Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday June 01 2008

A day or two ago I was out and about in London with a friend, and encountered a largish group of identically dressed sportsmen.  They were wearing black kit, with the word “Australia” on it, which seemed odd.  The kit all looked pretty expensive and smart and shiny and sponsored and all that, so presumably they were a real team, and maybe quite a famous one. I asked one of them what team they were.  “Barbarians”, he replied.  The Barbarians rugby team are indeed playing England today.  I said something vaguely arse-holish about how I hoped they lose by one point in a good game.  The guy walked on, as if anxious to avoid any interaction whatsoever.

I was a little surprised by this somewhat stand-offish and abrupt conduct on his part.  On those occasional occasions when I say hello to a celeb, it’s usually to tell an actor that I like his acting, and invariably, in my experience, actors are charm itself, however irritated they may be underneath the charm.  Presumably I am the same arse-hole when I talk to them that I was with this sports guy, yet the actors all respond with huge kindness and grace.  Not long ago, for instance, I encountered the distinguished actor Michael Pennington (coincidentally, he was in this, on the telly earlier this evening), and I said hello and I told him I liked his acting (which I very much do) , and he said who was I?, and we got into how I and my elder brother and he had all been at the same school (my brother was in the same house as him and an exact contemporary), and Michael Pennington was just as nice as I could possibly have hoped.  Yet this little grump of a rugby player just couldn’t get away from me quickly enough.  What had got into the guy?  Seriously, what was going on here?  I gave it some thought.

Well, for starters, it helped that I knew who Michael Pennington was, whereas I was merely asking this guy who he was, which is a very different experience.  But there was surely more involved than that.  Sport is an entirely different thing to acting.  Sportsman, unlike actors, are paid to work themselves into a competitive frenzy and then actually to compete, in a manner not at all unlike warfare and which is constantly described with warlike metaphors.  They simply are not trained to fake niceness with strangers.  Quite the opposite.

Plus, I should imagine that, what with all the quasi-warfare involved, the strangers are often a lot less charming to the sportsmen, when they meet the sportsmen in the street.  I’m a nice guy, but the sports guy couldn’t be sure of that.  That being so, you can well understand that the default rule for handling twats who talk to you in the street is: get away from there as quickly as possible, before your competitive streak cuts in and you find yourself banned from playing for three months, or worse.  I mean, what’s going on here is that these sports guys, if they hung around to talk about it all, would risk having to make nice while some little runt of the sort they were routinely nasty to at school is nasty to them.  Probably, there would be no problem.  But every ten or twenty times, the meeting could turn nasty like this, at which point the everyday social equivalent of the sportsman’s usual way of handling nastiness - tackle you into the mud, smash it past you, whatever, and publicly humiliate you, while all the while shouting up a storm - would have to be strenuously resisted.

You can see how they would want to steer clear of this kind of stuff.  The wonder is not that sportsmen sometimes get into fights with the public.  The wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often.

So, I entirely forgive my Barbarian (if that’s what he was) tormentee, and hope that, in the unlikely event that he remembers me, he forgives me.