every sport, on some level, which is attractive to anyone who gets sport, who has found a way into a sport -- any sport -- and who isn't pathologically averse to the idea of sport. If you don't get a specific sport, even on a very basic, I-kinda-see-why-people-might-like-this level, then you're not trying hard enough. And if you find that you have to rationalise your inability to get it on spurious grounds of categorical rectitude or lexicographical accuracy, then you've lost sight of the issue.

Just kick back and enjoy it, or at least arsing well pipe down and let the rest of us do so. It's either that or I bore you with details of the strange dreams my addled brain has been producing. (Say, floating, be-ice-picked head of Trotsky -- weren't you Greta Garbo on a gnu just a second ago?)

Photos: *Leilani, Stone Cold Crazy, doctorbob, polaroidmemories


Brian 8/1/09 7:11 PM  

Not sure if this will make you feel any better, but the debate in the US a few years ago was over the all-important question of whether poker was a sport. Which surely means we'd have accepted darts long ago, if we had ever actually heard of it.

Love the guardians-of-English analogy, by the way.

Fredorrarci 8/1/09 11:01 PM  

I've been known to watch a bit of poker in my time, but that may be more because of Victoria Coren than anything else.

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