Richard Pierce

Politics, Sport, Writing

Day 245

I occasionally break the rule about all of this blog having to be new writing, but as we move towards the end of what has been a glorious summer in many ways, and at risk of alienating those who read this who don’t understand cricket nor have an interest in, I wanted to put into the public domain a piece I submitted to this year’s writing competition in Wisden (the cricket bible for those of you not familiar with the name of that annual almanack). I do so for two reasons – there is a lot of talk about test cricket being critically endangered (which I would agree with), and the piece didn’t win (though publication here is not a bunch of sour grapes, nor one single sour grape; I just want it read).

THE GAME THAT WAS OURS

In 1976, when I was 16, there were no gates at the top of Downing Street, and I used to regularly jump up onto the wall opposite that famous black door of Number 10 to spend entire afternoons watching the comings and goings. It felt like I was in touch with real power, as if, even though I couldn’t yet vote, I almost had a seat at the table with all those important and famous people. And when I took photos of the then Prime Minister and whoever his visitors were, nobody stopped me, or asked me what I was doing. That wall, that street, felt like sanctuary to the young me, before I had to start the long trek home to Yorkshire. And then someone put up some gates, and power and politics became remote.

This is how it has gone with cricket, too. Wall-to-wall coverage of the game on terrestrial TV and radio in 1970s made my existence, in the back-of-beyond that Doncaster felt like, easier and more interesting. On Sundays, I’d even sit in front of the telly with a scorebook I’d bought for myself and score the John Player League games, listening to Arlott and Laker, spellbound by the ease with which they wrapped their words and voices around the action I tried to get down on paper without making any mistakes. Test matches were massive events for me, especially during the summer holidays, when I’d pop to the sweetshop just round the corner from our house to get a quarter of lemon sherbets, and suck one of them every half hour during the game. Cricket was everywhere, and everyone watched it, and everyone played it, and everyone wanted to play test cricket, or so it seemed. We thought it would last forever. And then, at the end of 1989, the gates closed on widespread public access to cricket on TV just as they finally did, permanently, on public access to Downing Street. I felt betrayed. Still do.

So here we are now, and lament the falling participation in the game worldwide, and fear for the future of test cricket, when, despite the gimmick of The Hundred, the flash Indian Premier League, and other global T20 leagues, there is still no regular mass access to cricket on terrestrial TV. At a time of global crisis, when we want something to encourage our young people to play the best game of all games, there is nothing to inspire them, because cricket on TV is no longer free (in all senses of that word), because cricket has become a commodity, because the money brokers won’t allow cricket to heal in more ways than one.

Covid-19 or not, the time has come to open the gates on cricket again, and to fully deprive the paid-for broadcasters of their monopoly on the game that was ours.

I wrote that back in October last year, and it still holds. You may think it’s a minor issue, but the fact is, and we see it with the Tory leadership election, the fact that Boris Johnson is not yet being held to account for all the illegal acts he committed while he was (and still is, at the time of writing) Prime Minister, that the large media companies are holding countries to ransom, that those media companies are actually the driving forces behind politics, behind politicians, and that those media companies are overwhelmingly right-wing and dictating the agenda. It’s their fault, as much as the politicians’, that we are heading into the worst cost-of-living catastrophe in living memory.

 

AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 198

The mass of people descends into the hall where the luggage carousels disgorge the contents of the trolleys and planes and tunnels. They mill around, wishing they hadn’t brought so many suitcases, or at least Aggie thinks they must, and thanks herself for being sensible enough to bring only one small backpack, wanders past the masses standing around with nothing to do, noses to their smartphones, headphones in, leaning against walls, tiredness in the faces, that wish that the trip were over already, resigned breathing that the wait will be even longer than they thought because it appears that three planes have landed all at the same time, and this one particular carousel will be spewing out the luggage from all three of them. Aggie smiles to herself as she strolls past, as she strolls through the customs area knowing she has nothing to declare, that even if they stop her in the green channel they will find nothing but spare sets of underwear and shirts and socks, and trousers. No-one stops her.

The sight of the massive queue in Immigration doesn’t phase her either. She shrugs, takes a deep breath, joins the queue for the glass boxes that take photos of those coming into this huge country still fearful of anything different, although it’s built on generations of immigrants from around the world, although it’s built on the theft of lands from those who lived here at the beginning of time. She slides into the box when she gets there, holds her passport face down on the scanner, stares at the camera that looks back at her, doesn’t feel the temptation to move or show any impatience, doesn’t smile either because she’s sure that will put off the technology from concentrating on her, and thirty seconds later she walks out of the other side of the cubicle and joins the next long queue of people waiting to be interrogated by any of the seemingly hundreds of Immigration Officers in their booths, men and women who are sure to have sidearms under their desks, who must be so bored with their eternal days under artificial lights, whose job it is to look into the faces of all these people coming into America, and having to guess if they’re genuine, having to use some sort of instinct or knowledge to ascertain whether or not they’re here legally, as if any of that mattered, as if any of these measures at all would stop terrorism. It hasn’t stopped Valentine, has it, she thinks, and doesn’t let the thought affect her light-hearted smile, her cool exterior which she hopes will get her through this level of security onto the other side, and safely to Marion. It takes an hour for her to get to the front of the queue, to add to the 45 minutes she spent waiting for a vacant passport cubicle, and, of course, the person in front of her in the line is getting an extra harsh and elongated interrogation from the Immigration Officer.

Finally, she can make the steps across the fake marble floor tiles, across the yellow line that separates the waiting from the interrogated. She has her passport ready, the printout of her ESTA ready, her smile and carefree and respectful manner ready. She pushes her passport through the gap between the bulletproof glass and the top of the desk, open on the photo page.

‘Reason for visit?’ the man says without looking up at her.

‘Work,’ she says, keeping a respectful distance.

‘Huh,’ he says, still doesn’t look up. The paper of the ESTA makes what seems a very loud sound as he looks through it, looks at the screen of his computer, and back at her passport. ‘Georgetown, huh?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Aggie says.

‘Huh.’ He looks up at her this time. ‘Women’s stuff, huh?’ He doesn’t smile.

Aggie smiles back anyway. ‘Indeed.’ She makes sure her accent is cut-glass, concentrates on that and on smiling and being relaxed.

He shakes his head, this monster of a man, white, shaved head under the hat that looks like it’s been pushed down onto his head my some mechanical force, the same mechanical force which seems to have dispensed with his need for a neck. ‘You be careful down there.’ His drawl broadens. He stamps the passport, pushes it back across the desk to her. ‘Huh. Hope you get outta there in one piece.’

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