Notes From a Small Planet

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Boxing's had its day

Spare a thought this Christmas for someone who is in no position to enjoy the festivities: Paul Ingle, who is lying critically ill in a hospital in Sheffield, England. Paul is recovering from a operation to remove a blood clot on his brain. He received life-threatening injuries when he was beaten into unconsciousness on Saturday night.

Hundreds of people cheered as Ingle's assailant, Mbuelo Botile, rained blows on his head; but despite the large number of witnesses, Botile is safe from prosecution. Indeed, he has now been hailed as a champion.

The reason is, of course, that this is a sports story. Ingle received his injuries in a boxing ring, while fighting Botile for the International Boxing Federation's version of the world featherweight title.

Those with a vested interest in boxing have been quick to point out that all contact sports involve a degree of danger. Well, maybe so, but there is no other sport in which one of the objectives is to render one's opponent unconscious. In boxing, the 'knockout' blow represents the ultimate success for a competitor. Yes, people get injured in all sports, but in boxing you have to inflict pain and injury on the opposition in order to win.

I love my soccer and enjoy watching most sports, but I have encountered no more alienating experience than that of being in a bar when a big fight is on TV. Being in a room full of people who are baying for one man to batter another man senseless isn't my idea of fun - or my idea of sport, come to that.

Boxing is a spectacle that appeals to the lowest human instincts. It's surely the only area of sporting activity in which a man could be convicted of rape, serve a prison sentence, bite part of his opponent's ear off in his next contest and still be hailed as some sort of hero, as Mike Tyson is. Very occasionally it produces a genuinely admirable figure like Muhammad Ali; but Ali's frail condition now tragically illustrates how severe the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head can be.

The British Medical Association has called for all boxing to be banned. That won't happen very soon, because too much money is tied up in the fight game. Sadly, there'll probably have to be more Paul Ingles before the whole sorry spectacle is finally counted out. Even so, I suspect that boxing's final bell is years away, not decades away.

Two pints of lager and a summit conference, please

And now, news of a new understanding between nations reached in a manner that will make perfect sense to drinkers everywhere.

A recent international summit conference on the environment held in the Netherlands had ended acrimoniously. The British delegate, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, had stormed out of the meeting, prompting French environment minister Dominique Voyant to condemn him as a 'macho man'.

But as many of us know, differences that might previously have seemed insoluble often look very different after a couple of pints. So I'm not at all surprised to hear that Mr Prescott was able to patch up his differences with ministers from other nations after setting up an international phone link... from a pub in Telford, Shropshire, England.

And why not? Who amongst us has not come up with perfect solutions to all the world's problems after a few hours in the pub? It all seems to have worked, anyway: the latest discussions between Mr Prescott and Ms Voyant have been described as 'cordial'. It's not yet known whether this was a coded reference to splashes of lime cordial in the drinks, or whether Mr Prescott got as far as telling Ms Voyant 'You're my besht friend, you are'. But certainly it appears that he is heading for meetings with European Union ministers in Brussels this week with a renewed sense of optimism that all differences can be overcome.

Coming soon: the Middle East conflict is finally resolved after the Palestinians and Israelis sign the historic 'Harry's Bar Agreement'...

The Melody doesn't linger

The most poignant news of the week for me came with the announcement that 'Melody Maker', the magazine for which I laboured for over 10 years, has finally died after 74 years on Britain's newsstands. Launced in the 1920s as a magazine for music hall musicians, it had coped with the Second World War, early rock'n'roll, Beatlemania, hippies, punks, New Romantics and Britpop. But now its publishers IPC Magazines have decided that its continued existence is no longer financially viable, and 'Melody Maker' is to merge with IPC's other music weekly, the 'New Musical Express'.

I'm saddened because some old friends of mine have lost their jobs, but in some ways it's a relief. In a frantic scramble against relentlessly declining sales, 'Melody Maker' had dumbed down to a depressing degree, shrinking from a tabloid to a glossy magazine and filling its pages with pin-ups and jokes. Finding that not enough people were interested in reading about the 'indie' and alternative rock that had sustained it through the Eighties and Nineties, 'MM' first tried to tap the teeny-pop market, then did a sudden about-face and aimed for heavy metal fans. In doing so it lost all dignity and credibility, and by the time I lost my job there early last year I was embarrassed to be associated with it.

It hardly seems healthy that the new 'NME'/'MM' hybrid will be the only vaguely serious rock-oriented weekly on the UK market; but perhaps that's a reflection of an era in which popular music is not important in the way that it used to be. Dance music doesn't lend itself easily to the print media, because there is much less focus on the people who make the music; and most Westlife fans are unlikely to have the patience or the attention span to read in-depth interviews with their darlings. Heavy metal fans often tend to be loyal to their own specialist magazines, mistrusting anything they deem to tainted by the dreaded 'mainstream'.'Melody Maker' had lost its identity and lost its way, and its death was predictable.

Maybe we all have better things to do these days than to read about what musicians think. Music does still have its place in the world, but it's not as big a place as it used to be. Now it's just one leisure option among many.

For instance, it's rumoured that many young people today spend a lot on time on the Internet...

A gift for Santa

Finally, treasury officials in Massachusetts, USA are seeking a man to whom they owe $1,112 (£750). The man is believed to be elderly and somewhat rotund, with a white beard and a jocular manner. He is known to favour red clothing with a white trim, and is often seen in the company of reindeer.

Yes, the money is owed to Santa Claus. Treasury officials believe that it might have been meant as a gift to a Christmas charity, or as payment for a Santa Claus to make an appearance at a party; but so far no-one has stepped forward to claim the cash.

However, the officials do have one lead. They have found a real Mr Santa Claus listed in their records. Surprisingly, this Santa doesn't live in Lapland or at the North Pole, but in Worcester in England.

Dwight Robson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts treasurer's office, has admitted:
'We're probably just as likely to find the real Santa Claus as we are to find the rightful owner of this money.'

However, he added:
'To the Santa Claus in Worcester who is missing a little more than $1,000 and can confirm that they are indeed the rightful owner of this property, we'd be happy to return it.'

So if you happen to see Santa, let him know. After all, he could buy a lot of mince pies and reindeer feed with $1,000...

And on that seasonal note, I'd like to wish a happy Christmas to all my readers. Just think - when we meet again, everyone will agree that it's now the 21st century...


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