A fact non-hockey players might not know: in most hockey clubs, all the players have a club squad number. This means that they can move from team to team and there is never a clash of shirt-numbers, and it is just the kind of sensible thing you would expect from a hockey club, because hockey is the best sport. One sideline effect of this is that when a new shirt design appears, which is usually every two or three years, there is an unholy scramble, usually between a big fat guy from the fourths called Spud who was at Lancaster (which is an excellent university, let me make it crystal clear) and another big fat guy from the fifths called Razor who was at De Montfort (about which I have more mixed feelings because I used to play against De Montfort and a big fat guy called Razor once belted me round the knees for no reason) over who will have the honour of wearing the club's number 69 shirt. This is not the fact about the number 69 that I want to write about.
There is a website called The Page 69 Test. It's about how Marshall McLuhan once said you can see whether a book is for you by picking it up, reading Page 69 and seeing whether you want to read more. (I have not found the McLuhan reference anywhere, and I am presuming it's not apocryphal, but it's the sort of thing that could be). The only reason I am writing about this is that I find it hard to imagine a better page 69 than this, from a book called Battling With Sea Monsters, by one of the all-time greats, FA Mitchell-Hedges:
...These grotesque creatures have the appearance of pre-historic armour plated lice, with antennae of astonishing length.
The shark's jaws, which we carefully preserved, were seven feet four inches in circumference, and two men standing back to back could pass completely through them.
There is no jungle in the world that holds the horrors to be found beneath tropical seas. The gates of death never swing outward, though ghastly are the ways in which many enter. I have seen blood-curdling tragedies; one moment a man, strong, in the full vigour of life; the next, a bloody, foam-churned sea, a woman left grieving and children fatherless. I have seen a boy with keen anticipation starting out for a day's fishing; tragedy was lurking and he never returned.
Even more terrible: Thirty or forty natives were bathing in the sea off their little village, among them a father with his grown-up sons. They were close to the shore having great fun; suddenly a gurgling cry broke from one of the boys, aged sixteen. His head bobbed below the surface, the water reddened with blood; the father and an elder brother dashed towards the spot and at that moment the boy reappeared, his arms held out, shrieking terribly. They grasped his hands; just as they did so there was a tremendous swirl of water, and the great shark rushed again at the boy. Frozen with horror, the father and brother saw the cavernous mouth open, heard the crunch of the jaws as they closed. They were still grasping the boy's hands - but only his head and shoulders remained. The body below was bitten completely off.
Panic-stricken the natives came to me, borrowed one of my shark lines, baited a hook and ran it off from the shore. The fish was still lurking there, and almost immediately it took the bait. The men struck, and all together hauled on the line and dragged the brute to the beach. Dancing with fury they split open the belly from vent to gills; the guts spewed out on the sand. And there was the body of the boy, swallowed practically whole.
The enraged natives lit a fire, cut the shark into small...