Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters

The event of the year in Wellington for those of us who don’t get out much is the annual book fair, which can be relied upon to turn up an unexpected pleasure. This year’s was the The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters.
Rupert Hart-Davis was a publisher who preferred to publish books he liked, rather than those that made money, and who was thus in perpetual financial strife. George Lyttelton had been his teacher at Eton. They corresponded (and there’s a verb that’s disappearing over the horizon into obsolescence) weekly for seven years until Lyttelton’s death in 1962.

Hart-Davis writes engagingly about many subjects, particularly the literary world, and his interesting domestic arrangements: he lived with his secretary in London during the week, and with his wife (who was called Comfort) in Oxfordshire at the weekends. Was he to be envied or pitied?

But it is Lyttelton who steals the show, with more wit and wisdom at his disposal than it seems fair for one man to have, and the ability to churn out original phrases at will. Both were cricket men, which is why I mention them here. Hart-Davis closed his office whenever a Test Match was being played at Lord’s or the Oval. Lyttelton characterises himself as “an old fathead in an MCC tie”. Cricket experiences and anecdotes litter the book. I particularly enjoyed these two. The first is from Lyttelton in June 1957:

On Thursday I shall be watching Ramadhin, and Weekes, and Worrell—and yawning when Trueman bowls or Bailey bats. (Do you realise that Trueman walks thirty-five steps from the crease to the end of his run and that four balls an over the batsman leaves alone?)
This will delight anybody who suffered Fred Trueman on Test Match Special for a quarter of a century castigating any bowler who didn’t make the batsman play every ball. And:

...the only match I ever go up for is the Australian Test Match when the pavilion is cram-full one and a half hours before play begins—and I only got a seat in 1956 because a man (in the best seat of all) died ten minutes before I arrived and in Housmanly fashion I took it).

That’s how I’d like to go when the time comes for the great umpire in the sky to lift the index finger of doom, but it would be better at the close of play, rather than before the start. You could expire in the top deck of the RA Vance Stand at the Basin Reserve on the last day of the season and not be discovered until the following year’s Test Match. The southerly would nullify the decaying process.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...