The Weasel

It's all to do with faulty self-image. I saw myself as witty and ironical, but this delusion was irredeemably shattered by a pair of gnarled codgers who asked me: "Are you that John McCririck from the telly?"
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You may recall my interest - more social than sporting - in the 161st Eton & Harrow cricket match a fortnight ago. In the event, everything went as normal (another tedious draw), except that I experienced rather an unpleasant shock. It came in the ungainly form of an Old Harrovian celebrity, the Channel 4 racing personality John McCririck. I don't know if you're familiar with this odd fellow, famous for his blaring voice, glaring eyes and encyclopaedic knowledge of ticktack gestures, but he goes in for loud suits, Dundreary whiskers, deerstalker caps and lots of tacky jewellery. He obviously sees himself as a card, a roguish character, a lovable eccentric, though everyone else calls him "the prat in the hat". Shambling round Lord's in a khaki-coloured suit, Mr McCririck was the cynosure of all eyes, with a decaying cigar the size of a carpet roll in one hand, a detumescent double-cone Mr Whippy in the other. An unprepossessing spectacle, you may think, but scarcely the cause for any deep-seated perturbation.

Let me explain. It's all to do with faulty self-image - how the vision we have of ourselves fails to accord with the way that others see us. That doyen of humorists, Craig Brown, once wrote that he had always imagined himself as Jimi Hendrix until he caught an unexpected reflection in a shop window and saw Robert Robinson gazing back at him. In much the same way, I had fancied myself as Randy Newman, since being mistaken for the mordant tunesmith on a train between New York and Washington. Admittedly, the two young women who made the misattribution were somewhat the worse for drink, but for the following decade or so, I saw myself as coruscatingly witty, deeply ironical, yet with a touching nostalgia for lost innocence.

But this delusion was irredeemably shattered by a pair of gnarled codgers in a picturesque old boozer called Mulligan's, close to the Liffey in Dublin. During the agonising aeon it takes for a pint of Guinness to be pulled in Ireland, one of these genial oldsters approached. "Excuse me, son," the ancient party announced. "Me and my mate want to know if you're that John McCririck from the telly?"

I can only think that, to these daft old buzzards, one bloke in specs looks pretty much the same as another. I dare say they would make the same mistake between, for example, the Larkin biographer Andrew Motion and Tate Gallery panjandrum Nick Serota, if either of them happened to pop into Mulligan's for a wet. Nevertheless, when I encountered my proposed doppelganger in the flesh at Lord's, I nervously asked Mrs Weasel if there was any resemblance. After what I thought was a rather unnecessary pause for consideration, she said not at all. But, just to be on the safe side, I'm going to steer well clear of Mr Whippy cornets in the future.

A chum who went to see Van Morrison and Ray Charles last week at the Birmingham NEC overheard one concert-goer expressing dissatisfaction with the second half of this double bill. "It wasn't what I was expecting at all," she moaned. "I thought I'd be seeing a ventriloquist." It transpired that the woman had, quite understandably, confused the legendary black singer with Ray Alan and his monocled dummy Lord Charles. Come to think of it, a show combining Van the Man and a "vert act" is not beyond the bounds of possibility. After all, the Belfast growler recorded a duet with Sir Cliff Richard not so long ago.

At long last - and quite rightly - women have come to rule the world. This thought crossed my mind the other evening in our local branch of Cafe Rouge, when I realised that 38 out of 41 customers were female. Bright, vivacious and good-humoured, they made a striking contrast to the gurning, menacing tribe of Neanderthal males in a neighbouring pub. It comes as little surprise that, according to a recent report in this paper, companies increasingly prefer female employees ("non-confrontational, helpful and flexible") to the extent that women may soon make up the majority of the work force.

Yet we persist in our loony, traditional approach to male education - in particular, forcing the poor blighters to perform competitive sports on the dubious grounds that this will benefit them in the workplace. I know that schoolgirls are by no means exempt from compulsory games, but I can't help thinking that their experience is somewhat different. This gulf was graphically exemplified by Leanda de Lisle in a piece about school sports days in last week's Spectator. Noting her own dislike of organised games when at school, she describes becoming "an expert at wheedling out of sports day by painting gigantic bruises in biro ink on my thighs." Nevertheless, Ms de L breezily announces, "I accept things are different for boys."

Why, for God's sake? Speaking personally, I can't say that coming last in the all-school cross-country run worked wonders for my self-esteem. Nor did I benefit greatly from the weekly humiliation of being the last to be picked - well, not so much picked, as allocated through process of elimination - by the fanatics who acted as rugby or cricket captains during games periods. Apparently, I shared this formative experience with the late Russell Harty. According to Alan Bennett in Writing Home, a captain forced to take the young Harty in his team complained to the sports master: "Oh, sir, sir. No, sir. We had him last week, sir."

Of course, those perverse enough to be keen on sports should be indulged in their inexplicable passion. But to force the terminally non-sporty to take part is simply inhumane. Nothing gives the lie to the mistaken view of John Major as "a nice man" more than his devotion to compulsory competitive games.

By far the more sensible approach to this vexed matter was adopted by the fine actor Robert Morley. When the time came to find a public school for his son, he advertised for an academy which provided excellent cuisine and did not demand compulsory participation in sports. The effectiveness of this admirable regimen can be judged by the fact that it produced that outstanding literary ornament and strapping example of English manhood, Sheridan Morley.

Very much like Sir Walter Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion, who "never took up any book but the Baronetage" and then only to peruse the page on which he appeared, I find myself irresistibly drawn to the "W" section of any reference works that come my way. But, when flicking through the Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, I managed to stay my progress long enough to discover the following useful tips: horse owners should eat only even numbers of eggs; you can divine the future by sleeping on cheese made by a woman in labour; holly must never be used for cleaning the chimney; it is unlucky to lose a mop at sea; herrings dislike quarrels; and, to tell if affection is reciprocated, you must wear lemon peels under your armpits all day and rub them on the bedposts at night, hoping to dream of a gift of lemons from your intended.

But my high opinion of this anthology plummeted when I reached page 431 and discovered that "A weasel crossing your path speaks of treachery". What a gross calumny. Worse still, Speranza Wilde (Oscar's mum) declared that a weasel-skin purse was very lucky. Blimey. Not to me it isn't, missus

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