Leisure and Pleasure
Leisure and Pleasure
English magazines will often advertise themselves as being devoted to sport and leisure. This is puzzling for to the English sport is seldom leisurely.
The reason they are lumped together can only be that, in English eyes, leisure activities share with sport the element of competition so essential to the English way of life. Leisure is a challenge and one must make one's own better than anyone else's.
The high flying executive who plays with model helicopters on the Common is subconsciously waiting for another high flier with similar toys to compete with. The man who cleans his car in a suburban street on a Sunday morning is really running a polishing race with his neighbours with every grunting sweep of the chamois leather.
Even a peaceful pint in the pub can easily turn into a drinking competition if the right adversary turns up.
When bad weather threatens, the English, unlike other people, do not invariably take shelter in their houses. For heavy weather is the ultimate adversary - a worthy and familiar opponent.
Wrapped from head to foot in waterproof clothing, they set out on extended hikes, best feet forward, carrying maps in little plastic bags around their necks. Up hill and down dale, the English follow vehemently protected footpaths on these route marches which they deceptively refer to as "rambles".
Uncomfortable forays of this kind are a particular English favourite. In summer months they will travel miles to the Lake District, where rain can be almost guaranteed, to pit their stamina against the worst that nature can throw at them.
So popular are these struggles against the elements that some enterprising individuals have formulated courses in physical discomfort in remote and inhospitable areas of the British Isles where other English people pay substantial fees to be assured of a serious challenge.
These courses, posing under such romantic titles as "Survival", are pursued for their perceived character building qualities. The stiffening of upper lips is guaranteed.
English companies, sparing no expense, will send their executives away for days on end to play these games. The assumption is that a man or woman who can shine in physical adversity will also excel in stressful business struggles. It never occurs to these companies to sack all their employees and take on the men who run the courses instead.
However they justify these excesses, the fact is that the English just love a physical challenge and eschew comfort as sybaritic. Even in a potentially comfortable situation in the Mediterranean sun, they will pit their white skins against its harmful rays until the evening comes and they are thoroughly burnt.
The English are devoted to sports of all kinds. Their children have always been trained from the earliest age to take them seriously. Even today in schools up and down the country little boys and girls in shorts are exhorted to "play the game!" by their elders and betters who will come down heavily on "slacking" whenever they see it.
Whether it be football, rugby, hockey or any other team game, they start young and carry on, barring accidents, until they have to hang up their boots and watch others doing it.
This they do with boundless enthusiasm and extremely vocally in spectator stands or from touchlines, often in sub-zero temperatures or force ten gales with the everpresent threat of a downpour. Nothing can dampen their ardour. Even at night they carry on watching in stadiums bright with floodlight.
Cricket to the English is not just a game. It is a symbol - a twenty-two man personification of all English beliefs and philosophies. Ignore it at your peril.
If you do you could be "on a sticky wicket". You might then be accused of not having put your "best foot forward" and of not "playing a straight bat", both hallmarks of the bounder.
Cricket is the national summer pastime of the English race. Visitors to England would have to be blind not to spot at least one weekend cricket match in their travels. And even the blind cannot avoid the coverage of international matches which dribbles out of radios in every public place throughout the season. It is inescapable. On every village green or television screen, a group of men, dressed in white, stand around waiting for something to happen.
The English invented cricket 750 years ago and are fiercely proprietorial about it. Its laws are one of the great mysteries of life, passed on among the initiated in a coded language. In the past they took the game all over the world and always won. Gradually, though, other nations' teams have got better at it, until now the English stand a jolly good chance of being beaten wherever they go.
Whenever this happens, the English get very heated. They accuse everyone in sight of having cheated: of tampering with the ball by roughing up the surface (so that it behaves in an irregular fashion); of shaving the head to reduce wind-resistance on the run-in; of "sledging" (hurling abuse at the batsman so as to put him off his stroke); of wearing the wrong clothes, and of playing too fast for a one-day match - all of which they vigorously complain is just "not cricket".
Games with Animals
The English adore horses and dogs to such an extent that they even involve them as partners in some of their sports. Over the centuries these animals have proved themselves admirable assistants in the eradication of foxes and specially-bred game birds.
Although they are seen as archetypally English pastimes, field or "blood" sports have always been the preserve of the rich few - not for the masses. But one animal sport everyone enjoys enormously is racing horses. Wherever and whenever racing takes place, all strata of English society congregate, brought together by a common enthusiasm for that magic combination - horses, the great outdoors, and physical discomfort.
Once a year most English families take an extended holiday. Until air travel became more common these family holidays were almost always spent in one of the many English seaside resorts.
During July and August convoys of Austins, Rovers and Fords would snake their way down winding English lanes to seaside towns. Here shops on the seafront sold buckets, spades, lilos, candyfloss, toffee apples, seaside rock, risque postcards, fish and chips and brightly-coloured canvas wind breaks.
Pitching their little camps on the beach, English families spent days on end appearing to enjoy melting ice creams, leaking thermos flasks and sand in everything.
Rain on at least half the days could be guaranteed. But then there were the delights of the seaside pier. Here the maritime race enjoyed all the sensations of going to sea without being seasick or, worse, meeting any foreigners.
Nowadays the English start their holidays at Luton, Gatwick, Stanstead, Manchester, Birmingham or Heathrow airports and fly over those winding English lanes, bound for Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Florida or almost anywhere where they can still be guaranteed amusement arcades, risque postcards to send home, the reassuring smell of onions frying, and fish and chips.
Here they carry on just as if they were still in Bognor Regis, Blackpool or Brighton. They stick together, ignoring the existence of the natives, stake out corners of the beach and spend most of the day lying in the sun. At night they drink, dance, and throw up in discotheques thoughtfully provided for the purpose by the locals.
At the end of the holiday, the English return home with burnt noses, diarrhoea and alcohol poisoning but otherwise ready to face any challenge that life can throw at them.