BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
The cradle used in cricket to train us to catch in the slips was somewhat useful. When, at speed, a cricket ball was fired into it, you had to be on your toes in case you needed to adjust your body position to meet unusual catching angles. You had to be alert for those ‘uncatchable’ balls which sometimes curved high or low, or spat at you, erratically, off the seam.
When it came to matches, slip catching always seemed far easier than during those cradle sessions. At times, the cradle distorted the flight of the ball in such a dramatic fashion that it overtaught the catcher. While stochastic calculus bothers students of mathematics, the subject distracts few accountants. Slip catches in matches tended to be perfunctory, straight-lined dollies edging to land snug in one’s mitts.
The downside with superfluous teaching is that reality, by contrast, is so often humdrum that – during matches requiring no slip dexterity – slip catchers grew bored and slovenly out in the field. Its advantage is that, at least in theory, with enough cradle practice, you build slip catching self-confidence via the experience of sometimes taking the uncatchable in your hands.
Reality does tend to be humdrum. The trade-offs in a business deal. The positions in a legal argument. The labelling requirements on products. The calculations of taxes. The arranging of a priest’s diary. The farmer’s seasonal preparations. The student’s revision programme. Very occasionally there’s a freak event which may catch one unawares. Mostly, day to day is highly predictable and routine – systems forever smoothed and improved by technology and the ever-fluid nature of market competition. Order tends to prevail. For ‘beautiful and vivid’ experiences try walking the dogs, fly fishing in the Blackdown Hills or booking a romantic dinner beside the sea. There’s always the short cut of donating your brain to Netflix.
The so-called culture wars, certainly those fought out online, are far from mundane. Indeed, they have become something of a freak show. Just like the slip cradle, social media is often an erratic prism. Outcomes can be absurd. Curveballs seem frequent. While overworked gravediggers toil out in the winter cold, tweets suggesting that Covid is a hoax get liked by thousands. Posts that declare girls’ races won by boys to be fair and equal are deemed woke and therefore acceptable. The tiny transsexual minority – once the social pariahs – have become the kryptonite of identity politics and now retain crowds of devotees. Meanwhile social media reduces once serious political commentators into exaggerated pub entertainers paid by same-tribe Patreon penny-chuckers. Slavery reparations seem as fashionable as throwing the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour – 280-character tweets seemingly not long enough to mention slave trade enablers like Akan of the Kingdom of Asante, the Fon of Dahomey or the Mbundu of Ndongo. Outcomes impossible in the real world – fantasies about Brexit, about Remaining, about Rejoining and about failed and blood-spattered ideologies like Communism – are pervasive. Reality blurred into a kaleidoscope of colourful and pithy slogans – truth rendered fallacious by mendacity bolstered by blue ticks.
It would be a health hazard, there is no slip cradle on the pitch during a cricket match. Yet, seemingly increasingly, social media ‘likes’ mould and reinforce echo chambers which lead to real-world meets. Angry crowds gather to burn masks, the fringe far left holds festivals in glamper tents, while flash mobs descend on shopping centres to writhe to Extinction Rebellion’s chanted paeans to Pan and the woodland nymphs.
Is our future one to be shaped by the distortions of the cradle? Or one to be tempered by pragmatism and the banalities of everyday reality? Can we disembark the train of social media fantasy and toxicity or are we destined for multiple generations of malleability and vulnerability as displayed by those opium-decimated Chinese of yesteryear?
Zeus willed that Hope should stay inside Pandora’s Box because he wished that mortals suffer. Zeus wanted mortals to learn that they should not disobey their gods. For better or worse, we have now opened Pandora’s Box. Social media is rife, addictive and discourse is suffering. Each day, social media users shake out all that is in the box, expecting and often demanding the unusual – a conspiracy or some twist in a fabled plot. Back to the tiresome truth – reality is humdrum and rarely yields an actual worldie*.
Dominic Wightman is the Editor of Country Squire Magazine.
*A worldie refers to a world-class catch. This one by Ben Stokes is a fine example.