First Day of the Football Season and First Nights at the Theatre Present Their Own Challenges. at Least We Have Cricket and Literature to Comfort Us
Jacobs, Gerald, New Statesman (1996)
The nets are bulging. Seagulls, Canaries and still more exotic birds are weaving their frenetic patterns under the cover of an unruffled sky. Crowds turn away from the daily toil and head for lane, park, moor or cottage. The young - limbs exposed - run, jump and stroll across grass as green as a snooker table. The sun sits overhead in blazing indifference.
Yes, the football season has started. The opening Saturday seems to become more of a summer spectacle each year. Tennis's strawberry-and-champagne extravaganza at Wimbledon almost always has the impact of a giant watering can, yet our winter game can be relied on to arrive smothered in Ambre Solaire.
As for cricket, while the early Test matches in June and July have ground staff scurrying back and forth to cover and uncover pitches, the one guaranteed to benefit from uninterrupted, baking weather is the one that coincides with - and is eclipsed by - the "big kick-off".
One match waits for Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur 0, Manchester United 2. My annual roller-coaster ride has begun. Flickering hope repeatedly extinguished by disappointment. For a tortured Tottenham fan such as myself, the months between August and May are nowadays marked by a gradual, reluctant yielding to the fact that the stadium at White Hart Lane, a former temple to the most glorious art and achievement, has become a humdrum retail park dealing in drab and mediocre goods.
And yet . . . maybe there will be diamonds this time. Like some compulsive shopper, I cannot simply leave it alone. And, while I feel that nothing can be as frustrating as being a Spurs fan, it's doubtless as good/bad for followers of the Seagulls (Brighton) and the Canaries (Norwich); and at Turf Moor (where Burnley play); Craven Cottage (home of Fulham); Goodison, Villa and any number of other parks and places basking, all too briefly, in the sun.
Still, cricket and, thank God, literature go on, an observation confirmed this week with the publication by Hutchinson of Warehouse at the Wicket, a collection of Pelham Grenville's writings to the tune of willow on leather, edited by Murray Hedgcock. It is mostly splendid, straightbat stuff but, in "Between the Innings", when Wodehouse wishes to convey just how much of a bounder one of the characters is, he writes: "I believe he's a Jew. He looked just like one."
It is sad that this unthinking prejudice etched into a certain layer of English society should so often find public expression in the utterings of writers. Sad because those whose business is words ought to understand the wounding power of an apparently casual phrase.
Prejudice, of course, tends to beget prejudice. Having found this example by PG Wodehouse, my own suspicion of writers who preface their surnames with a pair of initials is reinforced. Jewish devotees of the work of GK Chesterton, for example, have long felt uncomfortable about the man. …