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June 12th, 2013

Sports Day! After practices, white-line painting and prayers for good weather, it’s an afternoon of glorious wins and doleful defeats, with an air of parental pride and vicarious dream-fulfilment…

…plus, an entertaining overflow of egos in the Fathers’ Race. In some ways, Sports Day is very different now, from days of old. The children often get badges just for taking part; very inclusive and conciliatory, but does that please all the parents?

An ineradicable competitive spirit exists amongst dads at events of all kinds, especially when they’re on display before wives and kids. Prehistoric instincts call up silliness which they’d normally control.

The American urge to encourage children by example can be even stronger, and the over-age locker-room boisterousness is greater. The years drop away with the sound of bat against ball, and a fighting spirit returns, though it’s meant to be for the kids to fulfil.

Probably every father would like to see his son – or daughter – kick a football into a goal; and some of dad’s talent or driving ambition is sure to show, even decades after his own finest hour.

The best family sporting moments appear where cross-generational teams are possible. Just as long as energetic enthusiasm doesn’t put safety at risk. It may be even safer with junior at the helm…

…dinghy racing is great for parent-and-child teams, benefiting from dad’s experience, strength and moveable ballast, and the quick wits and agility of the next generation.

Getting the whole family on board is possible, if not quite perfect; but nothing beats Sports Day for raising the collective pulse.

There’s always somebody who falls over in a parents’ race…is it the damp grass, unsuitable footwear or lack of practice? Fortunately, when it’s the Mums’ Race, everyone’s too polite to snigger…..

June 1st, 2013

Exercise is something we’re aware we need, in larger amounts than we typically get. Strange, because the benefits are so various and obvious, and activity is available all around us.

And it’s surprising, considering exercise is widely regarded as fun to take part in. The difficulty seems to be including enjoyable activity in our lifestyle and transport network, which so carefully caters for more idle instincts…

…but it’s odd that all kinds of adventurous outdoor fun, promoted as treats for active types, typically feature deeply unhealthy opportunities to refuel…even London’s Olympics were partly funded by fast-food outlets within the park.

No question, we all want to be super-fit…billions of pounds are spent each year on diets and kit and health-club membership, but having spent the money, many who want to get fit, lose the inclination to actually expend calories on exercise too.

A shame, because getting the ideal physique only really takes enduring strength of mind. Carrot sticks as office snacks and a pedestrian commute instead of a car or bus journey; doesn’t sound hard, but millions can’t even maintain that for long.

Western pursuit of fitness is plagued by labour-saving and the availability of more, cheaper food than we need. It seems crazy for so many to be unhappily caught by unhealthy habits they can’t resist – habits well worth kicking instead of living with.

Exercise not only makes the ideal physique a possibility, it’s the best chance for a long life, of much higher quality. All in all, it’s a choice that ought to sell itself. It’s cheaper, too!

On the other hand, if you really can’t live without a diet of junk, there may still be some hope:

June 1st, 2013

It seems that the mountaineers Ueli Steck and Simone Moro angered Sherpas on Everest last month…and while it’s unclear exactly why, there’s a suspicion that western visitors who dismiss the Nepalese offer of expert assistance, aren’t very welcome.

It doesn’t reduce our admiration of adventurers if they use local knowledge on the way. We may presume Dr Livingstone was a great explorer anyway, but attempting to cross a wilderness or jungle without native guides, adds plenty to the difficulty of a challenge.

When Sir Ranulph Fiennes crossed Antarctica twenty years ago with Mike Stroud, they were wholly unsupported; there are no natives there. The almost unimaginable remoteness of the place was made more dangerous by constant numbing cold and equipment failure.

Biting cold needn’t be the main peril. Pioneering Victorian explorers in Australia learned about loneliness in the featureless, desiccated outback landscape and vast deserts. These remain a dangerous challenge for travellers without engines and radios.

For yachtsmen who are timid about the loneliness of trans-ocean voyaging, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers sees hundreds of boats leave the Canaries simultaneously each winter, westbound for St Lucia…although soon after the start, they separate and mayn’t meet again for 2700 miles.

We’re told that without compass, GPS or maps to guide us, the unavoidable human tendency is to walk in a broad circle, eventually ending up back where we started.

In the UK that’s pretty unlikely, although trekking on Dartmoor has resulted in teams staying lost for days. And don’t forget the thick fogs, the swamps, and the hell-hound of the Baskervilles…

Almost regardless of where, on your first trip, it’s probably best to go with someone who’s been there before and knows how to get home:

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