Archive for death

My Last Will – by Sir Walter Raleigh (no, not that one…)

Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , on March 20, 2017 by telescoper

The vernal equinox in the Northern hemisphere passed this morning at 10.29 GMT, heralding the start of spring – a time when naturally our thoughts turn to death and decay. Which is no doubt why I remembered this poem  I came across some time ago but for some reason haven’t posted yet. It’s quite astonishing how many websites attribute this verse to the Elizabethan courtier and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who was indeed an accomplished poet, but the use of language is very clearly not of that period. In fact this was written by Professor Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh (1861-1922). What he says in this poem about his own untidiness is I’m afraid very true also of me, but the semi-joking tone with which he opens gives way to something far more profound, and I think the last two lines are particularly powerful.

When I am safely laid away,
Out of work and out of play,
Sheltered by the kindly ground
From the world of sight and sound,
One or two of those I leave
Will remember me and grieve,
Thinking how I made them gay
By the things I used to say;
— But the crown of their distress
Will be my untidiness.

What a nuisance then will be
All that shall remain of me!
Shelves of books I never read,
Piles of bills, undocketed,
Shaving-brushes, razors, strops,
Bottles that have lost their tops,
Boxes full of odds and ends,
Letters from departed friends,
Faded ties and broken braces
Tucked away in secret places,
Baggy trousers, ragged coats,
Stacks of ancient lecture-notes,
And that ghostliest of shows,
Boots and shoes in horrid rows.
Though they are of cheerful mind,
My lovers, whom I leave behind,
When they find these in my stead,
Will be sorry I am dead.

They will grieve; but you, my dear,
Who have never tasted fear,
Brave companion of my youth,
Free as air and true as truth,
Do not let these weary things
Rob you of your junketings.

Burn the papers; sell the books;
Clear out all the pestered nooks;
Make a mighty funeral pyre
For the corpse of old desire,
Till there shall remain of it
Naught but ashes in a pit:
And when you have done away
All that is of yesterday,
If you feel a thrill of pain,
Master it, and start again.

This, at least, you have never done
Since you first beheld the sun:
If you came upon your own
Blind to light and deaf to tone,
Basking in the great release
Of unconsciousness and peace,
You would never, while you live,
Shatter what you cannot give;
— Faithful to the watch you keep,
You would never break their sleep.

Clouds will sail and winds will blow
As they did an age ago
O’er us who lived in little towns
Underneath the Berkshire downs.
When at heart you shall be sad,
Pondering the joys we had,
Listen and keep very still.
If the lowing from the hill
Or the tolling of a bell
Do not serve to break the spell,
Listen; you may be allowed
To hear my laughter from a cloud.

Take the good that life can give
For the time you have to live.
Friends of yours and friends of mine
Surely will not let you pine.
Sons and daughters will not spare
More than friendly love and care.
If the Fates are kind to you,
Some will stay to see you through;
And the time will not be long
Till the silence ends the song.

Sleep is God’s own gift; and man,
Snatching all the joys he can,
Would not dare to give his voice
To reverse his Maker’s choice.
Brief delight, eternal quiet,
How change these for endless riot
Broken by a single rest?
Well you know that sleep is best.

We that have been heart to heart
Fall asleep, and drift apart.
Will that overwhelming tide
Reunite us, or divide?
Whence we come and whither go
None can tell us, but I know
Passion’s self is often marred
By a kind of self-regard,
And the torture of the cry
“You are you, and I am I.”
While we live, the waking sense
Feeds upon our difference,
In our passion and our pride
Not united, but allied.

We are severed by the sun,
And by darkness are made one.


Death of a Cricketer

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by telescoper

Like any cricket fan I was horrified to hear last week of the death at the age of 25 of the Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, three days after he received a head injury on the field of play during a Sheffield Shield match in Australia on Tuesday. Let me start by expressing my deepest condolences to his family and friends at what must be a terrible time for them. My thoughts also go to the bowler, Sean Abbott, whose delivery ended up causing the fatal injury. He should not be blamed and I’m sure he feels as bad as anyone about the incident.
What happened to Phillip Hughes is a reminder that cricket is a dangerous game. A cricket ball is hard – it is made of solid cork wrapped in leather – and can travel at speeds in excess of 90 mph when delivered by a fast bowler. When you get hit by one it really hurts. Thankfully serious injuries are relatively rare, but it nevertheless takes considerable physical and mental courage as well as great skill for a batsman to face up to fast bowling.

In this case it was Sean Abbott who bowled a short-pitched delivery (a “bouncer”) at Hughes. There’s nothing unusual about that – it’s a standard part of a fast bowler’s repertoire. Hughes saw it coming and got into position to play a hook shot, a cross-batted stroke played to a ball over waist height with the intent of sending it to the boundary. This is one of the most spectacular attacking shots in cricket but also one of the most dangerous. Often it involves playing the ball directly in front of the face, and if the batsman misses an injury is inevitable. On this occasion, Hughes seems to have misjudged the pace of the ball and went through with the shot too quickly. His upper body having swung around during the course of his attempted hook, when the ball missed the bat it thudded into the back of his head, underneath his protective helmet. The impact ruptured an artery and caused a massive flow of blood into his brain. He subsequently collapsed and was carried off the field, where he needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He was taken to hospital, and a procedure carried out to reduce the pressure on his brain. Sadly he never recovered, and died three days later.

Of course the death of Phillip Hughes has led to a great deal of soul-searching in the cricket world. I think it’s quite right that a heart-breaking event like the death of a cricketer so make us redouble efforts to keep the game as safe as possible. I think that means looking very seriously at the design of the modern cricket helmet. Only this summer, England’s Stuart Broad was badly injured when he was hit by a ball that smashed through the faceguard on his helmet, which suggests to me that the design of the front of the standard helmet is faulty. The same type of helmet offers no protection to the lower part of the back of the skull, either. On the other hand, a helmet that was too bulky might restrict the movement of a batsman so much that it makes it more, not less, likely that they will get hit. One also has to try to maintain a reasonable perspective. The type of injury that killed Hughes – a vertebral artery dissection – is extremely rare, with only about 100 cases ever having been recorded at all, none  which were on the cricket field. Not that long ago, nobody wore a helmet anyway; see below for an example.

Australians cricketers learn to play the game on pitches that are fast and hard, but generally of even bounce. That’s why the hook shoot is favoured more by Aussie batsman than by their English counterparts; pitches in England are generally slower and variable bounce is much more likely. Until relatively recently many English batsman didn’t play the hook shot at all, preferring instead to simply get out of the way of a bouncer than attempt to play it. After all, the ball isn’t going to hit the stumps if it’s bouncing around head height. Getting out of the way isn’t as easy as it sounds, however, because one’s instinctive reaction is either to try to protect your head with bat or gloves, to flinch away or try to duck. The proper technique, which requires practice to ingrain, is to keep your eye on the ball, drop the hands to keep the bat out of the way, and sway out of the path of the ball at the last minute. That may sound easy, but it certainly isn’t. I tried to do it in a school game years against a bowler a fraction of the pace of Sean Abbott, and ended up with the ball smacking me right on bridge of my nose. I had taken the “keep your eyes on the ball” advice a bit too literally…

Some have argued that bouncers should be banned. I think that would be a mistake. Part of the unique appeal of cricket is that the spectactors are aware not only of the skill of the players, but also their courage. A bouncer is a severe test of the mettle of a batsman, whether they choose to fight fire with fire by trying to hook, or simply standing firm and letting it go by. Some of the most enthralling passages of play I remember watching involved a demon fast bowler hurling down terrifying thunderbolts at batsman who could do little but get everything into line and try soak up whatever was thrown at him. Heroic defence is as much a part of the game as dashing strokeplay.

Take this example. Brian Close had been brought into open the England batting earlier in the 1976 series against the West Indies in an attempt to stiffen their resistance to the West Indian attack. He wasn’t the greatest player in the world nor the cricketing world’s most agreeable character, and as you can tell he wasn’t in the first flush of youth in 1976 either, but there is no denying his courage and determination. Here he is enduring a vicious battering at the hands of Michael Holding. One short-pitched delivery in this sequence came within a whisker of hitting him on the head; had it done so the consequences would have been horrendous as he was not wearing a helmet. As it was, he “only” had to take  a succession of blows to his body. He scored 20 runs at Old Trafford, off 108 balls in 162 minutes, and was dropped for the next Test as was his opening partner John Edrich,  although both had stood their ground and defended their wickets (and themselves) manfully.

Note that Michael Holding did get a warning here for excessive use of short-pitched deliveries, but the situation was very different from that faced by Phillip Hughes who was well set and trying to score runs rather than clinging on against a barrage aimed at his head and body.

The element of danger is not unique to the sport of cricket. Contact sports (e.g. rugby) also carry a risk of serious injury. Boxing is another, perhaps more extreme, example. Of course we should do everything we can to minimize the danger to the participants, but we can never remove the risk entirely. I’m not in favour of banning bouncers or boxing or other “dangerous sports”: as long as all concerned know the risks then they should be allowed to make the decision whether to expose themselves to those risks. In fact, everything we do in life carries an element of risk. If we’re not free to take chances, we’re not free to live at all.

R.I.P. Phillip Hughes (1988-2014).

POSTSCRIPT. In a touching gesture, the record of Phillip Hughes’s last innings has been changed to from “Retired Hurt 63” to “Not Out 63”.