It occasionally seems as though there is a crude inevitability about life. That Destiny, however dull its armour may be, is still ready for one more foray into the affairs of man.
I am blithering on about games.
Last night we saw the great man-grinding machine that is the All Blacks slowly disassemble the hopes and dreams of the plucky Welsh team. Wales is a tiny sub-nation that sits like a leek-flavoured pimple on the rump of the island that perfidious Albion claims as its own. It regularly offers up 15 men as sacrifical lambs: men who battle mightily, courageously, and futilely against the black-clad New Zealanders. Meanwhile the three blind spinners of fate have indifferently decided, with an iron will, that the Welshmen's courage and dreams must be vanquished and discarded. The red-clad dragons of Wales leave the field of battle mere husks of their former selves, while the New Zealanders grow more handsome, strong, and intelligent with every encounter.
So it must seem to the crofters in the valleys, boyo.
Meanwhile, the cowherds and shepherds, graziers and vintners, lawyers and criminals, ad-men and media monkeys of New Zealand are drooling over our new sporting heroes: the "Unbeaten" All Whites. We finally managed to send another team to the Football World Trophy, and they have acquitted themselves honourably. If a medal were to be struck, it would trumpet their triumph on the face-side: they did not lose a game. The obverse side of that coin, never to be seen or talked about, would bear the motif "they did not win a game, either."
There is talk of a parade. Perhaps someone will be employed to walk beside Ricky Herbert, the team coach, to occasionally whisper into his shell-likes "you are just a man."
Yes, the All Whites did well. They scored points. They scored goals. And they managed to hold three well-known countrys' vastly expensive and hugely talented teams to a draw. And we have celebrated, mighily, because the tele told us to.
What do I think of the All Whites' effort? Bloody amazing. I am thrilled.
Destiny wasn't satisfied with ball games, however. Last night Jenny and I went to visit with the splendid Chris and Lyndsay. Excellent French Onion soup, a delightfully rustic chicken, leek, and prune pie, followed by a thumpingly good chocolate mousse. Conversation at their table is always a delight, and they cunningly befuddled my senses with nacreous wines and various spiritous liquors so my famously rapier-sharp wit is blunted upon their bon mots. Eventually the conversation drifted to the subject of games, and Lyndsay produced a word game called, variously, Quiddle and Bloody Stupid Game. I seemed to be the only one to employ the latter name.
Quiddle is a cross between a card game and a word game, and is mighty fun.At one point Lyndsay rushed off to check How Much We're Winning By (All Blacks v Wales). It being my turn to deal, Christine and I mischeivously rigged his hand, making sure he had to worst selection of cards possible. Christine hid his properly dealt cards under a handy cushion. Lyndsay, when he returned, picked up his cards, and mighty was the merriment as we watched his dismay. We laughed and pointed, then confessed our chicanery, and gave him his properly dealt cards. What a marvellous jape!
Slapping my thighs with laughter, I then picked up my cards. It seems that we had, in fact, picked only the second-worst hand with which to deceive the redoubtable Lyndsay. The real all-time worst one was now clutched in my paw.
The three spinners of fate, in their dank cave at the centre of our dreams, guffawed.
I lost the Bloody Stupid Game by miles.
Reading: the last volume of the astonishing "Stranger in Paradise".
Listening To: Antony and the Johnsons, "I Am A Bird Now". Equally astonishing.
More "Paper Heroes":
Prester shuddered. He had seen so much. But nothing about this meeting had been hinted at.
The room erupted in noise. Anger, frustration, and fear swept the room, and Whistler leapt onto a table. Held his arms up, and bellowed “Quiet, you bastards! Quiet!”
The hubbub died down. All eyes returned to Blunt. Hopes, it now seemed, were now pinned on a man 500 years dead.
“We must all keep calm. This,” Blunt’s lip curled, “this Charles owes us all an explanation. Speak, and tell me why you brought us here from the peace of our graves.”
Whistler got down from the table, and went to Charles. Grabbing the man, he hoisted him up, and deposited him on the table. Charles looked down, a smile of appreciation on his lips. “My god,” he thought. “I like what we have done here. I like what we have made. But I can’t imagine that six will be enough.” He spoke up, the buzzing fussiness of his voice now replaced with a confident baritone.
“People. Gentlemen. You know who you are, you know who each other is. You know you all have number of things in common: you are all warriors. You are all heroes. You have all stood and fought on the side of the weak against the pitiless savageness of the strong and evil.
“And that is why we have brought you to us. We are weak. We have an enemy whom we have ignored and allowed to grow in strength, and our laws and customs make it impossible for us to take up arms against him. We fear now that we may all perish.
“We are many people, and our enemy is few. Yet we are helpless against him, against the evil which confronts us. You are our last hope. You are our only hope. Without you, we die.”
Cienwyn climbed up beside him, and took over the narrative. “For two centuries there has been peace in our world. Peace that you all struggled so valiantly to create. This world you find yourselves in is very much your creation. It is a world built on ideas. It was the notions of chivalry and hospitality from the days of Arthur that inspired England to become the mother of all democracies. It was people like you, Colonel Blunt, and you, Sergeant-Major Whistler, who helped build and preserve that democracy. It was you, Mister Grey, who fought in a bitter war which nearly destroyed the greatest democracy of all, that shining city on a hill they called the United States of America. You, John Prester, who was so cruelly treated by the country you loved, yet you continued striving and struggling to ennoble it. “
A roar came from the assembly. “And what of me?” bellowed the huge Cimmerian. “Hanno the Barbarian, they called call me. God Emperor, they called me. I trampled my enemies into the dust and heard the lamentations of their women. I care nothing for this Greek thing, this democracy. Pah! I spit on it!"