A good Irish summer is like a World Cup – it only comes along once every four years and unless you’re unemployed or a student, you only get to enjoy it in the evenings.
This year they’re happening at the same time, so we are faced with a dilemma. While the temperatures soar, the World Cup is not putting up too much of a fight. As a spectacle, South Africa 2010 has, at times, been infuriating. I know it’s churlish to complain about the drone of the vuvuzela. I accept the argument that it’s a South African tradition – but so was apartheid. And no matter what Pele is advertising, I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good idea for so many fans to have a horn.
The punditry on all channels has been awful. Perma-tanned former players wallow in their ignorance of lesser known countries. Alan Shearer said before the Algeria-Slovenia match that “Our knowledge of these two teams is limited” Limited! Whose fault is that Alan? What the former England striker was actually saying was that he hadn’t done his homework, that he hadn’t spoken to any of his vast array of contacts in the game. Had he never heard of Google? To prove the point, I copied most of this previous paragraph from Tom English’s article for The Scotsman which I found on the Internet. That’s how easy it is.
The proliferation of tight defences and poor attacking in the World Cup has been a disappointment so far. Some of the games have been awful and goals have been few. As the competition lurches unsteadily to the second round, it’s as if the football itself is trying hard to drive us outdoors.
And what an outdoors. The Grand Stretch In The Evenings is fully extended. People are infected with a mania for activity. Previously sedentary dads leap up from the supper table to Do A Few Jobs Around The Place and are found hours later in the gloaming, having built a 100-mile wall or cleared a rainforest. In the countryside, men, often as young as ten years old, are cutting silage for 26 hours straight, a John Player Blue clamped in their jaws, Guns and Roses and Nickelback blaring in the cab of the HD Series Massey.
Throughout the nation there is a frisson of excitement in the air as an entire race receives its first significant supplies of Vitamin D for a number of years. On the canals and riverbanks the cans of Excelsior beer glint in the sun as they are unpacked from Lidl bags. Men and women with that particular type of deep tan that comes from a long-term commitment to drinking outdoors, give you a cheery wave as you pass.
Elsewhere, as the primary school year winds down, teachers hold their classes outdoors. (Only to move them swiftly back inside when a nervous principal consults the school’s public liability insurance)
In more enlightened offices, even meetings are held on the lawn, which makes it a little easier to swallow when your boss decides to deliver Some Tough Messages in your performance appraisal. In rural churches, the door is kept open at the back of mass so that the entire ceremony is held to the background noise of aul lads gossiping while their younger counterparts speculate about “what happened with Gavin and yer wan after“.
There’s a smell of smouldering charcoal in the suburbs. Fathers who are not building walls or taming wilderness may be found proudly standing guard next to a barbecue, the chinos complete with soot stains. Burgers that get stuck get flipped by hand, dads manfully ignoring the painful burns on their fingers. Any delay from the guests in eating up the cooked meat is deemed a personal affront. And with all of this going on outside how could anyone possibly be draped on the couch with the curtains drawn and an assortment of evilly flavoured corn-snacks at the ready?
Our televisions are saturated with soccer for most of the year so surely there is no reason to be Stuck Indoors On A Day Like Today. And yet, the World Cup still has that pulling power, that potential for intrigue. Even in this jaded world, there are still mysteries to be unfurled.
There is the obligatory unknown Serb managing a team from Africa, the Japanese team whose players are described as ‘nippy’. The South African team singing in the tunnel before the match sends a little shiver up the back of the head as we’re reminded that not all professional soccer players are knobs. And then there’s North Korea. Or should I say, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Like in Cork, a People’s Republic is characterised by an unshakeable sense of being on the side of truth and good, as well as a highly developed sense of paranoia. However the two republics deal differently with those who flout the rules. In DPRK you will be sent to a prison camp for re-education. In PROC you will told to cop onto yourself.
So the dilemma remains – World Cup or Outdoors. I’m looking out the window. It’s the stretchiest evening of the year so far. I should be Doing A Bit Out The Back. A sledge hammer and a shovel lean invitingly against the wall. “Use us Colm”, they whisper. “Knock something and fill a wheelbarrow“. A paintbrush seems to waltz past, cooing “Dip me in paint, I love it.”
From inside in the sitting room, I hear Bill O’Herlihy asking Ronnie Whelan if he thinks the South African goalkeeper’s distribution is key. Kick-off is approaching – what should I do? I see an extension lead. The television is now in the yard.