Suddenly a sporting idea fell out of clear blue sky . . .

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MY feelings about boxing were formed at the age of 11, at a time when parachuting had not yet become an integral part of the noble art of self-defence. I was at a school where the PT instructor, a muscular Glaswegian by the name of Cruickshank, believed in boxing as a way of expressing one's manhood, or at any rate of keeping young boys occupied for a while.

In our first session, he sorted us into pairs and ordered one partner to defend while the other attacked. My partner, a friend of mine, was clearly bigger and stronger than I was, so he happily agreed to defend while I flapped away at him ineffectually, and no damage was done.

'OK,' shouted Mr Cruickshank. 'Now change round and the other one attack]'

In a flash my friend was on to me, hitting me as hard as he could and not even slowing up when I cried for mercy. It was an unpleasant experience but I did learn several valuable lessons from it, as follows:

a) When people ask you to get into pairs, look for someone smaller than you as a partner.

b) Think twice before accepting orders from a big man with a Glaswegian accent.

c) If your friends will willingly pummel you for fun, imagine how eagerly total strangers might do the same.

d) Boxing is dangerous and causes pain.

e) Admittedly, not as dangerous and painful as a really dangerous and painful sport such as Rugby Union, in which people tear each other's ears off or hit each other in the neck with their elbows or stamp on each other's faces with those studded boots - things which, if done in a boxing ring, would lead you to be banned from the sport for life, but which in rugby are penalised with a free kick and then forgotten about. Nevertheless, boxing is a painful process and therefore . . .

e) . . . let people do it to each other and confine yourself to watching them.

f) When a friend tries to hit you as hard as he can, your relationship could be due for reappraisal.

It was a lot of lessons for a small boy to learn from just one afternoon period of sport, but it turned me into a sports spectator rather than a participant and, somewhat to my surprise, I have found myself watching boxing off and on ever since. A long time ago I even went to Wembley to see a big fight, and I once got up at some unearthly hour to go to the Odeon, Leicester Square to see a world heavyweight fight - Larry Holmes against Gerry Cooney, if

I remember correctly - and I think I must have been the only person in the audience who was not black, Irish or an off-duty waiter. It was a most moving and colourful experience.

These days I hardly ever watch boxing, but on a whim I set up a videotape to record the weekend's heavyweight fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe - great first names, guys - which took place at about 4am our time on Saturday, and which I watched in a leisurely fashion on Sunday at protracted intervals (a couple of rounds here, a couple of rounds there) and some time on Sunday afternoon, when the fight had already gone on for

four or five hours, and my time - and my interest - was flagging slightly, I was electrified to hear the commentator announce: 'A parachutist has just landed in the ring] I don't believe this] I don't know where he has come from, but . . . .'

He was absolutely right. A man with a big parachute and a propellor on his back had landed in the ring. I believe this is the first time it has ever happened in top-level boxing. The commentators certainly seemed to think so, but how would they know? They were all boxing experts, not flying experts, as ITV had unaccountably omitted to hire an aviation consultant for the night.

The boxing boys, being keen for the boxing to resume, were pretty disgusted by the interruption. I was electrified. I thought it was wonderful, sensational and spectacular. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the sky- diver had a parachute made out of pretty colours with not an inch of advertising on it. Whoever he was, he was unsponsored. Good old America. Not entirely commercialised yet. Still a few free spirits around.

And I'll tell you something else. I also taped the England A versus New Zealand rugby game, as a favour for a friend, and I had a look at that as well to see whether rugby union had become watchable meanwhile. I don't think it has. It has degenerated into a series of incomprehensible stoppages which only a top solicitor would understand, and people are still stamping on each other on the ground, and as I watched I found myself thinking: 'What this game desperately needs is a few parachutists falling out of the sky . . .'

Just a suggestion.