Off The Beaten Track 3

May 2014 was a good month for quirky bits of news coming my way about cultural, language, sports and women’s issues.

Four Minute Mile

The 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s sub four minute mile occurred on the 6th of May. I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 program called “More or Less” on Sunday the 8th and was intrigued to hear a report that suggested a four minute mile MAY have been run in 1770!!! Professor of Sports Science Peter Radford (former Olympic Bronze medallist runner) is fascinated by pre-20th century athletic endeavours, and has correlated old “documented evidence” of athletic prowess over the years. Using statistical analysis to weed out the more ridiculous claims Peter determined that some of the written evidence may carry some credence, and that an average time of four minutes to four minutes 13 seconds may have been possible times for the mile distance run in past centuries.

So we come to costermonger James Parrott (seller of fruit/vegetables and fish) who was challenged in 1770 to run a mile in less than four and a half minutes. The wager was 15 Guineas a substantial amount to James of probably around 3-4 months wages. The measured mile went from the Charterhouse Wall in Goswell Street in London to the gates of Shoreditch Church. Both the contender James and his challenger would have had independent umpires with watches, which would be locked in a box once started. The box would have been driven by horse and carriage to ensure arriving at the finishing line before the contender. When James Parrott crossed the line on a cool May 9th 1770 the time attributed to his efforts was four minutes exactly. He had won his bet, and a report in the Sporting Magazine was made (although some years after the event).

Peter Radford (like myself) is not so ready to dismiss this athletic endeavour as “fantasy”, as watches/ time keeping and other means of measurement had advanced enough by 1770 to be reasonably reliable. And with a lot of money being at stake the event would have been run scrupulously. But there does seem a tendency to rubbish claims from say before the modern day Olympics began in 1896. At the end of the report I was incredibly disappointed to hear Sir Roger Bannister say that Parrott’s achievement was “inconceivable and not at all credible”. Sir Roger’s sub four minute mile fame wasn’t in anyway being taken away from him, and I think he could have been a little more charitable. After all, if you think about it, today’s builders/architects still look back in wonder at the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. So who knows what else man could have achieved before the “modern age” of athletics?

Divergent Language

The divergence of the Korean language since war split the country was reported on Al Jazeera. A short report highlighted how the political divide had created not only social and economic differences but language ones too. With North Korea being somewhat suspicious of the outside modern world, their attitude to foreign words and western influences are markedly different to that of South Korea. As a result an academic study found that about 52% of words in general were not the same but this variation increased to 66% when used in professional terms. It’s clear that this “schism” in the Korean language is a direct cause of the people having two opposing government ideologies influencing their lives. It’s no surprise to find that the modern day westernised South Korea has words and terms probably not used in the more traditional and isolated North Korea. What I find fascinating though is just how much the language has changed in such a relatively short space of time. Variations in English are to be expected as it’s spoken in many parts of the world involving many people/countries/cultures. But Korean is a much rarer language spoken by relatively few. South Korea has been exposed to influences from around the world whilst the North remains much the same as it was before the war. So I wonder if the North Koreans speak a “purer” form of the language or if they themselves have altered it unwittingly as a direct result of the political clout of one family?

West Bank Bus Driver

I was delighted to see a BBC news report (this weekend) on Najaa Asia who has become the first woman bus driver in the town of Tulkarm in the West Bank. Najaa decided to turn her passion for driving into a career and earned her licence to carry bus passengers in April. Since then she has taken to the roads as the ONLY woman bus driver and is flying the flag for women and equality in an intensely male-dominated region. Well done!!!!

Japanese Sumo Wrestling

It seems that the traditional sport/art form of Sumo in Japan may face an inevitable decline. At the weekend an Al Jazeera report highlighted how the Japanese no longer particularly aspire to become involved in the sport. Many foreigners now form the core stables of participants especially those from Mongolia and Russia. The regime demanded by Sumo is also very taxing, particularly eating high calorie foods to maintain weight. This in itself could pose major health risks to the individual and combined with an almost “monastic” type lifestyle of training, is decidedly unappealing to Japanese men. With attendances declining and revenue falling, this manly Japanese tradition could one day be confined to the history books.

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