Julia


 

 

When I first met Peter I knew him as an English teacher who coached cricket at Cranbrook, who for some obscure reason returned to England each April to play cricket. Only later did I begin to understand that his life was the other way around. His real job was as a professional cricketer and for some obscure reason he returned to Australia each September to teach English.

It took a while to accept that I was romantically involved with a professional cricketer. My minimal cricket knowledge was based on a few cricket matches I’d seen as a girl with the likes of the fast bowler Dennis Lillee, the Chappell brothers and the great wicket keeper, Rod Marsh. I was intrigued by Lillee’s moustache and his brashness on the field, fascinated by the brotherly dynamic between Greg and Ian Chappell, and for some reason I cannot remember, enthralled by Marsh. For me, the game of cricket was not really something you took seriously, an attitude that didn’t seem to bother Peter.

Still, he decided to enlighten me about cricket, shaping discussion around what might capture my attention and taking opportunities as they arose. On one occasion I saw the One Day International at Lords between England and the West Indies. Peter later gently quizzed me on what I thought of the performances of the great cricketers—Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Joel Garner and Ian Botham. I could not tell him.

After all, I was at Lord’s, a legendary place, a site of imperial memory where historic clashes of such magnitude occurred between England and Australia that even I was mesmerised by the possibility of meaning. But not by the cricket. Not even by the reigning West Indies cricket team. Peter laughed, but he understood.

When the West Indies team was in Sydney, he tried another tactic. He decided to introduce me to Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd. The team was staying at the Boulevard Hotel, then a new posh hotel in Sydney preferred by visiting celebrities whose fans would often assemble on the pavement outside. On this occasion, we unexpectedly found a large number of women fans waiting in the foyer. I found the sight fascinating. I hadn’t realised cricketers were like rock stars and women roosted in hotel lobbies waiting for favour to fall upon them. Too difficult to brave this mass of eager women, again, my cricket education was foiled.

And so his plan to enlighten me proceeded in more reflective moments. He explained Lloyd’s great captaincy skills and intelligent approach to cricket and tried out thoughts about cricket as a test of strategy requiring personal and emotional strength. Peter would weave together stories of his contemporaries and their approach to cricket and life, the one drawing sustenance from the other, turning the ephemera of sporting contest into insights of the human condition more generally, and through this approach, finally entranced me. It was, of course, a raconteur style that came to be part of who he was as a cricket writer and commentator and much admired by hundreds of thousands, some of whom weren’t necessarily sports fans.

The photograph on the back of his marvellous It Never Rains is of a bespectacled, pale and slightly tormented-looking Peter. It does him no justice. That’s not how I remember him, and I can only think that photo was of a younger, less confident Peter. Some of the pleasure of this website comes from simply flicking through photographs of Peter at various stages and ages, all immensely refreshing after the dose of terrible photos that later made their way into the press. Here, we can see him as many of his close friends saw him.  

When I knew him, he rarely wore glasses. He was tanned, not overly so, more a glowing gold colour. He had a longish, friendly face framed by short back and sides, a broadly-shaped mouth and prominent nose. He had a strong English accent, not as it became in later years intermixed with Australian and South African twangs. His was an educated English middle class accent belying his childhood in the West Country, which Australians often confused as Etonian and ruling class entirely misunderstanding his social background. He was tall, broad-shouldered, lean and fit—he had a healthy physique and was neatly groomed. His attire was casual, a Lacoste polo shirt with trousers (never jeans) for special occasions. Once we went to a black-tie event (the Year 12 Cranbrook formal where he was a popular master) and very handsome he was in his borrowed dinner suit. A photo was taken, probably now long lost, but which if found would be an interesting counterpoint to the appalling newspaper photos.

His sparkling eyes captured my attention along with his pleasant and convivial demeanour and a conversational style which confidently ranged across any topic, inviting others to join in, rarely judgementally though not without debate. His conversations covered many angles—the serious, the absurd, the relaxed, the political and the personal. I loved his sense of humour, sometimes self-deprecating, recognising life’s ironies, but also quick-witted.

Both literature and humour were fundamental to his life, a source of both inspiration and great pleasure and something which he loved to share with his friends. He introduced me to the satirists Tom Sharpe and David Nobbs (the Reginald Perrin novels) offering them as humorous yet sharp observers of the human condition. I tried to excite him about Virginia Woolf’s feminist tract, A Room of One’s Own and the writings of Simone de Beauvoir. He thought I’d got the better end of the bargain. But this enjoyment of conversation, sociability, sense of humour and appreciation of irony—along with the idea that books could be good friends—had long been part of my home life, and were familiar, enjoyable and comforting.

At the time I knew Peter he often spoke of the importance of warm relationships as the sustenance of life, the reason why we were all here. He was perceptive about the human condition and genuinely cared for people who were important to him. In some ways, he felt responsible for us, wanted to nourish our souls and minds. But he also wanted to relax with his friends and have fun.

Nonchalantly slumped in a chair yet alert to his surrounds, legs comfortably crossed, possibly a glass of wine nearby, convivial atmosphere, friends, sparking up a debate, enjoying an argument, pleased with his friends’ quick wit, laughing, pleased with his own quick wit, laughter. This is how I remember him.