As the father of three young children, I am frequently reminded how subjective are the standards of behaviour we impose on ourselves and others. Lavatorial humour is positively encouraged in our house, yet we have friends whose kids make farting noises at their peril. On the other hand, even my three-year-old knows that he must never drop litter, whereas I have seen other children, from similar backgrounds, insouciantly drop their empty crisp packets on the pavement.
Which brings to an e-mail I received last Wednesday from an enraged Mr Stephenson of East Yorkshire, who took great offence at something that appeared in this space last week. Musing on my forthcoming 40th birthday, I wrote that turning 40 was a sobering thought, which I would attempt to counter by getting thoroughly plastered. Not a bad line, I thought. Fairly obviously tongue-in-cheek. But Mr Stephenson thought otherwise.
"I normally read your outpourings with some interest," he wrote (I've never thought of this column as an 'outpouring', which rather evokes the psychiatrist's chair, but still). "That is, until you feel the need to inform me that ... you intend to get 'thoroughly plastered'. Well, bully for you. From what I hear you will not lack for companionship among the ranks of your fellow journalists. Yours unimpressed..."
At first I dismissed Mr Stephenson's little diatribe as the uptight remonstrance of someone who really should get out more. It also seemed to me that last week, of all weeks, was hardly the time to clog up cyberspace with such petty concerns. But then I realised that last week, of all weeks, was precisely the time to reflect that one man should hesitate before rubbishing what is important, let alone sacred, to another. Even at such a trivial level. So Mr Stephenson, my apologies.
And thus to the Ryder Cup, and whether it should have been staged as planned later this month, or postponed has happened yesterday. Here, too, all views should be treated with respect. Some say that in a time of global emergency those who administer sport have almost a duty to feed us pretty much as normal. There exists the strong belief that sport offers a worthwhile distraction from the world's ills. I'm not sure about that, but I do think that, on the whole, the Ryder Cup should have proceeded.
It is crassly simplistic to argue that this would have sent a message to terrorists that we are bloody but unbowed. And yet, with faith in humanity currently at rock-bottom, honest sporting competition might have helped to restore some kind of morale, some kind of certainty, the more so if it had been a subdued affair with none of the nationalistic histrionics that tainted the 1999 event at Brookline. If ever the desire to restore sanity to the Ryder Cup were married to the opportunity, it is now. When sports events go ahead after tragedies involving loss of life, such as the European Cup Final in the Heysel Stadium, some of the pride and the passion is lost. With the Ryder Cup, that might have been no bad thing.
I can fully understand, however, why others wanted the event postponed. A postponement was vital, they argued, not only as a mark of respect to the thousands who died but also so that security issues could be addressed. It is true that Osama bin Laden, or whoever is the mastermind behind last week's atrocities, was hardly likely to turn his fiendish attention to The Belfry, but on the other hand, once you have so devastatingly attacked America at work, maybe it makes some kind of warped sense to attack America and its European allies at play. And that remote threat aside, we should, perhaps, wait until our appetite for sport has returned.
Then there is the view that the Ryder Cup should have been cancelled altogether, proposed by Mark James among others. James, who has had a brush with cancer since he captained Europe at Brookline, is in a better position than most to place golf in perspective, as a pursuit rather less important than life and death. Just as the lack of FA Cup Finals between 1940 and 1945 stands as a permanent reminder of the Second World War, and its seismic consequences even for the nation's sporting life, so might the abandonment of the 2001 Ryder Cup have served to remind future generations of the world's most costly act of terrorism.
As I say, I believed the competition should have gone head on 28 September. But all the participants needed to be convinced that it was right to do so. I'll drink to the decision of golf's ruling bodies ... but in moderation, Mr Stephenson, in moderation.Reuse content