Holidays are weird – I always end up watching too much television. What's weird, however, is that I'm not catching up on favourite shows or dipping into box sets of The Wire. For some reason I always watch things that I would normally do my utmost to avoid. Personally, I blame the Stilton, I believe it has evil qualities. Last night I watched something called The Biography Channel. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. It might be good for me to catch up on one-hour summaries of the lives of Kissinger, Ghandi and Irving Berlin. Sadly, these were not on offer. What I did end up watching were the biographies of first Andre the Giant and then "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, both stars of the wrestling world. It hasn't been a great Christmas.
I've never really got into wrestling. I have to admit to enjoying the pantomime antics of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks when I was a kid but that was before I found out that it was all fake. Looking back, I must have been a really dim kid. I remember watching irate grannies wade into the bad guys with their handbags and never wondering why, if they could deck Big Daddy, they couldn't just give the granny a stiff elbow or hurl them back into the tenth row? It was, of course, because wrestling had a code of honour. They would fight each other but never touch a civilian. In a sense they were a bit like the Krays except they didn't kill people and wear rubber underwear.
Back on the TV I was learning all about the weird life of Andre the Giant, a man who suffered from Acromegaly, which meant that he was flipping enormous.
I knew him from the movie The Princess Bride but had no idea that he was a wrestler. I just assumed that he was like the guy who played Jaws in the James Bond films.
Andre was not an immediate hit in the world of wrestling and he had to be reinvented many times, as his numerous stage names revealed – Butcher Roussimoff, Monster Roussimoff, Eiffel Tower, Monster Eiffel Tower (he was born in France), Giant Machine and then, finally, Andre the Giant. His role seemed to be just lumbering around in German-looking Speedos landing on people and crushing them. The real attraction to me was his extraordinarily awful hairstyle. Andre was in the American wrestling world, a universe away from the town halls of English wrestling. The American version is all bells and whistles, in huge stadiums full of scary-looking rednecks screaming blue murder at the greased-up monsters in the ring.
Although the fights are obviously fake, I am aware from bitter personal experience, that it's a very skilful thing to have to do and avoid injury. I once took part in a Lucha Libre fight in Mexico City. I was only in the ring for a minute – my character was "El Alcoholico" – but I got quite badly hurt. These guys might look like gay cartoon characters but they are tough.
Back on my Christmas TV, I started to learn about "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He got his name from his girlfriend who had made him a cup of tea and warned that it would soon get stone cold. Hardly the most frightening of ideas but he combined the name with the "ice cold" attitude of a serial killer that he had seen on TV. It was the perfect combination – cold tea and butchery. A star was born.
He really became huge when he started to give everyone, from the ref to the crowd, the middle finger. This apparently was an enormously significant moment and gained him superstar status. I must start doing that more on the telly.
For the life of me, I can't understand the appeal of wrestling. If you're really stupid (and looking at the crowd this might be the case) then you may believe that the whole thing is real. If that's the case then I can see that it must be gripping. If however, you have an IQ in double figures then you must have better things to do than to spend hours watching big men in small pants grapple on the floor. All this, as I considered entering my third solid hour of viewing with a Hulk Hogan bio. I drew the line there however – I had to start taking the Christmas decorations down ... in my pants.
Race to Vancouver
One more ice storm and I'm ready for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. I have a harness that allows my Labrador to pull my kids across frozen fields on a sled at over 40mph. I hope I'm still in time for the qualifiers?