Putting the ‘ex’ in ‘expert’

The week has passed, by recent standards, relatively uneventfully.

On Friday, too late, it occurred to me that two weeks and many aeons ago I’d made a vague plan to go and watch some cricket at Guildford. This was prompted by Kumar Sangakkara’s recent, and almost unprecedented, run of success.

(Non cricket-fans – stick with me. The cricket bit’s very short and gives context for the bit after it in which I’m rude about Nigel Farage.)

Every time Sanga’s batted recently, he’s scored runs. Lots of them. Sangakkara scoring runs has been part of the wallpaper of the cricketing world for nearly two decades now, but with his very imminent retirement, those days will shortly come to an end. Opportunities to watch are few, and as he’s in such a rich vein of form it seemed only fair to go out of my way to try and see him one last time.

Set aside for the moment my lifelong obsession with cricket. I contend that to watch a sportsman like Sangakkara in his pomp transcends any inherent interest in the activity itself. There is quite simply enormous pleasure to be derived from watching people being good at what they do, whatever that thing is. There is a mesmerising quality about it, whether they’re playing cricket, arranging flowers, blowing glass, teaching French, drawing a bird, juggling, sewing on a button, changing a plug, riding a skateboard, taking photographs, climbing a mountain, playing Star Wars Battlefront, or single-handedly turning an entire audience from evildoing 1-&-3-clappers into right-minded 2-&-4-clappers without their realising.

Expertise, pace Michael Gove, is fascinating, eye-opening and enriching. It’s by observing experts that you learn about life, the world and yourself.

There are exceptions. (Here comes the bit I mentioned 230 words ago – told you it wouldn’t take long.)

That punchable excrescence Nigel Farage is a consummate expert at being a punchable excrescence, yet I have no desire to watch him practise his craft.

Credit where due: it takes dedication to be as consistently objectionable as him, and he has clearly devoted his life to that elusive goal. Having worked hard at being a punchable excrescence for decades, it should come as no surprise that he is one. Anything less would be a damning indictment of his skills and commitment. But have no fear. He has been cruising in apparently permanent mid-season form for some years and has now reached a level of punchability that comes to him as naturally as breathing, as honed and grooved as Ben Hogan’s swing

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or Jascha Heifetz’s bow stroke.

Jascha Heifetz (1)

He is the Kumar Sangakkara of punchable excrescences. And, just like Sangakkara, he seems to be going on for ever. Proof, if it were needed, that to become really good at something, you have to put in the hours.

The appearance of this man on my screen at about 1 a.m. on Election Night was the usual trigger to change channels, which was just as well, because it enabled me to catch the moment when David Mitchell neatly eviscerated Ann Widdecombe with one twist-and-pull of his rapier wit and intelligence. But Farage appearing on the telly was as predictable as the result of the election itself seemed to be.

Or was it? We’d been here before. Polls are rubbish, we knew that. But then the exit poll came out and my plans for an early night were scuppered.

Thank the BBC for the sight of John Curtice, perched atop the Balcony of Guesswork, master of all he surveyed, bantering easily with Dimbers, and calmly confident that in a world of uncertainty, he and his team had somehow got the prediction spot-on. While Dimbleby fretted about a fly in the studio and the returning officers’ faulty microphones, Curtice was a comforting presence up there on what turned out not to be the Balcony of Guesswork after all, but the Balcony of Uncannily Accurate Polling.

We’d all been bitten in the arse too often in the last couple of years by polling disasters to place too much credence in the exit poll. This was reflected in the punditry, everyone going out of their way to express their scepticism about its reliability. It promised to be a long night for anyone playing a drinking game based on the words ‘if the exit poll is right.’

But it was right, and Curtice was rightly lauded from all sides. Expertise again. Take that, Gove!

One of the strange things about staying up halfway through the night following sporting events (and yes, the General Election is much more like a sporting event than I’m comfortable with) is what you decide to do to help pass the time while you have half a nervous eye on proceedings. Adrenaline, alcohol, tiredness, nervousness, the constant Dimbleby-watch for signs of cracking – these combine to make a deadly cocktail. You need distracting. So obviously you decide the one thing you absolutely have to do right now, I mean immediately, is go through all 16,000 of your digital photos, tagging and rating them.

It was, of course, a task doomed to failure. But it did at least unearth this photo from five years ago that I’d completely forgotten about.

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It’s a wall in Paris, with ‘I love you’ written on it in 250 languages. When we saw it, I think I said it was terribly cheesy, while privately being quite moved and thinking it somehow an important thing. Now I’m definitely quite moved by it and think it an important thing, while privately thinking it’s terribly cheesy.

The difference a few years can make.

I didn’t make it to Guildford. Two hours’ sleep left my brain addled, my body lazy. Maybe Sangakkara had been up watching the election as well. He batted for 16 minutes and scored 4 runs.

I’ve never been gladder to miss out on a day’s cricket.

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