To force myself out of a rut. I should not be in a rut, but I am. I live in a greater metropolitan area: the 'coolest city on earth'. I should be out every night watching live experimental theatre in a warehouse, or betting on the dog-baiting round the back of the bingo hall, but instead Iím stuck in a culturally barren routine of pub-pizza-tv-Indian-tv-pizza-pub-cinema-tv. But enough is enough. It's high time I put down my remote control, put on my explorerís hat and went exploring.
So that's what I did.
This afternoon, just after Murder She Wrote was over, I chopped up all the weekís listings into a saucepan, closed my eyes, and snatched one out with a pair of chopsticks, like Miyagi catching the fly in The Karate Kid.
Speedway, Plough Lane Stadium, Wimbledon.
The home favorites, the Wimbledon Dons, are taking on the pride of Norfolk, the Boston Barracuda Braves, at the ancient and noble sport of Speedway. I am very excited. You remember Speedway? They used to show it on ITV on Saturday mornings. It wasn't as good as the wrestling. But at least, to its credit, (and unlike the wrestling), it was properly violent. People got smashed up.
And what everyone at the Plough Lane Stadium is really here for, after all: to watch people get properly hurt - it's the essence of any decent spectator sport, from Archery upwards. I'm happy to report that Speedway delivers its hurt in gratifyingly large amounts. Rider after rider smashes into the side fence at high speed, trying to take the precious few opportunities to pass, or they fall at the first bend, where the crucial leads are often established.
It's the bikes you see: not only do they reach 0-60 in less than 2.5 seconds, which is apparently the same g-force as an astronaut in a shuttle launch, but they donít have any brakes. Isnít that just a stroke of marketing genius? Imagine the ratings if that Tour de France was like that. You could just rename the whole thing ĎSickening Impactí and then sit back and count your money.
The first few falls are mainly oooh and ahh stuff, with the riders dusting themselves down and getting back on to cheers, but towards the end thereís a horrible moment of stillness from a rider at the far side, and the stretchers come out. The rider, a local boy, suffers what the jocular announcer calls a "cracked brain". I, like the boyís family, pray the announcer's not doubling up as the race doctor.
Itís not the Dons night. Cracked brains aside, the ambitious fen folk from Boston pip them at the post, to a frankly gratuitous display of cap throwing, whooping and dancing about from their team manager. Later, on the microphone, he apologises for "coming over here and winning all the time." If he didnít get a solid kicking on the way back to his Mondeo, itís not because he wasn't asking for it.
But itís that kind of event. When the home team wins a heat, the speakers reverberate with the whoo-hoo bit of Blurís Song 2 or the chorus from Hey Baby. The spectators wear dangly UV earrings, giant hats and scarves. And the food from the concession stand is pure unadulterated evil.
Itís arcane, incomprehensible to all but a few die-hard devotees, and despite the fact the British invented it, the rest of the world regularly beats the shit out of us when we compete with them - the perfect British sport.