Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf Quality Will Out

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf Quality Will Out

Article excerpt

Ronald Reagan once told his staff that they were always to wake him if there was an emergency 'even if I am in a Cabinet meeting at the time'. All of us, Mrs Oakley included, have our definition of an emergency and the other night she shook me awake at 4 a. m.

to confront one. I was led to the bathroom where, safely entrapped under a glass, was a spider. He was admittedly a beady-eyed, muscular and long-legged spider but there was no way he could have escaped that glass before morning. Nevertheless, such was Mrs Oakley's agitation that he had to be defenestrated at that instant.

I du ly earned my Brown ie po ints although not altogether graciously. I had just fallen asleep for the first time in 36 hours following a virulent dose of food poisoning and for me there was no reason why the spider's return to his no doubt anxious family in our web-entwined rosebed could not have waited until morning. (Mrs Oakley's arachnophobia does not demand destruction;

removal from her vicinity is enough. But she does insist on the vital need for speed. ) It will, however, be a long time before in a fit of bravado I again prize open and consume a brace of firmly closed mussels in a dish of moules marinieres. For three days, no organ in my body seemed to be left undisturbed by the reaction induced by those malevolent molluscs. The only good thing was that feeling too wrecked to do anything else I became completely enthralled by the Paralympics: wheelchair rugby, sitting-down basketball, Ellie Simmonds in the pool, David Weir and Hannah Cockcroft hand racing their way to victory in their chariots, Jonnie Peacock and Oscar Pistorius flashing to victory on one blade or two.

It was not just the triumph of the human spirit involved, the overcoming of adversity, the sheer positivity and drive displayed in overturning the hand dealt to them in life that captivated me so completely, it was also the sheer quality of the contests. This was no special branch of sport in its own particular set of inverted commas, this was raw, competitive contest pure and simple. It deserved its place on our TV screens and it deserved the audiences who turned up to cheer on the Paralympic athletes with every bit as much commitment and joy and excitement as had been engendered by Mo Farah and Usain Bolt.

It was all the more enjoyable that the Paralympics, too, produced a few tantrums and accusations and an occasional bad loser.

Even the normally graceful Oscar Pistorius, the man to whom the sport owes so much, got grumpy at one stage about the length of the blades worn by a competitor - and then answered his own complaint the best way by ending a gruelling fortnight with a totally majestic gold in the 400 metres. …

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