When I was a kid in England we looked forward to one important television landmark in the week: the professional wrestling.
This was considered so disreputable that it was only allowed airtime late at night. Later, if I remember correctly, it was moved to Saturday afternoons, filling the long gap between the soccer news and start of the match results.
Even in those days professional wrestling was a bit of a con. There was a genial conspiracy to provide a show for the crowds.
It was widely suspected that the results were fixed - certainly you were not allowed to lay bets on the matches - but there were occasional surprises.
While this was not entirely a sport in the usual sense, it was a demanding and potentially dangerous activity in which many participants displayed good skills.
The wrestlers were matched with opponents in their own weight classes, and the matches involving the smaller, more agile, men were frequently the most entertaining.
Wrestling garb was worn and there was a referee whose decisions were generally accepted.
Stumbling through the Star channels the other day (we became a household with a dish recently), I came across wrestling in its latest guise. What a difference.
Now I suppose we should perhaps make some allowances for the fact that the version offered locally comes from the United States. It may be that back in Blighty they are still doing a respectable bowler-hatted version. But I doubt it.
Anyway the current American version is conducted in huge arenas. They are so huge even the live audience is effectively watching on television; giant screens hang over the ring, much like those which allow punters at Sha Tin to watch the action.
The wrestlers are also huge. Weight limits appear to have disappeared, and the small men have prudently made themselves absent.
And when I say small, I mean anything less than gigantic. The referees, who were presumably once wrestlers themselves, are dwarfed by contemporary performers.
The wrestlers are allowed to wear a variety of colourful and extrovert gear. Hair is worn very long, providing an obvious temptation to opponents.
It is probably against the rules to grab someone's hair. But the only place where the rules are taken seriously is in the commentary box. The referees sensibly try to keep out of harm's way and the mayhem usually proceeds via jumping on an opponent from the top rope to throwing him out of the ring and continuing the bout in the surrounding area.
There is an epidemic of debauched variations, including an amazing spectacle in which 20 people try to be the last man not thrown out of the ring.
Much of this would be suicidally dangerous if the contestants were really trying to hurt each other.
The audience's efforts to suspend disbelief on this point are assisted by interviews with the contestants that follow a fixed formula. After the first question the interviewee launches himself into a hysterical rant in the loudest shout he can muster, designed to convince the listener that he is a very angry psychopath.
Of course, the whole spectacle is rather a sham fight, though perhaps no worse in that respect than the average meeting of the provisional legislature.
Apparently, in Japan they have a version which is very much the same in most respects, except that the participants are women.
Oddly, this interesting variation has not managed to squeeze its way into the Star schedule, or indeed anywhere else in the local media. I suppose there is somebody in Japan who would be happy to provide hours of taped proresu for a small fee, but he has found no takers here, so far.
No doubt when or if it arrives it will be greeted as a gross affront to local sensibilities, shamelessly exploiting the women involved and pandering to the baser instincts of male viewers.
I suppose there is something in this. The idea of two ladies wrestling has a subtly different allure to that shed by two men doing the same thing.
This brings us to an oddity, though. Watch any professional wrestling performance by men and you will see that most of the audience lapping it up are women. Well! Can it be that these huge hairy hunks are being regarded as sex objects?