Hard proof

2009-08-29 00:00

TRAIN travel was great. Slow? Well, that was half the joy of it — the ancient Gondwana landscape rolling by as you sat with your basket of padkos and wine. This beat the hell out of pavement café culture any day. But not with kids, for sure; they’re too fidgety. Our first one was on its way and we made a last-chance break for Cape Town, long way round, via Kimberley for two days and three nights. Lovely, especially the wine. In the middle of night, I roll out of bed and go to the toilet. Cold, cold, it’s winter time on the highveld, but I’m in my track suit and I’m quick about doing my wee. I nip back to the compartment and prepare to jump back between my cosy railway sheets on the upper bunk. Horror. HORROR! Another man has got into it when I was weeing! “What are you doing in here?” I demand. “Well, I was busy sleeping before you arrived,” says a basso profundo voice, “but you can climb in if you like.” “What?” say I, “with a man?”. “I am not a man,” says B. Profundo. “I am a woman.” I step back and examine the figure on the lower bunk. It is a great big hairy bloke with a beard. “Hey, sorry,” say I to Ms B. P. up top. “I’m in the wrong compartment.” “You’re welcome,” says she. “Any time.”

Even after half a century, this ancient traumatic experience often comes to mind. It did so, for example, when first I beheld Amelie Maurismo on the Wimbledon centre court. I mean, this lady has a pair of shoulders on her like a trek ox; she is like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel women with the torso of Mike Ty­son and tiny little diddies like tennis balls stuck on their pectorals. And how about Maria Mutola for an upper-bunk fantasy, queen of the athletics track, 8 000 metres, fleet of foot, relentless. Excepting she’s short of a couple of vertebrae in the spinal column, she is the living replica of O.J. Simpson. Sure, she may not play football the American way, but she was on the Mozambique soccer team all right — a veritable locomotive. Not the sort of citizen to find in a cosy railway bed. Indeed, come to think of it, when I was a lad all competitors in the womens’ Olympic shot put event had to have a pre-entry medical examination to make sure they were kosher kuchels. What these examiners did to find out doesn’t bear thinking about, but eventually all the big strong mamas got together and declared it an infringement of their dignity and human rights to have people in white lab coats peering inside their underwear to see what improper equipment they were smuggling into the stadium. And there you have it, thought I, from now on we’re back to simple sportswoman-like honesty about one’s girlhood. So let’s get on with the games!

Well, don’t be silly. Everybody loves a true skandaal. I mean, a true whispering-in-the-ear breathing-suspended skinner. Poor Caster has scarce crossed the white line when the media go abuzzzzz. Shape of face, shoulder, chest, thigh, toenail and that thing spelt with an asterisk, all are on front pages world-wide. After Afghanistan she is TV headlines. The BBC sends a team to that dismal Limpopo village to ask her ma about her girlhood, who declares before her God and the world she has seen an ig**h***i on her own child. But her old granny off-screen says the final word: If it menstruates it’s a woman. Finish and klaar. Well, you’re still being silly; neobiologists with cyclotrons, electron microscopes, spectroscopes, bioscopes and epidiascopes are now studying her X and Y chromosomes. In a few weeks they will be able to tell us if this really is a girl we see before our eyeballs.

I suppose Paula Radcliffe had the answer. Though of course she set out to demonstrate to the girls of the world that their sporting careers aren’t necessa­rily over just because they have given birth to a child; she took on the Ethiopians in the New York Marathon. High-plateau wiry creatures who, even when standing still, strike fear into the heart of any athlete. I say, she found strength somewhere in the final kays, ran them into the ground, broke the record and received the trophy with her 10-month-old baby in her arms. No doubt about her equipment, hey? That’s what our Caster should have done. All sportswomen should be required to do it.

But oh dear. I had forgotten about Lance Armstrong. He received his seventh and last Tour de France trophy with his baby on his hip and another laaitie hopping around his knees, for all of Paris to cheer for, indeed the world. There was something blatant about it. Everybody knows le Tour is not for women. I’ve often thought his was an izambane he had in his underclothes. Maybe his mitochondrial DNA will confirm something or other.

But her old granny off-screen says the final word: If it menstruates it’s a woman. Finish and klaar.

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