Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Chinese idea of football

It began with a seemingly innocuous text message from my partner. "Please get a Fussball for G - Red - at the Sportsman's Warehouse". Dutifully, I went to the said Sportsman's Warehouse and asked for a Fussball - Red, please, without any idea of what I was asking for. After some discussion between the shop assistants, I was presented with a very large, extremely heavy cardboard box. The shop assistant seemed eager to assist. They could make it up, if I wanted. I wondered whether or not I could see the finished product - and was shown - to my astonishment a hand football set, as pictured above. Far too large to fit into my modest little car. So I smiled bravely and said, no, it was fine. I would assemble it on my own. No, No, No! I insisted, it would be fine.

Christmas day brought the usual and wonderful excitement. The tree, the clutter of presents beneath it, the lies and deception of the cookie crumbs and drained Amarula liqueur glass, which Santa left behind as evidence of his appearance down the chimney. The indecent ripping of paper and unwise tearing open of boxes containing the only dreamed of treasures. The chaos, the confusion, the joy - followed by the harsh reality that someone, somewhere, needed to put the Fussball thing together. All eyes fell on me.

And so, dutifully, I started with the instruction manual, which, albeit only four pages, had such density of instruction, such complexity of design and arrangement, that I reeled in disbelief. But there was my son Gabriel, staring at me, with such utter belief in my ability, that I simply could not declare the job as one needing an engineer to complete - I had no escape route. I had to do it.

Together we made a start on the first set of instructions. You had to first take the two sides of the thing with holes in them and turn them upside down, so that you would be working on them upside down. Then, according to strict instruction, you needed to thread both of the sides onto the skewers which have various numbers of footballers on them. You start on the one side with the one (presumably the Goalie) then you build up to two, three, five, five, three, two, one - you get the picture. The instructions were extremely explicit - we followed them to the letter.

Three hours later, thousands of numbered screws later, aching knees, wrists and sweating brow - triumphant, we carefully turned the entire apparatus to stand for the first time, right way up. We stood back to admire our handiwork. We started putting the final touches to the construction, adding grips to the skewers, goals to the gaping spaces etc. And then I (hardly the football expert, you understand) noticed that the Goalies were facing their own goals! That seemed a little strange - even to a non-footballer.

Further investigation revealed that just about everything which could be wrong with the arrangement of the skewers of footballers, was. With rising hysteria, I re-checked the instructions, point for point. We had followed them to the letter. And then my eye spotted the country of origin - China. The awful reality began to dawn.

Now, given the fact that it was the very first manoeuvre which we had performed, the entire structure depended on it. To undo it (my hysteria started to rise uncontrollably at this point) meant that we had to undo everything. Absolutely everything.

It was at this point that I noticed the first flicker of uncertainty in my child's eyes. Was it possible that he was staring at an inadequate parent here? Someone who simply could not be entrusted or relied upon to put together a simple Fussball table? Was it possible that he was looking at a bluffer? A fraud? An incompetent? And if I had tried to deceive him about my ability in this regard, what else had I deceived him about?

Now, did I mention that the requirements of putting this Fussball table together required the use of virtually every tool in my toolbox? A cement mixer? A welding kit? Bricklaying abilities? Structural engineering qualifications which would have put the construction of the new World Trade Centres to shame? I didn't? Well, it did!

Did I mention that after round one, I needed a knee replacement? Swedish Sports massage? 6 months rehabilitation and occupational therapy? I didn't? Well, that's what I needed. So, as calmly as I could, under the circumstances, I told my child that we would have to re-do the thing later on.

Of course, I admit, I tried to think of ways never to return to the task again. I rehearsed telling him seriously that the Chinese were like that. They always gave instructions which didn't work and if you don't understand Mandarin, you will never get it right.

Needless to say, tired, resigned and weary, I returned to the job an hour or so later and after another grueling three hours, the task was finally complete.

I am recuperating from the rigours of the festive season. Parenting is not for sissies - and not helped at all by our close ties with China.

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