This morning, I started writing a rather long, involved blog. I thought you might like a good, meaty Saturday read. But then I switched on Test Match Special and Henry Blofeld was on such cracking form that I had to stop everything to listen.
Test Match Special is one of the shining lights of British broadcasting. I don’t imagine there is anything else in the world at all like it. It is peopled by eccentrics, jokers, joshers and statistics geeks. ‘What’s the record, Malcolm?’ At which point Malcolm makes a little humorous murmuring noise and digs out some obscure stat from 1911.
TMS is such a glorious programme that I think I would listen to it even if I knew absolutely nothing of cricket, and had no interest in the game. It is a raging joy and delight for anyone who appreciates the English language and the British character. In the Ashes, we get the added enchantment of a couple of wonderful Aussie voices, livening the cultural mix. It’s such a clever thing, because it makes the perfect counter-point to the old, old sporting rivalry.
In the box, with the genteel cake and the polite messages from the devoted test fans, the Australians and the English are sweetly courteous and sporting. They admire the other side’s skill, cheer a great shot by an opposing batsman, are scrupulously fair. There is an astonishing lack of chauvinism, even though you sense of course they desperately want their own team to win. When the youthful revelation that is Ashton Agar amazed the entire cricket world by putting on an eleventh man stand of 98, saving the day for Australia after a catastrophic collapse, every English commentator was devastated that he was out before he reached his hundred.
I adore test cricket. I have no interest in the quick version of the game and don’t follow twenty-twenty. I love the extraordinary tension and drama that builds up over the five days. I love the fact that nations who do not have test sides are baffled by the fact that a single match can last for so long a time. I love the stories and dramas and characters that are given room to breathe over those long, rolling, sunlit days.
I love the idioms. The very fact that there is a position called ‘silly mid-on’ makes me smile. ‘He just tickled that,’ the commentators say, with a straight face.
I love the storied rivalries. The Ashes is the most special of all, because of the snaking history of Australia and England with leather and willow. It started in 1882, when Australia thrashed England on home turf, and a newspaper wrote an obituary: this is the day that English cricket died and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. A group of women in Melbourne then presented a small urn to the English team, containing the burnt remnants of a bail, and so The Ashes was born.
And still, 130 years later, that tiny urn is fought over with fierce, diamond-sharp competition. Little boys from Brisbane to Bolton grow up dreaming of representing their country in The Ashes.
If I had the time, I would cancel everything and sit all day and listen to every minute of the eight hours of coverage. It’s hard to believe that you can be on the edge of your seat in a game that takes such a long time, and breaks for old-fashioned tea. But you are. As it is, I tune in and out whenever I can, and if I miss a particularly thrilling spell, I go back to the iPlayer in the evening and catch up with the day’s play, listening in a trance of hazy pleasure.
Dear old cricket. Dear old Blowers, who encapsulates for me everything that is splendid about this form of the game. He exclaims in delight every time he sees a flappy pigeon, gets improbably excited when he spots a shiny bus driving past (he has a thing about buses), calls every single person, no matter what their age or position, ‘my dear old thing’, gives the players straight-faced nicknames. ‘And here comes Starkers,’ he says, as the Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc runs up to the crease. (For the Dear Readers from abroad: starkers means naked, in British slang.) He is the most treasury of national treasures, someone who will never be replaced.
As I come back from working my mare, and settle into a lazy Saturday, and think vaguely what will win the July Cup at Newmarket, I turn on Blowers’ wonderful voice and I genuinely feel all is well with the world.
I woke this morning in rather a bad mood. I felt tired and twitchy and filled with self-criticism and angst. Not working fast enough, too many things to do, too many tricky decisions to take. I don’t like myself much when I am in this mood, because I have so much luck and so much to be grateful for, and I have no right to feel so scratchy. But Blowers banishes all that. He has the miraculous talent of spreading sunshine wherever he goes. I smile and my shoulders come down and the clouds roll away. All possible things will be well. How lovely it is that one good man can perform such a miracle, through the radiophonic device.
A few shots from the week:
The beloved beauty:
The little HorseBack foal:
Stanley the Dog dauntlessly catching flies: