Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Layer 390 . . . Snow, Cricket, Defending The Ashes, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence

The first snowfall of the season fell on my neighbourhood last night, and it's still falling as I write this piece. It's not yet December.

We spent yesterday anticipating the snow, which had already covered much of Scotland, Wales and the north of England. I've had several conversations already with people who bemoan the snow and cold, since I maintain I'd rather have a PROPER winter, with snow instead of rain - since rain ought to fall mainly in autumn and spring, and never in summer - and with cold blue skies and bright sunshine between the snowfalls instead of our usual dull, cloudy, rainy, dampness and grimness. I love proper seasons.

You can't deny that snow makes ordinary landscapes and cityscapes look beautiful. So my suggestion is - get yourself some proper winter clothing and footwear, be prepared for journeys to take longer - possibly a lot longer - and if at all possible curl up in a warm room at home, or in front of a log fire in a pub; relax, unwind, enjoy conversations and home entertainments, and go for walks in the wondrous snow. Take photos, enjoy the sight of people making snowpeople and having snowball fights, and join in whenever possible. Tae out flasks of tea and coffee, and whisky. Have fun. Look out for those who are too old or too nervous or too infirm to get out and walk in the snow. Take care of those who don't have warm clothes and warm homes. Drive carefully, if you really have to drive.


Some of my happiest memories of childhood are the times we played and made slides and rode on toboggans in the snow. The snowball fights, the giant snowmen, the crunching of fresh snow underfoot; the running around on lawns in parks and back gardens where the pristine snow was unmarked by a single footprint.

But looking back, one of the strangest things about my childhood, which in most ways was pretty conventional, was the number of hours, and days, I spent in the company of my dad watching Test Match cricket on black and white TV. Not that it felt strange back then, when there  were only two TV stations, and one TV per household, and it was the God-given right of the BBC to screen every minute of every home Test Match on live television.

Dad and me didn't really do a lot of things together, for all sorts of reasons. In early childhood I had Matchbox and Dinky toys to organise and drive around, and toy soldiers and cowboys to train, deploy and fight battles with.

In middle childhood I needed to be out with friends, armed to the teeth with six-shooters, automatic pistols and submachine guns, and sometimes bows and arrows, making dens and tracking one another down prior to almighty shoot-outs.

In later childhood there were bikes to ride, a big wide world to explore, football and cricket matches to play in, and girls to hang out with. Dad couldn't, and didn't, ride bikes or play sports.

But every summer there was live Test Match cricket on TV, which dad and I used to watch, whenever he wasn't out at work. Hours and hours of quiet and often silent contemplation  and meditation, without the distraction of telephones, texts, emails, iPods, Playstations, Nintendos and the Internet. Just dad, me, and the lucid, enlightening and thoughtful commentators.

What's more, in the era of May, Barrington, Lawrie, Dexter and Boycott the tempo of the cricket could be extremely slow, and the games could be extremely dull - at least from the point of view of strike rates, which was a term unknown back then. Scoring one or two runs per over was often the norm. Fiendish fast bowlers and near-unplayable spinners seemed often to dominate low-scoring games on tricky pitches.

And yet there was a high level of interest that kept us watching, when for me the sunny streets and my mates might otherwise have been calling.

You probably need to have played cricket to really appreciate it. What a mad game it can be - when two teams of eleven players can be on the pitch for five days and still end up with neither of them winning.

It's when you try yourself to master the arts and skills of cricket that you really get to know it. Just throwing and catching a hard, heavy ball can be a problem, let alone bowling accurately at a distant set of stumps with a batter standing in the way . . .

How to keep your arm straight when you bowl . . . How to run in fast towards the pitch and how to let go of the ball at precisely the right moment, with your arm high above your head, your front foot just beyond the stumps,  and with your fingers aligned with the seam of the ball in precisely the right manner and with exactly the right amount of grip . . .

How to bowl bouncers and yorkers and good length balls that actually hit the stumps . . . How to make the ball swerve or loop, and how to make it change direction after hitting the pitch . . . Not that this was too much of a problem on the rough grass that we used in our locality - but it was another story trying to do it in a controlled way that actually knocked over a stump or two.

As for the arts and crafts of spin bowling . . . On this you could spend hours - experimenting with different grips, and different flicks of the wrist, and working out whether you could do off-spin or leg-spin. Experimenting with flight, and speed, and toying with batters who were expecting spin but weren't expecting balls that kept going straight and true . . .

On the TV you could see the best players in the world showing off their skills and talents, and you could appreciate how good they were at their jobs, especially when your own efforts were so comparitively poor.

As a parks and gardens batsman you could become quite good at slogging and driving and hooking poor bowling, but there on the screen you could see great batsmen hitting big scores against great bowlers.

I say you could see it on the TV, but that was nowhere near as well as you can see it now, in glorious full colour, in high definition, on big screens and with the benefit of ultra-slow motion and telescopic lens, and with multiple camera angles. Not to mention Hawkeye. It was cricket, Jim, but not as we now know it.


This current Ashes series in Australia could turn out to be one of the best ever - with evenly matched teams, interesting characters, and plenty of 'edge' to the proceedings. England are the holders of the trophy, and Australia are desperate to regain it.

During the final day of the (drawn) first Test we saw a magnificent Gabba stadium seemingly deserted apart from joyous Poms, who were celebrating England scoring over 500 runs in their second innings for the loss of only one wicket - thanks to some brilliant batting from Strauss, Cook and Trott, and some pretty indifferent bowling and fielding from the opposition. Even Ponting dropped a couple.

It's unknown in living memory for the top three England batsmen to all score centuries in the same innings. We're normally pretty ecstatic if they all score 50 or so, especially if they're playing Australia, home or away.

The commentators (on the single hour per day of highlights on ITV4 and ITV4+1) kept on talking about the 'wheels falling off' the Aussie effort to contain the magnificent batters, but all things considered they all seemed to me to play with sportsmanship and dignity, which is a big plus, I'd say.

In my own terms, the wheels fall off when people start losing their rag, become overly and unneccessarily and unproductively aggressive, become abusive and unpleasant, and start to show all the signs of failing to contain destructive emotions.

Machismo is often a preening display of the so-called manly virtues such as boldness, aggression and physical strength. Manliness, as such, is the ability to contain frustration, disappointment and anger when things go wrong and/or you find yourself dealing with opponents who are playing a blinder, often with all the available luck on their side. A better term for this is emotional intelligence.

The Australians showed proper appreciation and respect for some very able adversaries. This is what I'd call spiritual intelligence.

On the England side, their players showed a different sort of manliness and sportmanship in their hour of non-triumphant triumph.

David Hopps, in the Guardian, summed it up very well:

"The day when Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe are surpassed, for longevity at any rate, is not a day for egotism, it is a day for humility, and Strauss's sense of perspective on one of the finest days of his career provided further proof that English cricket is in good hands."

Hopps also wrote about the finest cricketers being unassuming, and showing geniality and resilience. These are also characteristics of spiritual intelligence. As is the ability to keep things in perspective, an ability to curb egotism, and an ability to demonstrate humility. As are clarity of thought, having the courage of one's convictions, and having the ability to inspire others - all of which which Mike Selvey wrote about in his match report. All of us do well to cultivate these virtues and values.

Let David Hopps, however, have the final say:

"It was accurate to observe this is not a great Australian attack and that the pitch at The Gabba was playing quietly. But it is more accurate simply to reflect that England began their second innings 221 behind, with more than two days remaining, that after only three days their reputation was on the line and by the end of the day they had responded so magnificently that they had summoned memories of giants from the past. History will tell you that this was one of England's great Ashes days."


These days I prefer to listen to live broadcasts of Test Matches on the BBC's Test Match Special on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. The wonders of digital radio! However, since these current Test matches are taking place during the hours I prefer to sleep, I look for an extended and practically ball-by-ball commentary on the Internet - on the Guardian website's OBO - Over By Over. Here there's written commentary plus amusing and sometimes enlightening emails and texts from around the world. Reading the whole thing whilst having breakfast is a treat. Here's a selection of recent comments:


"I'm now sitting here with the single man's holy trinity of cricket on the TV, and OBO and Football Manager on the laptop. I have never seen Australians look so dejected either on the field or in the streets or in the stands - its fantastic. Australians under the age of 30 or so just have never seen their attack being so brutally demoralised in this manner - to the point where the Barmy Army were chanting "Are you England in disguise?" yesterday. I just can't wait to go back into work tomorrow, especially as all my colleagues were bombarding me with sledge e-mails and texts during Saturday."

Alastair Cook's 230 is the highest Test score at the Gabba, ahead of Don Bradman's 226 against some poor helpless suckers back in the day.

It's 512 for one. Someone should make an emoticon for this, although I don't know if one graphic can simultaneously portray confusion, joy, incredulity, delirum, delirium tremens, confusion, joy and multiple statgasms.

This has been an extraordinary innings, one that nobody on the planet could have imagined. Cook ends on 235, Trott on 135, their partnership an unbeaten 329 and England's lead 296.

TEA:  "I'm in a hotel room in Miami Beach with a dodgy internet connection and I'm reading that England are 517-1. If only! Real score please?"

Andrew Goulden feels a T-shirt coming on: "I'm not sure if it's already been mentioned but a T-shirt with '517-1, it doesn't get any better' would look pretty natty I feel. Maybe having a picture of a downcast Ponting underneath would really set it off. Or a shot of Johnson dropping that catch off Strauss. Either would do nicely." OBO Enterprises in on the case.

"Suggestion for Neil Gouldson (21st over): I've found an easy way to explain cricket-related happiness/despair with as little language as possible is to pretend the score works as in football. Point to the 517 and say "England" (ying guo), point to the 1 and say "Australia".
They will understand."

More statgasms here:



Also heard on the radio yesterday, some pillock on Thought For Today saying,

"Christianity doesn't exist to make the world a better place. It exists to get souls into heaven."

"Justice, peace and the common good are not as important as the state of an individual's soul."

This kind of either/or dumb-arse dualistic thinking, which is typical of Christian fundamentalists - especially the rich, evangelical TV broadcasting variety - is what causes so many of the world's problems and keeps so many people in a state of spiritual ignorance. And that's without even considering the irrationality of believing in concepts like God and heaven.

As a matter of fact, I think Jesus did care about making the world a better place. I think that's why he threw out the moneylenders, why he healed the sick, and why he fed the masses.

The bozo on the radio also spoke about "Justifying oneself in the eyes of God." So what happens if billions of Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus and atheists don't even believe in one almighty God, let alone set about justifying themselves in His eyes? Do they all automatically go to everlasting hell, since they clearly haven't aimed to get into heaven? Even if they've led blameless, enlightened and spiritually intelligent lives?

How the hell can the BBC carry on letting nutters like this speak this kind of nonsense to the world at large?

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