“We got ‘m!” , squealed the US viceroy, Paul Bremer, in a very triumphalist manner. And so they had. And there he was, in all his blackness. In the great depth of his dirt. They said that he was being co-operative and talking. They’d given him a ‘medical’. Examined his ass. And they were making sure that they checked his head for lice in public; that is, with the full scrutiny of the world’s tv audience focused on his head. This was supposed to demean him, and they said that he looked crushed. But he didn’t. He just looked as though he’d gone back forty years. Back to jail. And he knew that he had to deal with them. And he knew how to. And he’d already begun. They said that he’d lost his dignity. But he hadn’t. There was a moment when he looked at the camera with all the old arrogance. And anyone seeing that knew that he was still playing hardball. The bad cop from Tikrit.
There’s been a silence, I realize. From me. At an odd moment in our history. I’ll try to explain. I’ve been disguised as gas man Mohamed Al Saeef, famous Information Minister, these last two weeks……. .. We’ve been working really hard here for months trying to get The Book together. Correlating it all has been a project bigger than anything I’ve ever taken on before. We are of course trying to get it ready for the Autumn tour, but it’s touch and go. There is still plenty to do. Some photos and documents are late and others just won’t get here in time. The process has long since revolved around what’s going to be left out. Please, don’t tell me… All the records and songs are in the book, together with photos and commentaries on their inspirations and histories. Many are also explained. The book will be approx 320 pages, hardback, 270mmX230mm. Other than that, I’ll reserve all further comment until such time as we know it’s actually on it’s way. In the meantime, back to the present…
Apparently, during the Crimean War, some Victorian spectators, men and women, journeyed to the area to watch the battles. Can you imagine viewing The Charge of The Light Brigade whilst tucking into strawberries and cream? That would seem to be like stopping at a motorway pile up and getting the hamper, parasols and deck chairs out of the boot. Surreal? Of course not. It’s still going on.
It’s difficult for me to imagine how the England cricket team can possibly play even the one game in Zimbabwe. It beggars belief that discussions and a vote haven’t taken place among the players as to whether or not to entertain Robert Mugabe. It’s not as though the whole world doesn’t know who he is. It wouldn’t be easy for me to pull out of the biggest tournament I was ever likely to play in, but I think that tucking into ham sarnys at teatime in a town where there will be protests, a probable riot, and possibly even a couple of deaths to mark it’s stay in town might be a bit like swallowing the whole pig. In the usual half-baked manner King Tony fudged when he said he would have preferred them not to participate, but he didn’t actually ‘advise’ them not to go. He just took a moment out to pay the usual strained lip service to democracy again. I’ve been waiting for someone with some small degree of gumption to pull out, make a stand against a vicious regime in Southern Africa, and I cannot believe that it’s got this far. But then again, it’s hard to believe that the Bush/Blair adventure has got as far as it has. Are we all just sitting back being entertained by the surreal? In the certain knowledge that there isn’t a thing that we could have done about it unless we’d all been Presidents of the Oxford Union thirty years ago? During all our separate checkered childhoods?
Confused? You ought to be. Nothing is straight. Not that it ever was. But right now it’s as wrong as it was in 1933. Worse, because we should have different lives and agendas by now; and we don’t. Like then, the most powerful military nation on earth has a fundamentalist religious maniac in charge of it’s arsenal. A man you wouldn’t trust to come up with one rational thought. He’s nothing short of a warped comedian, and his straight man is the honourable member for Sedgefield. A fundamentalist conservative who would have Mandelsoned his way into whichever political party was fashionable in his youth.
June 1st – 21st…….. The opening game between France and Senegal was a strange mixture of realising that the France of 1998 was no longer in shape, and that there was at least one man in the French team who could be playing on the other side. It was the French African Empire playing itself. I imagined the French being spoken on the field wouldn’t have sounded very Sorbonne. I remembered being in Montreal and asking what the French thought of the Québécois. It seemed that there was some kind of mutual hostility. This may have been diminished in the last dozen years as we’ve all been made increasingly aware of each other’s humanity. And after the defeat by the Danes, I had the impression that most french people had turned The World Cup very firmly off. Back home, thankfully, Jean-Marie Le Pen was also to be found in one of the early June tumbrels rattling into the Place De La Concorde. July probably wouldn’t be anything like as embarrassing.
By the time we scrambled a defensive victory against Argentina on the 7th of June, I’d really got into the world cup. If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll have marvelled at the newness of the place, although you’d have probably also realised that the beavering attitude’s always been there. It didn’t just arrive in 1945. Underneath the neon, it’s a very old place, but from this distance, the stadia which have been built and refurbished for this World Cup seem to be almost unrivalled modern facilities. After the Sydney Olympics, which I thought were the best olympics for a very long time, it was difficult to imagine that the impending World Cup in Japan/Korea could live with that kind of standard, but it has done. The obvious thought is that these massive world events are becoming true expressions and celebrations of human togetherness. In this context, it’s infuriating to see the world’s leading economy lagging so far behind the rest of the world’s appreciation of this movement and this particular event, and especially when they’re represented at the festival by a good young energetic team of their own. It’s almost as if the US news corporations want to discredit it until such time as they can buy it, divide it into ‘franchises’, and dominate it. Like ‘how dare they all play a game we hardly know anything about…. and it’s a woman’s game isn’t it’?
But here it is. And all the world has the opportunity of entering. There are over 200 national federations around the world. You don’t need commandos carrying sixty pounds of gear and ammo up a remote mountainside in secret. All you need is a bunch of kids and a round ball. It can be played on the street, on the beach, or anywhere else. So why do it? What d’you get to see? You get to be confirmed in a lot of the good things you thought about the human family. You get to marvel at the glorious differences in the tribes. They all confirm their strengths and weaknesses, their best and worst. Their worst is increasingly liable to observation, and by huge numbers of other observers around the world, because not much can be hidden any more. leastways, the worldwide public domain is perhaps becoming more inclusive. As games are billed, you can begin to pick out cultural elements which can swing games one way or another. Like, will the Brazilian beach boys, replete with hybrid vigour, play with their customary physical genius?
The passing of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, The Queen Mother, has stirred up mixed emotions in me. I have finally had to accept that she has been a figment in my life for well over fifty years, and that her death should probably mark the final end of my youth. As a young boy I collected all kinds of things including comics, coins, bird’s eggs, dinky racing cars, conkers, hilarious school reports, marbles, cigarette cards and packets, and stamps.
The stamps continued to keep me in touch with people and places, and in fact awoke an interest in geography in me. The stamps which fascinated me the most were the pictorial issues. I particularly liked those from The Seychelles and Mauritius, which were miniature idyllic local fishing scenes and such, and those from Nyasaland with different colours of the same leopard on the same idealized mountain slope denoting different values. I also loved the ones from Swaziland with the tribal shield, and the views on the New Zealand stamps. There was a big world out there, and I could escape into it by just opening a book. There were stamps from other countries, and different exotic places, but some of these were too garish for my taste, and quite early on I decided to collect only Empire and Commonwealth stamps.
I find that it’s always best to specialise with something like that because it’s easier to maintain an atmosphere in a collection by so doing. All of these stamps of course had the King’s head in the top corner, so that a consciousness and an icon of the King was maintained in my life from a very early age. This was normal, and I didn’t think that much about it until I was about fifteen. I had remembered the King as a brave man from about the age of four. My consciousness of him grew in the first years after The Second World War. It was obvious that he was a frail kind of a man who seemed to be painfully shy. Everybody knows about his stutter, and that he was a diffident kind of person, but to experience him as a weekly event in newsreel coverage fostered an admiration in me which has never left me. He could have been anybody, but more importantly, a lot of people saw themselves in him. He was never showy, and always perfectly reserved. In this I suspect that people of my age and older have had the best possible experience of kingship in action. To have had such an extraordinarily constant man as head of state was an eye-opener and a blessing.