by Anton Wills-Eve

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/set-it-to-rights/”>Set It To Rights</a>


The last time I  did something which, at the time, I really wish I had done differently was when I was at university in Geneva in 1965. It was late January and I was working as a journalist at the United Nations while also trying to get my masters in Italian Mediaeval history. It was an eighteen month follow up to the LesL in French history which I had just spent four years studying in Paris. What I should not have done was try to work in one language (English), write academically in a second (French), while sharpening up my third (Italian) as I studied to a pretty complicated level. Let me tell you why.

I had been invited to cover the first ever international conference on doping in sport which was being held just up the road in Grenoble in the French Alps. Apart from writing about it I was also one of the delegates as I had written a lot on European sports while studying in Paris and I was selected to be one of  the three public relations members of the newly formed commission. Well as cruel kismet would have it I had to be in three places on the same day, each one in a different language and showing my in-depth ignorance in three tongues. I had to tell the world what the conference was doing in English, my two counter parts were  deputed to carry out the same task in French and Spanish. This after I had an Italian lecture on thirteenth century  Tuscan politics in the afternoon. It was being given by a very distinguished Italian Professor, but unfortunately in very distinguished Italian. Then to top it all I was spending the morning covering a world cup ski-ing slalom race just over the border in Italy and had only a hour to get from the ski-ing to the lecture and then drive from Geneva to Grenoble in  an hour and a half in  snow and ice for the conference which started at 6.30 pm. Well the pre-serious bit, drinks for us all to say hello to each other, came first.  So what do you think I did?

I got to the ski-ing at 8.00am with a hangover for reasons I cannot even remember, only to find I had left all my sports notes in Switzerland and had to trust to my memory and knowledge of the sport to get the results and times filed and the wrap up story sent without too many howlers. It was too much to hope for. I had Machiavelli  coming third in the men’s race and was really lucky that the telecommunications manager at the ski-ing spotted this and thought I was being funny. This hardly set me up for the day. I managed to write an in depth piece on why doping was not yet an issue in ski-ing, even though it was, and just got away with it because nobody else knew whether I was right or wrong.

The lovely lecture theatre was about to close its doors as I squeezed in, out of breath, to hear a talk about the life of Castruccio Castracani, my favourite condottieri. Oh no! Yes, I had squeezed into the wrong amphitheatrical lecture hall and sat, bored and none the wiser, through an hour and a half’s talk on quantum physics in a very difficult Sicilian dialect and only just kept awake.

You can imagine the state I was in when I got to Grenoble. The English language press, many of whom I knew, made straight for me as the only person they understood. I was expected to know every topic that was going to be raised, what was going to be said, and how furious half the sports world was going to be before the meeting even started! I sought solace in the pre-conference drinks, lots of them, and made up reams of rubbish when everything was finished and the world’s press retired for the night bored and uninformed about anything that had been discussed. Not my greatest hour. So what do you think I could do to correct my errors? Seriously, go on, guess”

I did absolutely nothing. For the rest of the weekend I read my favourite Italian poets and gave my colleagues more garbage for their papers and finally made my way back to Geneva to sleep off Monday, unconcerned at anything my sports editor or conference colleagues may think of my weekend. I got it spot on! The editor thought my ski-ing piece was really original, I’ll say it was, the conference organisers gave me a full time job for two years (one day a month) but my Italian tutor could not make out how I had proved that astro physics played an integral part in the overthrow of the leading political party in Pisa in 1299. It was a connection he had long spotted, he told me, and thought me a genius for picking it up!