The Generation With No Name

People Stand On The Berlin Wall

This hostorical perspective of a member of Generation X in Australia was offered to a number of publications with a certain confidence, but those who were offered the essay declined to run it, and so here it is.

Politics was in a shambolic state when some of us were born. The Dismissal had just happened, events of such moment they would be marked every year by debates, opinion pieces and re-enactments featuring versions of Sir John Kerr’s eighteenth century composer hairdo. Now that most of the dramatis personae have left us this anniversary doesn’t seem so urgent, but it is still discussed. Respect for the position of Governor General suffered. Politics became a hard game, played to win by a new breed of ruthless younger men intent upon replacing gentlemen legislators of a previous era.

In the 1970s terrorism was cool. Celebrity terrorists had appealing nicknames like Carlos The Jackal and their dreadful work was international. There were the PLO and the IRA and you couldn’t be considered a proper paramilitary organisation without an acronym. Although religion was sometimes a justification for atrocities, the operatives were secular in character. They wore headbands and open necked shirts with far too many buttons undone. They wore aviator shades and they drank and smoked and had girlfriends.

Things changed a bit in the early 1980s, when some of us started school. Labor won power, replacing a government which never really got over its role in the Dismissal. The task of modernising the economy continued under the stewardship of competent salesmen who taught us to understand economic graphs and use the terms they used in our own conversation. The dollar was floated, which modernised the economy a bit more.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher led the US and the UK. To a little boy both seemed to be there forever in their quest to lead the free world in the struggle against the Evil Empire. There was excitement when the President revealed his Star Wars nuclear missile defence program, promising some kind of video game on a grand scale to defeat the Soviets,  at a fantastic cost, which somehow made it all the more exciting and likely, for America was huge and powerful and they could do whatever they wanted. We knew that the third and final Star Wars film was on its way, and wondered if there was any connection between the two. But the numbers were absurd and the plan had more showbiz than sense about it.

Meanwhile in both countries the poor were further disempowered as economies were forcibly modernised. Economists called these ideas “neo liberal” and they would soon be emulated by politicians in other parts of the world. Traditional factory jobs in traditional industries disappeared when it was realised that people in less-developed parts of the world could do them for even less money. This process was given the satisfyingly sophisticated name of globalisation, and presented as exciting, new and creative.

Free trade was a good thing, said all the countries which counted. There was no future in artificially propping up traditional industries with tariffs and duties. The market should be free and it should be independent and uninfluenced by governments. The alternative was Communism, which was no alternative at all. At the same time there were nightly reports on the news about what our entrepreneurs were doing. These men were heroes and we followed their hostile takeovers and mergers. Banks propped them up as their deals became riskier. Within fifteen years most of them were in gaol or bankrupt or had fled the country. Without them we would not have won the America’s Cup and Queensland would not have so many resorts.

Soviet news rarely reached us, but when we heard about the reactor malfunction in the town of Chernobyl it emphasised that the world was a dangerous place. Those of us who were about ten already knew that our lives would probably end in a nuclear war. Now we were reminded that it didn’t need to be a war: nuclear things could kill you. Sympathy for the victims was genuine – they didn’t seem like enemies at all.

But the adults didn’t let this worry them too much. They were busy being confident. In this era we focussed on the world, and thought we were good enough to be compared with anyone. This seemed right when the film Crocodile Dundee was a global hit for Paul Hogan. The stock market crashed in 1987, and this should have warned against the over-confident assumption of bottomless prosperity, but doubt was put to the back of our minds in the next year’s Bicentennial celebrations, where tall ships with advertising on their sales re-enacted the arrival of the First Fleet, and a deluge of government money poured into projects, some of which actually warranted it.

Some of us started high school at about this time and at this age thoughts naturally turn to adult things. But it was no longer easy to do the most natural thing in the world. No, AIDS would kill you if you had sex with anybody. The award-winning Grim Reaper advertising campaign emphasised that the disease would strike at random, that nobody was safe. Such were the new anxieties of our generation.

Soon the Berlin Wall came down and this happy occasion liberated the oppressed peoples of Europe, ending the Cold War. Except that now economic conditions were precarious: millions of Eastern workers desired their piece of the Western capitalist dream. China might be more economically open, but it was still an authoritarian regime with nuclear weapons, and many Soviet era warheads were still around.

The overall anxiety level had eased, but now we were anxious about the environment as well, particularly after the discovery of a hole in the Ozone layer and what the experts were calling the Greenhouse Effect. This hadn’t become a debate yet. It was a theory with a lot of evidence and we wrote essays about it in Geography exams.

In the early nineties there was a hot war. Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US led a coalition to stop their evil dictator, who was left in power because his regime was deemed stable enough to look after all the precious oil which the country produced. It was a brief war and some of us spent the last week or so of our Christmas holidays one year watching it like a TV show, which was entertaining enough if there was no cricket on. Australia was involved, as usual.

An economic recession resulted in many job losses and the failure of many businesses. It didn’t sneak up. We focussed on ourselves, laughed at nihilistic comedy, and were introspective as we regrouped and started again.

Interest rates were so high that you could make money just from having something in the bank. This meant that repayments on any kind of debt were crippling. Remedies adopted by politicians aimed to further modernise the economy. Economic rationalism was a phrase so overused as to be almost meaningless. It was the reason for everything. Government assets were sold and functions privatised, public service jobs were slashed and those who formulated these policies told us to trust them and said that if we took our medicine it would be good for us in the long run. An uncertain future called for advice, and the best advice said we should finish school, go to university, and get a good job. So we studied fearfully hard, hoping that things would improve.

At this time they started calling us Generation X, the cohort following the Baby Boomers, a mysterious group without a proper name who were said to be cynical. We had more than enough reason to be cynical in the ‘90s. Most of the certainties of the previous generation had been removed or were threatened. The social safety net had contracted, suicide was a growing problem, and traditional community values rejected kids who weren’t straight.

Within a few years the recession was a memory. Some of us had finished school and started university and saw protest everywhere. Everyone needed to work by this time, so marching had to be fitted in around holding down a regular job. But there were a lot of things to protest about and the number of things grew when the Coalition returned to office after many years in opposition. Government programs were cut and it was said that the user should pay.

At this time we turned on each other and pointed fingers at those who didn’t measure up to our Australian values. Comfortable members of the community begrudged assistance given those without their advantages. Once again, the economy needed to be modernised, this time with all stick and no carrot. And all in the name of achieving a budget surplus, the concept which enjoyed exalted significance as the only measure of financial responsibility everybody could understand.

Economic rationalism was pervasive. Efficiency dictated major restructuring in our winter sports, and after talks and mergers a few clubs disappeared altogether when experts tried to understand the world of culture and tribal allegiance in financial terms.

It was at about this time that some of us started losing touch with the fragmenting popular culture. Hollywood was dominated by special effects films with no plot and it became impossible to maintain contact with new music untainted by commercialism, so some of us decided not to bother any more.

We felt safer when strict gun laws were introduced, although it required the massacre of several tourists at Port Arthur by a mentally ill man with a semi-automatic rifle in order to bring about this reform.

As the 1990s drew to a close many parents bought big screen TVs, the newest status symbol, using government money designed to assist with new-baby expenses. It wasn’t the first appeal to parents. When government-owned bank and telecommunications companies were privatised “mum and dad investors” were encouraged to buy shares. The share market would keep going up forever, said braces-wearing experts on TV, sitting at their desks with Times Square in the background. Everyone was too eager to invest to consider that this wasn’t logical.

Aspiration was good and people were encouraged to improve their position by buying and selling. When this idea was applied to housing homes became regarded as a commodity rather than a place to shelter. We were told the value of real estate would never fall, and that this could only be a good thing.

Certain words took on a new importance: words like mateship and un-Australian and political correctness. When these words were used the message was about excluding people and disapproving of behaviour. Only a few years before the words had been Asia and reconciliation and republic, but some people grew tired of hearing those words and those people feared a multicultural future.

Words and symbols were important enough to be contested, and a disagreement of this type resulted in a failed constitutional referendum, which meant that Great Britain’s monarch remained our head-of-state.

It was a self-absorbed way to end the 1990s, but before long the Olympic Games were here and we revelled in being at the centre of the world. A lot of money was spent in anticipation of the festival and we congratulated ourselves that if we could do this well we could do anything. But the euphoria didn’t last. In the years following, economic confidence flagged in the Olympic city, as it does in all host cities after the games have ended.

We were a small demographic group, outnumbered by our seniors and soon to be overwhelmed by those reaching adulthood in the twenty-first century.  Some of us were working full-time by now, and had our heads down. Experience had taught us to take nothing at face value, especially if the story seemed too good to be true, and this meant we trusted politicians less.

Within a year a boatload of refugees bound for Australia had been picked up by a Norwegian vessel and promptly refused asylum when the rescuing captain attempted to have them accepted here. This event encouraged those who didn’t like the idea that anyone might be given special treatment, especially if they were from countries which did not share our values. The concept of queue jumping was used to buffer prejudiced views, but within a few weeks terrorist attacks on famous buildings in New York and Washington meant that you didn’t need to hide racist assumptions any more. Most arguments could now be reduced to us versus them.

Until this point the US president, the son of another US president, had been a figure of fun. Afterwards he was still considered a buffoon by everyone except the sizeable number of Americans who believed that domestic security could be strengthened by reducing civil rights and interfering militarily in Iraq. These people voted for him again four years later. World leaders who should have known better were complicit in his rather naive plan to bring peace to the Persian Gulf and gain control of its oilfields, and they joined in. Australia helped, as we always do.

The War on Terror was underway and we were told it would be a more successful enterprise than the War on Drugs, which had been attempting to destroy the international narcotics trade for decades.

At about this time, some of us decided that we needed to carry all of the music we had ever owned with us at all times, and luckily Apple made a sophisticated device for that. Personal entertainment had come a long way since Space Invaders and PacMan in the ‘80s, but strangely it was just that type of crude arcade game that we played on even more sophisticated devices – when we weren’t looking at pictures of cats or food or our friends’ over-achieving offspring – and you could make phone calls with them too.

Politics changed when the long-serving government was defeated and there was bold talk about the environment for the first time in a while. It didn’t last though. An apology to indigenous people was derided as both potentially dangerous and a hollow symbolic gesture, while the notion that a government might attempt to address the connection between pollution and climate change was ridiculed. Some of us had a serious girlfriend at this time, and our focus was on other things, but it was clear that politicians were less constructive than ever.

Citizens had lost faith in the system to the extent that elected representatives were no longer allowed time to learn their jobs. Just as voters turned on their politicians so politicians turned on each other, replacing elected leaders in the hope of improving opinion polling numbers, and this whole process did nothing to improve the quality of governing. Somehow in this period of instability Australia was affected only slightly by the Global Financial Crisis. The reasons for this are disputed, but may have had something to do with massive amounts of wasted money or prudent management of the economy.

Terrorism proliferated. The names of the organisations changed but the grievances and methods of dealing with them were the same. Religious zealots with a hatred of our society proved a formidable foe, yet we still refused to understand them.

We were living in bigger houses and talking less to our neighbours and had never been as incurious. We doubted medical advice about having our children vaccinated and gave them bizarre first names. And whenever asylum seekers arrived by boat they were treated as if they had done something illegal.

The future we had hoped for seemed unlikely to eventuate and the political present had turned very strange. Amid plots and feuding the Queen’s husband was given a knighthood. Some of us still rented the house we lived in, with no prospect of buying our own, and our more successful friends were doing obscure jobs in finance which were really about making rich older clients richer. Some of us got married to our sweethearts as an argument broke out between Baby Boomers, our predecessors, and Millenials, the cohort after us – a misunderstood group, as we had been, said to be disengaged, but at least with their own name. The two groups traded insults while we looked on.

And the kids who didn’t study hard and go to university but instead left school early and ignored the knowledge economy found themselves as tradesmen and women with golden economic prospects. Their response to the modernising economy was shown to be the right one. It made a few of the rest of us who had followed the sensible path wonder if we had wasted our time.

Those of us who were about forty might have had very little to believe in, but at least we had our heroes – until a huge number of them were swept away in the cultural holocaust of 2016. Then the Brexit and Trump election results showed us what a future shaped by traditional values might look like.

Sorting human beings into groups is necessary in order to understand our society, and our society has changed a good deal since some of us were born in the mid-1970s. The Millenial influence grows as they mature but ageing Boomers continue to shape our culture while they hold on to their positions of power.

Younger people, more than the rest of us, are deeply offended by prejudice and feel strongly about same sex marriage. We can only hope that their view prevails on this and many other issues1, for their commitment to social justice is genuine and this country would benefit from a little more generosity now.

For them to change the world they must not follow their elders, as we did, but assert themselves and create new Australian values for a more decent Australia.


1 In the postal survey on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry Yes prevailed with 61.6% of the vote.

The Great Auburn Adventure

First there was reading to do and TV to watch. I was racing to finish a book about a man named William Moxley who was executed for murdering a couple in Sydney in 1932. It’s a pretty little volume, designed tastefully, and produced with care, and it’s called Mad Dog, by Peter Corris. I read it in a day, which is unusual for me, because it was short and well-written, and it was the perfect blend of history and macabreries to appeal to a twisted sensibility like mine. Meanwhile Laetitia watched ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ a “makeunder” show where they typically take an English slapper who wears too many cosmetics and prosthetics and remove most of her makeup and do her hair in a reasonable manner, and they often find that when the young woman in question isn’t dressed as something from the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras she’s actually quite pretty. In fact they always find that she’s rather pretty – that’s the point of the show – even when, as sometimes happens, the subject refuses to see sense and pledges to go back to caking on the fake tan and exposing her goodies to the world at large. Actually, the point of the show is to laugh: to laugh at misguided people and be thankful that you aren’t like that.

We got into the car and embarked on a short journey of a few suburbs to visit a warehouse outlet place which sells flower arranging accoutrements at reasonable prices. The TomTom GPS told us that we would be arriving in half an hour or so. Maybe twenty minutes. Yes, twenty-odd minutes sounds about right. We trust the TomTom, or “guidey” as Laetitia calls it (and I have been sprung calling it too) to help with our navigation choices and to offer sage advice when it is required on any trip encompassing unfamiliar territory. But we aren’t precious about it. When we know better we ignore the reassuring English woman’s voice, with her strange pronunciation of Parramatta Road, and we sometimes deviate from the plan which the device’s little computer has carefully mapped out, knowing it will recalibrate itself and create a new route as we go. The TomTom was purchased because we thought it would be a good idea to have computerised navigation assistance, but it was also introduced into our in-car experience because the human element of navigation had become the cause of some tension between the two of us – Laetitia behind the wheel and me struggling with the map or street directory or combination of both. I can read maps, and so can Laetitia, but we don’t seem to be able to read them together very well, when the pressure’s on, and motorists are sounding their horns as a gentle reminder to get going or get the hell out of the way. The TomTom has avoided many arguments. It has caused the occasional outburst though, from both of us, aimed at it, as it seems to have some strange ideas about how to go about driving in Sydney, and if you don’t have your wits about you you can find yourself on a very unpleasant detour. One time it erroneously took us from one side of the Harbour Bridge to the other – which meant we had to find a way to get back, and then find out how to get where we were actually going, all over again. The experience was not an enjoyable one. Although we laugh about it now: a kind of mirthless, war veteran laugh.

There was reason to take the guidey seriously then. But events were not to unfold smoothly. Not as smoothly as the little device which makes a “Ba-Dum-Dum” drum noise when you turn it on had predicted anyway. It took longer than twenty minutes. We resisted when it suggested taking a motorway. We theorised that it wouldn’t be necessary. It would be a short trip, after all. The traffic we were in would lessen. It always does. But it didn’t. It was slow moving, still really, and reminded the passenger of times when everything moves at a funereal pace until you get past the site of a major accident, often involving a truck, and from there everything’s fine. But there was no truck. No accident. And everything was not fine.

Car dealerships gradually gave way to other types of commercial buildings. Light industrial mainly. Small warehouses with offices attached. Businesses on this stretch of Parramatta Road seemed to all have names like Smith Holding Company or Pacific Corporate Solutions or Addison International Wholesalers & Sons Inc. They had closed and locked doors with boarded up windows and I wondered what sort of business actually went on behind these front doors which looked like they never get opened and inside rooms never lit by the natural light of the sun. Porn film production was one idea I entertained. Something to do with drugs or arms dealing was another. An undercover office for ASIO also suggested itself. These lurid ideas possibly say more about my rather puerile imagination, and the fact that I was becoming a smidge bored, than they do about the strange appearance of these unloved businesses.

Before long we made the decision to take a detour, to get off the main road, and see how far we could get by going that way. It worked well, for a time. But others did something similar and before long we, all of us, the cars which had made a run for it, were approaching another main road, and it was moving very slowly as well, and it was no better. It was the same traffic jam, just in a different place. We thought about turning back – although that wouldn’t have been easy to do either – and decided to press on.

And eventually we found it. A medium-sized warehouse in an industrial street near railway tracks. The prices were good and Laetitia made mental notes and we bought some things and planned to buy others in preparation for a big event we are planning for next year.

So it was a success. A strange kind of success, but from a shopping point of view it was an undoubtedly positive result. It had taken ninety minutes to do a twenty minute jaunt and by then it was half time in the rugby league game I had planned to try to see on the way back home, and thus there was no point trying to do that, and the shadows cooled us as we packed the pots we purchased into the car, and the drive back home was no less painful than the first leg, but we were together, Laetitia and I, and that’s the main thing. That’s enough.

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Judgement part 1

In the middle ages, thinkers and scholars and the kind of people who reasoned things out in their minds and wrote them down turned their minds to what were, for them, the big questions. They argued amongst themselves about the nature and operation of divine grace as mediated through Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. They made pronouncements about witchcraft and the dangerous power of the devil. And they also showed off their learning by formulating opinions on such topics as what angels could and couldn’t do on earth, whether they had sexual organs, and how many of them could sit on the head of a pin. The reasoning used by medieval scholars often appears specious (and downright silly) to us – as when they seek to understand how something works by breaking up the word for the concept into its constituent lexicographical parts, sometimes in other languages, often misspelled or translated poorly, and show how definitions for these words “prove” what the concept is and how it works. The reasoning is the key. It is a display of learning. There is a logic and an order in this thinking process. And it is a demonstration of intelligence and years of study – mastery, in fact – which must mean that the writer’s answer will be correct, as his reasoning will be sound because it is backed up by such thorough learning. Of course this is a circular way to think. Much study can go into a wrong conclusion. And the definitions of words can’t explain that the Earth goes around the Sun if you lack a scientific mindset equipped to allow for this fact.

These thinkers were trying to understand the world, and in order to understand it it made sense to sort things into categories: lower and higher animals, chaste and unchaste, religious and irreligious. We all make similar judgements all the time – although the issue of chastity doesn’t come up with ordinary people very often. With very little evidence we are forced to judge people – even though it isn’t good to judge – as there is just too much going on in the life of a person living in a community of more than a handful of people to really get to know everyone you might encounter and then make a sober decision about whether they should be friends or just acquaintances or even enemies. Instead we are forced into snap decisions, and naturally these are often wrong decisions, or they are with me anyway, and that can be embarrassing and quite shameful. It can also be a very sad thing to contemplate the association you might have had with an individual if you hadn’t decided they were bad news when you met – and later found out that they are a saintly person with a volcanic sense of humour who just happened to dress like a bank robber in those days or someone who seemed like a massive pain in the arse back then but they were going through a difficult time, and they are now a beautiful person, and weren’t you a dickhead for letting them go or being rude or shutting them out, and doesn’t it make you feel bad? Of course it does. But what are you going to do? Try to give people a chance, I suppose, is all you can do. Try – genuinely try.

Published in: on June 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

History Hurts Sometimes

When I was fifteen I remember we used to get history – a subject I loved – homework quite often from our teacher, a partly wild and crazy young man, made violent by his exposure to the pedagogical methods of the nuns in his native country, Ireland. You could say he had a sadistic streak. This was in the death throws of the corporal punishment era of Australian teaching and learning, and although by this time using the body of a pupil as the site for their punishment (he said, trying a little bit too hard to sound like Foucault) had been outlawed in public schools, it was still an option to be pursued in private schools if you were that way inclined. Jeremiah Mulcahy was most certainly that way inclined. It was strange though, the way he did it: not out of some strangely twisted amalgam of religious zeal and sexual frustration, as I had always imagined the nuns were motivated. No, this was more the young man scrapping with his peers, for fun – it can be fun to give and receive a punch when you are a fifteen year-old boy. It was as if his position was that we’re all in a massive wrestling contest, and I’ve got special privileges that mean no-one can run up behind me and give me a rabbit chop to the side of the head. I will compete, but I cannot lose. There was almost an apologetic tone when Mr. Mulcahy pursued his slightly unbalanced methods, a performance in a way, enjoying a certain degree of power, but also a subtle appeal on his animated visage: “Well, you’d do the same, sometimes, if you could, wouldn’t you fellas?”

Yes, we would. If we could have, we would have. And the point was that he was only ever punishing an individual who had done something wrong and therefore deserved it. But this was an Old Testament God asserting his authority and seeking to propagate fear amongst his subjects, not a New Testament God asking everyone to hold hands and talk about how they feel about things.

The whole class would stand and students would be told to bend over when they could not answer an absurdly difficult question about a few pages we had been set to read. These tests never gave me bother as I always enjoyed reading what we were given, and retained it. I could have answered anything, I suspect I wasn’t asked many questions because I was one of the ones who would mostly know the answer, and what was the point of asking me if this was an opportunity to hit all the smart arses in the class who deserved to be hit? (Arse being the operative word). Even if I realised this at the time, and I suspect I did – that I was safe, there was genuine fear of copping a whacking with the edge of Mr. Mulcahy’s mighty metal ruler. On one occasion a student from another year came around to hand out newsletters, he was going from class to class and because he didn’t knock on the door and ask correctly if he could hand out the newsletters he was made to bend over and suffered “the chop” as well. It seemed amusing at the time.

On another occasion a miscreant was forced to kneel at the front of the classroom on the hard wooden platform, with his arms out, in the manner of the Irish monks’ prayer position from the Dark Ages. If either arm dropped below points on the blackboard his extra homework was increased and later each arm was burdened with textbooks and blackboard dusters to make things harder. Again, it was somewhat entertaining, like sporting with those bad individuals in the stocks during the Middle Ages must have been. Perhaps it didn’t appeal to our best nature, but for those of us who were blameless, or better able to keep our noses clean, it was fun.

One of the things Mr. Mulcahy used to do, when he gave homework, was demand a page or three quarters of a page or two thirds of a page on some topic we were to read. One of the things I used to do was to work out exactly how many lines were required to fulfil what we had been set and see if I could write exactly that number of lines, in a coherent, complete little report. I often came in about half a line over and there was never any reason to think payback for being facetious was around the corner.

Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Learning To Read

It sticks in my mind as a special Christmas, not for any of the mature reasons one might think: the last time I saw a grand parent alive, first beer, the time I graduated from the kids’ to the adults’ table (actually, this never happened), some furtive first kiss or smoke by the pool, away from the adults, or the time when family photos finally didn’t seem embarrassing as I had grown into my body or my hair didn’t look juvenile or way-out and teenagerish. No, although this class of milestone would be interesting to reflect upon, that isn’t what this is about. This Christmas was a standout for the presents I was given.

But even that is misleading, as it could seem that I’m about to recount the time I woke up to find a car with a bow around it sitting in the driveway that was all mine. Or something like that. Never happened, and it wouldn’t have seemed right if it did. From memory, Mum and Dad didn’t have an awful lot of disposable money this year and there was no expectation of anything remarkable coming our way from Santa or any other external source either. It was the recession of the early 1990s and I only really received two gifts: a cricket bat, still in my possession almost 20 years later, which is now perfect for backyard cricket, and a book about cricket. Seemed somehow disappointing at the time. I leafed through the tome entitled The Wisden Illustrated History of Cricket by Vic Marks, looking mainly at the colour and black and white photographs, and noting the reproduced score sheets from matches with historic importance. It was interesting. Seemed like there were things in there I wanted to know. Things I should know, as a cricket fan – or someone who called himself a fan.

In those days the family spent time with other segments of our extended family on Christmas Day, and it always seemed that there were females getting ready inefficiently when we went anywhere, so I had a small to medium wait before we would leave together. This book with a mostly yellow cover, large pages, and photographs of batsmen playing shots (I recall Allan Border holding up the 1987 World Cup … but perhaps my memory fails me there) on the dust jacket seemed at once a lesser version of a present than I had perhaps anticipated, and yet it intrigued me. I began to read it, from page one. It drew me in gradually, peppering the early pages with interesting tidbits about society in 18th century England and the origins of the game, but I was pretty much hooked by the time attention turned to the transition to over-arm bowling and the dominance of the annual matches between Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals). To make it fairer for the poor Gentlemen an experiment was tried where they could bowl at four stumps. This match was in 1837 and the Players still won. The Gentlemen were often allowed to field many more than 11 men, to make the contest more even; that was until W.G. Grace came along and changed everything, making the amateurs a real force in the second half of the 19th Century.

I hadn’t quite got to Grace when we had to go – cousins and grandparents awaited, as did bags of lollies and roasted meats – but I wanted to keep reading. I knew of the big man with the huge beard, but knew little about him. What I read between watching the Boxing Day Test on TV the next day and eating the remains of my Darrel Lea nougat Christmas pudding-shaped chocolate thingy was endearing and charming and memorable. It helped me to decide that the 19th Century was an era of interest, and that the Victorian period was very different in a lot of ways from the early part of that century, and it confirmed for me that books are worth having and make great presents to give and receive, and if a book succeeds as a gift it’s one of the best things to change hands in this way. Above all, I suppose, I may have become a little less acquisitive that Christmas … or perhaps that’s not quite right: I knew I wanted books, but was less keen to have other things because other people had them and they were considered cool. All one needs is for a book to satisfy a personal need – it doesn’t matter what other readers think.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment