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Celebrating an uplifting TV programme which was as engrossing as it was pointless

I 've never been a big fan of lifting things.

Ask me to hump the Divan bed away from the wall in order to hoover along the dusty line of the skirting board and you'll be greeted with the kind of bellowing groan usually reserved for a bull elk struggling to pass a particularly large pine cone.

Watching other folk hoisting and heaving, though? Well, that's a different matter entirely. Last weekend, I took in the sights, the sounds and the fury of the Scottish Weightlifting Trials for the Commonwealth Games and swiftly became entranced by the crude, poetic eloquence that tumbled forth amid all this excruciating elevation.

"Nnnnnn-ahhh", panted one lifter as his quivering, quaking face rapidly reddened to the hue of a lightly creosoted fence. "Yaaaaa-ooooh", shrieked another, as he rose majestically from a shuddering squat only to develop a worryingly scarlet fizzog that resembled a tuba player in a warm bandstand. "Good grief," gasped this correspondent in wincing, cross-legged wonderment as I steeled myself to witness arms popping out of sockets, knees buckling at right angles and tightly-fitting leotards ripping open during a rigorous clean and jerk. And as for the snatch? I'd not experienced so much clenched-teeth straining since I went a fortnight without All Bran.

It was an eye-opening, eye-bulging extravaganza and one that took me back to those carefree times of yore when television images of burly European men scurrying around in their vest and pants was seen as good, honest family entertainment.

Yes, the World's Strongest Man was a spectacle of mind-mangling magnificence. And the premise of it was all so very simple. Find the heaviest odds and ends that are kicking about the scrapyard and get blokes to lift them on to plinths or into the back of trailers. It was slave labour in spandex. There really were no boundaries and you wouldn't have been surprised had one of the veiny, hand-clapping, muscle-bound brutes attempted to raise a filing cabinet full of coal over his head with his bare eyelids. They really were that strong . . . and slightly daft.

Of course, the basic routine of heavy lifting, and this celebration of men who revel in what most of us view as extreme domestic chores, is a tribute to the toiling spade work of civilisation. Whether it was a caveman throwing a boulder at a rampaging woolly mammoth or a hard-pressed labourer carrying the stones that built the Pyramids, it is a timeless process of cheek-puffing endeavour. The World's Strongest Man took this age old tribulation and made it box office. The sight of Geoff Capes tossing a beer keg over a wall, for instance, was as engrossing as it was utterly pointless. "When I grow up, mum, I want to carry two fridges attached to a crossbar over a set distance," is an ambition I never, ever harboured.

If you weren't left awestruck by the bearded-behemoth that was Capes then you were peering curiously at the rippling Icelandic edifice of Jon Pall Sigmarsson. His was a body that seemed to possess rock hard muscles in every conceivable nook and crannie and his forged frame was peppered with a variety of protrusions that made him look more like a walking clump of raw ginger.

His charm and charisma added to the wow factor while his supreme strength was manifested by his boisterous performances that were bolstered by robust chantings in his native tongue. "Ekkert mál fyrir Jón Páll" - or "No problem for Jon Pall" - roared Sigmarsson as he strapped himself into a harness and prepared to haul a light aircraft down a runway. Funnily enough, a similar cost-saving measure is still employed to this day by Ryanair.

Sadly, the bold Jon Pall, a four-time winner of the World's Strongest Man crown, heaved his last in January 1993 when he died of a heart attack at the age of just 32.

The faces came and then departed. In place of Sigmarsson and Capes appeared the likes of Magnus Ver Magnusson - so strong they named him twice - and Mariusz Pudzianowski.

The bewildering pursuits stayed the same, though. Where else could you witness a grunting, groaning man stand inside a stripped down car, which was missing its roof and undercarriage, and wobble his agonising way across a 25-metre course?

Throw in Atlas Stones, Fingal Fingers, Conan's Wheel and a Hercules Hold and you had a series of painfully baffling disciplines that, for one night a year, inspired you to clench your fists, flex your meagre muscles and charge up stairs to shift that bloomin' Divan bed.

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