The Sport of Idiots*

There we were with our skates, parkas, toque perhaps, no helmets, gloves or mitts, blue jeans and the like. Red rosy cheeks, with clear warm snot running down from our noses.  Sniff, sniff and sniff again: soon to be yellow tinged icicles hanging, dangling from our nostrils and the cleft of our chins.  But hey, it was healthy snot!  On top of that, tingling toes and burning fingers signalling the early onset of frostbite – but we didn’t care. We were alive and young, and free.  The faster we flew on our blades the warmer we felt and exhilarated by the sweet nectar of being alive.

We would set up a couple of goals and play a form of pond hockey. The sound of slapping sticks or pucks to wooden blades: the swishing, whishing and crunching sounds of our blades on ice were the only sounds to be heard. Of course there was also the odd whooping, whistling and ribbing sounds coming from someone’s mouth when a deek, a fake or a shot of speed was masterfully executed. Laughing, sometimes arguing, ranting and definitely cursing when a puck went astray off the ice and into the snow. Normally we could find it but on those rare occasions when we couldn’t find the puck in the snow banks we came up with our favourite “Barrel Jumping” competition.

“Barrel Jumping” used to be an accredited winter sport, both amateur and professional.  But it was never a winter Olympic event but it should have been. I remember watching it on the Wide World of Sport TV program: that late Saturday afternoon stalwart sports program, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” which I believe is no longer a fan favourite being replaced by the mundane and hyped Monday Night Football and the like. Barrel Jumping was a real man’s sport, sort of like winter’s version of the “High Jump and Long Jump” combined and all rolled into one event except that on completing the leap the competitor either landed squarely on his blades on the ice in triumphant jubilation or crash mercilessly, convulsively into the barrels themselves. Or, with hope upon hope, he tripped himself up after his leap into space falling on to his backside then sliding into the boards of the rink or snow bank.  Unlike the “High Jump” there were no padded landing zones to break the skaters fall just the hard cold ice zone to break ones legs, one’s knees, ankles or pride.  Concussions seemed to top the list as well. Probably a good thing as the more one became concussed the braver one became in this sport. It was like their badge of honour. No, it was not the Sport of Kings but rather the sport of Dentists, Orthodontists, Chiropractors and Idiots.

The premise being that, in spite of idiocy and insanity, it was all about jumping over plastic barrels on skates, on ice of course. The more barrels that were cleared the more adventurous and dangerous it became. It was very popular in the Northern States, particularly New York State around the Lake Placid area; Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine plus the backwoods of Quebec and parts of northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan Canada. It was a hugely popular and well followed event. We all had our own barrel jumping heroes of course.

The competitor, or idiot on skates, would circle the barrels like some sort of displaced matador insanely focused on the barrels themselves that were racked side by side on the ice.  Starting with one barrel the excitement and suspense of the fans grew exponentially as the number of barrels increased: two, three, five, eight, ten and on and on it went until there was only one man left standing, or sliding into the boards. The crowds would cheer as each participant cleared the barrels in flight and cheered even louder if one came crashing down into one of the barrels. The cacophony of oooos, aaaahs and groans were the real metric of approval. Scoring was dependant upon the competitor’s misstep and choreographed mishap, which was the real essence that made this event so compelling from a spectator’s perspective. With each subsequent jump the competitors would try and outdo one another for the admiration and adulation of the crowds. Some would twirl, some would spin and some would jump like a figure skater before building up the speed over distance that was necessary to clear the barrels. 10, 20, sometimes 30 miles per hour they could muster, their leg muscles bulging with every stride: their arms flinging in a sideways motion as if giving flight like an airplane or like the birdbrains that they were. The jumper must leap about 6 or seven feet in the air with a forward projection if he has any hope of clearing the barrels.

The competitor must have agility, speed and guts and be intellectually challenged if he is to be successful in this sport. Some would just leap and fall without the grace or agility of a showman. Others would appear to be running in thin air: their legs, arms and skates pumping like the madmen that they were while others had the audacity and fool’s courage to project themselves horizontally over the barrels once in the air, like a human cannonball or like superman in flight with their arms outstretched dead ahead only to come crashing down to earth headlong into the barrelled mass. These guys were a crowd favourite. In essence the sport of barrel jumping was never really about clearing the barrels but about the chaotic showmanship of the competitors and their relationship with the barrels themselves as they went flying in all directions.

Unfortunately Barrel Jumping never became an Olympic sport. Instead we have Rhythmic Gymnastics!

“It was too brutal of a sport” a commentator was heard to say. “No one ever made it as all the competitors seemed to fall on their backsides.

Yessss exactly


*Except from “I Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven”  


Theory is great

For theorists


Practicality is wonderful

For pragmatists


Social Network Analysis is super

For socialists


Barometers are necessary

For meteorologists


“Lurkers” are fair game

For psychiatrists


Tools are essential

For technologists


Collaboration is pervasive

For idealists


Cooperation is illusive

For realists


Open mindedness is amazing

For epistemologists


Communities are magnificent

For sociologists


Practice makes perfect

For perfectionists


Learning is intuitive

For Academicists


Meaning is ephemeral

For illusionists

Experience is personal

For experientialists


Identity is private

For individualists


Interest is fantastic

For economists


Negotiation is meaningless

For confrontationists


Diversity is great

For Diversificationists


Militancy is wonderful

For pacifists

(c) ShakeyJay 2004

Origin Of A Word!

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Huh, What is that? Well, back in medieval times a family may have had one bath a week. husband first; wife, second; children in descending age and then the baby – last. Same tub, same water, though somewhat putrid and brown.  Mother was always wary that when the water was subsequently thrown out that the baby was not tossed out with the lot. Hence the expression – “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

And what about that old marital tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold? Well, again back in the golden olden days, houses, or cottages, had roofs of thatch. You can imagine the work in cleaning the floors. Just by the main entrance was a hold – for the thatch, or thresh, as it was called, and the hold a thresh-hold. It was customary therefore to carry one’s bride across this threshold so as not to soil the woman’s petticoats.

Many of our words and expressions have had their roots or genesis hundreds of years ago. Over the years these expressions or words have found themselves in our everyday vocabulary – some good, some bad, some laughable, some sad.

Consider this:

In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship, wooden ships of sail. Old wooden transports or scows with rotting timbers, creaking, expanding planks stretching with every yaw or pitch of the ship, every motion of the sea such that the caulking opened somewhat with the result that the ship’s bilges, lower deck and the holds were often times awash in seawater.

Now in those days, like today, the rich folk, the aristocracy, loved their gardens. They loved their great expanses of manicured lawns. Lawns without a single weed – uniformed carpets, emerald green and lush to the touch. Flowers of every kind – a horticulturalist’s dream. We have all seen these magnificent Italian, French and English country gardens. Unbelievable! Unbelievable that these gardens could be so spectacular without the benefit of modern day commercial fertilizers. Maybe so, but they did have manure in those days – huge shipments of the stuff. It was shipped in dry form because when dry, manure is very light and somewhat airy. Nevertheless dry manure shipped in these leaking ships posed a unique but significant problem. You see when dry manure gets wet it becomes heavier and the pungent process of fermentation begins of which a by-product is methane gas.
As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could and
did happen. Methane began to build up below decks and the first time
someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM!  Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening. After that the bundles of manure were always stamped with the letters “S period; H period; I period; T period, such that the sailor always knew what they had on their hands.

This precaution was not always heeded and on one occasion a number of ships in company experienced such a fatal, yet awesome explosion of methane induced fireworks. On historical account there was one convoy of manure laden ships that met a week of extremely rough weather.  As luck would have it, when the weather abated and the ships were back in company, at the most unexpected time “ KABOOM,” one of the ships exploded. It was such an awesome, awful sight to behold. The explosion was so spectacular that one seaman above decks in one of the accompanying ships was heard to exclaim:

“Holy S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period.” as the bales of manure so aptly labelled were flying everywhere. Asked later to explain the scene he so deftly uttered.

“It was like a shower.”

“A shower of what?” he was asked?

“A shower of S, period; H, period; I, period; and T, period.  It was all that he could muster.

Indeed a number of these bales even landed on the fantail of a ship some two miles distant.  So nervous and scared were some of the sailors on that ship that they could barely get the words out to explain the occurrence to their Captain. When asked what happened one of the sailors stammered:

“Sir: there was a huge explosion. There was S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period everywhere. The explosion was so strong that some of the bales marked S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period. hit the fffff fan – tail. It was unbelievable.”

A search for survivors was conducted. As luck would have it, the Captain and twenty of his crew were rescued. They found the Captain himself alone in the water in the midst of about 100 broken and destroyed bales. He was literally and figuratively found to be in the S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period.

Thus over the years, the decades, the centuries the acronym “S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period ” has evolved. You see many of the sailors in those times were illiterate – they couldn’t read or write. That is why the acronym S,period, H period, I period and T period was used. It was easy to pronounce and remember. Indeed over the years the acronym itself entered the English language. It can be found in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED, 10th Ed, 2002; page 1324). Many of the expressions found in the dictionary and associated with that acronym today go back to that very fateful and terrible event.

And what is the meaning of the acronym S, period, H period, I period, T period that were marked on those bales? 

Ship High In Transit!

It’s obvious!

Perhaps you were thinking of something else.


Originated by anonymous although embellished slightly by yours truly.

Intellectual Passion

In many respects the South Pole at the turn of the 20th century was an environment of no’s.  There was no point of reference.  There was no large geographical landmark announcing, “You are here!”  There was no large hole in the ground staked with a massive pole obtrusion or place name.  There was no marker.  There was no obvious tell tale sign that an objective had been reached.  There was no support for life. There was nothing there but wind: a wind so cold and bitter that it was life sucking. It was as if the wind gods had found a place on earth to vent their anger unabated.  A howling, deafening non – prevailing wind with snow and blizzard and drift that was constant only in its relentless power: a non-prevailing confused and chaotic maelstrom because there was no direction here – except north.  There was no warm southwesterly, steady westerly or an easterly.  Everywhere one turned one was facing north.  There was only the bitter north wind.  And coming from all directions!

 And there was nothing at the South Pole except a frigid, blinding white desert plain projecting a desolate and frighteningly yet awesome picture of nature – at its best and at its worst: a lifeless, broad, flat, monotonous stretch of frozen landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see – in every direction.  In the summer months there were 24 hours of sunshine but with it came an incessant blinding glare.  In the wintertime an eternal darkness fell over the land like a veil of silence in death:  a darkness that was made all the more eerie and dangerous with temperatures dropping off the bottom of the Fahrenheit scale.  And everywhere one looked it was always the same.  There were no distinctions: only wind and drift and snow and ice. 

The south polar plateau was an icy land that was both hypnotically breathtaking as it was nomadically restless.  Ice that was so pervasive, it was everywhere:  ice – in crystallized air;  ice – in frozen breath; ice – in frozen sweat; ice that was over a mile thick; ice that permeated and smothered every secret that the land may hold; ice that moved; ice that scorched a path across a barren landscape; ice that was so relentless and unwavering in its slow glaciated crawl across the south polar plateau toward the Trans-Antarctica Mountains; and ice that fell in precipitous icefalls, down expansive glaciers that were bordered by mountains over 15,000 feet in height.  Towering granite peaks, like sentinels, these mountains protected a high frozen polar ice prairie that was home to a non-descript geographical point of the earth that was the frozen underbelly of the world.  The South Pole was indeed cold and inhospitable. It was a terrible place.

And on this land of ice and snow, on this south polar plateau some 10,000 feet above sea level, tales unfolded in an historical context of polar exploration that have since become the source of legend and myth: legendary tales of survival, of leadership, of endurance, of courage, of success, of heart rendering self-sacrifice, of depression, of defeat, legendary myths and tales of men, of dogs, of ponies, of unremitting hunger, of disease, of death.  It is a place of storied heroism, of foolishness, of fickle and fate, of obstinacy and ignorance, of mental breakdown and stupidity.  It is a place of friendship, of camaraderie, of jealousy, and spite.  It is a place of majestic peaks, of icy crags, of hidden crevasses, of bottomless chasms, of pressure ridges, of untold beauty and horrific dangers and suffering.  It is the vast polar plateau, the Beardmore and Axel Heiberg Glaciers, the expansive Ross Ice Shelf, The Devil’s Ballroom, McMurdo Sound, the Western Mountains, Katabatic wind, Terror and Erebus, the Bay of Whales.  It is the playground of killer whales, the home of the Emperor and Adele penguin, the Weddell seal, Skuas and the Antarctic Petrel. 

For some men the South Pole symbolized gentlemanly fulfillment. The Antarctic environment entrapped them into an addiction of exploration and an escalating sense of superhuman accomplishment.  It instilled a sense of unbridled commitment and fulfillment to a cause that was of intellectual importance and of spiritual poetry and propriety.  Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of Robert Falcon Scott’s men and author of one of the best south polar chronicles written “The Worst Journey in the World” (Cherry-Garrard, 1930) described south polar exploration this way: “Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion”(Cherry-Garrard, 1930, page 577). Perhaps it was for men brought up on Victorian values: Victorian men who were intellectually nurtured on Browning, Tennyson, Dickens and Darwin, or influenced by Jowett (Hibbert, 1987).  But for many of these men there was also that adolescent like fearlessness and ignorance of the horrific dangers, subtleties and paradox that was the Antarctic.  Reading their stories, their fearlessness and bravado somehow undermined the intellectual passion and poetic romanticism.  For the Antarctic may be in one instant a beautiful thought provoking place.  But in the next it heralds a terrible, frozen death.  Its death knell is both unsuspecting and indistinguishable, but death nevertheless.   For the Antarctic environment knows no glory.  It knows no sense of gentlemanly conduct.  It has no sense of fair play or understanding of intellectual pursuits or passion. The Antarctic is not a positive place at all. It is an environment of no’s.


(c) Shakeyjay 2002