Saturday, February 26, 2011

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 2, "Against the Current"

30-31, on the primordial struggle of his youth:
We know nothing, nothing at all, of the results of what we do to children. My father had given me a bat and ball, I had learnt to play and at eighteen was a good cricketer. What a fiction! In reality my life up to ten had laid the powder for a war that lasted without respite for eight years, and intermittently for some time afterwards -- a war between English Puritanism, English literature and cricket, and the realism of West Indian life. On one side was my father, my mother (no mean pair), my two aunts and my grandmother, my uncle and his wife, all the family friends (which included a number of headmasters from all over the island), some eight or nine Englishmen who taught at the Queen's Royal College, all graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, the Director of Education and the Board of Education, which directed the educational system of the whole island. On the other side was me, just ten years old when it began.
They had on their side parental, scholastic, governmental,and many other kinds of authority and, less tangible but perhaps more powerful, the prevailing sentiment that, in as much as the coloured people on the island, and in fact all over the world, had such limited opportunities, it was my duty, my moral and religious duty, to make the best use of the opportunities which all these good people and the Trinidad Government had provided for me. I had nothing to start with but my pile of clippings about W. G. Grace and Ranjitsinhji, my Vanity Fair and my Puritan instincts, though as yet these were undeveloped. I fought and won.
This was the battleground. The Trinidad Government offered yearly free exhibitions from the elementary schools of the islands to either of the two secondary schools, the government Queen's Royal College and the Catholic college, St. Mary's. The number today is over four hundred, but in those days it was only four. Through this narrow gate boys, poor and bright, could get a secondary education and in the end a Cambridge Senior Certificate, a useful passport to a good job. There were even more glittering prizes. Every year the two schools competed for three island scholarships worth £600 each. With one of these a boy could study law or medicine and return to the island with a profession and therefore independence. There were at that time few other roads to independence for a black man who started without means. The higher posts in the government, in engineering and other scientific professions were monopolized by white people, and, as practically all big business was also in their hands, the coloured people were, as a rule, limited to the lower posts. Thus law and medicine were the only ways out. Lawyers and doctors made large fees and enjoyed great social prestige. The final achievement was when the Governor nominated one of these coloured men to the Legislative Council to represent the people. To what degree he represented them should not distract us here. We must keep our eye on the course: exhibition, scholarship, profession, wealth, Legislative Council and the title of Honourable. Whenever someone brought it off the local people were very proud of him.
That was the course marked out for me.

Exhibition winner at nine and island schoolboy essay contest runner-up soon after, James seemed destined for the hallowed path to the Legislative Council. He had the ability to do it. But he didn't try. He was pulled away by cricket and English literature. But while cricket was a distraction, it also helped instill the Puritan, public school ethic in him.

I had been brought up in the public school code.
It came doctrinally from the masters, who for two generations, from the foundation of the school, had been Oxford and Cambridge men. The striking thing is that inside the classrooms the code had little success...
But as soon as we stepped on to the cricket or football field, more particularly the cricket field, all was changed. We were a motley crew... Yet rapidly we learned to obey the umpire's decision without question, however irrational it was. We learned to play with the team, which meant subordinating your personal inclinations, and even interests, to the good of the whole. We kept a stiff upper lip in that we did not complain about ill-fortune. We did not denounce failures, but 'Well tried' or 'Hard luck' came easily to our lips. We were generous to opponents and congratulated them on victories, even when we knew they did not deserve it. We lived in two worlds. Inside the classrooms the heterogeneous jumble of Trinidad was battered and jostled and shaken down into some sort of order. On the playing field we did what ought to be done.

The school was an artificial oasis from national agitation and racial struggle. Mr. Burslem, the selfless, decent headmaster, represented Britain at its best. The other teachers also behaved fairly and generously, regardless of the color of their pupils, at least to a very great degree. But an education that took Britain as the source and measure of all values, knowledge, accomplishment was ultimately stunting nevertheless. In any case, James found that in Trinidad outside the school, race still mattered a great deal. James was refused admission to merchants' contingent of soldiers to fight in the Great War because of his color. The school, however, where the masters were all outraged at the slight he had suffered, sheltered him from any mental trauma from the incident.

On the artificiality of his school friendships across social and racial divides, 40-41:
My great friend was U__. He was a rather frail boy and somewhat lacking in physical confidence, but he was a left-hander. I took him under my wing. I fielded second slip to him to feeble batsmen and took catches that I never afterwards equalled. I went out to extra-cover for hitting batsmen. Caught James, bowled U__ was a regular feature of the score-sheet in our school matches. That can be a close bond, and we spent countless hours together. But there came a day when U__ left, while I remained behind. Faithful to his promise, he came back to the school to see me. He came before six o'clock to see me playing on the field and then to walk with me the mile and a half to the railway station. He told me about his new life, and I gave him some news of the school. But after the first effusion there was an awkwardness between us. The conversation would stop and we would have to search to begin it again. He came another day to see me to the station and this time it was worse. We had nothing to say to each other, our social circles were too different, and he never came again. He went to Europe to study medicine and years afterwards, when we were grown men, I met him once or twice. We greeted each other warmly, but I was always embarrassed and I think he was too. There was a guilty feeling that something had gone wrong with us. Something had. The school-tie can be transplanted, but except on annual sporting occasions the old school-tie cannot be. It is a bond of school only on the surface. The link is between family and friends, between members of the class or caste.

On bowling, 44:
The ultimate greatness of a bowler is in his head. He has a series of methods of attack at this command, but where he pitches any ball and the ball following, where he delivers one and from where he delivers another, where he quickens the pace and where he slows it down, this is the result of a psychological sensitivity and response to a particular batsman at a particular time on a particular wicket at a particular stage in the game. To watch cricket critically you have to be in good form, you must have had a lot of practice, you must have played it. There were times in our club cricket at home, or when I went round English cricket grounds reporting the matches of the Lancashire team, or when I watched all the Test matches through the season of 1938, these were times when I could sense the course of an over from the way the batsman stood waiting between balls. If you know him well you could see when he was bothered. When Jim Laker writes that he bowled Don Bradman an over and knew that he had beaten him with every ball he is talking about bowling at its highest. In the rout of the Australians in 1956 the decisive factor was not Laker's off-spin. It was that he had them on the run and kept them there.

On batting, 45-46:
Quite early I learnt that, far more than with bowling, a batsman's innings is played more in his head than on the pitch. I have believed this from the days of Wallen until George Headley told me with passion that the ball he feared most was the the loose ball which came after he had been tied down for two or three overs. 'You went at it greedily and made a stupid stroke,' he said over and again. Nor is it the response of any individual. There is a zeitgeist of cricket. A particular generation of cricketers thinks in a certain way and only a change in society, not legislation, will change the prevailing style. More of that to come. First Wallen.
Wallen was a slow left-hander who came into the first eleven one year, opened the bowling, and had an incredible series of analyses, six for 11, eight for 17 and figures of the kind. When we talked about cricket to the girls at the High School even they would tell us: "Cricket! Wallen is the man.' but to the rest of us in the first eleven Wallen was a push-over. We had hit him all over the place for years and we continued to hit him. Our nets were open and at practice the earnest Wallen would place his field and we would drive him through the covers and as soon as he pitched short hook him round. We would go out to him and hit him from the off-stump to square-leg. The more wickets he took in competition matches, the more we hit him. Wallen complained that, contrary to practice, in matches he had a new ball, and undoubtedly he did dip in a bit while the shine was on. I was the secretary and manoeuvered to take a new ball out for practice and saw that Wallen had it just as I went in to bat. I hit him harder than ever. the climax came in the house match when Chinasing (Chinese, not Indian) and I put on 100 for the first wicket against the demon bowler, and that is a lot of runs on a matting wicket. I was a little more cautious (I didn't want him to get me out because I lived at the time in the same town as him, Arima, and we were good friends). But Chinasing drove him continuously. Came Saturday and, sure as day, Chinasing and I stood in the slips and saw Wallen mow down the opposite side.
A great military authority of the eighteenth century stood on a height one day watching his master napoleon carry out one of his audacious manoeuvers and was heard to say that he wished he had charge of the opposing army for but one half-hour. But if he had he would not have had the nerve to guess what Napoleon was doing and take the steps that seemed so easy. So it is with batting. Over and over again in every class of cricket one sees someone walking out with 'What a colossal ass I have been!' written all over him. I haven't the slightest doubt that if an unknown Wallen had played for any of the outside teams he would have got us out and taken his 7 for 15 as usual. David Buchanan, one of the destructive slow bowlers of his day, coached at Rugby and held no terrors for the boys there, who hit him about fearlessly. A great deal of cricket, and big cricket too, is wrapped up in that parcel. Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert, you remember, was slain not by the lance of Ivanhoe but by the 'violence of his own contending passions'.

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