32. A blast from the past.

The Eton wall game is a beautiful thing. It is sublimely, perfectly, uncompromisingly pointless. It is played at the poshest school in England, Eton (it’s where William and Harry went to school).

Typical! The nobility sit back and relax while the commoners do all the work!

Typical! The nobility sit back and relax while the commoners do all the work!

The whole thing is controlled by a set of brilliantly arcane rules, but in essence, a ball is put down next to a wall, and the two sides form a scrum and push it backwards and forwards for an hour. The goals are a door at one end and a tree at the other.

The big game takes place every year on St Andrews Day. Here’s the thing though: no-one has scored a goal in that game for over a hundred years. It’s not about winning. It’s about pushing backwards and forwards.

Extra points are awarded for knocking a boy off the wall with a wooden shoe known as a "brattling clog". I told you the rules were complicated.

Extra points are awarded for knocking a boy off the wall with a wooden shoe known as a “brattling clog”. I told you the rules were complicated.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s a little complicated, but I’ll try to explain. I was feeling a little uninspired this morning. Not that I didn’t have any ideas I wanted to write about- I just didn’t have the time to do them justice.

So I went over to a local news site to look for inspiration. Instead, I just got tired. I made the mistake of looking in a section called “Most Commented”. It’s a drop-down menu listing the news stories which had attracted the most comments that day. These would be the most interesting and controversial stories. You would think.

South Africa is a pretty rough place. There are constant violent protests against slow service delivery. People die on the roads like flies. There are strikes at the mines, and xenophobic violence in the townships. A man was sentenced today for paying his gardener to kill his wife. Our politicians are stealing millions and our young people can’t get jobs. And what did my countrymen want to talk about. The most commented story of the day was a reader’s submission titled “Creationists….Atttteeeeeention!”

Creationists are both well disciplined and snappily dressed.

Creationists are both well disciplined and snappily dressed.

Sadly, you could be damn sure the creationists were going to pay attention. Because this argument has been going on on this site for nearly ten years. And it has dominated the “most commented” section since day one. Cape Town could fall into the sea, Obama could strangle a prostitute, and we could discover that Nelson Mandela had died in 1972 and been replaced by a Cuban doppleganger, and the “Most Commented” column would still be dominated by “God’s existence proven… by science!” or “Atheism can no longer be denied by rational people”.

Since I started reading the site, the “Most Commented” section has almost permanently contained at least one reader’s ramblings about god. Either for or against. The writer, under the guise of reasoned, measured argument, proves that the other side is not just wrong, but delusional, and probably criminal, and is certainly unkind to puppies.

Sit up straight, you miserable little wretch! You turn my stomach. Where is your self respect?

Sit up straight, you miserable little wretch! You turn my stomach. Where is your self respect?

And then the comments start pouring in, and any sign of reasoned, measured argument goes up in smoke. It’s on! Again! Like it was last week! And the week before! Who’s going to win? Can you guess?

I had tried writing a piece or two for the site myself, but I gave up. It was terrible for my ego. I would pour my heart and soul into writing an incisive analysis of the latest corruption scandal. It would take me hours. Ten people would read it. One would comment. To correct my grammar.

And then some gormless idiot called “darwinisdead” would write something called “Proof at last! The bible shows that atheists have chrome jaw muscles!” fifty thousand people would read it in the first ten minutes. Comments would only stop pouring in when the news site’s servers crashed.

Begone, shiny chinned unbeliever!

Begone, shiny chinned unbeliever!

I’m not a religious person myself. It’s not something I lie awake thinking about. As long as you don’t harm me, or anyone else, I couldn’t care less what you believe. I see no reason others shouldn’t extend me the same courtesy. The only religion I could ever imagine being prejudiced against are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But that’s purely personal. I live down the road from one of their churches, and they seem to have instituted some sort of points system according to which they cannot enter heaven unless they come round to my house every second Sunday during nap time to give me a crappy little magazine. No thank you. I already have one. You gave it to me yourself. Last week.

There is obviously a corner of the internet, though, where everyone cares very deeply about what other people believe. Or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. What I really think is happening is that there is a corner of the internet where everyone feels they gain some sort of kudos from attacking everyone who believes something different to them. You score points for the attack. Not for winning.

I would be willing to stake my life on the bet that there is not a single atheist walking the earth today who lost his faith in God after reading a particularly incisive comment on a news site. There are no brand-new Christians on their knees in church right now because some arbitrary internet commenter chose a news site as the ideal forum for bringing the theory of evolution crashing down in ruins by quoting an obscure verse from Deuteronomy.

It was all too much. It was so filled with venom and hatred that I stopped writing things on the site. It got to the point where a report about a snake being found in a car would end in a comment-war about religion (to be fair, the snake was trying to get a naked women to eat an apple at the time). I wrote one final piece and left the site forever. Until today.

"Surely this simply wouldn't happen in a world ruled by a benevolent God?"

“Surely this simply wouldn’t happen in a world ruled by a benevolent God?”

Seeing that the endless battle continues unabated, I went and had another look at that final piece. Then I brought it over here. You’re reading it now. I thought I could just copy and paste it here and update it a little. Instead I seem to have burst out from the middle of it like that chest burster in Alien.

And so we come back to the Eton wall game. It’s a much more sensible pastime. Two bunches of dirty schoolboys shove each other backwards and forwards along the wall. Hour after hour, year after year, backwards and forwards, up and down. And no one is going to win. No one is even going to score a goal. At least they seem to be having fun. At least they understand that it’s only a game.

Except for that guy in the middle there. If his team doesn't win, his father is going to prison.

Except for that guy in the middle there. If his team doesn’t win, his father is going to prison.

29 thoughts on “32. A blast from the past.

  1. joyceahood says:

    The final photo made me laugh.

  2. I have had similar experiences with trying to comment on such websites – there is no point – unless you like bleeding to death!

    And … yes this brand of ‘football’ … huh? throwing the ball backwards?? anyways!!

    Kind of ties in with the whole subject, i guess….

  3. mariekeates says:

    Here in England doing pointless things is instilled in us at a very early age.

  4. This was a great read…

  5. narf77 says:

    Don’t say I don’t hand you posts on a platter Mr 23Thorns…it might not be African BUT Australia is just Africa on a stick isn’t it? I give you complete permission to take these slugs and run with them…just watch out…they ARE carnivorous…that’s if you are of the sluggy persuasion…

    • 23thorns says:

      Excellent! We have carnivorous giant land snails here, but they could never serve as the official mascot of the next gay pride march.

      • narf77 says:

        I am personally hunting for the greater rainbow slug of old Sidmouth Town…I plan on making a biological name for myself as the Tasmanian discoverer and maybe I can singlehandedly do something about getting a Mardi Gras started down here…either that or I could think of a recipe for how to cook them and put Tassie on the map for MasterChef 😉

  6. sisteranan says:

    i think i once saw the Eton wall game played over an exclusive bottle of nailpolish in |Macy’s. Quite a bit nastier, tho. Lasted till closing time.

  7. narf77 says:

    This entire post brings to mind a song off the latest Bowie Album “Up the hill backwards it’l be alright”…that’s how I go up the hill sometimes when Earl smells a rabbit. I like to leave religion out of my politics. Both have the propensity to make me go red in the face. Not because my reasoning is particularly obtuse but because everyone else is an idiot. I think the old adage that you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics is a wise one. At least not if you want to actually get along with ANYONE else in the room. We all have our deeply compartmentalised beliefs and anyone that treads on our threshold had best be willing to lay down their lives for their cause. Don’t you love how royalty keep throwing their gung-ho youth into rough school games to get us to keep paying for them? ;). Clever buggers aren’t they! They keep us distracted by politics and religious fervour and monarchistic loyalty while they stand back and rake in the royalties…a great career path methinks…I am wondering why more unemployed South African youth don’t aim for it? We here in Tasmania managed to marry off one of the locals to a Danish prince. She is on the cards to be an anorexic queen one day of someplace that no-one cares about BUT whenever she comes back to visit her mum (and have a good meal once a year) she generates more tourism dollars than Tassie gets for the rest of the year. Might be time to shuffle off one of your more attractive sheilas (I know you have them there, I have seen some of them…) to one of the lesser principalities around. Or, you could do paper, rock, scissors with one of your bronzed strapping lads to marry one of Fergies progeny. I hear at least ONE of them is available…should do great things for your economy…at least they can play “push piggy push” with royalty and have stars in their eyes for a day 😉

    • 23thorns says:

      I feel bad, Narf. I’ve been upsetting you. All of this talk of religion and politics must be hard to cope with so early in the morning. And then I went and threw old Bieber into the mix. It’s not right. So just for you, I’m going to write about a tree tomorrow.
      Your matchmaking advice is good, but a bit late- we’ve already managed to marry up. We shipped one of our olympic swimmers off to marry Prince Albert of Monaco. We haven’t seen any money yet. Maybe we should see it as a long-term investment.

      • narf77 says:

        See what I mean about “some of us” not being media infused? ;). I had NO idea that one of yours did the Prince Albert…a nice pile of dosh there to be had methinks but he does tend to live up to his namesake (ask Mrs 23Thorns…) and your olympic swimmer might not last too many years before she is replaced by another bronzed blond beauty :(. A sad but true indictment of our throw-away society. A tree you say? Not a re-visit of that enormously phallic fruity tree is it Mr 23Thorns…I might be a penniless aging hippy but I steer clear of the 1 thing that might allow you to repeat your posts on an endless loop and I would think that each one was new and beautiful and full of flowers and happiness and shiny stars…so you might just have to find another tree…sorry about that…Steve might have had huge hands in his teenaged years but me, I am “straight edge” Mr 23Thorns, no such luck here!

  8. Miriam says:

    Where I live, people are like this about politics too… it gets very tiresome.

  9. Harold Rhenisch says:

    I do so love it when we catch snakes in a moment of evolution. Snakes and cars… of course!

    • 23thorns says:

      That was up in the Kruger Park. I would have given anything to be there. You turn the key. Nothing happens. You pop the bonnet and walk round to open it up. And then…. therapy.

  10. TamrahJo says:

    “Our politicians are stealing millions and our young people can’t get jobs. ”
    Methinks that’s not just a problem in South Africa…

  11. Jocelyn Hers says:

    What a good idea, get your religious ” debaters” in one spot and let them play the Eton Wall Game to release their pentup frustration. It would at least tire them out and would have about the same result as their harangues. Who knows, one or two might even get the metaphor.

    • 23thorns says:

      I suspect you might be overestimating them. But it’s worth a try. We could throw in the racists who supply the rest of the comments on the site and organise a round robin.

  12. NIDS LOVE BIG EYES says:

    Oh come on gents, we all know what the Eton wall game is all about, sweating male bodies, pushing and shoving. Same reason why rugby is so popular.

    • 23thorns says:

      Oh, come now. Surely you are not implying that there’s something dodgy about contact sports. It’s just a healthy day out in the open air followed by a nice, long, hot group shower. All perfectly innocent, I’m sure.

  13. Mmnm says:

    I suspect your intellect is wasted on them, and what a pity that is.

  14. dalo2013 says:

    The Eton wall game sounds like the perfect analogy for life…and as for most things in life, if we could just have the relatively unbiased and clearer mind of children, we could have fun with the ‘push & pull’ of life. That photo of Harry is hilarious…he would make a great US President 🙂

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