Zak Spade's

Eye Off the Ball

View from the Far Kerb, August 2020
(My column in a pair of magazines covering Northamptonshire and north Buckinghamshire)
as Phil O'Hara ("Eye Off the Ball")

o - O - o

It’s a funny saying, eye off the ball. If one’s eye was on the ball, would a trip to A&E be the result? As a kid I imagined someone taking their glass eye out and carefully placing it on the top of a soccer ball ahead of a free kick or penalty.

It was good being young. I was allowed to have crazy thoughts and ideas without anyone coming down on me like a ton of bricks.

That’s another odd saying.

Growing up I realised that many phrases meant something other than the image they created in my mind. It was quite a relief because I had started to read ‘off’ with just the single ‘f’ and for a while it became, eye of the ball. Every time I played football I didn’t dare touch the ball lest it stared at me, or worse. The 1982 song by Survivor, Eye of the Tiger didn’t help. For some reason I was always last to be picked when teams were being chosen.

Also, being of an age to have been taught the metric system and still understand imperial measures, I couldn’t work out whether it was an imperial ton or metric tonne of bricks being referenced, and so I began to have problems writing it.

Once I realised it was merely an idiom or turn of phrase, I eventually stopped looking for any errant bricks that might be hovering above me at any time.

It never helps when trying to use a language peppered with such silliness. Can you really pick up a phrase and turn it over in your hands? Do chefs jump out of the shadows to sprinkle pepper over speakers when they use certain words and phrases repeatedly?

Instead of worrying over it I will go and drink lots of beer. No doubt I will become off my face, stoned, smashed, or at the very least, rather tipsy. The first three seem to be harmful to my welfare, but the last appears to suggest there is risk for others. If I down a couple of tins of my favourite brew will I walk or stagger up to someone and give them a carefully judged nudge to tip them over? Would it be safer to become extremely drunk and comatose, thereby avoiding the risk of being arrested for assault?

The other day I saw a newspaper with a photo on its front page of a packed beach in the UK. The headline above it read, ‘IDIOTS.’ Without picking it up and reading the whole story I was left wondering whether it was referring to those packed together on the sand and in the sea during a period when the population is supposed to be practising ‘social distancing’ or whether it was proclaiming that the publication was for idiots.

It is difficult to see how anyone can understand others at times.

As the late Danish pianist and comedian, Victor Borge once said, “It's your language. I'm just trying to use it.”

© 2020

20 March 2023