Christina Patterson: At least sport keeps men busy

There is no single thing that will unite women the way it unites men
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The Independent Online

It would be something of an understatement to say I'm not interested in sport. I ducked out of the primary school netball team when I discovered that matches were played on Saturdays and, since then, my sporting interests have been limited to the following: Wimbledon on telly in the days of Bjorn Borg, half a match "in the flesh" on one of the side courts (can't remember the players, do remember the picnic), a single flash of speeding brown horseflesh at Ascot (the Pimms was lovely), and a football match at White Hart Lane, for a feature I was writing on a poet in residence at Spurs.

The football match was quite fun. I'd dressed for Siberia and packed a Thermos flask of tea, but the other 31,999 people were drinking beer in T-shirts. The fountains on the pitch at the beginning reminded me of Versailles and the players, in their dazzling white outfits, looked shiny and smart. The crowd sang songs, the players leapt around and nobody scored any goals. By the end of the afternoon, as far as I could tell, nothing had been lost and nothing had been achieved. It wasn't an unpleasant experience, but I wouldn't want to repeat it.

In this, I am unusual. Or perhaps I should say that in this, as a journalist, I am unusual. In the past week, The Independent's offices have been exploding with a passion I've never seen. Men hitherto incapable of looking up to say "good morning" have been yelling and cheering and groaning and laughing and writhing in delight at things that are happening on the TV screen I can't see from my desk, things, I think it's fair to say, that haven't had a lot to do with efficiency cuts or quantitative easing.

If it's about 50 per cent of the British population that cares whether or not we win something called The Ashes, that percentage mysteriously rises (for obvious reasons) in a newspaper office, a House of Commons tea-room or a bank. And good luck to them! It's lovely when England wins anything, and there isn't an international egg and spoon race.

I think it's great that men like sport. It keeps them busy. It stops them (well, at least some of the time) from fighting wars. It occupies that weird bit of the brain that would otherwise be alphabeticising record collections or setting pub quizzes, or constructing mad theories about blinks or nudges or black swans.

And it gives them something to talk about. Boy does it give them something to talk about. Mention the game, or the match, or the goal, and we know where we are. One of us. Phew!

There is not a single thing that will unite women in the same way. Fashion doesn't do it. The Booker Prize doesn't do it. Kate's crowsfeet and Madonna's arms don't do it. There is nothing you could put on the cover of a newspaper that would have the same effect as "The Ashes are home". Except, perhaps, "George Clooney looking for a wife".

In an interview with Fay Weldon last week, she told me that "all women are the same, in a way that all men are not". She couldn't be more wrong. What is increasingly clear is that the battle of environment over heredity in gender stereotypes has been lost. This stuff is hardwiring. Which doesn't mean, guys, that you can't turn that TV down.