Now, all the subtlety seems to have gone out of it. Imran Khan, I read, "admitted in a biography that he had once used a bottle top in 1981 when he was playing for Sussex.". Sheesh. You mean he bowled the bottle-top overarm? Obviously not. I could only conclude that Mr Khan had somehow attached the bottle-top to the ball (Sellotape? Pritt?) in the hope of weighing it down on one side - but surely risking detection by even the blindest of umpires. The cunning devil (unless that's a deadly insult in Hyderabad). And will every other ball sport now yield up its tampering secrets? Will we find Dave Seaman rubbing a football on his groin to alter its wind resistance? Will Tim Henman risk the obloquy of his peers by sneakily attaching lead weights to one side of his yellow Slazenger balls as he serves for the match?
Conversations of Our Time. The most recent in this occasional series was overheard at the Masters of Music gig in Hyde Park a couple of weekends ago. A whole snorting gallery of rock luminaries from Gary Glitter to Bob Dylan was crammed into the backstage tent, waiting to have their photograph taken for Hello! magazine. Also there was the Prince of Wales, in understandably fun-loving, about-to-get-divorced-yippee-must-buy-a-Lamborghini mode. The Prince meets cool, rugged guitar hero David Gilmour, who has been contributing several bars (and a drive-on stage role) to The Who's rock opera, Quadrophenia.
The Prince (regarding Gilmour's burly frame): "However did you fit inside that bellboy suit?"
Gilmour: "Actually I was the bus driver."
The P: "Ah yes. And who are you again?"
DG: "David Gilmour. I have this little band called Pink Floyd..."
The P (muses for several seconds): "Mmmmm. Oh yes. Nick Mason. He's an architect as well, isn't he?"
DG (shortly): "He's my drummer."
The P: "But a bit of an architect on the side, surely?"
DG: "Yes but, since he never finished his course [at Cambridge] there's no danger of him putting up any monstrous carbuncles..."
End of chat. But why, I hear you ask, would the newly-single Prince Charles happen to know Nick Mason from a hole in the wall? Simple - Mr Mason bought Andrew and Camilla Parker-Bowles's gorgeous house when the couple agreed to separate. I expect he and the Prince have had many lively discussions about soffits, architraves and those hard-to-remove marks on the hall carpet.
When it comes to queueing, I've done my time. I've been there. I've queued for hours in Red Square to gawp at Lenin's embalmed form in the Mausoleum, I've stood in the all-Sunday-afternoon line for the Renoir exhibition at the Hayward in 1990, at the heartbreaking two-hour Ikea checkout, the all-time queuers' nirvana that was the Tutenkhamun event. But there's something special about the queue to get on the Dragon River Ride at Chessington World of Adventure. For one thing, it shuffles forward through approximately three separate geographical levels: first you queue in a winding wooden corridor that meanders all over a little hillside; then you emerge into a more frankly concentration-camp-ish area, baa-ing and mewling in a human sheep-pen under the boiling sun; then you go indoors, expecting to set sail at last on the draconian swell, and find a third queue serpentining across a stairwell...
What strikes you, of course, is the correlation between the queuing-time and the actual-experience time. You wait 45 minutes for a ride lasting 4 mins 5 secs. At the other end of the complex a horde of lost souls queue to get on the Vampire, a stunning rollercoaster with dangling black carriages like bats: it takes 1 hour 10 mins to get on a ride of 2 mins 11 secs. Elsewhere at Alton Towers, I understand, the Nemesis ride - all dangling arms and legs and near-fatal vertigo - lasts exactly 45 seconds and you have to queue over a weekend with ambulance helicopters and trauma counsellors standing by. If this goes on, some of us will spend half a lifetime waiting for a spectacular, if wholly unsophisticated, physical experience lasting just a few seconds. The sexual analogy is regrettable but, I'm afraid, inescapable.
My Irish brother-in-law was in town this week, bearing weird tales from the non-political end of the republic. My favourite concerns a family in Charleville, Co Cork, whose elderly father was a chronic despiser of new-fangled inventions, from organic farming to cattle prods, and was always on the qui vive for signs of danger in the modern world. One day, his eldest son was gathering a herd of cattle into the milking shed. After a long day in the fields, he had acquired a stone in his gumboot and, as he entered the shed, the son grasped the metal door-jamb with one hand and tried to shake the offending stone down to the toe of his boot. His father, working nearby, saw this affecting tableau and instantly concluded that his son was in the throes of electrocution. Knowing the importance of breaking the electrical circuit, the old man rushed over, seized a shovel and brought it down hard where his son's hand clutched the door. Later, in hospital, they agreed that a compound-fractured wrist was a small price to pay for the eternal vigilance of a loving father.Reuse content