I haven’t written much about the Ashes (although believe me I am as preoccupied with them as I can be, given the paternal circumstances), largely because The Old Batsman does it so well.
But given England’s tremendous, Flintoff-inspired victory yesterday I went to have a look at some of the Aussie papers, to see how they were taking it. Dear me. We have great fun whacking the English Space-Phillers, but some of these Australian writers make Dan Brown look like Nabakov. In The Australian, Ben Dorries opens with this corker:
Storming in on just one good leg, Flintoff (5-92) carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders….
Then tops it with:
Clarke could hardly lift his head as he wandered off the historic ground after missing the full ball which spun back into his stumps as he was left stranded down the pitch.
Peter Carey, Clive James... and now Ben Dorries.
Poms v Convicts, eh? It's usually good natured, blokey fun, but the Cultural Cringe is still a big barrier to happy relations. At its mildest the Cringe manifests itself in a slightly pathetic wish to be liked (Australians are weirdly obsessed about what US and British celebs think of their country). At its worst it can be a quite ridiculous chippiness.
Funnily enough, one of the worst examples I've encountered was a Sheila. We were eating at a friend’s house, a few years ago. A fellow guest was an Aussie making her first visit to Britain, on business. As hosts, we were all busy being self-deprecating in the English style, bemoaning our sporting inferiority and rain and traffic and overcrowdedness, and praising Aussie overacheivement, wildlife, beaches, weather etc.
Unfortunately it eventually became clear that this lady was not playing the same game. Instead of self-deprecating back, playfully bashing Aussieness and praising the praise-worthy bits of Blighty, she was taking our self-laceration at face value, wholeheartedly agreeing with it, and trumpeting Aussie superiority as the literal truth. Not only that, but she moved on from sport and landscape to literature, television and film stars.
Well I mean, the impudence! We tolerated this with increasing discomfort until finally she got on to pop music: “I’ve noticed that on Australian Pop Idol the singers are much more talented than the British ones. Yeah Australians aren’t really interested British music, it’s more our own or Americans”.
“Robbie Williams is quite popular Down Under, isn’t he?” observed someone, reasonably.
“No, he hasn't really made it in Oz. We don't know much British music.”
At which point I finally gave in. “What about the Beatles then? Have you ever heard of them in Australia? Or the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Clash, the Jam, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Oasis, The Smiths, Radiohead, Blur, Coldplay? Ever heard of any of them? Have they had any success at all in Australia? Hmmmm? Mind you, you did give us Kylie and that one about the vegemite sandwich so yes, I suppose that's another area that Aussies rule.”*
She did a goldfish impression. Score one for the Poms, maybe, but really I felt a bit rotten.
*Obviously I probably wasn’t quite that fluent or chronological, but honestly not far off, you get the idea.