Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I make soda bread and take it to my mother. She opens the door with shining eyes.
'Did you know he was a choirboy?' she says.
I see at once that she is talking about Alastair Cook, national hero, mighty batsman, and player of the clarinet.
She is very excited about the choirboy thing.
'Little Cooky,' she says.
This man is an international sporting star, whose name will be engraved in Wisden for generations to come. But he will always be little Cooky to my mum.
Actually, I'm not far off that myself. A few years ago I might have had a secret crush on Jimmy Anderson. Now I just want to make him soup. I really did fail that cougar class I took.
The choirboy thing made me think. (Well, everything makes me think, which is why my head aches, but this made me think particularly.) Quite a lot has been made of it in the press, as if it is a marker for goodness. I am certain that there are boys who sing in choirs who are perfect beasts, pinching and sucking up and stealing other people's homework. But humans love categories, and choirboy is definitely the box that says Good. I think it is a combination of the sublime sound and the ruffled collars. Also, whenever you see a choir, it takes you back to an older, more certain age, before Mark Zuckerberg and Julian Assange. There is a soothing purity to the whole thing.
It does seem though that Alastair Cook is a nice man. It's what everybody says. He is polite and modest and self-deprecating. I've written about this before, but it is the thing that strikes me over and over about this Ashes series. Commentators talk about the hard work of the England team, and their esprit de corps, and their excellent new training methods, but what every single journalist who has encountered them says, again and again, is that they are really nice blokes.
This does not mean that they are all angelic little choristers. I am certain that they get drunk and make unsuitable propositions and sometimes have a common thought or mean. They must have a streak of ruthlessness, a steel core that enables them to get to the top of their game. Inevitably, in the future, one of them will probably sleep with a female who is not his wife. (So hope not, but I cannot be too naive.) But for all that, one of their most defining characteristics is niceness. Also, they make really good jokes, especially Graeme Swann.
I realise that, almost without knowing, I have started to assume that most successful people are absolute shits. In sport, Tiger Woods put the mockers on the nice, regular guy fantasy, when it turned out he was shagging anything with a pulse. It was not just that he humiliated his beautiful wife, but that he did it with a succession of tawdry strippers, in perfect storm of insult to injury. (I'm not sure if it would have been better if he had been caught cheating with a particle physicist, but there is something so grubby and clichéd about the exotic dancer meme.) In the wider world of celebrity, the gossip sites relay endless stories of diva behaviour, tantrums, betrayals, venality, and general rudeness. I start to think that Famous Person Does Something Nice would be a real headline, because it seems so unusual.
So when the cricket commentators report on the general niceness of the England squad, I feel a happy start of surprise. They have not only performed some astonishing feats of athleticism and sporting brilliance, they have not only resurrected a bit of battered national pride after years of Australian dominance, but they have also restored my world view. It turns out you can be very, very good at what you do, and be a decent person at the same time. That is a thought that makes me want to hang out more flags.
Now for pictures. The sun shone today, and there was the wild winter light that I love so much. It can fall on the most mundane object and transform it into something beautiful. I am sure there is a lesson in there somewhere, but I cannot quite work out what it is.
(I know I must fight against sentimentality each day of my life, but those special blinky eyes are almost too much for me.)
Sister's visiting poodle: