Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Survival Of Rules And Traditions

What strange things survive in this world. Take Wisden's five cricketers of the year, the annual announcement of which still manages to generate column inches and debate. The rules remain as they always have been. A cricketer of the year cannot have been a previous cricketer of the year. It's an endearing principle but distinctly potty.

In fact, don't just take the five cricketers (for the record, Ben Duckett, Misbah-ul-Haq, Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Woakes and Younis Khan), take Wisden full stop. It is like a great aunt indulged at Christmas, who stubbornly insists on imbibing ginger wine that had gone out of fashion even before Christmases acquired a veneer of contemporary oenological sophistication. Year after year, auntie is wheeled out simply because she is auntie.

Which is not to decry either Wisden or great aunts, just that the former is a relic of days gone by. It occupies a past together with the FA Cup Final, a reminder of how there was once only one live football match per year on the telly (save perhaps the odd international) and of how once a year the previous year's cricket would be revealed for all to dissect and digest. Page after page after page of scorecards replete with their short reports. All our yesterdays of what must have been tortuous and chilly June days in Chesterfield as E. Smith of Derbyshire bowled maiden over after maiden over to J. van Geloven of Leicestershire, as the visitors ground out a snail-like 180 in the six hours (when lunch was always at half one and tea was taken at ten past four). 

There is, nevertheless, a sense of reassurance. The anachronistic can cling to its past even in the present day. Tweaks mean that Wisden is no longer a yellow-backed housebrick-sized homage to empire that had long faded. It is now a yellow-backed housebrick-sized tribute to the empire having struck back, IPL, Big Bash and all. But with Cricinfo available at the click of a mouse, its inherent backdated-ness accords it more the function of coffee-table adornment than one-time cricketing avidity.

Still, traditions die hard, even more recent ones and those founded not on mouse clicks or tablet touches. Rather like the five cricketers, these have their rules, those which grant them a superior status. Cricket websites' best-of-the-year cricketers, even sports personalities of the year and, horror of horror, Eurovision song contestants have succumbed to the totality of technologies in removing or reducing the carefully weighed deliberations of judges, abiding with the letter of the rules (well, maybe not in the case of Eurovision). The great unwashed in cyber and text lands cannot be trusted to do likewise.

I offer a Mallorcan example, that of Fornalutx. To the confusion of many, most of them in Pollensa it seems, Fornalutx isn't the only prettiest village on the island. The fact is that Fornalutx is the only prettiest village. That's because the association which determines prettiest villages says so. It despatched clipboard-bearing judges to rummage under dry stones, ramble through orange groves and to reconnoitre the village's cleaning system in confirming prettiness. It is unique to Mallorca, and nary an inhabitant of social networks was allowed anywhere near the judges, lest they be contaminated by popular prejudice. The great confusion arose because Pollensa had appeared on one of those blessed website things, the ones where any old Tom, Dick or Harry can register his vote. Moreover, it more or less borrowed the prettiest accolade in extending the nominations beyond just villages. The prettiest villages' association probably needs to think about a registered trademark, if it hasn't already.

There is of course another way in which Wisden is a survivor. Its sheer physical presence. You simply can't avoid it, so large is it. Indeed, such is its bulk that it can be used to keep any door open and withstand up to a force eight gale ramming into the door. While other giants of the print media may have gone the way of all Wikipedias or just Google, Wisden's voracious appetite for paper keeps entire industries afloat.

It is this, the physical nature of the hard copy, that can seem the most curious manifestation of Wisden of the current day. Yet it is anything but curious. Tangibility, holding something which isn't a device and that has the essence of presence, accounts for a great deal, even today. So is also the case with much of what Mallorca churns out for tourism. The island may be poorly served by digital applications (those from official, governmental sources) but it is still weighed under by the amount of paper. Apps and so on abound, but promotional publications are far from being in retreat.

Why is this? The answer is easy. Tradition, reassurance, tangibility; all to be cherished.

No comments: