In Praise of Silence

Love Ones, I wrote this rather testy piece in a moment of great frustration.

Cricket? Many suggest the game was devised by children of Saxon or Norman times living in England. It survived as a children’s game for many centuries before it was taken up by adults around the beginning of the 17th century. It spread to British Commonwealth nations to become the second most popular sport in the world after soccer. (Numbers of players, numbers of fans) It is interesting to note that the first ever international cricket game was between the USA and Canada in 1844.


When the great Australian painter Brett Whiteley painted the portrait of Nobel Prize winning author Patrick White, Whitely asked him for a list of his loves and hates. His first love was SILENCE – well ahead of whiskey and even sex. His third favorite thing was “unexpected honesty” – so here it is!

brett-w-cricket.jpgCricket is a cerebral game. Nothing is more enjoyable than a quiet afternoon watching the cricket. It is a ritual that unfolds in households of cricket playing countries throughout the world. Pour yourself a beer, turn on the telly, lollygag on the sofa and watch the cricket. Those of you who love the game will know. Having lived in a non-cricket playing country for the last 33 years this was an event to be savored.

“Cricket” by Brett Whiteley

But quiet it was not to be. There was Nan in the background, drinking wine, the pitch of her voice getting louder and louder with every glass. She started out by helpfully explaining the rules. “He’s caught on the full. He’s out!” “That was an LBW – he’s out you know”. “If it goes all the way to the boundary it’s automatically 4 runs.” “Thanks Nan…Al spent 10 years playing cricket, I think we know the rules.” I gritted my teeth. “Oh! Alright then” but it was obviously not alright.

We progressed to random comments. “This TV’s very small isn’t it dear?” “Yes Nan it’s very small.” “Why do they have such a small T.V?” “I don’t know Nan.” “Funny isn’t it dear?” “Yes Nan it’s very funny.” “Wow, did you see that dear?” “Yes, I saw that Nan”…I’m watching just like you…….but quietly. You get the picture.

I fell in love with quiet when I lived in Florence for a year. Unencumbered by my usual “to do” list and family responsibilities I would roam the streets and surrounding countryside rather aimlessly, lost in thought. It’s a nice place to be -lost “in thought”. Quiet is synonymous with tranquility and it is restorative. I have become aware however that there are people who hate silence. They see it as a vacuum to be filled at all cost.

A moment’s respite, then the sucking on her teeth started – swish, suck, slurp, swallow – the sounds of liquid moving through canines. Then the sighs – first the sighs with an upward inflection, then a series of sighs with a downward inflection, then humming (out of tune) tapping of fingers, more sucking on the teeth. Then the gurgling sounds….suck, suck, gurgle, gurgle… She could restrain herself no longer. “Oh look – they’re bringing that bowler back on.” “Yes I see that Nan. “What does a new ball mean?” “It means they’ve introduced a new ball Nan” said my husband as he got up and reached for another beer. That was when I knew he was feeling it too…..

In Test cricket, after 80 “overs“, the captain of the bowling side has the option to introduce a new ball. (An over is 6 tosses of the ball – when they’re tossed, the over is over!) A new ball is faster than a used ball so if his fast bowlers were “hot” he would likely choose to bring in a new ball.

Next came grunting, either grunting in approval or grunting with disapproval. I cannot write the intonation but something like this – Uh! (Pause) Oh! (Pause) Ooo! (Pause) Er! (Pause) Argh! (Small pause). Constant Mmming, some short, (Mm) some long, (Mmm) some even longer (Mmmmm) …anything to fill the silence, the glorious, glorious, golden silence, each precious spell getting shorter and shorter. “Isn’t it amazing that they can’t get them out?” (Yes it’s amazing…..) “Wow….will you look at that” (We’re looking) “Isn’t he fantastic” (He is) “How do they do that?” (Don’t know) “He’s scored 109″ (He has) “Oh, I love this ad” We even had to comment on the advertisements……

She paused for breath and I thought for one magnificent moment we were done.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” MARK TWAIN

The spell was broken with “I wonder why they always chew while they’re out there.” (Don’t know Nan) “You know there were about 20 of them in the swimming pool today. I didn’t want to get in.” (We were playing India) “20 of who Nan?” I asked in dismay “You know darling – THEM!” Aarghhhhh! Now she had gone too far. If there had been a carving knife in reach I would have attacked her…done her in, shuffled her off to Buffalo – sent her to meet her maker…. Stay calm, stay calm I thought, breathe, breathe. It was just as well she was sitting behind me so she couldn’t see my expressions…..rolling of eyes, searing glances in the direction of my husband, begging, pleading…..help me make her stop! My daughter got up from the sofa and left, flashing me a warning look as if to say “don’t even THINK of ending up like this…”

It is interesting to note that silence is revered in prayer and meditation, but noise is used as a form of torture.

“Oh look a four!” “Oh look a six!” “Oh dear, only a one……” do you ever shut up? She was beginning to sound like a form of Chinese water torture. She had verbal diarrhea and was emitting random sounds – “Oh look at the batsman”. Where is the cone of silence when you need it? Endless hints …”Nan, you seem to get a lot more talkative when you watch the cricket…” “Oh darling…..your so funny!” We gave up on the cricket and sought refuge on the deck. She didn’t seem to notice. Still in the background we could hear “Oh – will you look at that….Hmmmm!…Oh dear!….Suck, tap, tap, tap …blah, blah, blah ….I moved into the kitchen and heard the voice trailing behind me and turned on the garburator for relief.

patrick-white-portrait.jpgPatrick White, often regarded as one of the world’s greatest authors, was the only Australian ever to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (1973) ( The Vivesector). Other famous titles include Voss, The Tree of Man and Riders in the Chariot. (http://www.amazon.com/) Born into a wealthy and privileged family, White was known for his observations of the common man. Patrick White died in 1990 after a long illness. His lifelong companion, Manoly Lascaris, died in 2003 at Lulworth House in Sydney which, now a nursing home, had been White’s luxurious family home. A detail from Whiteley’s portrait was used for the cover of his biography “Patrick White – A Life” by David Marr, which is a fantastic read!

brett-w.jpgThe internationally revered Australian artist Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) is my favorite Aussie artist of all times. He was represented by the Kym Bonython Gallery in Paddington near where we lived at the time and Big Daddy and I would go hang around and soak up his paintings as often as we could. He was a pioneer of the avant-garde movement and we had never seen anything like it! His international reputation was sealed when he won the prestigious International prize at the Biennale de la Jeunesse in Paris in 1962 and his work is now represented at the Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Australia. Later in life he battled alcohol and drug addiction. After the breakup of his 25 yr marriage to his muse he died alone of a heroin overdose in a motel room in New South Wales.

brett-whiteley.jpg

For a treat of a website go to www.brettwhiteley.org


When the 71 year old Sophia Lauren was asked what kept her so young and sexy she replied “Posture, my dear. It’s all about posture. And I don’t make old people sounds!”

So there it is – to stay young – Live Life TO THE MAX and don’t make old people sounds!

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