Thursday, 9 July 2009

Character: my cup runneth under

Following the Kevin Pietersen Test Match story yesterday. Man is top scorer with 69, plays a bad shot to get out. Which do you imagine is the bigger story? Much much MUCH the bigger story? Glass half full? Nay, our cup underfloweth, runneth under, runneth traumatically, tragically, comfortingly under.

There is something quintessentially English in the half-full glass. What is really required in England is an 'honest' toiler who prods his way to 35 on a sticky wicket in dying light against a furious pace attack. The Henry Newbolt story. The square that broke. That is the test of character. Shall I repeat that? CHARACTER. There, it feels much better in bold caps doesn't it? Perhaps we could append an adjective to that. What about sterling?

I am not against CHARACTER, or even against STERLING CHARACTER. I even know the words are no longer spoken in quite this Colonel Mustard voice, but underneath it all the sense of it remains undimmed. Mild mannered, eccentric, harmless, tormented, absent minded genius is OK; sometimes even savage temperamental genius (perfect embodiment: Eric Cantona) may be celebrated. Lower class flash, delicate foreign fancystuff, and colonial bravura are more than suspect. And yet it isn't entirely class-based either. Lower class flash (Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles etc) does get some passing respect.

I follow football fan sites - well one* - taking a sneak look between particularly difficult Hungarian sentences, or at a frustrating moment in a poem or an essay - and it is there too, the admiration of CHARACTER; the preference for CHARACTER over ability, the demand for certain virtues that trump certain gifts; virtues that are all but classless: visceral, instinctive, proper, scornful-fearful, xenophobic to a point ("we don't want any more Argies after the disgraceful behaviour of Heinze and Tevez") but not entirely, never entirely xenophobic. Some United fans feel relieved to have 'purged' themselves of the Ronaldo genetic strain. Back to Gary Nev genes. Roast beef in the blood.

Maybe it is the remnant imperial spirit; the Newbolt residue. And it is not - how to put this in the ancient English double-negative style - not unadmirable. The honest yeoman is indeed better than the flash crook. But sometimes, just sometimes, it might be worth not griping quite so much, to drop the little vindictive dance around imperfect talent.

* The other sports (chiefly football) site I follow is of a different, richer, more scholarly order. Recommended in the links and now here.


Anonymous said...

"Ye have robbed," said he, "ye have slaughtered and made an end/
Take your ill-got plunder, and bury the dead:/
What will ye more of your guest and sometime friend?"

(Michael Owen to the board of Real Madrid in 2004)

Newbolt also wrote a poem about Football365's John Nicholson, but it's too long to address here.

Desmond Swords said...

Found this quote from ACommoner on this thread at

"To be precise it's the last remnant of the old English Upper Class 'Public' (i.e. so private you'd never get in!) School of the STIFF UPPER LIP. The British Empire was created by just a handful of Etonians, Harrovians and Wykhamists, you know, just a few thousand in a country of millions! But that small class of Classicists NEVER WAVERED, they never faltered, funked or fiddled, not with anyone at all--just stood up very straight with their Horaces in their pockets, violins in their kitbags, and rugby balls between their legs.

A truly remarkable class of Superior Individuals if there ever was one, and an Accomplishment such as the world has never seen by such a small group of Diehards since 300!

Read Queen Victoria's Little Wars by the American military historian, Byron Farwell!

But the figures of speech this extraordinary class left behind were never intended to open doors to poetry for the people, just to remind the Leaders of their exclusiveness and what they had endured to get such privileged information--cold iron beds, zinc tubs full of rugby mud, and of course canings, both receiving them and administering them!

But if the figures of speech we teach have any value, they will have always been the heart of poetry in every culture and in every language..."

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: "Desmond Swords firmly believes that he has a direct bloodline to the O'Dalaigh Fili, who were hereditary poets to the powers that be in South Munster, up until the Earls of Desmond were snuffed out during the Gaelic reordering of Ireland."

Desmond Swords said...

Oh stupid me the parvenu who had no class to cast into the milleau mon anon amis - what a fool i wuz, who cannot use the cruet right cuz, well, je suis un la knob, non le nob..

Thanks Anon.

I'll have to remove that blurb from all official publishing organs in my control. That old cod of being a Mitford PLU, got written in the final year of one's earliest training, when one was barely passed drisac; an apprenticeship satirist reaching for the stars from the academic playpen, taking it all soo seriously as a wholly unknown bore that arrant random chance, fate, dán - poetry had chosen Robert Sheppard was the hierophantic mentor-card one had to play our game with, my anonymous old pal, fwendlee mendy mohn yon, one will hark anew:

Deasmhuman O Suaird is a Lancastrian Irishman, plastic paddy anyone is free to abuse, insult, laugh at and dismiss with a grunt as not real PLU, Nancy Mitz, dis one's only a Fitzgerald fakin he's a bum.

thanks very much - batting on a sticky wicket isn't that much fun and i hereby declare the old earl Desmond Swords blurb an illegal satrical text, and any reproduction the work of a cáinte - punishable by the death of air-wishy kisses by an anruth in the Réalta na bhFile, tong a toing mo thuath - the throne of poets in our head alone the voices said was PK PLU:

"In the final simplicity we don’t care whether we appear foolish or not. We talk of things that earlier wold embarrass. We are satisfied with being ourselves, however small."

sedist word ver, tis des

ha ha ha ha ho

Billy C. said...

Every once in a mad while, one wanders into a parallel world that is truly entertaining.

ha ha ha ha ho

Liam Guilar said...

Floyd used to sing:
"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way." It has its uses, but a little eclat, elan, jeu d'esprit, or flamboyance wouldn't go astray. They'd just be so obviously un-English. Like winning.
(Don't know how to put the necessary accents on the letters, sorry.)