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A wry view of life for the world-weary

Category Archives: Sport

What Is The Origin Of (155)?…

Gaffer

We are some way into what seems to be another interminable football season where outrageously overpaid “stars” hog our TV screens and back pages of our newspapers. Invariably when said “stars” are able to string a couple of words together in the always illuminating post-match interview, there is a reference to the gaffer, the manager or the boss. Football seems to be one of the last industries in which this quaint term for the person in charge is used but where did it come from?

The earliest recorded reference to the noun was, according to etymologists, around 1565 to 1675. It was used as a term of respect, employed by country folk to refer to their elders and betters, someone to whom due deference had to be accorded on account of their experience or position in the community. It appears simply to have been a contraction of either godfather or grandfather, or both. It is comparable to gammer, a noun to describe an old woman, which was a contraction of godmother or grandmother and first appeared around the same time. Unlike gaffer, though, gammer sank into obscurity, perhaps only to re-emerge when the first female professional football manager is appointed.

As time moved on, its meaning broadened to indicate an old man, irrespective of status and prestige, particularly an old rustic, with a slightly patronising, if not pejorative, side to it. By 1841 it was being applied to the head of a group of labourers or what we might term the foreman, again showing that it was being used as a mark of respect or at least an acknowledgement of rank or position. Our noun appears in the English translation of Honore Balzac’s Two Poets, the original published in 1837, with the sense that the gaffer is the boss or leader of a group; “He had dragged the chain these fifty years, he would not wear it another hour, tomorrow his son should be the gaffer.” And it has kept that sense to this day.

If you stay long enough in a cinema and have eyesight sharp enough to make sense of the credits – I fail to qualify on either count – you will see that someone occupied the position of gaffer. The gaffer in the film industry is the head electrician and their responsibilities include the execution and, occasionally, design of the lighting plan for a film. The pre-eminence of the position amongst the techies may have earned it the title of gaffer, adopting the sense of the noun as it has developed over the centuries. However, it may also have a different origin, reflecting the fact that overhead equipment was moved in the early days using a gaff, a handle or pole with a hook on the end. I think this is probably where it came from in this particular context.

The term gaffer as a term in the movie business first appeared in print in 1929 in Mary Eunice Macarthy’s The Hands of Hollywood, seven years earlier than the first citation attested in the Oxford English Dictionary. The gaffer’s assistant is known as the best boy, irrespective of sex.

And just to finish off our consideration of the term gaffer, the Irish, to illustrate their contrariness, use it to describe a youngster, usually male, while in glass blowing circles, the gaffer is the master blower, responsible for shaping the glass.

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Sporting Event Of The Week (8)

Ordinarily it would take the longest stretch of the wildest imagination to describe last Saturday’s Evo-Stick North Premier league fixture between Halesowen Town and Shaw Lane AFC as such, notwithstanding the visitor’s recent FA Cup exploits. It was a typically dour 0-0 draw with the visitors starting off stronger but the Yeltz clawing their way back into the game and, perhaps, being unlucky not to snatch a win.

For me it was a landmark game – it was the first time I had taken my eldest grandson, BoJ1, to a football match. It was going to be Shrewsbury versus Charlton but international call ups, primarily but not exclusively from Charlton, put paid to that. If he gets half the enjoyment I have had from watching football at all levels, I will have done him a favour!

Sporting Event Of The Week (7)

Those of us who mourn the fact that the game of conkers has rather gone into the doldrums  thanks to the questionable efforts of the ‘Elf and Safety brigade, at least in schools, fearing that the little darlings will get a wrap on the knuckle from a stray shot or that fragments of an exploding conker will get into their eyes, will be heartened by the news that that the Northamptonshire village of Southwick hosted the World Conker Championships last weekend.

230 competitors from 14 countries as far-flung as New Zealand, the United States and Russia took part in the championship which was held, as usual, in the grounds of the Shuckburgh Arms. The winner of the male competition was an 85-year-old Chelsea Pensioner, John Riley, while Julie Freeman won the women’s competition and then claimed the overall crown by overcoming Riley’s stout resistance.

The competition nearly didn’t go ahead because there was a shortage of decent conkers. Many had dropped early this year – autumn does seem to have arrived earlier this year – but enough were gathered to save the day.

For those interested in playing the game properly, there must be at least 8 inches of lace between your knuckle and the conker and each player takes three alternate strikes at their opponent’s nut. The game is decided when one conker is smashed. If there is no result after five minutes, then each player is allowed a further nine strikes. If there is still no result, the winner is the one who struck his opponent’s conker most times.

It brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.

Sporting Event Of The Week (6)

News has reached me of Paul “Under-the-thumb” Browse’s success at the 9th World Thumb Wrestling Championship held at the Locks Inn at Gedleston in Norfolk last weekend. He beat Tom “Young Dumb and Full of Thumb” Wright from this year’s City of Culture, Hull, in a tense and thrilling final to retain his crown.

The sport is fairly simple. Competitors stick their thumb of choice through a hole in a wooden board which is decorated to resemble a wrestling ring. Elbows are to be firmly planted on the surface at all times. Contests last for two rounds of sixty seconds and the winner is the one who, in the referee’s opinion, has pinned their opponent’s thumb down for the length of time it takes to say “one, two, three, four, I win the thumb-o-war.” If there is no winner there is a sort of penalty shoot-out in th form of a sudden death game of scissors, paper and stone.

As well as locals competitors came from as far as America, Poland, Germany, Australia, India and South Africa to stand thumb to thumb with the champ. Several hundred spectators watched the fun and, I understand, that next year’s competition is to be streamed live to a worldwide audience.

The rule that fingernails are to be kept short does not deter the fairer sex and Becca ‘Thumby Thumbkenstein’ Anne from Gillingham in Norfolk won the Women’s Championship.

Hobby Of The Week (2)

I am firmly in the camp that views golf as a long walk spoiled, a comment falsely attributed to Mark Twain but which seems to have been first used in print by H S Scrivener in 1903. As a sport it is slightly counter-intuitive in that the worse you are, the longer it takes. Usually, in competitive sports if you are a complete duffer, you are able to get off the field of play in pretty short order.

I can just about tolerate miniature golf aka crazy golf but I am not as obsessive as Richard and Emily Gottfried, whose exploits came to my attention this week. They have visited and played 743 miniature golf courses, from Cornwall to Loch Lomond and aim to finish the lot – there are some 800 in total – over the next twelve months. The only worm cast on the green is that more seem to be opening up – there were only 600 when they started – making their self-imposed task even more difficult.

It all began, as it often does, at Southsea in Hampshire in 2006 when the couple played a pirate adventure golf course there. Richard won a free game, they returned the next day and they were hooked.

As Emily commented, it was a way of “getting out and about the country.” As someone who once visited all the football grounds in England and Scotland, I can empathise with that.

Sporting Event Of The Week (5)

When I’m in foreign parts I can sit for hours and admire the agility of chaps as they shin up coconut trees. Feet with rock hard skin, strong leg muscles and a head for heights seem to be the order of the day.

I was pleased to learn this week that George Iona from the Cook Islands has been proclaimed the first world champion coconut tree climber, scaling an eight metre tree in just 5.62 seconds, a hundreth of a second faster than the pre-competition favourite, Fiapa’i Ellio, from American Samoa. The event was held in the garden of the Tahiti Museum and the sixteen contestants had two attempts to post their best time.

The favoured method was to wear a loop of rough rope around the ankles to get a better grip on the tree’s trunk.

Now there’s an Olympic sport, if I ever saw one. No coconuts were disturbed during the competition which seems a bit of a shame – there is nothing like fresh coconut milk.

And the other World Championship that piqued my interest was the Snail Racing Championship held in Congham, Norfolk last weekend. The competition has been going since the 1960s and the gastropods are put in a circle and the one that reaches the perimeter the fastest is the winner. This year’s champ is Larry the Snail who reached the finishing post in 2 minutes 47 seconds, overcoming the challenge of Uslime Bolt, and getting its muscular foot on the trophy – a vase full of lettuce leaves (natch)!

Sporting Event Of The Week (4)

As our attention has been grabbed by matters Russian this week news reached me of an unusual sporting event held annually in the village of Krylovo in the Urals – hurling a cow pat the size of a dinner plate.

There seems to be two favoured methods of propelling the pat through the air, throwing it as though it was a discus or adopting a cricket-style overarm action.

This year’s winner, Alexander Evdokimov, set a new record, throwing his pat a massive 56 metres, although he was nearly robbed of his glory. Bad weather meant that this year’s crop of pats were not of the right consistency to chuck and the competition was only rescued because organisers were able to get their hands on a reserve supply from last year.

Let’s hope the weather improves in time for next year’s competition. I wonder if they’ve thought of a suitable target?!

Sporting Event Of The Week (3)

TOWT, aka my wife, and I occasionally spend a pleasant weekend in the environs of the beautiful village of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. I have noticed the locals walk with a strange gait and now I know the reason why. It is all down to the ancient sport of shin-kicking, the championship for which has been held on the adjacent Dover’s Hill since 1612.

The rules are quite simple. The contestants stick straw down their trouser legs and assault each other’s shins with gusto. The winner is the last person standing and it is thought to be a variant of Cotswold Wrestling.

Alas, I read this week, the 2017 games, scheduled for June 2nd, have just been cancelled. The organisers cite a number of reasons for the decision including dwindling attendances, a reduction in the number of contestants and increased ‘elf and safety requirements, all of which have contributed to a shortage of dosh to stage this year’s event. The organisers hope, however, that they will be able to stage the event again next year.

As the fates of all of us are in the hands of a group of Alpha males, I have a suggestion. They could all be invited to Chipping Campden and settle the world’s problems with a few bouts of shin-kicking. They could then retire to the excellent Eight Bells and sample some of Hook Norton’s finest. I offer this suggestion to you, Boris, free of charge. Let’s see if you can make a mess of that.

The world would be a safer place and one of England’s finest traditions would be restored. What’s not to like?

Bull Of The Week

Not being a fan of bull fighting, I always raise my montera when I hear of a bull getting its own back. A bull in Mexico City called Caporal certainly got its revenge and I’m sure it was sweet, if a  story I came across last week is true.

Matador, Antonio Romero, was in the ring with the bull, doing his stuff, annoying the hell out of the beast and trying to get it to turn around. Caporal decided enough was enough, caught the matador on the arm, knocking him off balance and proceeded to ram one of his eleven inch horns up Romero’s fundament. According to medics, the horn destroyed Romero’s anal sphincter and very seriously damaged his rectum.

Romero was rescued and is recovering in hospital. There is no truth in the rumour that he is considering giving up being a matador because he finds it a pain in the arse.

As for Caporal, he lives to fight another day.

I Predict A Riot – Part Twenty One

disco650

The Disco Demolition Riot – July 1979

As an Englishman I find the attractions of baseball mystifying. It is a glorified game of rounders that is tedious in the extreme, punctuated only by the cheesy seventh innings stretch. And because of the American fetish with finding a winner – draws are not in their national psyche – if there isn’t a victor at the end of nine innings, it goes on interminably until someone has an advantage. I may have been unlucky with the baseball games I have seen live but this seems a regular occurrence. And they say cricket is boring!

As far as music went, the 1970s was a mix of the very good and the downright awful. Firmly in the latter camp was disco music, something that drove me to distraction and dissipated all of my natural bonhomie. It seemed that there were many at the time who shared my views. So what could possibly go wrong if you mixed a deadly dull game like baseball with a marmite-like genre such as disco music? The events at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12th 1979, that’s what.

For the double header between the local team, the White Sox, and Detroit Tigers the promoters offered entry at a bargain price of $0.98 if you brought and handed in a disco record. At the interval between the games, local DJ, Steve Dahl, an arch-critic of disco music who had recently been fired from WDAI-FM when it switched to become an all disco station, would blow up the records using fireworks. The promotion for the so-called Disco Demolition night worked well with an official attendance of 59,000 and a further 15,000 milling around outside the stadium. According to some reports, the air was heavy with the sweet smell of marijuana.

The White Sox lost the first game 4-1 and with due ceremony a crate full of the offending disco records was wheeled into view. Dahl blew them up to smithereens, creating a small crater in the outfield. The playing area was not guarded and a large section of the crowd – some estimates put the numbers at between five and seven thousand – ran on to the grass, forcing the White Sox team, limbering up for the second game to fell to the relative safety of the clubhouse. The ground was trashed, the batting cage overturned, base poles stolen and vinyl records were thrown like Frisbees or burnt. A large bonfire was lit on the centre of the pitch.

disco651

Appeals for calm went unheeded and at 9.08 pm the Chicago cops in full riot gear appeared on the scene. The rioters quickly dispersed, although 39 not quickly enough as they had their collars felt and charged with disorderly conduct. The ground was so badly damaged – the field resembled “a grassy moonscape” – that the second game was abandoned and awarded 9-0 to the Tigers.

And the aftermath? The owner of the White Sox, Bill Veek, sold them the following year and his son, Mike, was unable to get a job in baseball for some time, claiming he had been blackballed because of the incident. Disco music soon waned in popularity shortly after the riot, with record companies rebadging the stuff as dance music. Dahl claimed in an interview some time later that the Disco demolition Night “hastened its demise”. For Dahl, this was the end of his anti-disco rallies but it shot him to national fame, becoming a radio superstar in the windy city.

It would never have happened at Lord’s!