Spitting image is never one that works for me

FOLKS who saw Annie Get Your Gun will recall how, in their Anything you can do I can do better face-off, Annie Oakley puts down Frank Butler with a sneering You cain t beat me at long-distance spittin ! . That line always got a laugh. It also spotlight

FOLKS who saw Annie Get Your Gun will recall how, in their "Anything you can do I can do better" face-off, Annie Oakley puts down Frank Butler with a sneering "You cain't beat me at long-distance spittin'!". That line always got a laugh.

It also spotlighted our ambivalence about spitting. Sometimes it seems socially permissible, as in spit and polish, and others, definitely beyond the pale.

This paradox struck me watching footer on the box the other night, when treated to the inevitable close-up of a player, showing with a disgusted spit, what he thought of a ruling by the ref. Should a player doing that belong to "our" team, we not only find nothing amiss, but applaud his action.

Yet spitting otherwise is mostly severely frowned on. Those cautionary "no spitting, penalty �5" notices on London buses underlined this. They puzzled me, for on countless bus rides, I never saw anyone look remotely like spitting. Presumably the warning worked.

A fiver then was a lot of mazoolah, but when I first saw one I was disappointed with the large crumply white paper. It didn't look half as impressive as ten-bob and pound notes.

It would require a good deal more I guess to make any impact on today's millionaire footballers - "no spitting, penalty �5,000", maybe!

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Perhaps it always went on in the game, and we are aware of it now only because of the TV cameras. Against that, I was near enough to the action as a boy at Ilford's matches and can't recall seeing much spitting afield.

What I do remember is the raspberry Ilford's right-back Ted Toase got from his own crowd, one early post-war game. He took time-out to blow his nose with his fingers, albeit over the touchline, not on the pitch.

The bird didn't bother Ted much but somewhat foxed me. Not long returned from war-time country evacuation, I saw little wrong with a practice perforce common enough among my farm labourer friends and the like.

After one such hearty blow, Nat Higgins once delighted our gang by tee-heeing "Tis only time a poor man throws away what the rich put in their pockets", which piece of rural wisdom I later rashly quoted in more polite company, was cuffed for it, and told not to associate with the old reprobate again.

Most would rate such nose-blowing only marginally less reprehensible than spitting, yet in his countryman sketches on the wireless Bernard Miles yarned admiringly of a fellow yeoman who could "spit on a flea". Our mum, too, when parched would declare herself unable to "spit sixpence".

So when, how, and why does spitting's dividing line seem to be ?

It certainly wasn't for me in Hartley Avenue Infants, after classmate Eileen King suddenly shrilled "Please Miss, Trevor Smith spit on me!"

True I spat, but not on her, just to be rid of splinters after chewing in academic thought on my wooden pen. That cut no ice with Miss Patman, though, and I suffered her strictures on what an uncouth little boy I was.

Years later the usual reaction to spitting was turned to good effect by West Ham manager Ron Greenwood, defending a player before the FA for responding in kind when an opponent spat in his face, both being sent off.

Leaning over the three-man disciplinary committee's table, Ron asked "How would you react if I did this to you?", and realistically made as if to spit in their flinching faces. Result was a fine but no suspension.

My own spitting fortunes remain out, though. On a log-cabin holiday I thought to enliven Madam's video of me chopping wood by spitting on my palms. Accusing me of deliberately messing up her film, Madam fumed "You'd go to prison for that in Germany!".

Later on that holiday she lured me to my first hot-air balloon flight. Concerns over dangling beneath a contraption subject to nature's whim and, moreover, capable of setting itself alight, were forgotten when I saw Madam spitting over the balloon basket's side, but my hopes of own-backs also went when, as a veteran of three previous flights, she loftily rebuffed me with "You knew anything about ballooning, you'd know we spit only to judge drift."

Enough to make you spit, as they say.