Elmhirst, Sophie, New Statesman (1996)
Thank God for cricket. Without it, the first days of the Year of the Cuts might have descended into deep gloom, but instead we were distracted by Down Under and its sunshine, success and sprinkler dance. Sport, when it goes well, can be so handy like that. When real life feels uncertain, it envelops you in a neat and happy narrative. Captain Andrew Strauss should be garlanded with honours just for keeping a nation's mood from a January slump.
"It's been a nice little purple patch," said Strauss of the English team. I like his modesty; he knows the purple won't last for ever, it's only a patch. The phrase comes, so the story goes, from the Latin poet Horace's Ars Poetica: pannus purpureas. Literally, it refers to the practice of an uppity Roman sewing purple cloth on to his robe to make him feel important (purple was the emperor's colour). The dye, produced first by the Phoenicians and prized by the Romans, was the most exclusive of all--the limited-edition Mulberry handbag of fashion items--and was made from the mucus secretion of sea snails. Yes, sea snails. …