Thursday, 16 February 2017

Another very kind gentleman.

A very sweet thing happened today. It was a small thing but it felt like a big thing.

I don’t accost famous people on social media. I don’t do it in real life, so I don’t do it online. I think famous people have a perfectly rotten time when it comes to privacy, so I believe it is only good manners to pretend that one does not recognise them at all.

There is also another thing about famous people on social media. If you reply to one of their posts or tweets it can be seen by everyone who follows you, so it can look as if you actually know the famous person and are slightly showing off about it. I find the whole thing excruciating, so I leave it alone.

This morning, however, I broke my golden rule. I did it without thinking.

In Britain, we have a much loved cricket commentator called Jonathan Agnew. He is a bit of a national treasure himself and he is part of the majestic and mighty national treasure that is Test Match Special. Test Match Special, for my foreign readers, is a radio show that broadcasts test matches in their entirety. That is right. The dear old BBC actually gives over five days of air at a time to the labyrinthine machinations of the long game. For quite long periods of this time, absolutely nothing is happening. The players are at lunch, or having a tea break, or taking time for a drink. There are no advertisements or pauses of any kind on TMS, so the commentators and pundits simply keep on talking. They make jokes, they read out letters and now tweets and texts from loyal listeners, they take the piss out of each other, they famously eat cake. The cake is sent in by the fans of the show. ‘And thank you so much to Mrs Miggins for the delicious Victoria sponge.’ (Even as I type this, I imagine readers in non-cricketing nations shaking their heads in bafflement.)

One of the idiosyncrasies of Test Match Special is that almost everyone gets a nickname. So Agnew is Aggers. There is also Tuffers, and Blowers, and Daggers; in the storied past there was one of the greatest of them all, the legendary Johnners.

I grew up with cricket and have vaguely followed cricket all my life. I remember people getting passionately excited about the devastating West Indies sides of my youth, and have vivid memories from my teenage years of the force of nature that was Ian Botham. I veer in and out of cricket consciousness, and I’ll never really know where a silly mid-on actually stands, but during the big tests, especially The Ashes, I will take days off to listen to Test Match Special. It is stitched into my cultural life as deeply as any British thing I know.

So, this morning, when I saw someone being disobliging to Aggers on Twitter, I wrote a line before I could think better of it. The disobliging person had accused Agnew of trying to be cool and was very disparaging about it, so I wrote: ‘you will always be cool to me’. Of course the absurdity of all this is that no cricket commentator in the history of the game has ever been cool, tried to be cool, or even thought about the nature of coolness. This is cricket, not indie pop. Blowers, the current elder statesman of the Test Match Special Team, will exclaim ‘Oh, I say’ at an extravagant shot and calls everyone, from ten-year-old fans to cabinet ministers ‘My dear old thing’. But in their anti-cool, in their sublime indifference to fads and fashions, in their absolute adoration for this inexplicable game, the TMS posse are in some ways the very definition of cool. So I was half joking and half serious.

I sat there feeling slightly embarrassed. Poor Aggers. He must be accosted by strangers every day. Each morning, his letterbox must be stuffed with charity requests and offers of speaking engagements and a myriad of demands. And now some middle-aged female was sending him rather familiar tweets.

I looked at the dogs, ruing the day. They stared back, entirely unimpressed.

And then there was a little bing and a bong and there was a reply. And it wasn’t just the usual thumbs up sod off cursory reply that I would have expected. It was the full 140 characters and it had a joke in it and it wished me a lovely day.

I was amazed. That, I thought, is a proper human being. He’s just as nice in life as he sounds on my wireless. It was such a tiny thing, but it can be hard replying to complete strangers on the internet. There’s a thing about tone and it’s not very British and it’s just awkward. Sometimes, it’s easier to ignore the whole thing. There are minefields and elephant traps everywhere. But Aggers did it with grace and style and put a smile on my face.

I’m thinking a lot about kindness at the moment. That was kind, I thought. Do one kind thing every single day, I thought, and the world will be a slightly brighter place. From wherever he was, Aggers shone a ray of light this morning, and it fell on me.


  1. Couldn't agree more with you about TMS. What a team of absolute gentlemen. Their coverage of the great game is second to none and I would think that even a Martian with a rudimentary knowledge of English should get some level of enjoyment from listening in.
    By the way, I have to admit to thinking of you as somewhat famous. I did after all become aware of your existence after reading an article about you in the Daily Telegraph around the time that "Elvis has left the building" was published. And to me at least, a published author who makes it to the review pages of a national newspaper has acquired a certain degree of fame. Not that I'm implying you're a celebrity of course. Heaven forbid!
    Anyway, I'll take your latest post as permission to continue to make the odd comment on your blogs - without ever expecting or craving a reply. Such a eventuality would prove much too embarrassing!
    Stephen Mitchell

  2. Someone did a very kind thing today. I was feeling awful about some upcoming medical treatment, as my doctor had been horribly gloomy, and this kindly lady in a forum just put me straight about it. It was such a relief. I feel quite different this evening.

  3. I have never seen or heard a cricket game but it sounds like the commentary is something I would listen to just for the comfort and entertainment! I'm glad your famous man turned out to be just the same on social media as you saw him in your mind's eye. What a lovely thing.


    Here's a woman who finds cricket cool...

  5. How lovely! I don't follow cricket myself but my mother is devoted to it and for every test match as long as I can remember has had the tv on with the sound down, and TMS on the radio. I never understand what is happening, but now I'm comfortably middle-aged, I find the commentary soothing rather than enraging, as I found it when I was a teenager. (See also: The Archers. I used to hate it but am now a devoted fan. I live in San Francisco and listen to Archers podcasts on the bus on my way to work. It makes for quite a heady contrast.)

  6. I would so love to know his reply!
    Still in shock at thought of listening to five whole days of cricket though…

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