Howard Jacobson: Once the Ashes starts, I go to pieces

I go to sleep heavy with anxiety and premonition and get the news I’ve been dreading the moment I wake

Share
Related Topics

I have tremor cordis on me. Dancing heart. I borrow the phrase from Leontes in The Winter's Tale, though in his case the cause is sexual jealousy and in mine it's far more serious. The Ashes. The first ball is bowled in Brisbane and my heart is dancing, but not for joy, not joy.

"O, that is entertainment my bosom likes not," Leontes says, the entertainment in question being the attention his wife is paying his best friend, "paddling palms and pinching fingers". That could also be a description of what's upsetting me, the latest Aussie fast-bowler fondling the ball, pinching his fingers around the seam, and then, when out of sheer brute colonial rage he takes another wicket, his teammates gathering him in their arms, "leaning cheek to cheek, meeting noses, kissing with inside lip".

Homoeroticists, the lot of them. But as I used to tell Australians in the days I lived among them, "Sport for you is just covert cottaging". Don't read this as homophobia. I was only exacting my revenge. They were the ones, back there in the 1960s, who loudly accused every fine-featured, flowing-haired Englishman, including me, of being a nancy boy. I was even attacked in a pub in Bondi for it once. Two small unsteady Aussie battlers, not unlike Peter Siddle in appearance – Peter Siddle being last Thursday's hat-trick taker – wrestling me to the ground and shouting "Poofter!" in my face. When, with very little effort, I threw them off – reader, I said they were small and unsteady – they retreated, musing darkly over what had occurred. "These bloody poofters are getting stronger," one told the other, as though he had encountered some terrifying new Darwinian ascendancy of the poofter-gene. "Too right," his friend agreed. Who knows, that could have been the psycho-sociological moment in the history of antipodean sexuality when the Australian man decided to go with the flow and what he couldn't defeat, embrace.

Not that any of this explains my dancing heart the minute another Ashes series gets under way in Australia. And to be honest I can't fathom it myself. I can live with England capitulating to India or Sri Lanka. I am not on the line when New Zealand does us over. I can even lose equably to South Africa. And although my pulses race wherever England plays Australia it's only when England plays Australia over there that I truly go to pieces. Which makes me wonder if it's the time difference that's really troubling me, the fact that transmission of the match doesn't start until I go to bed, so that if I don't stay up to watch it live – and I am not a masochist on that scale – I go to sleep heavy with anxiety and premonition and get the news of the debacle I've been dreading the moment I wake. Waking is a tristful business for the man who reflects. If one doesn't wake to disappointment one wakes to shame. Until I actually saw it written down I thought that Freud's essay Mourning and Melancholia was actually Morning and Melancholia. So the morning, for men like me, is already hard to take even before the latest score comes in. Thus, the England cricket team's performance is just one more confirmation of the agony of existence.

What makes this an incomplete explanation is the fact that I felt no better when I was over there and watched Test matches live. Of the grounds I visited, the greatest – as far as crowds, exhilaration and, for me, sadness, went – was Melbourne. It's to the MCG you go for the Boxing Day Test, gripping your picnic hamper which contains sandwiches made from the previous day's Christmas turkey, cold pies, cans of beer, a bottle of chardonnay semillon, maybe some leftover pavlova, more cans of beer – adult Australian males, if you can find any at the Boxing Day Test, call them "tinnies" – and another couple of bottles of chardonnay semillon. You get the idea. By lunch you're pissed blind. That's to say they are. What they do with the urine with which they don't scruple there and then to fill their empty cans no reader of this column will want to know. But checking to be sure you are not sitting below one of the more notoriously urine-fixated bays is a necessary precaution at the MCG.

No wonder I go away feeling sad, you must think. But in fact I arrive feeling sad. It can only, therefore, have something to do with the nature of the sporting contest itself. In the end, no matter who wins, the struggle to prevail is a depressing feature of life and a depressing spectacle. I know that millions of people around the world believe differently and can't wait to see their team in action, but it's my contention that they only think they believe differently. Watch a crowd leaving a football stadium and you see only two emotions: the gloom that follows a loss and the sense of anti-climax that follows a victory. Yes, there's cheering and chanting and embracing, and often a half-hankering for violence – because you have to take your win out on somebody – but it isn't joy or even satisfaction. Satisfaction is a quieter emotion. What you see in a crowd of people whose team has won is a desperate need for confirmation, each person seeking in the other the evidence of a happiness he cannot find in himself.

Reader, we have been fed a pack of lies. In order that we should go on striving without knowing what it is we're striving for, the gladiatorial illusion is dandled before our tired eyes. Beating people is good for us, we're told. This illusion was raised again at Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday when Cameron and Miliband crossed swords – see what I mean – over the issue of sport in schools, each accusing the other's party of not doing enough to encourage our podgy young to get off their mobile phones for half an hour a day and run about. More than that – only two out of five children were currently playing any competitive sport, Cameron said, as though he had uncovered a scandal for which Labour must take sole responsibility, and fewer still were competing with other schools.

So? Do they bear the scars, our young, of never having competed with other schools? If they want to know what they're missing let them turn on the television in the morning and get the score from Brisbane. This is what they're missing – the body's whole sap sunk, the blood souring in the veins, the heart dancing, but not for joy, not joy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future