You can now be killed on airplanes that don't crash. ("Deep vein thrombosis," or blood clots caused by prolonged sitting, claims one life a month among long-haul passengers arriving at London's Heathrow Airport.) You can likewise be killed by bullets that aren't fired. (Depleted uranium, used in the tips of army shells, has apparently poisoned British soldiers.) You can abruptly cease to exist, the papers tell us every day, in ways previously unimagined by the sickest of screenwriters. (A 74-year-old British pedestrian was hit by—and thrown onto the roof of—a Honda Accord, whose driver continued his two-mile journey to the Addingford Steps pub in Norbury, where police soon arrested him as he enjoyed a drink inside. The victim's body, you see, remained outside, lodged in the car's sunroof.)
All of which is to say that an uneventful flight to London last week—or so it seemed; but then blood clots can take more than a week to reach the brain—revealed myriad new ways to be maimed unspeakably. (From the staid Daily Telegraph: "A bank worker's wife who bit off a newlywed's testicle at a drunken party has been jailed for six months. Denise Carr, 29, and her husband Nathan, 32, of Gateshead, had been helping Neil Hutchinson, 29, to celebrate his marriage to one of her friends. But there was a row [among] all four and he ended up in hospital, where surgeons could not re-attach his testicle.")
Thank goodness for the sports pages, which are always there to divert us from such horrors. They will never—in the manner of poor Neil Hutchinson—take their ball and go home. "I always turn first to the sports pages, which record people's accomplishments," Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren said many years ago. "The front page has nothing but man's failures."
In most British newspapers, the front page of the sports section is on the back page of the paper. Both pages are published on the same sheet of newsprint, allowing the reader to peel that sheet from the rest of the paper, spread it across the kitchen table and see the front page and back page side by side, News and Sports, looking like the masks of tragedy and comedy.
Breakfasts were bipolar in Britain last week: Despair on the front page, delight on the back. So readers were, in rapid succession, aggrieved—Dr. Harold Shipman may have killed as many as 300 of his patients—and relieved: A burglar who broke into a Lancashire mansion was alarmed to meet the home owner, notorious soccer hard man Duncan Ferguson, who six years ago spent 44 days in a Scottish prison for head-butting an opponent on the pitch. On this night the Everton striker, whom they still call Duncan Disorderly, "detained" the thief until police could arrive. "The householder...acted both bravely and responsibly," said a policeman, noting separately that the suspect was hospitalized with head injuries.
Equally uplifting was the story of Paul Ingle, the English featherweight fighter who last week talked (and walked) for the first time since having a blood clot removed from his brain in December. "I have heard him swearing.... The fact that he is swearing is good," consulting neurosurgeon Robert Battersby told The Guardian, which carried the piece beneath the hopeful headline INGLE WALKING AND SWEARING.
Even more inspiring (from a purely personal perspective) are the eight anonymous members of the British Olympic delegation who remain on the lam in Australia, having never returned from Sydney two months after the expiration of their visas—and three months after the expiration of the Games. Not one of the eight is believed to be an athlete. "The British Olympic Association," reports The Times of London, "said that the missing people were more likely to be from among the officially accredited 700 British media." In other words, it is the height of summer in Oz and the dead of winter in Blighty, and, well, sportswriters will be sportswriters.
The one American story that captured attention here last week was Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis's successful journey in the last 12 months from News section to Sports section, tragedy to comedy. It's the reverse trip that no sportsman wants to make.
So on Friday, England welcomed the first-ever foreign manager of its national soccer team. Sven-G�ran Eriksson of Sweden will spend most of his tenure trying not to leach from the sports page onto the front page. "Curiosity may put him on the front page," said the lead soccer writer for The Sun, in which front-page stories on the real-world shortcomings of previous England managers-financial improprieties, marital travails—helped end their careers. Eriksson, then, could have a very short honeymoon. As a reporter on Sky TV ominously ended his report: "An anagram of Sven-G�ran Eriksson is, 'Risks no groans, even.' "