Book review: Squeezing the Orange, By Henry Blofeld

A Blowers by Blowers account

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The Independent Culture


Henry Blofeld’s idiosyncratic musings on pigeons, buses and occasionally, even, the cricket match before him, are an integral part of the magical fabric of Test Match Special. Blowers is the master of “painting a picture”, a craft that at its best makes a radio broadcast on crackling long wave so much more involving than the sterile high-definition television product.

His philosophy is simple: “If a commentator has genuine excitement in his voice, only the most stony-hearted of listeners won’t react.”

He brings this boyish enthusiasm to a serial anecdotalist’s romp through a life: the promising young cricketer whose nerve is shot by a nearly fatal bicycle versus bus incident at Eton (“considering all things, it wasn’t too bad”), the love of a good bottle or three (Blowers’ Rhône available now at good wine merchants), and the cast of characters he’s had the good fortune to encounter, from Noël Coward to President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (“the worst halitosis it has ever been my lot to come across”).

Don’t expect agonised self-analysis: Blofeld is a man at ease with himself. He’s also too much of a gentleman to kiss and tell, and there’s correspondingly little insight into the people he meets beyond surface tics. In his world, chaps are redoubtable, inveterate, indomitable. Wives come and go with little exposition. An “extremely pretty girl” called Joanna makes an appearance on page 97; three pages later they marry. Little more is heard of her beyond her giving birth to their daughter and she is replaced in a coup de théâtre by the walk-on part of a second wife, the improbably named Bitten.

But there’s a lot of fun: a trip from London to India in a 1921 Rolls-Royce to watch a Test match; a glut of tortured and politically incorrect cricketing metaphors (two of Noël’s male friends “didn’t so much take guard outside off-stump as somewhere between fourth slip and gully”); and the shameless recollection of his good fortune: “My father sold a field or something and another bedroom was put onto our house.”

What makes Blofeld interesting is that he is rarely a curmudgeon, although he dismisses Twenty20 cricket as “showbiz, pure and simple. Its only worthwhile job is to raise money”. “Life moves on today at an alarming rate,” he writes, “and what fun it is trying to keep up.” It’s an irresistible adventure, a tribute to optimism, fine living and good friends. To be read by the fireside with a glass of Yquem ’83 after she-who-must-be-obeyed has popped orf to Bedlington.