[link to Bob’s Writer’s Choice entry]
Probably not many of Norm’s fans and friends shared the full range of his enthusiasms. I didn’t share his fondness for film or jazz or country music, but I did share his interest in certain political matters and his passion for cricket (“one of the most sublime creations of the human spirit” in Norm’s words). The first time I contacted him (in 2005) I praised his blog for its political content but also complained mildly about the amount of publicity given to Australian cricketers. However, I conceded that some of them were in fact rather good. He in turn agreed that there were one or two decent English cricketers and that they perhaps deserved some more attention. A bit later he invited me to contribute a piece to his Memories of Cricket series, which I did in October 2006. I then contributed another, and another, and in the end I provided nearly as many as Norm. He always seemed pleased to have them (and they weren’t all about English successes and Australian failures). I was also able to provide a team of food-related cricketers as a follow up Norm’s teams of philosophers and literary figures.
Naturally, we exchanged numerous emails about cricketing matters and, since Norm had a good sense of humour, there was plenty of room for jokes. Probably his favourite Test series was the 2006–07 Ashes series, which Australia won 5-0. I denied having any knowledge of the series, and, when earlier this month he was worried about the uncertainty in the history books about the precise result of the third Test of the 1881–82, Ashes series I pointed out that if the books were wrong about that they could be wrong about anything, including the result of the 2006–07 series. In reply he suggested that Jim Laker probably didn’t really take 19 wickets at Old Trafford in 1956, and we concluded by agreeing that Shane Warne was probably a fictitious character.
There was of course most to talk about when an Ashes series was in progress. We exchanged a few emails during the 2006–07 series, but there were probably more in 2005, 2009 and 2010–11. When England scored 517 for 1 in the second innings of the first Test in 2010–11, I rather cruelly suggested that Australia needed to bring back Warne and Glen McGrath, and Dennis Lillee, and maybe Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson. Later in the series I had the unusual experience of feeling sorry for Australian supporters, and I tried to cheer Norm up by suggesting that the following lines from the traditional song Seeds of Love [link to MIDI file] might apply to Australian cricket:
…the grass that has often been trampled under foot,
Given time, it will rise again
Although he was a devoted supporter of Australia, Norm was never a member of the Glen McGrath “we’re going to win 5–0” school. He tended to be pessimistic. So whenever things were going well for Australia and I was feeling down, Norm always seemed to think that it could all easily change. In his pessimism he was rather like a typical English fan.
The last time I saw Norm was in August, when my wife and I enjoyed Norm and Adèle’s hospitality during the third day of the third Test. Naturally we sat and watched the Test on TV. Norm and Adèle and my wife (who is Polish, but that is no excuse) were rooting for Australia, leaving me as the sole England supporter, but we had an excellent time and honours were pretty even when we departed.
I probably exchanged more emails with Norm about politics than cricket. There were lots of things to discuss—Iraq, Libya, Syria, John Pilger, Simon Jenkins, Jonathan Steele, etc., etc.—but our last email conversation was essentially about cricket. I pointed out to him that Malala was reported as being a cricket fan and having a particular liking for Shane Watson, Norm’s least favourite Australian cricketer. We agreed that she needed better cricketing heroes. I also noted that I was a confirmed fan of England batsman Tom Graveney at her age. Norm thought that this was a very sound choice. At the time I assumed there would be plenty more similar conversations. Sadly, it was not to be.