Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Ellen MacArthur's triumph raised the question of how is it that she hasn't quite "come to be loved". The example was cited of Sir Francis Chichester sailing into our hearts some 40 years ago, having made it round the Horn and the globe in what by comparison to MacArthur’s craft was a bathtub.

We had a lot less to occupy us then, of course, so were easily fascinated, but the real answer to the question is all about the paradox of those lonely souls who seek "membership" by going outside the bunch. It never works. They might win respect, but not love, except perhaps from those who are like them, and they fret about that.

Round the world yachtspeople are all a bit weird. Sir Francis, adopted as a doddery eccentric, looked as if he'd never been the life and soul of anyone's party. The Frenchman Bernard Moitissier, who was part of the spate of solo efforts at the time, made it all the way back to port but took one glance at the crowd awaiting him (including his wife) and took off to sail around again

Strangely, looking at one of the intent images of Dame Ellen this week, I saw in it the face of the late Donald Crowhurst. Don't they in some way look alike?

Crowhurst took off in the big race of 1969 in the hope of finding love and solvency for his engineering company that was about to go bust. He soon knew he wasn't going to win the prize (his boat was leaking from the moment he left port) but holed up in the South Atlantic, out of sight and contact and pretended he was ahead of the field.

Boats could do that then, though Sir Francis - monitoring the race from England - was never fooled by Crowhurst's occasional dispatches of "woodsmoke off the Falklands". Realising he'd never get away with it, and steadily falling into madness, Crowhurst finally slipped quietly into the Sargasso Sea.

The book by ex-Sunday Times journalists Ron Hall and the late Nicholas Tomalin, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, makes for one of life's spookier reads. I couldn't face it again but, inspired by MacArthur's feat, did find myself this week re-reading the Ancient Mariner.

Beware thee…

On his bad days, David James is the Ancient Mariner of goalkeeping: "he catcheth one in three".

But it was great to see him holding Chelsea at bay last week in, so far, the season's best display of the art. With the contemporary game so tied up in midfield, that once-frequent spectacle of an inspired keeper emerging the hero after a battering for the full 90 minutes is far too rare.

Yet a word of caution: most of James's saves were of the fast-reaction variety, and some of the best with his feet.

What we now want to see from him is more command in the air. If he could yet acquire it at the advanced age of 34, he might earn another two or three years back in the England top spot.

The Good Max

Sadly departed last week was Max Schmeling, aged 99, who was a good man, though I'm not sure we knew he was.

To my father's generation, the former world heavyweight boxing champion was truly the Bad German, the racial supremacist who in June 1938 Joe Louis sorted out at Yankee Stadium. Schmeling's scream as the "Brown Bomber" knocked him out in the first round with a blow to the solar plexus was heard across the Atlantic and told Hitler what we all thought about him.

It turns out, however, that although Hitler tried to use him, Schmeling opposed the Nazis when he could, not least by harbouring Jews in November 1938 during the Kristalnacht pogrom.

After the war he fought on into his 40s and chose his moment to leave the game with his brain intact. He went into farming, and acquired other business skills which he used with success, an inspiration perhaps to the likes now of George Foreman.

When Louis fell upon hard times and was reduced to the role of shaking the hands of visitors to Las Vegas for a living, Schmeling financially helped him out.

He was the oldest ex-heavyweight anyone could remember, and was only seven months from making it to the hundreth bell.

Wanna Bet

Talking Vegas, what a man of vision Mo Green was. Anyone who recalls that Hyman Roth monologue from one of the Godfathers will know Green as the man who spotted the Nevada desert as the place to take his gaming tables, thus providing the foundation for the Las Vegas we know today and the industry to go legit.

True, Michael Corleone impaired Green's view of things by having him shot through the eye on the massage table, but, 50 years on, it has all manipulated itself out for the best.

Everything today about the casinos of Nevada is decent, aboveboard and legal. It is sending out its missionaries to see if it can't convince us that little bit more of its virtues.

The BBC's Today Programme had a professor of gambling studies from the university of Las Vegas on recently saying, in articulate and kindly tones, that Britain should do something about its archaic betting laws. They date back, as he pointed out, to 1962.

Nevada has its sights set on all those big casinos we've been told we should have, but perhaps the prof could take another look at the UK's gambling laws which are far more liberal than at home.

For a start he could lobby to have oncourse bookmakers at US racetracks like we have here.

I consulted FT.com's racing guru, Charles Andrews, the Investor, about this and in his usual scientific fashion he pointed to the example of the Simpsons. When Homer wants to get a bet on he has to do it with a mate, a bookie's runner, just like Britain in the old days before 1962.

The Investor adds that Cantor Index opened up its very successful spread betting operation over here, unable to believe the liberalism of UK regulations. Things just aren't like that at home.

Urban hunting

The fox in my garden is becomingly increasingly tame. One night last week he wandered around to the front of the house to excrete neatly on what he now regards as his own doorstep. There is an old phrase that says no one should do such a thing, but what is to be done in retaliation?

Urban fox hunting is beyond the wit of man, or certainly Lambeth Council. The town v country hunting debate has so distorted things that people out there in the sticks are identified as “nasty” to animals, while we in town are not.

When I emailed my local councillor about the mounting menace on our doorstep, she said there was nothing she could do till the matter was taken up at "national level". But a leaflet did quickly arrive, with I think the RSPCA's involvement, describing in cuddly terms "how we can live with foxes". I'm prepared to go halfway; ours can go shit in the garden.


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article