Few things are more mystifying than other people’s fascinations. Stamp collecting, astrology or devoted re-enactment of famous battle scenes appear, to the non-enthusiast, at best inexplicable, at worst embarrassing, silly and – to misapply a line from Monty Python’s cheese sketch – “a senseless waste of human life”.
If gentle readers of NZB think this editorial team is immune to the rule, we must reluctantly disillusion them. The production of the issue you are now reading made significant demands on our tolerance and capacity to compromise: because within its pages, he reviews a cricket book and she reviews two fashion books.
She subbed his copy, sighing over the arcane terms (innings, sixes) and unknown names (Bert Sutcliffe, Martin Donnelly, John Arlott), shaking her head over the very notion that men ritualistically defending bits of wood with a sturdier bit against a flying round object could in any way matter.
He subbed her copy, sighing over the arcane terms (appliqué, shirring) and unknown names (Marilyn Sainty, Trelise Cooper, Doris de Pont), shaking his head over the very notion that people pretentiously shaping bits of fabric so that other people can get excited about wearing them could in any way matter.
She told him she noticed her review was more defensive than his. She had felt her interest in personal style, and its debut in NZB, required some (inevitably doomed) justification. So she had pitched her review to “outsiders”.
He looked surprised. He said he’d had the strong impression she was addressing “insiders”. Apart from his general lack of enthusiasm for her subject (to put it at its mildest – the word “boring” briefly hovered), he had at various moments no idea what she was talking about.
She looked surprised. But went on to point out that he hadn’t needed to explain or apologise for an interest in sport (the word “boring” briefly hovered) because it was so widely approved of, so … respectable. He could assume reader interest, and therefore address his remarks to “insiders”.
Hmm, he said. He supposed the thing about cricket was that unless you picked it up as child, more or less the way you pick up language, there were some things you were just never going to understand.
While he was saying this she remembered that her review did flourish names like Karen Walker and Zambesi, and events like London Fashion Week, and she admitted as much. But haute couture wasn’t, she hastily assured him, of that much interest to her. Couture en bas was what was fascinating, because of the huge part it played in what Erving Goffman called “the presentation of self in everyday life” – something reviewer Iain Sharpe reminds us of on p5. And how you do that is also often something learned at the parental knee.
She noticed the merest piquing of interest on his part. Self-presentation, he suggested, could be intriguingly misleading or double-sided. The public persona and appearance of the late financier-poet Leigh Davis (p12), for instance, were pre-eminently respectable, while his poetry crackled with subversion. The same doubling, he continued, sometimes happened with cricketers. Take the great Richard Hadlee. As a bowler, he was a precision machine: his action apparently effortless, perfectly in balance, in control. As a batman, he was restless, nervy, an impetuous risk-taker.
For the addict, that was one of the fascinations of the game: how, one way or another, aspects of character revealed themselves as in a play. There was the self the player tried to present (nonchalant, aggressive, impudent etc) and then the startling glimpses of other barely suppressed or rawly exposed selves (see the account of Sutcliffe and Blair on p10).
So perhaps part of what he saw in cricket was part of what she saw in fashion. In both cases, style offered clues as to how to read the person: necessarily incomplete, requiring context, knowledge, imagination, but a start.
And so, with even more surprise, they shook hands across the gulf.
Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway