Monday, 16 January 2012

Peter & Me - Reprised

This is an unusual post for this website. In more than four hundred and fifty posts in the two years, none have attracted as much comment as "Peter & Me". It was written, intentionally, as a very personal reaction to Peter Roebuck's death and a reflection of how much his writing had meant to me. It is fairly raw, emotive stuff, without the usual detachment I bring to descriptions of play or prognostications on the great game. For me, Peter's death was very personal because of the resonance in my life which the piece explains.

It is republished, despite the numerous links which existed to it already on the site, by means of additional homage certainly but mainly because so many have asked me too. Hopefully your forbearance will excuse repetition.

Peter & Me 13th November, 2011

Peter Roebuck is dead.

There it was, typed almost as an after thought in a comment on the final piece I'd written about the first Test at Newlands. I was eating lunch in a park in Coonabarabran, on the homeward journey from a music festival at the Warrumbungles National Park. I'll always remember the place, the time, the circumstance.

It only took a few scans of online news pages to garner enough of the puzzle pieces and ignite memories I have learned to tolerate, even manage - memories of undeserved survival that haunt me with a currency that is more remarkable for the ease with which the trouble of others can press so heavily on my own heart. I sat with my wife, cried briefly and shared anecdotes about the man. It helped in that way that talking presses the hard part of grief back, forestalls it until later when you have no more reasons and alone, tears may come with no impedance.


Most of you would know my great admiration for Roebuck's writing - some have even said I have turned same into writer's impersonation. There is truth in both statements/accusations but there is back story which explains the depth of my reaction to both his death and the nature of it and I wish to express that before any more details become apparent in what I fear will be a sordid frenzy. As Gideon Haigh said today"before we are overwhelmed by the tragedy of the death, I hope we recall the quality of the life and the quality of the work he was responsible for." To do so, I will have to be personal in a way I have never intended for this site and I'll have to leave my back open to any stray knives which might, by happen-stance or design, find their way to an unprotected soft spot between my shoulder blades. This is my risk. Yours is for you to determine.

Ten years ago, my life was in such complete turmoil that I four times attempted suicide. I had failed myself, my family, my employer and my parents by collapsing my world into such a small and unsustainable place that I had no choice but to remove the burden I had created in this failure from all of the people I cared most about. I was no longer the subject for personal consideration. Twelve months earlier, I was so invincible that the world could not contain me but now, by macabre contrast, my world had shrunken to the crawl space behind a lounge chair in the corner of a house I hardly knew. There in the foetal clench of my own arms, I imagined I swam in blood and shattered fragments of all the damage I had caused. In such a dark place, how could the colours be so bright or seek such vengeance?

These were not the thoughts of a rational man but their insanity was then and still is today of no solace. The only argument of merit is to accept that's how I was. If you are desperate enough, if your pain is so great, you will readily make the leap into suicide. You have no thoughts of nobility beyond the chance to just, for once, get something right.

I survived by luck or God's grace - your own belief structure can make the call - and in the process of surviving survival, I had to find reasons to continue living. My family's love should have been enough but it wasn't and sadly, rarely is. For me, I had to see a future for myself and in sifting through myriads of suggestions from almost as many loving friends and family, the idea of writing came to the surface. I wrote a memoir which was long and boring (cause and effect right there). I started writing poetry, some of which became my first collection but it was a chance conversation which married two of my great passions, cricket and writing - a partnership which proved the most cathartic. In Armidale in the 1980's, I had become a cricket correspondent almost by chance but afterwards by design and for five years wrote weekly articles on the game for local newspapers.

As a teacher, I would instruct my students that practise didn't make perfect but perfect practise did and in order to be the best, you should study the best. The link to Peter Roebuck become, therefore, obvious. His writing had all of the qualities I wanted in my own: fearless expression of opinions no matter how unpopular; ideas articulated devoid of banalities or cliché; every piece was an original; thoughtful intelligence which didn't boast of itself; deep, deep knowledge; encouragement seen as being as important as admonishment; reasoned arguments; destruction of pomposity and class systems; and the desire to impart the singular importance of savouring the game like fine art or good music or dishes soaked in love. I could go on describing the elements of any Roebuck piece but where lies the need? If you have read only one, you are aware of the strengths, passions and integrity of the man. He is, after all, the captain who would sack Ian Botham and let Viv Richards and Joel Garner go from their Somerset contracts on matters of principle.

Slowly, with no style of my own at first but eventually finding my voice and always taking responsibility for my own successes and failures, I have built my writing on the game to the point where I write most days. Some pieces are better than others but any writer who claims to drip gems from every squeeze of the writing lemon, needs no reminder other than declining interest. Two years ago I set up this website and for three months, the page view numbers equated with how often I reminded my Dad or my wife that I had recently posted.

Now things are a little more solvent as the Manhattan chart on the site speaks in its ever taller sky scrapers. I even have a weekly gig on the local ABC radio talking about the game. I found an unknown future at a time when I had destroyed my past and the link between the two was Peter Roebuck. I was inspired that cricket could be spoken of in such beautifully constructed words and learned that emulation wasn't copying. His writing taught me to write from a heart that was already swollen with the real meanings of the game at both the macro and the micro level. Recently I wrote the recollections of a mate, initiated by his funeral and the warmth of successive speakers whose portraits of him glowed with his humour, humility and humanity Lessons Learned From A Good Man In the same piece, I contrasted the spiritual rape of the game by those who would corrupt its youth and deny the game its basic truth of a contest fairly fought. Its an example of who I want to be as a writer but I know that would have been beyond me without Roebuck's example. Haigh correctly claims that Roebuck's writing has influenced all those who have filed stories or written tomes after him, although although the exemption of player tour diaries, cook books and post career tell alls was an oversight by Haigh.

Apart from the importance of his inspiration, I have adored reading his pieces. As other's have said, not because I have always agreed with his point of view but because of the courage and the construction. Comic Will Anderson said today "I didn't always agree with Roebuck articles, but fuck I loved to read them."Secondary english students should study his works for style, phrasing and the building of a piece. His was writing of such exquisite style that his body of work stands beside Cardus and Fingleton and to a lesser extent, EW Swanton. I
n today's media, only his instant biographer, Gideon Haigh - quoted here purposefully - could be considered his superior but it would need a DRS to separate them.

His death, therefore, is like losing a lifeline and a treasure and the daily in-joke I felt with each read of the Herald.

To realise this afternoon, well before it was officially announced by police in Cape Town, that he had ended his own life, was far too close to home and left me feeling selfish that I had survived. I fear further news may erode, perhaps completely, the credibility we all need to survive in a community - an erosion Roebuck was apparently overcome by in a sudden rush to resolution. If so, I will be further conflicted as I dodge other dark shadows from a time when a boy's simple faith was complicated by the designs and sick desires of one I had a right to expect I could trust. I'll face that if and when but for the time being, hope that wild speculation is dulled by the truth.

His age was the final straw. Six months after his March birthday, I also turned 55.

It seems appropriate to sign off sans non de plume: another Peter, very much alive but aching with sadness and gratitude for a man I only met through words. One final task is simpler but too damned late: thank you Peter.

Peter Langston