I’m sometimes asked why cricket caught my imagination so strongly when I was a kid. I usually answer that it was something to do with masculinity and those magnificent moustaches that early eighties Australian test players sported, especially fast bowlers. But that’s obfuscation, it was something less social than that, it was something more about the liberty I felt when I propelled my body into motion. When I closed my eyes and let it go it felt good, it felt whole, as if I was using everything I had and not leaving anything for afters. My long love of cricket was a love of using all of me all at once.
Modesty requires me to point out I wasn’t great at it. I wasn’t ever going to reach the heights of professionalism or athletic competence, there was no baggy green waiting for me in the yet to be determined future. I didn’t need it, despite being a long term member of teams in a number of sports I wasn’t actually playing for the team. I was playing for the moments when I was thoughtlessly doing the thing, batting or bowling. I think it was Jeff Thomson who said that if you thought about bowling fast, you wouldn’t.
Frank Tyson called this “glad animal action,” an almost automated corporeality, like tying up your shoelaces but with everything else excluded from your mind. There are pleasures attached to this state: there’s no doubt, no choice, no policy, no debate, no workshopping, no second guessing. It is a ferocious mode of being right here, right now, and only right here, right now. There’s only the thing you’re doing and because there’s only that one thing, and its mindlessness offers access to a joy that it is almost impossible to think your way into.
I’ve thought very much about this thoughtless joy over recent months, wondering why I couldn’t manoeuvre my thoughts into a position where that old good time feeling arrived again and I could imagine hearing a distant umpire shout “play!” The answer was that I was thinking about it too much, that I was contriving to hunt my glad animal rather than forgetting to look for it. Try too hard and you’ll never forget yourself enough to bowl fast.
I don’t need to bowl fast anymore. There are no more cricket matches and too many knee problems to consider coming off the long run anyway. So the question to which I’ve tried to contrive an answer is how to forget myself and find the glad animal action in the everyday. How to forget myself in sleeping, in doing the dishes, in folding the laundry and changing the sheets. How my body might separate itself from agency, from uncertainty, and from the memory of the things I’ve failed to forget.
This is not easy. I like lists and ticking off the items, I like prompts and aides de memoire for everything. I like calendars and reminder systems. I rely on them, heavily. I’m a man who has invested a lot in memory and recall. I can, if you’re interested run off a list of Beatles singles in order of UK release. I can also tell you cricket scores and averages of a large number of players who’ve been completely forgotten except by statisticians and nutters, amongst whose number I must be counted. So to forget myself, the biggest thing in my head, is a tricky and difficult proposition.
I haven’t got an answer about how to do this. There are moments when I realise it has almost happened, moments when chopping wood and I’m driving that blocksplitter into the log and everything is being driven down into the wood, everything. Moments at the gym where I’m throwing the medicine ball against the bricks, or jumping as high as I might, or running with the full wheel of my legs and I’m not thinking about my knees or ankles or heel strike. There are these moments and others. But it’s hard to find the play in grown up stuff, not be self conscious about everything (especially as a parent, being an example and all that) and let that consciousness transform itself into a kind of budgeting where a certain percentage of self is reserved for later, for duties and responsibilities that cannot be abrogated.
It seems important that I find some way to make space for forgetting, for letting the glad animal action loose, for bowling fast and allowing that joy to fall upon me, unthought and unbidden. Best not to think about it.