Jeremy Clarke has wiped me out again, for a change. His accounts of the high jinks on board the Spectator cruise had the mother of my children laughing out loud, something she’s not known for among those of us who consider laughing loudly a staggering breach of taste. Never mind, Jeremy’s talents and his ability to describe the indescribable in vivid prose is a badly kept secret among those of us who love good writing. The only thing wrong with Jeremy is that he shows me up week in, week out.
Being the fall guy does not suit me one bit. And I hope I won’t be falling this week in Amsterdam, where I’m competing in the world veteran judo championships. This is my last competition ever. I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it, just like the girl who said no to her first-kiss opportunity.
I’m quitting because of the training. It’s getting much too hard. Last week I was in bed with flu for four days, then my coach Brian arrived from New York and we went straight into it. Brian is 28, a student of the greatest judoka that ever lived, Yamashita Sensei, and fighting him is analogous to being dynamited by a sushi dish. He looks polite, friendly and smiling — until he throws you. You land rather hard. Judo requires great lung capacity. I’m a smoker and that’s what handicaps me during a tournament. I’m always out of breath, huffing and puffing against men who are mostly slower and weaker. But they tend to cling, hold and somehow make my life miserable between fags and other exotic substances. It’s not a life, really, and I’m seriously contemplating becoming a bird-watcher at the age of 79.
Nevertheless, Amsterdam it is. An added burden is that my son J.T. is coming over from Paris to watch his old man make a fool of himself. It is the first time I’ve had someone come to watch me compete, and it’s making me nervous as hell. I know exactly how it’s going to end. I don’t want to be thrown right away by a counter, so I will fight conservatively, instead of doing it the Panzer way.
But back to the training grind. The most important thing before a competition is strategy. More often than not, one enters the mat and gets flustered when the opponent attacks unconventionally. So what one does in training is practise against left-handed and right-handed holds. My strategy is to respond to the opponent’s power arm with a stiff arm to their collar. This allows me to sense subtle shifts in weight, changes in direction, and resistance so that I can determine the appropriate time to pull, push, and — most important — when to attack. Ah, but an attack leaves one open to a counter, unless it’s a perfect one. And on it goes: every move has a counter and every counter has a counter, and the best man wins more often than not. Unless he’s a smoker and a lover of the high life and other terminological anachronisms like the good life.
I won the world championship big time in Brussels in 2008, and I say big time because I threw my opponent in the final with a leg pick, my speciality, but then the crooks who run judo disallowed the throw, so now I feel a bit like that ghastly Lord Bristol must have felt when he lost his stately home and all his moolah. Just another face in the crowd. Bristol did the right thing and died soon after. I hope to keep going and will let you know the results next week.
The Greek elections, of course, have become something of a monthly, or even weekly, event. They take place the day before the judo championships. I’m not so sure which event is more important. Does it really matter who is in charge when so much will be determined by the country’s creditors? Does it matter who is the prime minister who oversees a bailout that guarantees misery for millions of Greeks? Of course not. Any liar will do.
It reminds me of Brussels back in 2008. Across from my hotel there was a Catholic church and some Arabs were kicking a ball in the courtyard and spitting against the walls. Some of us were watching this outrage but we were warned by the concierge not to interfere. The police would take their side, he told us, and they would be back in force the next day looking to punish anyone who interfered. This is the same Brussels that is telling us to take in more Islamists or else. The same Jean-Claude Juncker who is ordering us around from his château in Luxembourg, a nation that fought the Wehrmacht to a standstill, and from a country that has given the world Goethe, Shakespeare, Socrates and Plato, not to mention Newton, Edison, and even Donald Trump. Yes, we’re all from Luxembourg now — all united and one, thanks to what Jean-Claude tells us.
When I go on the mat in Amsterdam, I will think of that slob and pretend I’m fighting him. And hopefully, I’ll do OK. Yippee!