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.