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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Domestic Leisure Competition

You know where you are with traditional sports - that's what I always say. Barring infringement of the rules, the victor is always first past the finishing line, or jumps the highest, or scores the most goals or points, or plays the least strokes. There are clear, objective, numerical criteria that separate the winner from the rest.

Much more problematic are pastimes that have somehow drifted away from their rightful moorings as leisure pursuits and found themselves floating in the uncertain waters of competition. Such “pseudo-sports” have no clear, objective criteria that separate the winner from the rest. The victor is defined by the subjective view of a judge or judges, possibly informed by the random history and “tradition” of the “sport”.

Perhaps some primeval survival instinct to outperform rivals transported the tranquil hobby of gardening into the gladiatorial stadium of the horticultural show. Possibly it was the same instinct that led human expression through music, dance and song to be fettered by comparative ratings. That most basic activity, cooking, now demands combat on prime time TV. Even art, in media such as painting and photography, has been seduced into a Faustian pact with those who would seek a physical incarnation for the formless spectre of “Best”.

‘Where will it all end?’ I said to George, the organiser of our village show, after expounding to him this view on “competitive pseudo-sports”. ‘What further non-competitive leisure pursuits will they drag onto a battlefield? They certainly won’t get me involved in any.’

‘You won’t be wanting to enter the “Domestic Leisure” competition at the village show next week, then,’ he surmised.

‘Domestic leisure competition,’ I replied. ‘What’s that?’

‘There are several categories within it,’ he explained. ‘There’s the “Lounging on the patio whilst drinking wine” event. Then there’s the “Staying in bed until the pubs open” tournament. Also there’s the “Watching whatever’s next on TV as you can’t be bothered to walk across the room to where you left the TV remote” challenge. We want to try to engage the villagers who might not normally get involved with the show,’ he clarified, ‘by targeting their interests.’

My curiosity was engaged. I rather prided myself on my expertise in undertaking those very pursuits. I paused to think of the long hours I had selflessly dedicated to perfecting them.

My previous principled resolve against such competitions began to weaken. After all, engaging with the village show would support a valued, historic local tradition. Also, others might be able to learn from my skills. I visualised the first prize rosette for “Lounging on the patio whilst drinking wine” being presented to me - delivered to me at home, of course, to avoid my inconvenience in collecting it.

So came the day of the contest. Three judges arrived shortly before I poured my third glass of wine. I took a sip, placed the glass on the table, settled back in the recliner and began to doze. They stayed for a full ten minutes, inaudibly conferring whilst busily noting details on their clipboards.

It was later that evening, after the show was over, that George came to visit.

‘I’ve got something for you,’ he said.

I modestly feigned surprise, even though that first prize was totally predictable.

‘You got a “Highly Commended”,’ he announced.

‘What does that mean?’ I asked, hiding my shock, anger and bitter disappointment.

‘It means you didn’t get the first, second or third prize,’ he explained, ‘but the judges thought you were the best other competitor.’

‘How many competitors were there?’ I asked.

‘Er… four,’ he replied. ‘Would you like to hear the judges’ feedback?’

‘Well, yes,’ I responded with feigned amused disinterest. Highly bloody commended, I thought. How on earth could those morons justify anything other than first prize?

‘The judges thought that your reclining position was very good,’ George commenced on a positive note. ‘However, they thought that the table was too high and too far away so you had to stretch to reach the wine. The winner also had a larger wine glass so it didn’t require refilling so often…’ George continued with full details of the judges’ reasoning. ‘Better luck next year,’ he concluded.

I accepted my rosette. ‘It was all good fun,’ I said to him as he went on his way.

‘Bastards!’ I screamed when alone in my kitchen. ‘None of those criticisms were justified. What do those bloody judges know? They’ve just made some random choice based on God knows what subjective, personal, capricious, irrational criteria. It wouldn’t surprise me if the winner was a member of the same fucking Masonic lodge as the senior judge. Now, nobody’s going to realise that I was the best because they’ll all associate the best with the winner. AHHHH!!’

On the following week I met George in the village. ‘Will you be entering the “Domestic Leisure” competition at the village show again next year?’ he enquired.

‘It was good fun,’ I lied, ‘but, frankly, I can’t see the point of pseudo-sports that have no clear, objective criteria for victory. You know where you are with traditional sports - that's what I always say…’