Sport will always be risky – we must accept that, even in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes

Its innate risk is one of the reasons so many love it

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The Independent Online

Both my sons play cricket. Come March they will be going off to training on a Sunday morning, elegant in their whites. The little one is still playing with practice balls, so no helmet for him. My older son, 15, however, is used to playing with a hard ball, so a helmet is obligatory. My husband once got a ball in the face; I’ll never forget seeing him bend over, two rivers of blood hosing out of his nose and splashing on the grass. He wears a helmet now, too. But nobody died. Now someone has, and the world saw it. Saw the ball coming down at 80 mph, saw it bouncing up and cannoning into the unprotected back of Phillip Hughes’s head; saw the batsman collapse on the pitch, already dying.

After this utter tragedy, the charming game of cricket now looks treacherous. The very latest helmets have slightly better protection around the back than the one Hughes was wearing, but even they are not foolproof. So would full-head helmets, like the ones for motorbikes, be the answer? People who play say not, for with such cumbersome headgear, a batsman would find it even harder to react to balls coming around his head at speed.

Then, you could possibly outlaw bouncers, but coping with difficult balls is part of the game. The fact is that cricket has always been a dangerous sport, and players have much more protection now than ever before (just think of Brian Close and John Edrich’s daredevil batting in the 1960s in the face of catapults slung by the likes of Michael Holding – no helmets there).

So should everyone accept the event as an appalling but freak incident, wear modified helmets and carry on as before? After all, terrible things happen in rugby, and riding, to name but two sports in which danger is known, and accepted. People die in long-distance running. Does that stop 50,000 from entering the London Marathon?

What this week’s terrible event has again highlighted is that sport is risky. And its innate risk is one of the reasons so many love it. The risk is a pull for the participants, who must pit their nerves and train their bodies to achieve glory against seemingly unsurmountable odds. It is also a magnet for us, the spectators, who find a vicarious thrill in displays of endurance and bravery by others.

Why else would we flock to see people voluntarily throw themselves down mountains on tiny tin trays, hurtle around tracks in cars built like rockets, or combat giant waves on a tiny board? You can guard against some of the perils by using helmets, back protectors and safety belts, but certainly not all of them. Cut the risk out of sport and you face cutting the heart out of sport itself.


Swearing takes Mitchell back to his schooldays

The downfall of Andrew Mitchell seems to have pivoted on the High Court judge’s decision that PC Toby Rowland could not have been lying as he did not have the “wit, imagination or inclination” to have invented the word “pleb” as an insult. Would never have thought of it.

Furthermore, as unlikely it was for the policeman to use such a word, it was highly probable that Mitchell did use it. Indeed, at his old school (Rugby) the word is apparently quite usual parlance for the delightful students, who use it to describe non-teaching members of staff.

Of course the point is that it is in the height of rage, or indeed joy, that we reveal ourselves most particularly and indeed tend revert to the old cornerstones of our vocabulary, honed when we were just establishing ourselves in the world.

So this week’s other grumpy Tory, David Mellor, probably used the phrase “smart-arsed little git” quite a lot when he was in short trousers. Possibly to his friends. Not excusing it, just explaining it.

When I lose my temper with my children, or of course when they completely delight me, my excited vocabulary reverts to a style typical of those growing up in Wimbledon during the 1980s when we used to say “fab” and “groovy” , I suppose in a sort of ironic homage to the late 1960s. That particular point has of course now been lost in the mists of time, so when I come out with such words, I just sound totally weird and as if I was a flower-power raver at Woodstock.

Which, I hasten to add, I was not.

A bitter pill to swallow for the NHS’s finances

The NHS issuing prescriptions for paracetamol? The mild pain killer which costs about 20p for a box at the supermarket? Indeed this is so.

This year apparently 22 million prescriptions for paracetamol were written for people who were able to get to the GP, but nevertheless found themselves just too stretched to stick their hand in their pocket and buy a box themselves, whether from Aldi (19p) or Tesco (23p).

I am a devotee of the NHS and a huge advocate of free healthcare, but seeing our Health Service, so strapped for facilities that mentally ill patients are being turned away only to commit suicide, wasting £80 million a year on this makes my blood boil.

I think the wake-up call regarding a simple value for money policy needs to come from the GPs, who after all issue the prescriptions in the first place. I suggest that anything that can be bought simply and cheaply over the counter in a chemist – or indeed, a newsagent – ought not to be prescribed by a doctor. And in this I am including head-lice lotion which, yes, you can also get. On prescription. From your GP.

One wet dog, but its former owners are even wetter

Most tragic seasonal story also falls into the category of most overused seasonal story, namely A Dog Is For Life Not Just For Christmas, which comes round as regularly as the annual panic that the Queen’s Speech might finally contain something of interest.

This year, according to The Dogs Trust (which coined the famous slogan about two decades ago), it seems that people are now getting rid of their mutts for a whole slew of frankly bonkers reasons.

These include: “I don’t want my dog any more because he kept chasing frogs”, “He looked different after we walked him in the rain,” and the saddest one of all, namely “He was too loving and needed too much attention”.

What? Too loving? Who are these people? If you want something nice and cuddly that can fit in your handbag, à la Paris Hilton, then can I suggest you splash out and get a battery-run Furby this year?

Paxo: Just the man to sort out London’s problems

Jeremy Paxman for Mayor of London? As you read this piece, I and three trusty team mates will be en route to meet him for a recording of University Challenge, for which he is the show’s stern inquisitor.

I think he might make a rather good mayor – he doesn’t suffer fools, and you suspect he might have a sneaking regard for the bright lights of the capital, so he could put an end to the madness that is the West End’s parking policy.

But of course were he to accept the offer of the mayoralty, he would probably have to terminate his game-show ambitions. And I suspect he rather likes the power innate in granting people Starters for Ten on one hand, only to crush them for being idiotic on the other. I’m quite nervous.

The show will be coming your way very soon.