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by Ralph A. Thorne
I is not going to presume to gild the lily of so sensible a tribute as has been already written within the editorial of this publication, Barbados TODAY. In honouring Professor George Lamming, I’ll merely locate his work throughout the context of cricket that we love a lot. Having the honour of introducing him on Andrew Mason’s cricket show a few years ago, that engagement purchased me two credits.
First, it revealed to me that the name intended by CLR James for his seminal work was ‘Beyond the Boundary’, and, secondly, it gained me a friendship that I even have treasured to the day of Professor Lamming’s passing.
The closeness of Professor Lamming’s friendship with CLR James and the previous’s assigned task of delivering the letter to the publishers, caused me to conjecture that Professor Lamming must not have been too distant from the content and the philosophy of that great text. I’ll come back to the book.
In a subsequent essay, Professor Lamming described himself as a very good cricketer, and he will need to have justified this claim when he played for the famous Empire Club, upon his departure from Combermere School.
It’s told reliably that he walked to the wicket in his first game for Empire as a gap batsman, in a team that included Frank Worrell. At that age, young men don’t have any premonition of things and life to come back, except only that young George Lamming would have been aware that, in his walk to the wicket, he would even have been walking in Frank Worrell’s footsteps of graduation from Combermere to Empire. There was no Cave Hill Campus of The University of the West Indies in 1946. In those days, the walk of shiny young men and girls was a nervous and threatening journey, when even merit was joined by social drawback.
Young Worrell selected cricket. Young Lamming selected literature. And CLR James and Professor George Lamming teach us that the 2 disciplines will not be that distant in spite of everything. Young Lamming’s easy walk to the wicket was, in a more profound sense, a walk in a noble tradition, a walk of historical significance.
In 1953, when ‘In The Castle Of My Skin’ is published, the reference to cricket is interwoven with the opposite social events that occurred within the island. What we learn is that there was a reverence for George Headley. In ‘Castle’, he writes:
“Every boy who felt his value as a batsman called himself George Headley. Usually the one knowledge most individuals might need had of Jamaica was the incontrovertible fact that George Headley was born there.”
Without an excessive amount of of an interruption, the narrative within the book returns to the tensions that preceded the riots. That his text flowed so easily from cricket to social upheaval, would reveal his philosophical approach to literature. Indeed, he would write in an essay a few years later:
“I even have never been in a position to separate the creative imagination from the political culture during which it functions.” In one other way, he would often say that there was no separation between the aesthetic and the political, between art and politics. Allow us to due to this fact now reflect on the English poet John Keats’ affirmation that “beauty is truth, truth is beauty,” and ultimately towards the Christian Scriptures that tell us that there isn’t any greater liberating force than truth.
But allow us to come more particularly to cricket, which CLR James, himself described as greater than simply a game, when he said: “Cricket is at the start a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance.” That’s cricket as aesthetic. Here is Lamming’s cricket because the political.
“England made us pupils to its language and its institutions; baptised us in the identical religion; schooled boys in the identical game of cricket with its elaborate and meticulous etiquette of rivalry. Empire was not a really dirty word, and appeared to bear little relation to those types of domination we now call imperialist.”
So here was Professor Lamming placing cricket on the centre of England’s colonial agenda, bringing us back to CLR James’ famous dictum: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? West Indians crowding to Tests bring with them the entire past history and future hopes of the islands.”
And so, relieving the burden of that history would have been, in Professor Lamming’s youthful time, Headley, the Three W’s, Goddard, Rae, Stollmeyer, Ramadin and Valentine, Hall, Griffith, Gilchrist, Hunte and others, after which the king of all of them, Garfield Sobers, playing cricket because it had never been played before in England in 1966.
As a private reflection, I recall having lunch with Professor Lamming in the future, after we had a likelihood encounter with Sir Everton Weekes. I paused to gauge the character of the inter-personal relationship of those two great West Indians.
They greeted one another with such friendly warmth and I reflected that this was an important meeting of the West Indian embodiment of cricket and literature. These two authors of West Indian de-colonisation needed to know one another.
Sir Everton was a member of the team that famously defeated England in 1950, in England, and Professor Lamming would have published ‘In The Castle Of My Skin’ in 1953, in England.
We all know Professor Lamming as a author and in later times, I believe he was a greater philosopher even. It’s insufficient to say that language was his tool. It was as indispensable because the fingers that held his pen. Of language, he said: “Language is at the center and horizon of each human consciousness…. a spiritual possession which allows us to reflect on who we’re and what we would turn out to be. It will not be inherited. Every child, in every culture, has to learn it as his or her mandatory initiation into society. It’s, perhaps, probably the most sacred of all human creations.”
If cricket has been one among England’s sacred human creations, I need to consider that Sir Vivian Richards’ batting returned it to the world in a way that had never been done and that Professor George Lamming returned English Language to the world in a way that had never been done.
And we discover the reality that in these two Caribbean patriots, there has never been a separation between cricket and politics, between art and politics, and that the reality of the West Indian cause for Independence was a fantastic cause, perhaps, within the sense that John Keats, the poet, intended. What a fantastic game; what a fantastic Independence!
Professor George Lamming would often describe the 1962 break-up of West Indian political federation as an unlimited tragedy. Allow us to due to this fact, for the sake of all of us who understand the historical and social importance of cricket, pledge that it shall never be erased from our island landscapes and that it would proceed to be a thing of beauty that truthfully unites us.
This man of chic language, this lover of wisdom, this purveyor of uncomfortable truths, this gentleman of the most effective human graces, this lover of cricket, has departed from us and we mark his departure, as he similarly marked his own departure from Creighton’s Village, within the closing words of ‘In The Castle Of My Skin’:
“He paused after which a cat scampered across the road. It appeared to run from one side to the following, but we couldn’t see anything. We drew nearer the home. And he felt for the steps with the stick.” ‘You will need to be good to yourself,’ he said. He passed his hand over my head after which bent forward and kissed me on the brow. “Tis the last item the old man may give,’ he said. ‘A kiss of blessing. Perhaps you’ll remember Pa ’cause you won’t ever see him again.’
I used to be going to talk.
‘You won’t see me again, my son’ he said, and felt his way up the steps. The door closed gently behind him. I stood for a moment waiting to see whether he might placed on the sunshine. The sensation had seized me again. You had seen the last of something.
“Twas an evening like this nine years ago when those waters roll.” The village/my mother/a boy amongst boys/a person who knew his people won’t feel alone/to be a distinct sort of creature. Words and voices falling like a full shower and the old man returning with the pebble under the grape leaf on the sand: You won’t see me again, my son.
The earth where I walked was a marvel of blackness and I knew in a way more deep than easy departure I had said farewell, farewell to the land.”
Ralph A. Thorne, Q.C., is Member of Parliament for the Christ Church South constituency and has been actively involved in cultural arts and sports for a few years.