Ian McMillan: Snooze and sport on a Saturday afternoon

Ah, the deep-flowing and endlessly variable humiliations of middle age! You know the kind of thing I mean: you’re sitting on your comfy settee in mid-afternoon watching the drama of the football fixtures rolling across the screen like an epic film made of end-of-the-first-half goals and yellow cards and penalties skied over the stands into a back garden where someone is hanging out washing.

You were up early and you had a big lunch so you know that this is the danger hour, the time when you might slip into a gently snoring zizz, so you deliberately move around on the settee or you violently pinch your cheeks to keep you awake. It’s all to no avail of course. You’ll just rest your eyes for a minute, just for a minute, and then you’ll carry on watching. This happened to me the other Saturday afternoon and when I woke up from my nap, about five minutes later, it felt like just a few more brain cells than usual had given up the ghost, had rolled over and died. I rubbed my eyes and stared at the screen: the rolling football news danced across the bottom of the picture of the middle-aged men describing matches that they could see and we couldn’t, and as far as I could tell a player had been sent off for reading.

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Now, in my sleep-fuzzy state I couldn’t fathom that at all. How can you be sent off for reading? I know that referees are getting stricter these days, but how can you be ordered to the tunnel for sticking your nose in a book? And, furthermore, which book was it? And even more furthermore, where did the player keep the book he was reading? In his shorts? In his left sock, behind the shin-pad? I couldn’t understand it. Then, in the wicked way my brain works, it handed me another conundrum from nowhere. I suddenly thought: “What’s the name of those strange non-hats that women wear at weddings? The ones that look like a small explosion of feathers and Meccano and sequins?” Don’t ask me why that question popped up, but it did. And I couldn’t for the life of me remember what they were called. And why did that player get sent off for reading? Was he reading the programme, reading about himself? Admiring his photo? Is that somehow a straight red card offence?

And what are those wedding half-hat things called? It was so annoying. I could see the shape of the word, I could hear the tune of the word, I could feel the feel of the word, but could I heckers-like think what it was. Terminator? Graduator? And why would somebody get sent off for reading? Escalator? I tried to distract myself as that sometimes works. I began to sing the theme tune from The Monkees because in the past, for some reason, that cheesy tune has helped me remember words that slipped through the leaky mind-net. “Here we come, walking down the street…” I piped, because I find that singing in a high voice aids the recall. Defibrilator? Graspinator? Where in the rule book does it say that you can’t read books or magazines on the field of play? Got it: fascinator! Phew! At last! And of course he wasn’t sent off for reading, he was sent off for Reading, the recently-promoted Championship side. Thanks, brain!