The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - March 5, 2015

Fergal O'Brien in the Senior's Final at Blackpool Tower Circus
Fergal O'Brien in the Senior's Final at Blackpool Tower Circus
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There is a big sporting tournament in Blackpool this week – Snooker Shootout, which is basically really fast snooker.

Each player has 10-15 seconds to take their shot.

The purists will detest it, the people who think it’s not much fun watching a middle-aged fella spend seven minutes 39 seconds deciding how to play a safety shot off the baulk cushion while avoiding contact with the brown will think it’s marvellous.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the sport– if, that is, an event where the competitors wear silk waistcoats and walk around a large dining table holding sticks can be labelled a sport – but it is something I’ve seen on the telly now and then.

I remember watching the classic Dennis Taylor/Steve Davis final back in 1985, one of 18.5m viewers to tune in to the BBC’s coverage. To this day it remains one of the most watched sporting events on British television (the most watched, surprisingly, the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, viewing figures of 24.46m), and is certainly the most watched sporting event of all time involving a ginger-haired bloke and a chap wearing a ridiculous pair of glasses.

But not until this week had I actually seen snooker in the flesh – and by that I mean I was there, not watching on TV at a nudist colony.

I went to the World Seniors, which is kind of the warm-up event for the Snooker Shootout. It involved all the old players from years gone by, like Davis, Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, John Parrot, and – perhaps a nod to the competitors’ ages and how long they are physically able to stand – it was quite short, first to win two frames.

It took place at The Tower Circus at the base of Blackpool Tower, a fabulously 
ornate venue.

And though initially exciting – it was going out live on Sky so we all had to whoop wildly and pretend there was nowhere else in the world we would rather be – I must admit I didn’t emerge from the experience a huge fan.

The biggest problem is that the players are so dull. The closest we got to excitement was when one chap – Fergal O’Brien – wiped a speck of dust from the cloth. Alex Higgins he ain’t.

I may be doing them a dis-service but I daresay that modern-day snooker players are the kind of folk who iron their socks and put their CD collections in alphabetical order.

For the true snooker fans at the venue, though, it must have been great to witness first-hand the skills involved.

I mean snooker is pretty tough.

My highest break is 13, made in 1992 on a half-size 
table, and it was only that high because I fluked the pink when my hand slipped playing a safety shot.

So it is good for fans to get a chance to see how the pros do it, and great, of course, to see a major sporting event in Blackpool. I think next year, though, I’ll stick to watching on TV.

Slippery slope

Imagine the scene. You’re out for a pleasant walk in the Lancashire countryside with your sweetheart.

You stop for a picnic and are just unwrapping the corned beef sandwiches when your partner says: ‘Don’t move darling, there’s a 16ft python staring at us’.

Which is exactly what might have happened in the Ribble Valley this week, after someone – the police believe –released a snake big enough to kill and eat a human into the wild.

Now this is my worst nightmare. I’ve grown up with a huge fear of snakes, mainly due to having a mother who screamed and ran from the room if one 
appeared on the telly.

While working as a primary school teacher in her late 50s, she once climbed out of a staff room window and risked life and limb jumping 12ftto the ground, all because a parent had wandered into school with a snake as part of a day where children were encouraged to bring their pets in.

It is little wonder then that I am no fan of snakes, and the thought of someone simply dumping a python into a field in my home county makes me feel queasy.

As well as the danger to the public, it is also a crying shame for the animal itself.

The python, as you’ve no doubt read, was found dead in a canal near Rishton. Given it is a snake usually found in South East Asia and so used to slithering around in China and India, it never stood a chance in Lancashire – though on the upside it did have a much better chance of getting half a pint of mild and a decent pub meal.

After walkers spotted the snake floating in the canal and phoned the authorities, an officer from Ribble Valley’s Wildlife unit said: “A python of that size could have been capable of attacking a person so it is fortunate that no one came to any serious harm.”

Indeed. Next time I use the toilet I’ll be checking the under the U-bend first.