You're never too old to play a few head games

I was then at an age when getting knocked senseless in the cause of sport was to be expected
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The Independent Culture
THE GOOD news was that I could remember my name. The month of the year, on the other hand, was a problem. I aimed for December, which felt about right but turned out not to be.

The doctor asked me the name of the Prime Minister - the same question, according to John Bayley, to that asked of Iris Murdoch when it was first suspected that she was becoming a little unwell. She answered, like a true philosopher, "Does it really matter?" I replied, with the pride and confidence of a Mastermind finalist, "It's Tony, isn't it? Tony Blair."

In spite of this triumph, the doctor seemed unconvinced that I was in a fit state to be released back into the community. He left me, lying vacantly, in my cubicle in Casualty. Next door, an old lady in a state of post-Murdochian mental confusion was causing a bit of a fuss, expressing herself with a range of grunts and roars that only roughly approximated to human language.

A nurse wandered by, with that special air of weary boredom of those who work in hospital wards. She glanced at my notes, which must have read something like, "Knocked out playing football. Thinks it's December." The look that she gave me was rather less than sympathetic.

I felt tearful. A bang on the head seems to affect me this way. The last time I was knocked out cold had been after falling from a horse called Cardamom at the last fence in the Heythrop Four-Mile Open point-to-point. When I came round in the ambulance tent, I blubbed for a bit. "You've had a fall," my brother told me. "Well, at least it wasn't in the Four- Mile Open," I said. But that was 30 years ago when I was at an age when getting knocked unconscious in the cause of sport was to be expected.

Now, as I lay in Casualty, questions beyond the name of the Prime Minister drifted mistily into my addled brain. I remembered nothing of the incident that had landed me here, but a friend who drove me to hospital told me the ball had been loose and I had run after it, so had an opposing defender. On impact, I had turned about three somersaults and landed on my head.

Apparently, I had lain prostrate for a few seconds while my opponent, unsportingly, and in the face of all the evidence, suggested to the referee that I was faking it. I'm told that I was escorted to the touchline, where I sat, blank-eyed, before wandering back on to the pitch, and then off again. A physio from a neighbouring game looked into my eyes and, finding no one at home, suggested that I should go to the hospital.

Somehow, I sensed that the nurse would be less than interested in this action replay. The question I could see that only good manners had prevented her asking was not "What happened?", but "Aren't you perhaps getting a bit old for all this?"

How absurd; how unkind. The last time I had been asked that question was during my days as a part-time restaurant musician. Perhaps, just possibly, a so-called friend had implied, there comes a moment when a man has to come to terms with the fact that his days of playing "Tequila Sunrise" in a pizza parlour are over, that after a certain point he may even begin to look silly, undignified.

Doubtless she would also have thought that tearing down the wing after a 50-50 ball, flying through the air and landing on your head was also silly, undignified. She might even have used the term "mid- life crisis", and suggested that someone behaving in this way had a problem - he might be unable, unwilling, to face up to who, and specifically where, he was in life.

But what the hell. The same unanswerable question is probably what Hillary has been asking Bill over the last few months, and what Richard Branson was asked as he clambered, grinning, out of his latest flop of a balloon, and Chris Bonington as he headed up yet another mountain, and Chuck Berry as he set off on his zillionth world tour, and endless thousands of pie- eyed optimists as they fell in love with someone who makes the spectators in the comfy seats, life's grandstand jockeys, worry on their behalf. Oh dear. Aren't you getting a bit old for this?

Maybe it's due to the bang on the head - I'm told that the confusion can last for days - but at this point all I'm really concerned about is getting match-fit for a major international, organised by the Anglo-Italian Friendship Society next weekend. December will come soon enough.

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