Couch potatoes to blame
'‘Yes, I'll tell you a story," I said, "but no, I won't tell you a new one, writes Joe Bennett.
There aren't any new ones. There are only old ones rehashed. Same plot, new actors. The Greeks nailed all the good stories before Christ was spawned and we've just been retelling them since.
"They're simple things. You know them already. For example, a man lusts after wealth and glory and deceives his way to the top. But he finds that one deception breeds the need for more deceptions, until the edifice of deceit creaks, totters and crashes and the man dies a shrivelled nothing.
"Alternatively, he realises his triumph is hollow precisely because he deceived his way to it. Riven by guilt, he confesses all, divests himself of his wealth and spends the rest of his life wearing only a loin cloth from The Warehouse and doing good works.
"Or, and I think you'll immediately recognise the relevance of this one: a top athlete is brought low by medical trauma. He undergoes surgery. It is uncertain that he'll live, let alone return to his sport.
"But for this man, odds exist to be defied. Within six months of submitting to the surgeon's knife, he is back on the . . . what? Lance who? You mean the drug cheat? Oh, get off the grass. I'm talking of me, although I'll acknowledge the synchronicity.
"For on the day of Mr Armstrong's confession (and we'll come to that in a moment), I woke and grinned. Although I was suffering from, reading north to south, a sore head, shoulder, forearm, small of the back, all of the back, buttocks and ankle, I grinned because my knee was fine.
"Back in July that knee was meat on the surgeon's table, and I feared it would never fully recover, yet now, just six months later it had returned to the squash court and survived. What's more, I won the game. Can you believe that? I beat the mighty Grumbler. Heroism seems too niggardly a . . . what?
"No, of course the game wasn't televised. Sport is something to do, not something to watch. And that's the whole of Lance's undoing. If the world would only stop watching sport from the sofa or parking its lardy-arsed campervan halfway up some French mountain to catch a glimpse of 200 monomaniac ectomorphs pedalling past and would instead plant its own lardy-arse on a bike seat and indulge in a bit of happiness-inducing competitive exercise, there would be no wealth and glory to tempt the Lance Armstrongs of this world, and he could have led a blameless and heart-whole life selling real estate in Houston.
"But no. We prefer in this passive age to live our lives by proxy, to let other people act out the stories for us. And thus we arrive at the ridiculous situation of Tiger Woods, say, he of the pinging cocktail waitresses, earning more money a year than Belgium.
"But I was trying to tell you about my rout of The Grumbler. He and I have been thrashing it out on the squash court for a quarter of a century. We've played over 1000 games. We go there to release that stuff in the system that, as Ted Hughes put it, ‘bulls in June bellow away'.
"It's the primordial urge that we once needed to survive in a predatory world, but that's not much use in a shopping mall.
"But it's still there, lurking genetically, and to channel it harmlessly into the rule-bound arena of sport, be it squash, lawn bowls or . . . what confession? Lance's confession? Don't make me laugh.
"Confession is when guilt drives you to a dark little box with a grille concealing a pair of ears. You tell the ears what your conscience has been telling you throughout the sleepless night. The ears say nothing, as is the habit of ears. They are there merely to seal the pact you've made with your better self. And you emerge free, shriven, straight of spine and honest to goodness. So the nub of confession is that it's (a) voluntary and (b) private.
"Armstrong's was neither. He fessed up only when cornered, and he did so on camera in some hideous Houston hotel with the queen of prurient mawkishness.
"That wasn't confession. That was an exercise in self-serving public relations, mere entertainment for the lardy-arses.
"Whereas my triumph over The Grumbler, leading , as you may recall, to a sore head, shoulder, forearm . . . what?
"Oh no, squash doesn't make your head sore. That's from going afterwards for far too many celebratory beers.
"What? Oh, I see, performance-impairing drugs. That's very good."
» Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.
The Southland Times