October Diary
On China, tyranny, and unique Hong Kong.


John Derbyshire

Hurricane Higgins, RIP. Here’s another thing that does not compute stateside: snooker.

Well, to some degree, it does. I know snooker is played here. Pool is the main American table game, though, while snooker is very much a niche sport.

Snooker lost one of its most colorful characters this month: Hurricane Higgins. The Daily Telegraph obituary is here. Samples:

He turned professional, and immediately triumphed in the world championship of 1972. . . . He celebrated this achievement by travelling to Australia, where he was thrown out of a club for insulting a senior player, and out of a hotel for demolishing his room. On the way back he ran into trouble in India after getting drunk, stripping off and putting his hand up an old man’s dhoti. In 1990, however, Higgins was in worse trouble than ever, after representing Northern Ireland with Dennis Taylor in a match against Canada, which they lost. “I come from [Protestant] Shankhill [Road] and you come from Coalisland,” he told the Catholic Taylor, “and the next time you are in Northern Ireland I will have you shot.”

All right, Hurricane Higgins was a tad rough around the edges, but you can’t help thinking a little color went out of our sissified, feminized world with his demise.

He was, by the way, a terrific snooker player, a joy to watch.

Singing despots. On Radio Derb I kid around a lot about Pres. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, for no strong reason other than I have a weakness for silly-sounding foreign names. Turkmens, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Azeris, Balochs, Buryats, and all other Central Asians are welcome to make sport with “Derbyshire.”

Turkmenistan is actually a nasty little authoritarian police state: not quite as bad as North Korea, but easily down at the Burma level. The country is resource-rich, though, with huge natural-gas reserves, so a lot of big international players — Radio Derb, for example — turn a blind eye to the abuses.

And for all his crimes, Pres. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is not without non-political talents. Here he is performing his own composition “Sana menin ak gullerim” (“To You My White Roses”).

Now if we could just get Pres. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to team up with Vladimir Putin for a duet . . . 

Buboes. Having had some issues with buboes on my own account, I am naturally drawn to stories in this zone.

Here’s one.

Scientists have cracked the genetic code of the Black Death, one of history’s worst plagues, and found that its modern-day bacterial descendants haven’t changed much over 600 years. Luckily, we have.

The Black Death is terrible to read about. It was bubonic: The lymph nodes swelled up as buboes — that’s what gets my attention.

The dreadful thing is still with us, too: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that on average, 10 to 15 Americans get the disease each year, mainly in rural areas.”

I’m glad those scientists have cracked the genetic code, but I hope they keep it to themselves.