Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown’s School days, was notoriously hard of hearing – even in his youth. The famous occasion when he sent back and thus ran out his senior partner at the crease, Flashman – starting their relationship off on the wrong foot entirely – was put down to this disability by those who witnessed the incident.
“Didn’t you hear me, Brown?” becoming his nickname thereafter.
On another afternoon at Rugby School, the Squire, who had been called in by Dr Arnold to advise on improvements to the square, was talking with a well meaning master while watching a game take place on the troublesome turf.
“A noble game,” quoth this young Mentor, seeking to ease the conversational path.
“Isn’t it?” replied the Squire. “But it’s more than a game, it’s a situation.”
Hughes obviously misheard the conversation which he later wrote up, with the Squire’s quote now coming from the mouth of his hero, Tom B, in the following form:
“But it’s more than a game, it’s an institution.”
Had Hughes heard the Squire’s perspicacious utterance correctly the whole history of cricket, the Empire and modern society, no less, might have been very different.
As it was, cricket went down another road towards the commodity it has become.
But the Squire seldom cries over spilt milk for long. He straps on his pads, takes up the gauntlets, adjusts his beaver and gets back into the field, Third Man following with His inners as best he can.
The point of this story is that it was retold by the Squire at a dinner following a match played at the Great House in the season of 1957 when the visitors were a scratch side playing their first fixture together. They included Ralph Rumney, who at that time was working on this painting called The Change, and others such as Attila Kotányi, Hans-Peter Zimmer, Heimrad Prem, Asger Jorn , Jørgen Nash Maurice Wyckaert, Guy Debord, Helmut Sturm, and Jacqueline de Jong .
A very promising unit as they would now be described, but as yet without a name for their emerging club, which they said was open to all those who feared that, increasingly, people were no longer participants in their own lives but spectators, and that reality was being replaced by images in what they called the ‘spectacular society’.
“Each cricket match is the construction of a situation for the fulfilment of those necessary human desires which we now find increasingly suppressed by the advance of capitalism,” the Squire declared to general murmers of agreement.
And so were born the ‘Situationists’, a cricket club of which the Third Man’s benefactor is proud to be the first and so far only Patron, although the membership is dwindling and with it the fixture list.
The club’s leg spinner, who derived exceptional drift from his action, and who for many seasons was its rather autocratic captain, Guy Debord, clarified much of the thinking behind their motto – The Spectacle is Not the Game – when he defined the concept of a cricket match as “a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events.” (TM’s italics)
Every match from the great Test matches to those constructed on a village green, from those played in school playgrounds or on the drab and dusty public spaces such as the urban landscape above are experiments, each and every one of them, that make possible fulfillment of authentic human experience.
Through a game of cricket, those four young people, or twenty two (or more if anyone is watching) can come together and, in authenticity, express their deep desires.
As the Squire said on that night over fifty years ago, “That’s why we play it. That’s why we watch it. That’s why we relive and reflect on it. Write about it. Dream about it. Hate it. Love it. Are bored by it. Fascinated by it. Enslaved by it. Liberated by it.”
“We were fanatics,” ruminated Ralph Rumney, who died in 2007. “But we weren’t wrong.”
Membership application forms for The Situationists can be obtained by emailing Third Man.
Image above published under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License by Saadat .