Flannelled Fools at the Wicket

We live in historic times. Australia humiliated! Slaughtered! Ten batsmen dismissed in the shortest space of time, surviving the fewest balls in all Test Match history! It happened overnight against the English whom we expected to slaughter, to humiliate, to crush. We had announced those intentions, declared them as good as facts.

The Test Cricket contests between Australia and England – termed reverently, ‘The Ashes’, for reasons as fatuous as they are imperishable – excite citizens and journalists of both countries inordinately. Five test matches, each of up to five days’ duration, hold the attention and the hopes of tens of millions at opposite ends of the globe. A strange set of phenomena, these, phenomena that speak seriously to the human condition.
What is the human condition? Broadly speaking we human animals are born and we die. In the interval between our beginning and end we live. Our animality drives us to compete, to form packs, while our humanity creates consciousness of self and pursuit of transcendence.
Like other animals we play. Alone and in groups, dolphins play, both with fellow dolphins and with humans. Lambs plashing on their dewy grasses play, gamboling and skipping. Foals and adult horses alike gallop and canter in groups for no other reason than they can. 
Humans play too.
Watch children as they proceed from A to B. Unconsciously, automatically, universally, they wander, they saunter, they skip, stride, jump and run. They do so because they can. Apparently they must.
In respect of play, adults remain children. Play rehearses animal needs: hence running races, wrestling, jumping and leaping contests, swimming contests. Primates learn the use of implements. Fencing as sport exemplifies the primitive contest with the evolved use of an implement, in this case an implement for slaughter, modified for play. At some early time in our story humans invented or discovered the ball. Arguably the ball surpasses the wheel as the singular development in this story.
Early in the story of warfare, which closely corresponds to the story of humans, the idea emerged of the champion, the representative best skilled in slaughter. The champion went out to battle on behalf of the tribe; if your champion slew the opposing champion, your tribe enslaved the opponent tribe.
Test Cricket survives as the recognisable fusion of these elements. When English persons wearing white flannels, and using sticks and a ball, compete for five days in fierce opposition to eleven Australian persons in similar attire, all twenty-two play out ancient animal and human impulses.
Preserved in the game are ancient rituals: fierce facial expressions, face painting, taunts and challenges, insults and oaths; violence in the flinging of the ball, in the plying of the willow; elegance, in batting poetry, in fielding as in batting the highest graces of dance; among players exhibitions of courage, hubris, cunning, strength, nimbleness, speed and deception; among the supporters, transcendence, transports of joy, of grief, of shame, of pride.
With the unbearable recent exception of Phillip Hughes, no-one dies. As in chess, the highly comparable very slow game of transmuted murder, cricket fulfills our animal need for mayhem, without shedding blood. It was Wellington (‘the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’) who pointed, albeit from a different angle, to the relation between games and war.
In the present Ashes series, we have SLAUGHTER! HUMILIATION! TRIUMPH! We have the march of the superlatives, but nothing new. Nothing at all.

Two Propositions at the Zurich Cafe

Barcelona, Ramblas

Barcelona, Ramblas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barcelona in the sunshine. Annette and I stroll down the Ramblas, admiring everything. The weather is benign, the street theatre brilliant, the shops alluring, the cafes innumerable. Everything is old and quaint or new and gaudy. Or Gaudi.

The Rambla is famous among tourists for all of the things I´ve mentioned, all the things that seize our attention, and while our attention is seized, our wallets, handbags and purses are also seized, by pickpockets and by bobby dazzlers. The bobby dazzler operates by doing something unexpected or outrageous that grabs your attention at just the moment that his accomplice jostles you and relieves you of your wallet and runs.

The Rambla has played host to many, many shoppers, but none the equal of Annette. Annette has a plan with which she will foil the pickpockets: she´ll spend all her money before they can catch up with her.

And so it is that Annette hits the Rambla running. Single-handedly she rescues the Spanish economy. Her targets are shoe shops, jewellers, children´s outfitters, leather clothiers, and dress shops and dress shops and dress shops.

I am dizzy with admiration. Spain is in surplus. Only the pickpockets have a bad day.

I take my vertigo to the Zurich Café, where I will drink coffee in the sun and read my book, until  Annette, the Goddess of Commerce, exhausts her resources.

Of the lavatory arrangements at Café Zurich, I will say little, beyond noting how cosy it is to squeeze past a line of ladies waiting in the basement, then, upon reaching the immediately adjacent gentlemen´s Lavabos, to note how the charm of proximity is enhanced by the absence of a front door to either the Ladies´ or the Gents´.  Continue reading

My teacher, my lover

My teacher in the Second Class is Miss Paul. She is tall and slim. She has very fair hair, which she bundles high on her head. Her bosoms are not large, but in her case this does not matter.

Miss Paul speaks in an unusual manner, rather like the news reader of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is a very precise sort of diction. Although her speech is different from ours, I can understand whatever Miss Paul says quite easily.

Miss Paul is beautiful. And precise. And exacting. I look up to her and I want to please her. She requires her pupils to sit up straight. I sit very straight. I follow her with my eyes and I do as she says to do.

Mum says Miss Paul is English. Early one morning in 1953, while I am a student in Miss Paul’s Second Class, something happens in England. Dad is listening to the news on the ABC. He says something to Mum that I don’t catch. My older brother, Dennis, says, “I’ll run down to the Council Chambers and look at the flag.”

A few minutes later, Dennis is back: “The flag is at half mast.”

That means the king has died and someone else will wear his crown and sit on his throne and be our ruler. The king had no sons, so the new monarch will be our queen.

Miss Paul loves and admires the Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. She has shown us a large photograph of the two. Like all photos of my childhood, this is black and white. “Notice the beautiful posture of Princess Elizabeth. She carries herself almost like a queen. Only her knees are a little apart. ”

Now the princess with parted knees will become the queen.

Miss Paul arranges for us to view facsimiles of the Crown Jewels. I cannot believe that these robes, the crown, the orb and the sceptre are not real. Miss Paul teaches us everything we should know about the coronation. It is very splendid.

We children of Second Class at Leeton Public School are intimate with royalty because Miss Paul is herself from England. She is England, with all the authenticity and superiority that England means.

Miss Paul lives in the elegant Hydro Hotel, the highest building in the town. Her suite is on the second storey, looking out at the water tower that gives the hotel its name. It is a long and arduous task to walk up the hill to the Hydro.

One Saturday morning, Dennis decides that we should pay a call on Miss Paul. His initiative is audacious beyond imagining.

What if she’s not home? What if she is at home? What if they won’t let us in?

What I really mean is, What right have we commoners to pay a visit to royalty?

Dennis is certain it will be alright. All the way up the Hydro hill, I lag behind. I voice my doubts, I threaten to turn back, I tell Dennis this is wrong.

Dennis plows on. My fears cannot touch him. This idea of his is too frightening for my tiny courage, but I cannot resist it. This is the land of Danger, where Dennis always ventures, where I cannot help but follow.

The Hydro Hotel is a large building set well back in spacious gardens. It sits behind its high stone wall like a castle, a palace. Dennis leads me into the foyer. There is red plush everywhere. A grownup appears. I want to run, but Dennis strides forward and speaks to the grownup. He says. “We have come to visit Miss Paul.”

Continue reading