‘Where are you from?’ asked the man beside me on the bus.
‘Somerset,’ I said.
‘I thought I could hear it,’ he said. ‘A great cricketing county.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but never county champions.’
‘Are you sure?’ he said.
‘Definitely.’ I smiled.
Somerset have never, ever been county champions. Somerset did not win their first trophy until 1979, when the club was 104 years old. Following their fortunes over the years has not been without its advantages, though. It has taught the value of stoicism in the face of setbacks.
I remember being at a Gillette Cup match with a friend some forty-odd years ago in the summer of 1980—Somerset almost won.
As the players left the field, I sat staring into the space where they had been.
‘That’s it’, said Chris, my friend, ‘it’s over’.
It was over. In a few brief moments, a match that could have been won had been lost by two wickets. I remember shrugging, breathing a sigh and standing up to turn for home. It was only a cricket match, but it seemed like a bitter personal blow.
His words remained with me, ‘That’s it. It’s over.’
‘That’s it. It’s over.’ It seemed a comment on life itself.
It’s the way that many people of my tradition cope with things. We aren’t into emotion, we don’t like expansive expressions of sadness or grief. ‘Sorry’, we say, and we move on. That’s what I do myself, that’s how I cope.
I used to love the English poet and writer Ted Hughes.
Hughes wrote a collection of poems called Crow. There are lines in Crow that for me are often a way of coping with death. I remember reading these lines at my father’s memorial three years ago:
Who is stronger than hope? Death.
Who is stronger than the will? Death.
Stronger than love? Death.
Stronger than life? Death.
But who is stronger than Death?
Ted Hughes, in his gritty north of England way, accepts in Crow that death has been a strong power in his life, that it has been stronger than hope and love and life, but that he himself is still alive and that he is left to carry on.
That sort of stoicism, that sort of grittiness is the way many of us cope with grief. ‘Chin up, lad. No good looking miserable. No good staring into space. Life must go on.’
My father, who would have followed every Somerset cricket match online, was a man who would have said at the end of life, ‘That’s it. It’s over.’
My mother disagreed with such a view, firmly believing in a life to come. One of them will be right.
My father would enjoy having another season in a life to come, one in which Somerset actually became county champions.