You can now be killed on airplanes that don't crash. ("Deep vein
thrombosis," or blood clots caused by prolonged sitting, claims
one life a month among long-haul passengers arriving at London's
Heathrow Airport.) You can likewise be killed by bullets that
aren't fired. (Depleted uranium, used in the tips of army shells,
has apparently poisoned British soldiers.) You can abruptly cease
to exist, the papers tell us every day, in ways previously
unimagined by the sickest of screenwriters. (A 74-year-old
British pedestrian was hit by--and thrown onto the roof of--a Honda
Accord, whose driver continued his two-mile journey to the
Addingford Steps pub in Norbury, where police soon arrested him
as he enjoyed a drink inside. The victim's body, you see,
remained outside, lodged in the car's sunroof.)
All of which is to say that an uneventful flight to London last
week--or so it seemed; but then blood clots can take more than a
week to reach the brain--revealed myriad new ways to be maimed
unspeakably. (From the staid Daily Telegraph: "A bank worker's
wife who bit off a newlywed's testicle at a drunken party has
been jailed for six months. Denise Carr, 29, and her husband
Nathan, 32, of Gateshead, had been helping Neil Hutchinson, 29,
to celebrate his marriage to one of her friends. But there was a
row [among] all four and he ended up in hospital, where surgeons
could not re-attach his testicle.")
Thank goodness for the sports pages, which are always there to
divert us from such horrors. They will never--in the manner of
poor Neil Hutchinson--take their ball and go home. "I always turn
first to the sports pages, which record people's
accomplishments," Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren
said many years ago. "The front page has nothing but man's
In most British newspapers, the front page of the sports section
is on the back page of the paper. Both pages are published on the
same sheet of newsprint, allowing the reader to peel that sheet
from the rest of the paper, spread it across the kitchen table
and see the front page and back page side by side, News and
Sports, looking like the masks of tragedy and comedy.
January 22, 2001
Breakfasts were bipolar in Britain last week: Despair on the
front page, delight on the back. So readers were, in rapid
succession, aggrieved--Dr. Harold Shipman may have killed as
many as 300 of his patients--and relieved: A burglar who broke
into a Lancashire mansion was alarmed to meet the home owner,
notorious soccer hard man Duncan Ferguson, who six years ago
spent 44 days in a Scottish prison for head-butting an opponent
on the pitch. On this night the Everton striker, whom they still
call Duncan Disorderly, "detained" the thief until police could
arrive. "The householder...acted both bravely and responsibly,"
said a policeman, noting separately that the suspect was
hospitalized with head injuries.
Equally uplifting was the story of Paul Ingle, the English
featherweight fighter who last week talked (and walked) for the
first time since having a blood clot removed from his brain in
December. "I have heard him swearing....The fact that he is
swearing is good," consulting neurosurgeon Robert Battersby told
The Guardian, which carried the piece beneath the hopeful
headline INGLE WALKING AND SWEARING.
Even more inspiring (from a purely personal perspective) are the
eight anonymous members of the British Olympic delegation who
remain on the lam in Australia, having never returned from Sydney
two months after the expiration of their visas--and three months
after the expiration of the Games. Not one of the eight is
believed to be an athlete. "The British Olympic Association,"
reports The Times of London, "said that the missing people were
more likely to be from among the officially accredited 700
British media." In other words, it is the height of summer in Oz
and the dead of winter in Blighty, and, well, sportswriters will
The one American story that captured attention here last week was
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis's successful journey in the last 12
months from News section to Sports section, tragedy to comedy.
It's the reverse trip that no sportsman wants to make.
So on Friday, England welcomed the first-ever foreign manager of
its national soccer team. Sven-Goran Eriksson of Sweden will
spend most of his tenure trying not to leach from the sports page
onto the front page. "Curiosity may put him on the front page,"
said the lead soccer writer for The Sun, in which front-page
stories on the real-world shortcomings of previous England
managers--financial improprieties, marital travails--helped end
their careers. Eriksson, then, could have a very short honeymoon.
As a reporter on Sky TV ominously ended his report: "An anagram
of Sven-Goran Eriksson is, 'Risks no groans, even.'"