Obituary: Gabriel García Márquez

serio

It is fittingly sad that the news of the death of Gabriel García Márquez should have come on Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate the solemnity of the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ.   A year ago I wrote on this blog my own meditation on the liturgical character of the day (“The endlessly fascinating cry of desolation“), and of my own resonance with its pain, sorrow and desolate hopelessness.  Yet I had forgotten the ritual nature of this observation, that it is the necessary darkness of a death before the promise of a new hope in the Resurrection of Easter, which is the sign of new life in the Spring, of “the green fuse that drives the flower”, of the powerlessness of Death to ultimately conquer Life, of the fact that a single point of light in a flame can overcome a whole field of darkness.

That Death can never be totally victorious over Life due to its dependence on its own life – its greatest possible victory would have to be a total solitude – is the kind of surreal paradox that Márquez presented so elegantly, richly and playfully in his passionate works of fiction.  As G. K. Chesterton remarked, “a paradox is a truth standing on its head in order to attract attention”, and Márquez was the consummate master of the surrealist literary juxtaposition of the real and the apparently unreal which gave his characters and their lives such resonant reality with our own.  The realism itself is the magic.

Our lives are such complex tapestries that, to the aware and mindful, juxtapositions and apparent contradictions occur almost constantly.  To be able to perceive this in action is the play of the transcendental, and to be able to present this in literary form was Márquez’s own special magic. His world looked more like that of the bodhisattva watching the līla – the playfulness of the dharmas in action.

This is beyond me.  I have just put my laundry out to dry on the line.  I found this to be a mundanely domestic irritant, taking me away from my “real work” of writing (this blog post).  However it need not be so: each flapping out of a sheet could have been the spreading out of a meadow, for example; but that I know it can be so but I do not see it as such is a cause of angst and sorrow.

I have only read Márquez’s work in English translations – very good ones, I imagine – but I suspect that in not reading them in the original Spanish I am missing a dimension or layer of their meaning, for Márquez always insisted that his works had no “magic” in their magical realism, that they were instead just very real depictions of the lives, thoughts and emotions of the people of the Latin America he knew.  That they seem “magical” may just be a feature of the dialectical exoticism with which the non-Latin American reader inescapably overlays the text; it is an alien world but only because of its quotidian unfamiliarity (defamiliarity?)

Márquez and Castro

In this Márquez found himself at times to have been an unwelcome figure of controversy, most notably in his personal friendship with Fidel Castro, who he described as a warm, passionate and intelligent “literary man”.  Márquez did much to champion the cause for Cuba, to argue for his fellow Latin Americans to rally to support it in the face of US censure, to stand up for the kindred characteristics of South American culture, in all its divided and divisive gorily glorious history of conquest and subjugation to foreign powers, as well as its courageous resilence and spiritual strength and richness.

This divisive, contradictory, paradoxical and surreal man does remind me today of  Jesus, who also suffered because of his courage to show Truth to Power, in which there is the Idea of a perfect Love which pains us in its impossible distance from our own nature, which we kill out of the fear of incomprehension – in the face of which unutterable strangeness there could only be the response of a silence as loud as thunder, caused by the appearance of a million red butterflies on a spring morning that stretches infinitely to the stars.

gabriel-garcia-marquez

Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez was born on 6th March 1927 in Aracataca, Columbia.  He worked as a journalist and novelist, his most celebrated and successful work being Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude).  He died on 17th April 2014 in Mexico City, Mexico, following a period of illness.

 


Pigeons is real

One day, whilst outside, I saw a truly enormous pigeon sitting on the flat roof of the building where I worked. It was at least as large as a seagull, but in pigeon form. I went inside and told my colleagues about the sight. It was a quiet day in the music shop and they were all intrigued so they eagerly went out for a look. As I watched them stand across the road and point upwards to the roof, amazed at the sight, I became aware that my youngest colleague was still stood next to me, looking perplexed. He said, “a pigeon is on the roof?”

“Yes”, I replied, “a really massive one.”
“What, like a real pigeon?”
“No, not ‘like’ a pigeon – actually a pigeon. It’s really huge.”

At this he looked almost pained.

“What – pigeons is real?”

Now I was becoming a little baffled.

“Yes”, I replied calmly (almost zen-like actually), “pigeons is r … I mean pigeons are real, yes.”

A look of wonder now passed across my young compadre’s face. “Aw man, I fought dems was just like in books.”

I lost some composure as the sheen wore off the moment.

“What do you think all those dirty grey birds are that you seen every day? This is Preston, there are thousands of them, following you round with their cooing and that head thing, trying to mug you for a shred of your Gregg’s. What do you think they are?”

He was very penny-drop pleased now.

Dems is pigeons! Man I fought dems was just BIRDS!”

As his countenance played a movie of hitherto unknown feelings, I went outside to join my other colleagues, who by now were smoking cigarettes.


Bored OM Part 2

“Summers were longer and hotter” says Rhidian Brook of his memories of his own childhood (in the BBC Radio Four Thought For The Day referred to in Part One of this essay) and I suspect that anyone who is British and over the age of, say, thirty-five, will almost certainly agree with this statement.  It isn’t true of course because six weeks is still six weeks and the length of a week is still seven days etc etc; and we have just had the hottest temperatures on record in Britain for late June, July and early August.  So summers can’t have been literally hotter and longer when we were younger.

I think this speaks more of a state of mind, the freedom and relaxation I wrote about that can give rise to boredom and challenge the young mind to stretch itself. It speaks of peace and calm, yet excitement and adventure. Sadly, I think this is something that is missing from the experience of a lot of British children today. People I know do more trips, holidays and organised activities that I can remember myself or any of my contemporaries doing when we were young. It’s good that such things exist and are available and some of them are great, but it seems that children do not roam free as much as they used to and so do not have the advantages of boredom that I suggest because they never experience the urgent pang because they are not allowed the space to. These organised activities and “experiences” can be seen to be part of a social discourse that has some negative connotations.

A couple of years ago I read the dispiriting statistic (sorry, i cant rcall the source) that the average age that British children were permitted to play outdoors unsupervised by an adult had risen to fourteen. (Average mind – there will be plenty allowed to play out much younger, but also worryingly some not allowed out until much older.) The social perception of kids that do play out now is that the are a “certain type” of child, the unruly, rough type who have parents that can’t be bothered with them and just send them packing for the day; thus the demonisation of young people continues.

But if this is the case (and Im not saying it is) then why might “nice” people not allow their children out alone? Brook reports that some parents have said that they would “rather have their children bored at home than stressed at school” and that seems fair, but it also suggests a wish to keep them close that may reveal some untoward anxieties. Lots of parents of my acquaintance have a fear of road accidents and this seems appropriate: there are after all far more cars on the roads than when I was a child, they are faster and they are driven by more inept, reckless and selfish drivers as well.

But there is also a rather more lurking and formless fear, that of the Bogeyman. Parents seem very alert to the possibility of “stranger danger”, that their children may be snatched away by some predatory paedophile the moment they take their eyes off them for even a split second when outside the safety of the domestic fortress. This is quite inappropriate because such incidents are very rare (and it is well known that the vast majority of cases of child abuse in general are perpetrated by family members or acquaintances of the victims so strangers are statistically relatively safe) but alas it is not the case that they never happen and it is the sheer fact of the possibility that is enough to plant the seed of fear in a parent’s mind. (It is always a good thing to teach children about stranger danger to allow them to keep themselves safe – but in proportion.)

So this anxiety is not baseless but is often disproportionate, and this is where the negativity comes in. These fears are spread, grown and perpetuated by the media, who love stories about child abuse in general but especially the random cases of abduction and murder because they sell well because they tap into such strong emotions. As I write this I am still shuddering from the horror of the reports of that poor little boy in China who had his eyes gouged out by a female stranger  in an apparently pointless act of violence whilst he was innocently playing out. This is a terrible story and I feel for this young boy … but why?

I feel for him because I am human, I have emotions, I am quite sensitive and I am a father so this strikes a number of chords. But why should I be feeling this at all? I mean, why should I even know about it? It makes sense to report it locally because witnesses may come forward and help may be offered to the family. But It happened thousands of miles away in an entirely different country. It does not speak of a local threat that I should be alert to. There is nothing I can do to help the poor boy and his family, much as I might like to. So why has the UK media reported it? Well, it is of a sort of macabre interest because it is so unusual, so random, so extreme, perhaps even so evil. Some people love stuff like this but they could read about the possibilities of human evil in the febrile works of fiction writers, if they so wished.

There will be many parents who will have read about it  and felt an immediate strong urge to keep their little ones close and safe. The sheer possibility of something so random is enough to stop people letting them out. It could happen to YOU. So you keep them close, safe, in. But then you have to find them something to do, so you play games, cook together, other domestics. But this becomes stale quite soon, so you start to think of more interesting activities that take you out of the house. You perhaps finally take in one of the repeated adverts for a museum or theme park that bookends your kids’ TV shows and plan a trip to where there are fences that keep kids in and pervs out, where there are staff who are likely to be CRB checked and therefore “safe”, and where you have to pay an entrance fee for these staff and fences and then ice creams, sweets, hot dogs, massive cuddly penguins, rides, activity books etc etc.

This is the crux of it: children playing out, roaming free, do not spend any money and so do not serve the Powers That Be. The six week school holidays thus become a “dead zone” to the insatiable hunger of Business because no-one makes any money off them. But they have found a way to monetize this period through co-opting the media into scaring parents to keep children close and spend more money, as well as regulating their activity more, which satisfies the harrumphings of Daily Mail readers.

Another harbinger of the drawing to a close of the summer halcyon hiatus is the appearance in shop windows of “Back To School” posters. This year they were up before the schools had even finished for the summer. (I have heard reports that some shops even have their “Xmas” wares out already. It is August. We haven’t even had Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes Night yet, the traditional calendar markers for merchandising Christmas. This simply will not do.) 

The pressures to spend money never let up, at a time when wages are frozen but living costs spiralling out of control. The fear of boredom has become press-ganged into the service of getting parents to spend more. Aside from the anxiety though, this fear also taps in to the guilt around idleness that stems from the notion that “the devil makes work for idle hands” that provided the moral foundation for the Protestant Work Ethic that was later corrupted into the exploititative greed of the Industrial Revolution that gave rise to the consumerist capitalist discourse of today. Boredom itself neither produces nor consumes but the fear of it and desire to avert it can be ensnared by the discourse.

So once again I find I am echoing Rhidian Brook, when he talks not only of the relaxing and developmental effects of boredom but also the intrinsic value of taking part in activities “that have no measurable outcome.”  Children are going to be assessed through their lives. They need some time when they can just be and do without being assessed within a framework that only serves the socio-economic discourse. Ah, but The Powers don’t like such unprogrammed activity because there is a chance that young people will develop thoughts outside of the curriculum, ideas of their own; and the youth may find themselves not so dependent on the discourse and become critical of it, possibly even dissenting, possibly even rebellious. This is not the sort of “character building” my school had in mind – no, that consisted of learning to know your place by having your head mashed on the rugby field to give you a better idea of the inherited nature of privilege and power. 

This week the chatterati have been chewing over celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s rant about British youth being rubbish workers, lazy and not willing to work the 80 to 100-hour weeks he had to do to get on in the restaurant business. And this comes on the heels of the story of Moritz Erhardt, the 21 year-old German student intern at Merrill Lynch who died of overwork after a three-day stint without sleep or rest. Aside from the terrible sadness I feel at untimely, pointless and avoidable death of a keen young man, what shocks me most about this story is that Erhardt was praised by his one of his colleagues as “an exemplary employee.” What example is this? That the young chap worked himself to death makes him somehow heroic? I fear that that is exactly the case: as The Guardian reported reported, the banking world has a “long hours culture” and life for interns is extremely competitive; “horror stories” will not put them off. 

It seems that knowing what you want out of life is the most important thing here, and letting our children figure that out for themselves has to take precedence over everything else. And to do that they need to know themselves, and we can not do that for them. Time, space, freedom and using boredom to know and challenge their limits will do that. The challenge for us adults is whether or not we can let them. 


Bored OM

Image

Part One of a short essay on the value of boredom, why we should not fear but embrace it, and why school holidays are important for children.

The school holidays are now upon us, those sacred six weeks that characterize an English summer as much as cricket, lemonade, Pimm’s, sunburn and rain.

Many of my acquaintances are teachers so I’ve been used to the rhythms of the academic year for some time. But this year I am aware of something new: many of these friends are now parents of school-age children, and my Facebook feed is full of people trying to figure out what to do to keep their kids occupied and, for those who are not teachers or stay-at-home parents, wondering how they are going to do this whilst keeping down a job, given that most employers do not offer six week summer holidays. They seem to be doing well at it, but this and other themes that have cropped up amongst the online chatterati have got me thinking.

The concern for keeping children occupied seems to be coming from a fear of three dreaded words: “Muuuum/Daaaad – I’m BOOOOOOOORRRED!” This was the subject of a very good recent BBC Radio 4 Thought For The Day by Rhidian Brook in which he recounts his own experience of the summer holidays as being full of boredom but also adventure and self-discovery which actually emerge from the boredom itself. He talks of today’s schoolchildren’s feelings of needing a break from formal teaching and being in the constant presence of large numbers of other young people and adults, and that their brains need time to assimilate and absorb what they have learned.

It’s when all this de-stressing and assimilating has been done, when the disturbed waters have become still and renewed energy begins to permeate the water like a spring in a pool, that children are apt to feel bored. This is because they are not feeling any tension, any worry, any pressure of work to be done or targets to meet. One does not normally feel bored if one is under any pressure, making it actually something of a luxury. (I think this is why adults are less likely to feel bored than children because it is rare for them to not have a care or worry or something to do or think about. Adults are more inclined to experience the dull aches of lethargy, listlessness, sloth and torpor.)

This then is a good sign for children because it means that they are OK and nothing is troubling them; as Brook says, parents should feel pleased when their children say they are bored because “it means they are relaxed enough to be so.”  Brook talks of the value of boredom for children in that, far from being a negative thing to be avoided and diverted by anxious parents, it actually aids development in that it compels children to use their imagination and creativity to find meaningful ways to occupy themselves. Boredom is not something to be overcome but to be worked through. It is not an affliction but an opportunity, although it can feel acutely uncomfortable.

Feeling freedom’s ache

I recall my own school holidays as the time when I would feel bigger, older, wiser and stronger for having survived another school year. This was emphasized for me by having my birthday in August, so the summer holidays were always a period of conscious transition for me, each year seeming like such a major milestone. During those long weeks and longer afternoons, every day would come again at me with the challenge to jump over that fence into that field I’d never been in before, or actually venture into that dark copse to see if there really was a nest of hornets within, or try out that rope swing over the river – to go further than I’d ever dared before.

Having nothing to do means having the time and space to be free enough to choose what to do.  For children, this freedom usually comes due to having done everything that they could up to the present point and being aware of being ready to take the next step.

Boredom could thus be seen as the sensation of a mind becoming aware of the limits of its experience and current possibilities, but this being challenged by the feelings of new prowess to be tested, of needing to move on and forward. The edge of the field that previously marked the boundary of the child’s world suddenly becomes the next barrier to cross.  I am reminded of Sam Gamgee in The Fellowship of The Ring where, as he and Frodo Baggins are leaving The Shire, he pauses in a field and remarks “This is it – the next step I take will be the further I will have ever been from home”, and we know what the rest of that journey does for him.

Bored OM

A Buddhist meditation teacher of mine once gave a teaching on a ten-day retreat I was on about fifteen years ago. We’d reached the point where we were all (I think) quite removed from our normal working lives and feeling settled, relaxed and inspired. He warned us that this is the point where boredom can creep in but that this should be welcomed because “boredom”, he said, “is a cusp emotion” – it is what you feel when your mind is still and you are feeling integrated; you are ready for the next step in your development but your mind resists it because it doesn’t want to change so it makes you feel bored in a misguided self-defence, to try to get you to distract yourself with something familiar and comfortable.  The challenge is to just sit with it, look at it, talk to it and then move on.

There is a charming story in the legend of the life of the Buddha which extols the virtue of boredom, or perhaps its more positive reflex: idleness.  At the age of forty, as he was gathering his resolve to make his final massive push for Enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama paused for a moment to recall a spot of time from his youth when he sat under a tree watching his father plough a field.  He remembered feeling completely at peace with nothing to worry about, no desires nagging at him, and absorbed in watching his father at work.  This, he realized, was the mental state he needed to establish which would allow him to work towards his Enlightenment, a state in which he accepted he had nothing to do but let what will happen happen.

So I sing the praises of boredom and would welcome its embrace once again. It is a singularity which effaces for a moment the barrier between the you-that-you-have-been and the you-that-is-coming-next. If you are fortunate enough to be able to feel bored then gird your loins and step through.  And parents: feel pleased that your children are bored and do not divert or distract them from their boredom – it is good for them and more character building than any game of rugby.

In Part Two I will look at what is different betweens summers now and when I was a child, why today’s parents will be more anxious about boredom than mine were, and why all this is a victory for cynical capitalism.

Daily Prompt: (YAWN)


Piñata sky

I went out for a short run this evening with a banging headache and a dull nausea. This feeling could have been caused by (a) me having spent the best of the last two days painting a room and inhaling fumes, (b) the very hot and stuffy and close weather, (c) me not having slept at all last night due to the above, (d) something I ate, or (e) a mild hangover. Probably a combination of some or all of the above.

Any road, it was good to get out in the fresh air and even better when finally, after weeks of unrelenting baking hot Sun and a day of heavy, pregnant-belly-full grey clouds, the skies opened in a brief monsoon of huge, wetter-than-wet raindrops like warm nectar. I got soaked but it was easy to run in and sorted out my headache too.

It were great.


To name a king

The future King of the United Kingdom and Other Commonwealth Realms was born this week. The media and techno-chatterati are giddy with opinion-mongering in a manner I haven’t seen since Margaret Thatcher died earlier in the year. This includes expressions of joy and well-wishing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, excitement at the birth of a Royal Prince, general mumsie billing and cooing over a baby who is already regarded as public property, exclamations of disgust at the fuss being made over the birth of a child born into almost unimaginable privilege and wealth balanced against the fact that this also means he will never know the personal freedoms enjoyed by most people to a degree that would be abusive to anyone not in the Royal Family, and, most of all it seems, loud expressions of dissent in huge shrugs of deliberate and forced indifference. (Witness the front page of this week’s Private Eye: “Woman Has Baby”. Snide and funny yes, but it’s still on the front page and stands out in a newsagents, drawing attention to its ostentatious “meh“.) 

These rumbles, grumbles and ripples are burbling along quite happily without me adding my own four penn’orth so I’ll leave them be. (It’s futile anyway: no amount of dissent will make any difference, but I suppose indifference can have a deflating, cock-a-snook effect on the more vapid schmaltz in a way that doesn’t seem too nasty towards what is, we must remember, a newborn baby, and everyone loves those – don’t they?) 

No, my interest is in the name for the child that has just been announced. I find names interesting and that’s my only justification for writing this. After much speculation, the name announced is pretty much what the bookies and pundits (and therefore also the general public) had suggested as favourites: George Alexander Louis. He will, we are told, be officially styled His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. 

There have been six previous British Kings called George, but not all of them were called or known as George. The Queen’s father, George VI, had Albert as his first name and was known familiarly as “Bertie”, as anyone who has seen The King’s Speech will know. He had not expected to be King as his older brother, Edward (known by one of his other names, David, but Edward was his first name) was first in line. When Edward VIII abdicated, it seems that Prince Albert was advised not to use his first name as his regnal name as it was thought “too Germanic” for a King of a country at war with Germany, especially given the concerns around Edward VIII’s pro-Nazi sympathies. George, one of Albert’s other names, was suggested as being solidly “English” and also placing the new King in a symbolic succession to his father’s legacy and further Royal ancestry. 

Another monarch who chose a regnal name different to their first given name was Victoria, whose first name was Alexandrina (great pub quiz fact that), so choosing a different name can be seen as putting you in good company. There has been long-standing speculation that Prince Charles may also decide on George as a regnal name upon his accession due to the rather ill-fated reigns of the previous two King Charleses. This would make the newborn baby George VIII on his accession. But I’m not convinced because the Queen would surely have thought of this when naming her first-born son, who she would have reasonably believed would be the future King at his birth. 

George is a fine name and certainly fits in with the Royal dynasty into which the Prince has been born – and this is an important factor in the choosing of the name of a future monarch, with the incumbent being thought to have the final say in how their eventual successor will be known. Security of lineage in many forms is important, it seems. But one thing that would certainly appeal to Prince Charles about the name George is to be found in its etymological origins. It seems to be Greek in origin and means “earth-worker”, for which we could read “farmer”. It was also, it seems, an epithet of none other than the chief Olympian god Zeus, as a deity of land and crops amongst the more familiar thunderbolts, begettings and beards. 

Anyway, that’s enough about names. I said it didn’t want to write abut the birth of the Prince and I’m starting to bore myself now. May Prince George live a long, happy and good life. 


Taking away the doubt that allows the benefit of the doubt?

Cancel Call - umpiring signal.  Image from the BBC.

Cancel Call – umpiring signal. Image from the BBC.

This post might be challenging for non-English and non-Commonwealth nation readers, being as it is about cricketthe game that, like good beer, does not always travel well but always tastes good if it is kept well.

Arms crossed over the chest with fingertips touching opposite shoulders in a pose not unlike the deceased in an open coffin, a horror film vampire or an Egyptian mummy: this the sign from the umpire that marked England’s victory in the first Ashes Test Match at Trent Bridge earlier today, when Brad Haddin was given Out on 71 to a delivery from James Anderson, following a referral to the Third Umpire, meaning that England won by 14 runs.  (I will admit right now that I have not seen this yet myself so cannot comment on the delivery itself.)

It is the sign for “Cancel call”, one of the more unusual of the signals used by umpires and is very rarely used so is not a familiar sight to most cricket viewers, especially those watching on television, because the standard of umpiring at international matches has always been consistently very high. Legendary umpire David Shepherd describes its use on the BBC Sport Academy site and adds that “it doesn’t happen very often and I think I’ve seen it just a couple of times in my career, thankfully not by me because it means a mistake has been made” (although he does admit that he perhaps “ought to have used it a couple of times”, but doesn’t offer any details!).

But I think all this is about to change due to the newly-implemented Decision Referral System (DRS), and this could alter the way that people view umpires and their decisions and alter the whole notion of giving the batsman “the benefit of the doubt”, which means that the whole nature of cricket as a game at the highest level could be about to enter a period of significant evolution.

“Cancel call” is used when an umpire has given a verdict on, say, runs scored by a boundary, byes or leg byes, a no ball or, most crucially, giving a batsman Out.  If new information comes to light following the decision then the umpire uses the sign to revoke the previously-given signal then issues a new signal with the revised (presumably correct) decision. This is often also for the benefit of the scorers, to ensure that the match statistics are recorded correctly. New information could come from the second umpire standing at square leg, who will have had a different view of the play; or from a fielder who may admit that the ball did in fact carry over a boundary, thus turning a four into a six; and now a revised decision can come from the Third Umpire at a Test Match if a batsman or fielding captain chooses to use the DRS, which works much like the “appeal” system in major tennis tournaments, in which a player can request a line decision be referred to a technological assessment – but only three times per set.

I once had a season as a cricket umpire in a local league and was fully trained and qualified in all aspects of duties, Laws, decisions and signals. Unlike David Shepherd, I think I did use the “Cancel call” signal twice: once when an honest fielder told me that the ball had in fact gone over the boundary (hard to tell when the boundary is down a slope that you can’t see from the middle, and there’s no rope on the line to make the ball bounce up like it does on the telly) so I had to use “Cancel call” then “Four”; and another time when a batsman admitted that the ball had in fact come off his pad rather than his bat, so I had to correct this to “Leg byes” for the scorers. In both cases I was at fault yet justice prevailed due to good sportsmanship, often so lacking in competitive games.

It is this spirit of good sportsmanship – so crucial to the ethos of cricket and perfectly well accommodated alongside the need for hard, aggressive yet fair competitiveness – that could be challenged with the DRS facility.  I am concerned that the role of the two umpires on the pitch will be reduced to hat and jumper holders and decision signal referrers, with all the important decisions being made elsewhere, in a room nearby, by another umpire watching as many slow-mo reruns as he wishes.  This undermines the authority of the two field umpires and may bring their every decision into question.  The ICC Elite Umpires may welcome this, however, in an era when every LBW, catch and stumping decision is replayed on huge screens in front of the players and spectators so the umpire – the judge – gets judged himself on the spot. Referring to the Third Umpire may take some of the heat off, but could also add to the umpire’s embarrassment when decisions are overturned.  People may lose faith in them, and my real concern here is how that might affect players’ relationships in smaller leagues where technology is not available to assist with judgments.

The word umpire is thought to derive from an old French term, nom pere, meaning “without equal”. Cricket is a game that does not have rules at its heart, as other sports do; instead it has Laws, with other competition-specific rules being overlaid on top of these. The umpires are there to act as adjudicators, which is why decisions on dismissals must be referred to them by an appeal from the fielding side if there is any doubt. The umpire’s decision is final and cannot be contested. Dissent is met with disciplinary action taken against a team after the match has finished, and this can be severe. Umpires are the symbols and the guardians of the spirit and letter of the Laws of cricket and therefore of the game itself.

When I was training, I asked the naïve question “what if I make a wrong decision?” My wise old mentor replied with, “it doesn’t matter if the decision is right or wrong – you are the umpire, your decision is the decision and will be accepted”, although I was of course admonished to make sure I was as certain as I could be before issuing a decision.  I can honestly say that none of my decisions were ever questioned by players (I can’t say the same for some of the spectators …) even if they didn’t agree with me and even if I was wrong, as I will admit I was on at least one occasion.

This is why cricket has one of the most important “gentleman’s agreement” principles in sport: the benefit of the doubt.  This means that an umpire has to be 100% certain that a batsman is out before giving a decision that will send him back to the pavilion.  This is so important because, unlike in baseball, once a batsman is out, that is the end of his game.  No strikes – one out and you’re out.  So if there is any possible doubt at all involved in any criteria affecting an umpire’s decision, then he must return a verdict of “Not Out”.

But let me tell you from experience, umpiring is difficult and making decisions on the finer points – such as LBWs and catches behind – is sometimes impossible when you have already had to concentrate on the fielding layout, bowler’s run-up gait pattern and entry into delivery stride, the placement of the bowler’s feet and when he releases the ball, as is required with every delivery.  The tiny thin edges picked up on the “hot spot” cameras are impossible to hear in the field, and the deviation in flight of the ball may not be discernible if the delivery is an especially fast one.  And it’s not always easy to concentrate on your decision when you have a pumped-up bowler right up in your face, puce with rage and glee, yelling “Howzaaaat umpiiiiire?“, backed up by his equally loud team-mates.

So why not use the technology to aid with these, if it is available?  With Test Matches and One Day Internationals we are, after all, talking about the sport at its highest level and there are no contests more fiercely fought than the eternal war between England and Australia known as The Ashes (except perhaps the fierce derbies played between Pakistan and India, but that is tinged with the social and political tensions between the two peoples rather than pure sporting rivalry).  The players arguably deserve the right decision every time.  A tiny thin edge is still contact between bat and ball, and if that ball carries and is caught then, by Law, that batsman is Out Caught.  How many times have we watched in recent years when, with the aid of TV analysis technology, we have seen that a batsman may or may not have been out when the opposite decision was given in the field?  These must be consigned to history: the umpire make the decision and it must stand.

At least in cricket the decision is still being made by a human official with the aid of technology rather than purely by a computer, as in tennis.  This still gives the umpire a position of authority and value, and they will still be able to give a batsman the benefit of the doubt whilst also ensuring fairness to the bowler and fielders.  It just means that the margins will be effaced and the doubt – the benefit of which the batsman is entitled to – will be significantly diminished.  This will affect the game and may reduce the length of some matches as dismissals that previously would not have been given will now result in the dreaded Raised Finger.  If this increases the accuracy of the fairness of the game then I am fully in support; but I suspect that this will be the first step in the evolution of cricket into a more modern form.  I just hope that the important decisions about the future are made by humans who care and not by referrals to a computer.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.