IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as the famous old Dickens intro goes.
These days — and probably also often during our vaguely remembered Good Old Days — mostly the worst of times, the worst of times, the worst of times.
The Good Old Days in reality rarely last longer than a month or three and then feel like years. The Bad Old Days likewise, but our brains are mercifully also wired to make the years of Good Lord Painfully Mediocre Old Days feel like weeks in our memories.
Good, bad and painfully mediocre
Things I noticed last week that were Good, Bad and Painfully Mediocre:
GOOD: Banyana Banyana, who became the first South African football team to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup tournament.
BAD: The Springboks' new away jersey reminded me of Steri Stumpie's worst flavour.
PAINFULLY MEDIOCRE: The Netball World Cup and the Proteas' part in it.
Ennio Morricone was anything but mediocre. Please have a look at how many people it takes to make “The Good, The Bad & The Painfully Mediocre" sound like it does.
Non-stop whistle blowing
So, from the bottom up.
As a schoolboy I often watched netball; my girlfriends were good at it; I had a crazy, futile crush on one of them; but goodness knows, that whistle blows non-stop.
Foot fault here, obstruction there. Of course, it's not the only Victorian-era sport where the ref is so extremely potent; rugby's rules are also so labyrinthine that the referee could comfortably blow the whistle 160 times a game. Then he logically chooses the most convenient 50 or 60 times for him.
But it still happens so often that it reminds me of one of my favourite flute solos. Hey Aqualung!
Making sense of the sport
Even when I was a hormonally driven teenager, and despite all the beautiful legs, I never developed an interest in netball.
These days I am old enough and on enough anti-anxiety pills that I would feel slightly perverted staring at netball legs, but with the World Cup in Cape Town I once again tried to make sense of this sport.
Fast, inventive, and then zzzz...
It was invented around the turn of the 20th century as a more feminine version of the slightly older basketball. And English femininity in 1901 was by no means cha-cha, tango and rumba; the result being that firmly planted foot.
God forbid a foot fault; next they could start dancing.
And the impediment of leaving your prescribed part of the court is quite possibly the internalised need to side with the patriarchy after all… OK, there you go again, Louis, stop it immediately.
Nevertheless, I watched all the Proteas' matches and enjoyed them to varying degrees until I finally realised what my long-standing problem with the sport was. And it's not the referee's whistle.
The action in netball's centre court is fast and inventive and you get really excited when the goal shooter gets the ball and everyone has to stand still … sss … zzz … and watch how she hits the net nine times out of 10.
It's the only sport I know of where it's anti-climactic when someone scores, like rugby would be if you could only score with goal kicks.
Even though the South African team was a remarkably pale-skinned group, the usual bitter quota complainers were active on social media.
But if Jamaica give you hell in the group stage and Uganda knock you out for fifth place, your biggest problem is probably not the number of black women in your team.
Sixth from 16?
Women's cricket is much less popular than netball in South Africa; yet a much more successful World Cup tournament was presented here recently.
It has been 28 years since the Proteas won their only World Cup medal — silver in Birmingham. Moreover, unlike cricket, rugby, tennis and even polo, the sport has never progressed beyond the British Commonwealth.
Therefore, sixth out of 16 with home advantage sounds rather dismal to me.
Especially if your guests go home disappointed.
In my self-confessed ignorance, I also have to wonder about the wisdom of a 77-year-old Aussie as a coach.
Rod Macqueen came up with the Brumbies' playing pattern and patched together and coached the best Wallabies yet, the team of 1999. He is now 73 and one of the sport's sharpest and most innovative minds. But I would become nauseous if he were to take over the reins of the Springboks now, for example.
Mercy, those jerseys!
And speaking of the Springboks with their uninspiring jerseys (why not thick green and gold stripes as an alternative? People will even buy them!), I will never complain if they can put up such a deft performance as they did in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
No team can win continuously, but since 2018 I have always had hope for the Boks, and for that Rassie deserves a standing ovation.
Thankful for insomnia
The same goes for Desiree Ellis and Banyana Banyana, who brought me surprising joy. So much so that I thanked insomnia for a night or two because it enabled me to see more than I thought I would.
And South Africa also performed much better than we thought they would.
Like most people, I believed they were going to lose all three of their group-stage games. It would have been understandable. It happened the last time. Most of the players are amateurs, while all their opponents are professionals. They play exciting football, with lightning-fast counter-attacks and are almost always a joy to watch.
Barring a misstep here and a misfortune there, they could have drawn against Sweden and beaten Argentina, but their W1, D1, L1 was enough for the knockout rounds.
For all those who criticise their male counterparts — not without reason — W1, D1, L1 is exactly what Bafana achieved in 2002 and 2010, without progressing.
In 2002, the entire ANC waited for them at the airport after the group stage. Traditional shirts, choirs and long speeches, the whole caboodle.
Hopefully this fate will not befall Banyana Banyana. They are performing precisely because the SA Football Federation (Safa) doesn't give a damn. Let's hope things stay that way for now.
Danny’s Christmas turkey
Banyana's strike before the tournament was never properly explained in our media. The problem was that Safa refused to guarantee that they would receive all the money paid by the governing body of world football (Fifa) to players.
Eventually, Fifa paid the money directly into the players' bank accounts. That put an end to Danny Jordaan's Christmas turkey.
Joke — he is fucking rich — but why would this scoundrel refuse to guarantee Fifa's payments to the players? Does he need more bucks?
Speed, ingenuity and fightback
Whatever, from now on I will always tune in when Banyana Banyana play. The brilliant Thembi Kgatlana, the battery Hildah Magaia and my personal crush, the right forward Jermaine Seoposenwe, guarantee speed, ingenuity and fightback.
When Seoposenwe was injured in the first half on Sunday, they were seriously hampered, but Kgatlana, captain since the tough midfielder Refiloe Jane was also injured, looked like she wanted to beat the Kaaskoppe on her own.
The fact that the Dutch goalkeeper, Daphne van Domselaar, was the player of the match says everything about Kgatlana's performance.
Makeba, MaBrrr and Busi
Outstanding tunes by South African women: If music were a sport, Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks would certainly have reached the World Cup quarter-finals:
MaBrrr would have knocked out a few favourites herself:
And the ever underrated Busi Mhlongo? She informed the world about us thoroughly:
♦ VWB ♦
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