‘Lick not the meat of frantic power,
For it will only produce drunk beauty.’
It’ll never happen, but were I ever to be put on the spot and asked what our family motto might be, the answer I think I’d give would be the words above that have, for the last 15 years or more, graced the side of our fridge. They were put there by one of my children who assembled them from an assortment of magnetic strips each of which had a single word written upon it. Hinting at profundity, it is a couplet that falls tantalisingly short of any true meaning. Perhaps that’s why it’s remained where it has all these years, left there for us to reread and reconsider, forcing us each morning to search for meaning in the seemingly haphazard as we pour milk on our breakfast cereal.
Recently another phrase was brought to my attention. Conveying perhaps a similar meaning, it goes like this:
‘Be eloquent in praise
Of the very dull old days
Which have long since passed away’
Sung by the character Bunthorne in a song from the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera ‘Patience’, they speak to me of how it is possible to become increasingly dissatisfied by our constant endeavouring to have more and how we end up less content by striving for what promises to be better but which seems always to remain agonisingly out of each. For in this ever more complex world, one which continually offers us more ways to be happy, isn’t it true that many of us have ended up more miserable than ever? And is it not the case that we frequently find ourselves looking back with fondness to more simple times, ‘long since passed away’, when we were actually content with what is now considered ‘very dull’ by those who tell us what we should consider to be exciting.
The truth is that it is all too easy to end up losing what we want by reaching for what we don’t.
I know I go on about cricket more than is perhaps wise, at least if I want to avoid boring people half to death, but it seems to me that this is the reality that is being played out in the controversy that is currently raging amongst those who want to shake up English cricket and those who perhaps long to keep things as they are. The explicitly stated aim of the ECB’s so called ‘high performance review’ is for the England cricket team to become the worlds best men’s team across all formats in five years. Whilst this may seem like a worthy enough ambition to some, to me it smacks of missing the point of what is, after all, a game that is meant to be played for pleasure. Insisting on being the best we lose the joy of taking part, we give up what it is we were once content with and find that our having to win makes losers of us all.
Because it not just about winning – and you don’t have to come first to enjoy competing.
We should have learnt this by now. ‘The Edge’ was a 2019 documentary film charting how England rose to become in 2013 what it yearns to be again – world number one. It also charts the adverse effect on the mental health of a number of the England’s players. But it seems the good ship ECB has forgotten all this and is charting its course for similar waters once more. In so doing there will, I fear, be many who get thrown overboard and ultimately they will succeed only in making shipwreck of the cricketing traditions that have been enjoyed by so many for so long.
These days I don’t get to see much cricket, life gets in the way too much. This year I have had the pleasure of watching Somerset play at Taunton on just three days – one day in each of the three different formats. The T20 game produced an enjoyable enough win, but did not compare with the drama of a 50 over game I witnessed later in the season which was far more satisfying to watch despite the fact that Somerset, having come close to winning after all seemed lost, ended up defeated. But the most enjoyable day for me was the one I spent sitting watching Day 2 of a four day game. Many would have considered it an unremarkable days play and it’s true that the days play passed without major incident. Even so, as the overs past slowly by, I was afforded the time to stop and think, to appreciate the ebb and flow of the game, to notice the surroundings in which it was being played and enjoy the company of those with whom I watched.
And as well as there being much to enjoy in all this, there was also much to value and, though I may not have been eloquent in describing what to some would have been a ‘very dull day’, I will none the less give it praise. Furthermore it is my very great hope that days such as these will never be ‘long since passed away’ because we need days like this if we are to make sense of our existence. Most of the days of our lives are ordinary. Though moments of great excitement do come along from time to time and are to be taken pleasure in when they do, we should not expect every day to be filled with such incident. As I say, most of our days are ordinary but can, nonetheless be enjoyed if we learn to appreciate all that goes into each one, noticing our surroundings and enjoying the company of those with whom we live alongside.
So rather than seeking to merely win, let’s look to be happy – it really is possible to be content in defeat and to insist otherwise risks making all of us unhappy. Therefore, rather than striving to taste the meat of frantic power let’s learn to savour all that cricket teaches us to enjoy – namely the gentle and sober beauty of a life in the slow lane.
To read ‘Coping with Disappointment’, click here
To read ‘A Tale of Two Tons’, click here
To read ‘An audience with grief’, click here
To read ‘Isn’t life like that?’, click here
To read ‘If only…’, click here
To read, ‘Don’t forget to be ordinary, if you want to be happy’, click here