Ok, so this is weird. I don’t like cricket (there’s your earworm sorted for today, elderly 10cc fans). I don’t like autobiographies. I have very little knowledge of the music of The Maccabees, and I’m not sure I even knew who Felix White was until five days ago. Yet I heard Felix on the radio, on the only show on TalkSPORT that I can tolerate – the consistently amusing Hawksbee and Jacobs – on Friday of last week, talking about his autobiography It’s Always Summer Somewhere: A Matter of Life and Cricket which had been published a couple of days before, explaining what it was about, its themes, its style, talking about the death of his mother Lana when he was a teenager, and how dealing (or not) with that weaves around the extensive tales of cricket in the book and suddenly was overwhelmed with the urge that I must go out the following day and buy it. So I did. And a signed copy and £3 off to boot.
Weird. Until this purchase I had not one book that deals with any aspect of cricket on my bookshelves. It is not a sport that appeals. There might be a couple of reasons for this. My dad would take me to one day county cricket matches at The Circle, in Hull, where Yorkshire would visit way back when, and I was once publicly shunned by dour miserabilist, and eventual girlfriend beater Geoff Boycott when I popped in a request for an autograph. Fair enough, in retrospect, as he’d been bowled out of his usual grind a few moments earlier, and from what I gather he wasn’t that interested in ‘fans’ at the best of times, however much they may have looked up at him with little boy, 9-year-old, wide-eyed admiration. Wicket keeper David Bairstow did sign my autograph book a little later in the day and he seemed a nice gent.
The other off-putting incident was being hit by a corky after being popped in the outfield as the place I’d do least damage in a rare game at the fucking horrible senior school I attended. I was talking to some mates at the boundary, paying zero attention to the game and having turned my back on it because by then I’d decided cricket was a tedious waste of time, when I heard repeated shouts of my name from my somewhat more capable and attentive teammates, swung round to have a look at what the fuss was all about, and the ball hit me on the head above the eye.
Now, I often think about this, because cricket balls are not the kind of heavy-duty object that should hit you on the head without serious injury being inflicted. There is no way I should have walked away from this all-time low in my rather abysmal school sporting efforts with just an immediately apparent black eye and a gash above said eye. Actual cricket balls are lethal weapons – hence Felix’s oft repeated mention of his rational fear of a cricket ball – and I should at the very least have been knocked out temporarily or, had I not turned around amid the screams of my name to avoid the round red bastard hitting me on the back of the head, have been one of those kids killed on the field, remembered for a few weeks before someone got speared by a javelin.
I don’t even remember getting any medical attention. I still have a dent on my forehead above the eye and often think that the highly visible incompletely fused frontal bones of my skull – which under the wrong type of lighting make me look like a bad Alan Hansen lookalike – might be in someway related.
So those two events, coupled with watching my dad falling asleep on his armchair in front of televised extended three and five day Test matches during the 1970s, put me off cricket. I didn’t accept the trope that it was for the posh kids that went to the schools at the edge of the city; rather that it was an exercise in dragging a simple game out for way longer than was reasonable. Cricket was a lesson in boredom. And I was perfectly content in my own ability and never ending quest to bore myself rigid via other means. I gave the game another go when I was of an age when I could get a pint, but then hardly left the beer tent. Leaning on a temporary bar once, and about six pints in, me and a mate once knocked the entire thing over, landing on top of it, pissing off quite a few people. We were asked to leave the ground. That was as exciting as cricket got for me.
Reading the many cricketing adventures in Felix White’s 384 page effort have made me consider that I got the sport all wrong. He can write, that’s in no doubt. His long sentences (and I do like long, clausetastic sentences with plenty of commas) are always engaging and full of the lovely loopy stuff that was also the marker of his youthful efforts as a slow arm spinner. There are endless rewinds of Test matches, an insight into the personalities behind the names I know and have heard of but never given a shit about. Felix made me care about these people, makes their adventures – mostly resulting in losses – thrilling, and gets the adrenaline pumping. Having no idea what these matches were about, or their eventual outcome, and the active writing, makes these passages immediate and exciting. There are interviews with cricketers offering a greater insight into their psyche, most of which demonstrate that those that play cricket are a somewhat unhinged, broken and damaged bunch of people. International cricket seems to suck in and spit out talent at a rapid rate and cares little for the health and wellbeing of those that go through this sausage machine. Throughout, the author’s passion for his chosen sport shines through.
The book is a game of two innings. Part 2 charts the efforts of The Maccabees, rising from a love of Oasis and guitars once Felix realises he is not destined himself for cricketing greatness, although it appears a miracle that four albums were ever crafted, given that the author was often more keen to catch up on whatever cricket was taking place in whatever corner of the world to be fully present in studio sessions. That said, Felix also exerted extreme control over his band and its progress throughout their 14 years together, up until the point when Land decides he wants out.
This book is not really about cricket and not really about The Maccabees. It is about grieving and loss. It is about unresolved and unprocessed grief. It is about family. Felix loses himself in cricket as a coping strategy when Lana is diagnosed with MS and his obsession with the game and the people that play it increases when she dies. Music, and the band, serve the same function. His inability to process his mother’s death impact on his ability to form and maintain relationships. England’s losses and failings are his opportunity to shed some tears. As the team improve and start to behave like winners, he implores them to lose. He doesn’t want to lose his losers. He’s not ready for that. When the band faces the end, he doesn’t want to lose that either. The book charts Felix’s long journey towards a realisation that the game and his music career are proxies for emotional outpourings, and that he can no longer put off resolving and coming to terms with his actual grief for those he has lost.
No spoilers, but the book’s penultimate page, documenting David Bairstow’s son Jonny Bairstow’s on-field reaction to a stunning victory made me cry, in some part for Jonny, and that dad of his that seemed like a nice gent, but mostly for those that I have lost along the way.
Was I a cricket fan, I’d wonder what I’d make of all these emotional interruptions. If I were a fan of The Maccabees I’d wonder what I’d think of this guitarist’s behaviour, which appears from the outset destined to take the band to a premature conclusion. The fact that I’m neither probably benefits the reading experience. But for fans of either or both, this will be an incredible ride.
As a result of this read, I consider the cricket fans I know and wonder whether their love of the game is down to similar reasons to Felix. Thinking about sports fans I know, their lives intertwined with the sporting ups and downs of the clubs whose badges they wear, I realise that they, too, channel all of their emotions via odd shaped balls, round balls and seriously life-threatening red balls, and bats, sticks and rackets/racquets, and those men and women that kick, throw and hit balls. I wonder if I should ask them, these people that I love, if they are ok.
For the last decade, when giving friends a book that I feel might be important to them, I’ve handed over a copy of The Essential Rumi, a collection that can guide open-minded readers to an enlightened soul and deep thinking. I look forward to handing people copies of It’s Always Summer Somewhere in future. It feels like a very important book – not least given the unresolved grief that people have experienced during a global pandemic, where dealing with death has been postponed until circumstances are right. Circumstances are never right, as the book points out in Felix’s own entertaining, funny and moving way, and grieving takes as long as it takes, and takes place whenever it needs to.
What a beautiful book It’s Always Summer Somewhere is. If a book can do this to someone when it’s clearly in no way targeted at them, imagine the power it will have for those it is intended for.
It’s Always Summer Somewhere: A Matter of Life and Cricket, is published by Octopus Publishing Group. You can buy a copy via my virtual bookshop at bookshop.org at the link below.