Exotic creatures found at country house

It’s taken a long time to get here, but finally the story of the Cliveden Snails is uncovered!

It’s a perfect story for silly season: a species of snail, common in southern Europe but unknown here, has been found in the balustrade of a famous British country house, the slimy denizens presumably hitching a lift when the balustrade was imported in the 19th century.

What I like about this story is the way the reporter plays the prose very, very close to the edge – “Over the years, the snails would have had the chance to witness a number of seminal moments in UK politics.” Given the pond life that inhabits Whitehall and Westminster these days, it’s hardly worth writing about…

In praise of useless sports

I’m struck by just how many events at the Olympics are in fundamentally ridiculous sports.

Now running, jumping, and cycling are all nominally useful activities – they keep you fit and get you places. But the number of ‘silly’ sports is getting, well, silly.

I mean, I’ve tried to be interested in the diving, I really have – and as a swimmer myself I should be more interested than most. But a huge event dedicated to …. jumping off a platform above a big pool of water and … being able to hit it? Doesn’t gravity play the main part in that? Now, a competition where you had to MISS the water – that’d take real skill, and would be something I’d tune into.

I can appreciate that it takes huge concentration and skill to do six triple backflips, three complete twists, and barbecue a hamburger while singing ‘Evita’ in the few seconds between jumping and splashing, but being penalised for ‘making a splash’ (you’re entering WATER, dumbkopf) just seems silly.

And as an aside, the number of my adult female friends who are perving on 14-yr old Tom Daley is really bad. This is the same demographic that was slavering to see 17-yr old Harry Potter naked on the London stage a while back. Why is this supposed to be amusing, when if it happened in reverse there’d be an outcry? (Phwooooar, look at that 14yr old girl gymnast, guys! Whwoooar! See what I mean?)

And the contact sports like Tae Kwon Do. Britain’s Sarah Stephenson had a protest this morning for… hitting her opponent. I mean, shouldn’t the fighting sports at least involve, y’know, people actually hurting each other? Getting a red card when you manage it? Where’s the sport in that?

Synchronised swimming is an easy target, but I had to mention this: apparently Hiromi Kobayashi of Japan had to be rescued by lifeguards yesterday after suffering breathing difficulties during her routine.(Does this mean all her teammates had to feign they were drowning as well? What’s the etiquette in such situations?)

And try as I might, I cannot remember which sports are included in the pentathlon, heptathlon, and decathlon (which probably includes all of them) but there’s bound to be plenty of useless ones. The pentathlon is prefaced by ‘modern’ because the Greek original included wrestling and a naked 100m dash – why on earth did they replace those things? It’d make it far more memorable.

Canoeing is borderline useful/useless – if you’re ever stuck in the Canadian rockies I suppose a canoe might, occasionally, be useful, although it’s not the sort of equipment you carry ‘just in case’ is it? However, Spain’s David Cal, on winning silver in the 500m canoeing, promptly threw up on the platform, tipping it over the edge into the realms of the ridiculous. Perhaps this could be considered for 2012: competitive projectile vomiting.

I’ve wondered why most of the stadiums are half-empty. Perhaps it’s got nothing to do with overzealous Chinese authorities; it’s just that spectators have realised “Wow, you know what – this sport is really, really silly! Anyone know a good place for Dim Sum?”

And don’t get me started on the WINTER Olympics. What is this ‘luge’ thing? Why not just call it ‘sledging’? And add a twist of snowman-building at the end? Sport should be entertaining.

Perhaps this could be a motif for 2012 after the coming years of recession and poverty: a ‘back to basics’ Olympics, scratchy shirts and chalk marks on dirt floors (they won’t be finished anyway) for a few sports that are actually useful activities, like running, swimming, and throwing things. Let’s face it, we’re not going to top that opening ceremony; maybe we should make a conscious stand against it.