Winter Olympics 2014: How can one possibly get excited about curling? Very easily, it seems

British victories – like this one at Sochi – are irresistible, no matter how ridiculous the sport

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If the late Linda Smith had said nothing else throughout a luminous career in comedy, she would have earned her slice of immortality for the three words into which she condensed curling, the most ineffably preposterous (in a not uncrowded field) of Winter Olympics disciplines. “Housework on ice”. Even to this chronic victim of spautism – the under-researched spectral disorder that renders the emotionally stunted male incapable of almost anything but fixating on televised games – curling is that one step too far. Who would voluntarily expose themselves to the sight of adult humans maniacally sweeping ice to finesse a round object with a handle (“the stone”) styled after a Victorian steam iron into one of various concentric circles (“the house”) at the other end of a rink?

As one who also suffers a phobia of housework, and has no tolerance for ice unless it is sanitised into small cubes in a freezer tray, curling seems almost computer designed as a deterrent. It exists primarily to provide one oasis of detachment in an unending Sahara of obsession.

So it was that the alarm rang at 4.57am yesterday to wake me for the British men’s 5am meeting in Sochi’s Ice Cube with the eccentrically betrousered curlers of Norway. Three hours later, as skipper David Murdoch unleashed what we aficionados instantly hailed as a shot of miraculous brilliance – one that removed the Norwegian stone from the house to win the match 6-5 and secure a semi-final berth – the tears welled up, the air was punched, and the lap of honour ensued. And that was me.

Murdoch and his lads were more restrained. But then, intensely dramatic sport is a far more gruelling trial of the nerves for the viewer than the participant. The agony of screaming expert advice at the telly and having it ignored inevitably leads to an ecstatic eruption of relief in victory. Curling will do that to you, as those who recall Rhona Martin’s triumph in 2002 must concur.

Only five things on this earth have the alchemical formula to turn the base metal of the steam iron into golden memories, and they are the Olympic rings. The same transformative power attends a plethora of other events that make little more sense than curling. With the Summer Olympics, familiarity breeds empathy with the competitors and a basic understanding of what they are doing. However long ago, all of us blessed with able bodies have, at some point, run. We have walked and cycled, thrown and lifted things. In the school gym, we were made to sacrifice whatever vestige of self-esteem had survived the onset of puberty on the pommel horse.

 

What few of us have experienced, though, is lying headlong on a thin strip of metal while hurtling down a sheet of ice at 85mph, or flying 100m through the air on skis. Admittedly, fannying about underwater in time with a partner with a death rictus plastered over the chops, or prancing across a mat tossing a giant hoop, or sitting on a horse while inveigling it to impersonate Dame Margot Fonteyn, are arcane pursuits. But synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and dressage are exceptions to the general accessibility of summer Olympics events, where in the winter version outlandish opacity is the rule.

Even in this quadrennial festival of the obscure, the bizarre and the plain certifiable, however, nothing is quite as opaque as curling. In the midst of yesterday’s euphoria the questions continued to nag away. Why are these frustrated office cleaners eager to engage in an obvious displacement activity on global television? Who first identified pushing an iron and attacking ice with a broom as the antidote to the soul-crushing bleakness of midwinter? Was this how the prehistoric hunter chose to celebrate gourmet night with the missus after returning to the cave with a mammoth? Or is there something in Norse mythology about Thor seeking to overthrow the All-Father by out-curling him into early retirement on the frozen plains of Asgard? If so, did he institute a Norwegian tradition by wearing staggeringly idiotic trousers?

The history of curling is doubtless well chronicled, with all the answers readily available on the internet. But the nebbish who has just spent three hours watching it, and will spend six more cheering on our men and women in their semi-finals today, is not a nebbish with time to spare for exhaustive research. Besides, some things are better left shrouded in mystery, for fear of letting daylight in on magic.

It is more than enough to know that the twin forces of Olympic imprimatur and distorted patriotic fervour have combined to render curling an irresistible attraction, and to have gleaned the brutal shard of self-knowledge that there is no limit to the ravages of spautism after all.

Smile! You’re on DAZL

Interviewed in this title yesterday, John Bercow understandably chose to dwell on his public role as Speaker of the House, rather than on his private role as Keeper of the Spouse. Evading enquiries about the state of his wedlock since Sally was photographed snogging a chap in a club, he addressed a problem even older than his soulmate’s puppyish penchant for piddling all over his Speakerly dignity.

Sick to the eye teeth of the orchestrated verbal yobbishness at PMQs, he has asked the party leaders to have a word with the lads – needless to say, it is generally male members who succumb to premature evisceration of the other side – about toning it down.

As a favour to a one-time confrère in Rabbi Geoffrey Newman’s Finchley Reform Synagogue bar mitzvah class, I offer a proposal. Mr Speaker, relax the draconian rules governing camera angles in the chamber, and commission Decibel Activated Zoom Lens technology that would automatically focus on their hideously contorted faces whenever the braying breaches a seemly volume.

The footage would go viral among constituents, and bring the bleeders into line. Whether DAZL would work as well for him if applied to Sally on club night is another question. And one to which the answer is, probably not.

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