February 06, 2010

What's in a game?

You’d never think it, but there’s actually something quite decent about the common house fly. When I’m stumbling around the room at 2 o’clock in the morning, wildly swinging my pillow and trying to bash that blasted mosquito’s brains to smithereens, cousin fly doesn’t bug me. He doesn’t sit cheering on the curtain; he doesn't pester me when I swing and miss; he doesn't even laugh out loud every time I stub my toe against the bed – unlike someone else around here who hides under the covers (in mid-summer!) and makes silly comments about how some of us need some sleep! As if I can sleep with a mozzie Kamakaziing around my ears! The fly stays out of it – it’s just not there. That’s nice.

You know what else is nice? Sport.

I like sport. Maybe because I was blessed with an ability to partake in most forms of sport with a reasonable level of competence – never a champ, but never a chomp. Give me a ball and I can catch it, throw it, pass it, kick it, spin it, bowl it, hit it, spike it, roll it, put it, serve it, smash it, and even punt it. Throw it in the water and you can get it yourself.

You gotta love it. I love every form of it. Well, figure skating and athletics won’t get me out of bed at two in the morning, but you show me Norwegian turtle wrestling and I’ll watch it.

I never used to like cricket much: a bunch of guys with bats and hats, wickets and wides, bouncers and no-balls, bowling, batting, driving, catching, and diving while wearing their pyjamas! I’m still not crazy about the male version, but since Judogirl bought pyjamas from La Senza last week, I have feverishly been scanning the Supersport channels for footage of the Women’s Cricket League – Howzat!

I’m quite fond of rugby too: a game where 30 burly sporting fanatics (in stripy shirts and weapons of mass destruction on their feet) run around a park chasing a ball shaped like an egg, while using all permissible, and non-permissible, methods of restraining or detaining another’s progress, up to, and including, ripping his face off. It can be confusing – even the guy with the whistle seems to be lost every now and then….

From my intensive study of the game and the research of the Encyclopedius Rugbyious – all 73 volumes thereof – I have managed to condense the game’s essence into a single , concise theorem: if you have the ball, chances are you’re going to get hurt!


But sport doesn’t bear grudges. After a game we all get together for a beer and a laugh, discussing the day’s action:
“Who’s the guy in the corner?”
“But he’s in your team!”
“Yes, but you have to admit it’s kinda hard recognizing a guy without his face!”

What makes sport so wonderful is that there’s something for everyone: there are horses and courses, poles and pits, points and pucks, caps and cox, hoops and loops, tears and tires, knots and foils, even spikes and studs, rooks and rocks, and girls in leotards.

But today I feel Olympian! It might be because the Winter Olympics just started in all its glory (and I had to feverishly switch channels between Super14, 6Nations, Pro20, and the downhill slalom) or that I believe I have a new game that fulfills the age-old Olympic code. A sport true to the ethos of Olympians everywhere: screw it, just get it done, whatever the cost or consequence!

It’s called Oshit (speculation of Oriental origins could not be verified at time of print). Judogirl and I both play, and although it’s immensely intriguing as a participant, I do believe as a spectator sport it’ll take the gold!

To play you need two players, preferably sleep deprived parents, and one overactive infant hyped on jungle-juice (otherwise known as the ball). The “pitch” should preferably be a neutral, non-infant-friendly, swanky guesthouse with the whitest linen you have ever seen in your life!

The game starts when the ball emits a slight, yet distinctive odor, somewhat reminiscent of varsity socks after a hot week. The player who notices this and reacts first is in the game. This is not a good thing. The premise of the game is to stay out of it as long as possible. It is therefore paramount for the player who scores the first whiff, to hide any signs of doing so, thereby achieving the advantage over player number 2 allowing her to fall into the trap and be unceremoniously dumped into the game.

As soon as player 1 notices the slightest wiggle of player 2’s nostrils, it is a good tactic to ask: “do you smell something?” If player 2 shakes her head but her face is contorted and her eyes are watering, she… or he (if I’m not thinking clearly) defaults and is in the game. If however player 2 is a talented player, she’ll calmly respond “no, and you?” to which a lesser experienced player may fall victim by responding: “WHAT? How on earth can you NOT smell THAT – he’s right there on your lap?” at which point player 1 defaults and he is in the game… It’s quite simple really.

The object of the game, other than staying out of it for as long as possible, is focused around the ball: it needs to be cleaned, changed, and content, with no visible signs of the match that could otherwise lead to immediate disqualification (and probable expulsion from said guesthouse)…

The ball also determines the level of the sport – a sweet and innocent cootchy-coo-bundle-of-innocence-infant puts you at amateur level – congratulations! When 95% of the ball consists of the hyped-up, super-revved, unstoppable, irritable and inquisitive insomniac part of the gene soup that is Judogirl and me, you’re in the major leagues.

A classic match goes something like this:
Players and ball are having a pleasant, yet informative, chat with the proprietor about the history and highlights of the establishment we have chosen as our base for the weekend. Player 1 (me), engrossed in the history of cross-pollination in the ancient gardens and the news about the upcoming wedding season, unwittingly scores a whiff and his nose automatically starts probing the immediate atmosphere for pockets of fresher air. Player 2, with the ball tucked under one arm and her senses-radar set to “super”, notices this movement mere moments before player 1 hides it and with deft precision passes the ball to him (still me) – with a smile so sweet it almost masks the odor… I said almost (damn, she’s good!). So I’m in the game!

Not wanting to make a scene I expertly scoop up the ball, eliciting much adoration from the appreciative crowd consisting of the landlord and his wife who have absolutely no idea what is about to transpire on the immaculate white linen on the oversized bed of the Lavender suite…

A great tactic that has served me well during many a game has been to keep the ball occupied as much as possible so as not to alert him to the fact that he’s about to be changed. However, balls have a sixth sense about these things, so when the beach towel comes out, followed by a sheet of plastic, a new diaper, a tub of cream, and a bag of wipes, making funny faces just doesn’t cut it anymore and the ball goes into spastic contortionist mode – the game is now really on.

A quick note – a pause to ponder if you like……. ever try wrestling a harmonica away from a Nile crocodile with a touch of the Blues? It’s not easy, I can tell you. It is however considerably easier than playing this sport.

With the ball tucked under one arm, its four appendages flapping wildly, the primary objective is to land it on the towel, lying on that big bed like a little island in the middle of a shimmer-white Egyptian cotton sea. An unorthodox, yet effective, move is to launch the ball into the air, determining its downward arc and thereby buying a few precious milliseconds in which to place the towel on the approximate impact site – you want to keep the ball off that white linen at all cost!

Another piece of advice at this point: make sure you have high ceilings!

If wrestling is your thing, you’re gonna love this game: getting those little trousers off his wildly kicking legs is like trying to grab a mango in a blender. Then you have to go for the diaper – zip-zip………. got it!


If all goes well, you should now, in your one hand, have a little bundle of blur with a dirty bottom trying to touch, twist, curl, bend and eat everything in site; in the other hand you should have a right mess. None of these are allowed anywhere near the linen… or the curtains, or the fancy chair, or the antique bedside lamps! Skill and lightening reflex is a definite advantage: whip it, bag it, bin it, wipe it, clean it, cream it, where’s it? …..oops!

As with most sporting codes it is a good idea to keep your eye on the ball… at all time. If you lose your focus for even a split-second, chances are you’re going to drop the ball, which really isn’t a good thing.

I blinked.

That gave the ball enough time to turn, twist, aim and speed off halfway towards the edge of the bed, signaling my imminent expulsion from the code. As with all true Olympians, at the exact moment when all seemed lost, I improvised and ingeniously invented an innovative new move, now commonly known as “The Desperate Dive”: launching my lanky frame clear across 6 feet of crystal white linen, catching the ball expertly moments before it went over the edge. I landed softly on orthopedic springs, and was immediately rebounded into fresh air from where, suspended in mid-air, I expertly placed the ball softly on the shiny floor below before I hit the floor in a heap of contorting bodyparts and bumcream. The ball – unphased – was already heading in a different direction at breakneck speed – peril ahead at head-height everywhere.

I had only got to the “cream it” bit, which meant the ball was going commando. From my crumpled upside-down position in the corner I could see the little white bottom wiggling across the floor. But lady luck was smiling on me this day: the ball sprung a leak!

The best thing about a ball leaking: it fascinates the ball no end! This gave me the advantage, an opportunity to untangle and launch past the bed – one hand stretched to its limit to grab the new diaper – and lurch-crawl (un-Brad Pitt-like) towards where the ball was happily spreading an ever-increasing puddle into a little lake. At this point two things, both unexpected, happened simultaneously.

Firstly, the ball lost fascination in his aqueous creation and zipped off…. this rarely works. A ball trying to zipp of in the middle of a puddle always ends up in a flat, sprawling splat – all fours flying in different directions, landing him face down in the middle of said puddle. I on the other hand had my eye and my diaper-hand aimed on the ball’s creamed bottom. Unfortunately my attention was so focused on the cream patch that I too forgot about the puddle…….. You don’t need the detail – I’ll just say zip-slip-swish-phweet followed by the sound you get when you're hit in the face with a plank and your teeth rattle like a wind-chime in a hurricane.

But I was lucky! Although I was also winded from the fall, my diaper-hand miraculously scooped up the ball, and before he could “goo-goo-ga-ga-what-the-heck?” I wrapped that diaper across his little tummy, strapped him in and stopped our party’s little cross-floor slide against the opposite wall… with my head!

I was winning and looking to drive my advantage home.

I was up – wobbling – with the ball clutched under one arm, heading back to the bed through the haze of birds and stars buzzing around my head. The ball’s wet shirt was replaced by a new one in seconds – all done without snapping a single limb or suffocating him (which in itself is a miracle if you compare the size of a shirt collar to his gargantuan cranium!). Victory was in sight. The last hurdle was to get those little trousers onto those wildly kicking legs. Inch by inch every time his little body passed me, fending off various odd bits the ball managed to pick up and throw at every pass.

Almost there! Last step: get the little hurricane to cootchy-coo level. Take one big towel, one little girlie step, one huge dive, and slide across the wet floor soaking up all the evidence in one foul swoop! Scoop up giggling ball, bin diaper, wipe blood from forehead, inhale, smile, cootchy-coo, exhale… done!

We walked out victorious, strutting proudly, limping slightly, pretending not to gloat.

“How did it go?” Judogirl asked as the peanut gallery looked on.