Almanac Books: A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow & Duncan Hamilton – Book Review 1 of 52

I harbour a hatred for New Year’s Eve and resolutions. I am also a hypocrite. As such, I’ve resolved to read a book a week in 2018, and to write something about each book as I go. Perhaps this is a year-long hobby, rather than a resolution. Call it what you will.

 

There will no set theme, save that I’ll try and take in as many genres and points of view and as I can. It would be far too easy to just read the perspectives of mid-twenties white males with average beards and unhealthy fixations with the Richmond Football Club.

 

Perhaps I should put a clause in here about sports books. I’ll try my absolute best to choose only those with a significant point of difference – be it the quality of the writing, or the fact that the book sheds light on something greater than sport itself.

 

There will be no set format for each piece of writing. Some will be reviews and others will be summaries. Some will be essays. In all likelihood, some will also be complete bollocks. The plan is to go wherever the book takes me – a boat against the current.

 

Happy reading, and a happy year to you all!

 

Feel free to suggest a title for me – I have about forty spots to fill (Please don’t suggest Ulysses or other such behemoths. The boat will capsize).

 

***

 

A Clear Blue Sky – Jonny Bairstow & Duncan Hamilton

 

Day two of the Boxing Day Test – December 27. The MCG is packed. Jimmy Anderson bowls wide of the off-stump and the ball is taken without a sound by the waiting gloves of Jonny Bairstow.

 

He throws it nonchalantly sideways and then gazes upwards at the faces in the stands staring back. I wonder if he feels like an animal in a zoo enclosure.

 

Keeping wicket allows time to drift and ponder as the ball makes its way back to the hand of the bowler. You don’t get that luxury while you bat, and it is in the midst of those nervous moments between balls that Bairstow’s book, A Clear Blue Sky, begins. He’s fidgeting, gardening, shirt tugging and bat twirling his way through the nineties towards his maiden Test hundred.

 

Despite this introductory moment, the book isn’t about the nineties, or batting, or playing this team on this day and making this many. It’s about why, when he finally strikes a boundary to bring up that hundred, he raises his bat and his helmet, and tilts his head back to look at the sky.

 

Jonny Bairstow’s father, David, or “Bluey”, committed suicide in 1998. He was forty-six and Jonny was just eight. It is impossible to fathom what it would be like to arrive home at 8:30pm on an otherwise indistinguishable Monday evening to find your father has hanged himself from the staircase – until that precise scenario confronts you.

 

Along with his sister Becky, Jonny went to school the following morning. In the book, he quotes Winston Churchill: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

 

Unfortunately carrying on isn’t all that easy. Robert Frost finished “Out, out–“, a poem about the death of a boy working on a sawmill, thus: “And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

 

It’s not that simple to turn to your affairs and head to school to carry on as if nothing has changed. The questions nag. What could we have done? Why did he do this?

 

As Jonny acknowledges and accepts by the book’s end, there is no answer. The “why” is an unsolvable puzzle, which means that this book takes shape as an attempt to understand a life rather than a death. The lion’s share is about David, rather than Jonny. It amounts to a tribute, piecing together all of the things you can’t know about your father when you’re eight.

 

David Bairstow kept wicket for England and Yorkshire, and the county was “blood and bone and breath to him”. He was built like a “muck stack” and “had the sort of personality that filled up a room when he entered”.

 

That the son shares the enthusiasm of the father for Yorkshire CCC is obvious throughout. The book is worth reading simply for the detail it gives about England’s most storied cricketing county.

 

Perhaps most compellingly, there is plenty of room dedicated to the stories that father and son never had the chance to tell one another over a beer, and room for Jonny to discover the places and people his father loved – Scarborough’s cricket ground, especially.

 

The final chapter – “I Am Bluey” – echoes the song, “He Lives in You”, from the musical version of The Lion King. Simba recognises that in himself, his father, Mufasa, lives on. Jonny was known from early on at Yorkshire by his father’s nickname, Bluey. By the end of the book, he reflects on how “chuffed” his Dad would be to know it was passed down.

 

Even when the book turns to more detailed cricketing matters, it’s never totally about Jonny. David is always there. As Jonny reflects late in the book, “He always is”.

 

On the experience of facing Mitchell Johnson in Australia in 2013/14, Bairstow says that he considered sending the bowler a thank you note when he announced his retirement. But true to form, he also takes the chance to discuss his father’s own experiences facing Dennis Lillee and Michael Holding. It’s that sort of book.

 

A Clear Blue Sky is a magnificent change from your everyday cricket read, though it doesn’t ignore the game itself. You could read it for just the cricket, just the family stories, just the Yorkshire history, or just the vital message it holds about the importance of mental health, and still be satisfied. That all four are interwoven throughout meant that I ultimately struggled to put it down.

 

 

So, in a nutshell…

Reading time: Two days

Should you read it? Definitely (possibly twice)

 

 My reading list for 2018 thus far:

 

  • A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow & Duncan Hamilton – (Finished)
  • The Cricket War: The Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket by Gideon Haigh (Finished)
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Underway)
  • The Mother of All Questions: Further Feminisms by Rebecca Solnit (Underway)
  • The Short Long Book by Martin Flanagan
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Coach: A Season with Ron Barassi by John Powers (On the bedside table)
  • A Rightful Place: A Roadmap to Recognition by Various authors
  • 9 – 52 TBC

 

 And I should really add a disclaimer about my chances of success…

 

If my cricketing record is any guide, passing fifty here will be a struggle. More likely, I will do what I did for the illustrious Brighton CC Under 15s of 2008 – scrap around, taking far too long to acquire my 35, playing things I really ought to whack with a very dead bat and nicking to second slip things that I really ought to have refused to indulge. Of course, the catch at second slip was dropped by the pork pie fielding there, prolonging the boredom of the crowd – eleven parents, four unfortunate siblings and three dogs – until I play all around a straight one. With some luck, my batting partner will hang around for another hour or so, leaving me ample time to ensure everyone who cares to listen knows that the ball started on leg and hit the top of off, before said partner can debunk my story as little more than “Fake News”. I hope this innings is more successful.

 

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi Jack. What a splendid idea. Jonny’s book sounds great, very thoughtful and reflective. Would love to borrow the 3rd book after you have read it! And the fourth. I’ll use you as a guide to some good reading. I have been enjoying ‘How the West was One’, and finished Matt Watson’s ‘Fabulous Phil’ while away. Matt’s book really surprised me, a great character study and study of football at that time. Nick Riewoldts “The Things that Make us” is very moving and another insightful read. Continue to enjoy and thanks for sharing the reviews.

  2. JBanister says:

    Thanks Yvette. You’re welcome to borrow them! Hopefully everything I read is worthwhile, but I may hit a dud eventually!

    I need to read the Phil Carman book for sure – the lunch with him was spectacular. It’s hard to squeeze in all the sports books these days! There are just so many!

    With AFLW coming up, I’m actually working on a weekly pod during the season – I’m sure I’ll see you at one of the venues in the not-too-distant, at any rate!

  3. Barry Nicholls says:

    Jack add ‘The Boys of Summer’ by Roger Khan. cheers

  4. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great stuff Jack, Bairstow’s book is one I’m keen to read. Look forward to your next 51!

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I’ll second Barry’s tip Jack. Ping me if you need a copy, it’s magnificent.

  6. Great stuff Jack. Does the book give insight into David’s personal demons – or is that beyond an 8yo’s perspective?
    I have ordered Mike Brearley’s “On Form” and Joe Posnanski’s (thanks for the introduction ER) book about the Jack Nicklaus/Tom Watson relationship as competitors before friends. Will pen something about them down the track (a book a month is as much as I can manage).

  7. Jack, this is a great challenge. But no-one’s going to hold you to 52.

    But one thing for sure, if the reviews are like this one you will entice a lot of people to go aout and find the books. More for the pile which you describe.

    I actually read three over the summer – Christian Ryan on Patrick Eagar’s 1975 – original and totally engaging. Mike Sexton on Ian Chappell’s 1975-76 – fine narrative and insight with beaut development of the characters, especially IMC. And Tea and No Sympathy – which people will read a s amusing (which it is) but it’s the darkness which is its strength. I recommend all three.

    All the best with it.

  8. JBanister says:

    Thanks all. Some cracking recommendations above!

  9. JBanister says:

    And Peter – there’s definitely discussion of David’s demons. There were several factors combined that ultimately led to his depression and suicide, which are outlined very early in the book.

  10. Peter Fuller says:

    Jack,
    I applaud your admirable ambition. In consequence, you’re bound to be a more rounded journalism graduate than many of your contemporaries, and your journalism will be the better for it. I’d also observe that the ambition and your evident determination to have a crack is sufficient justification whether you manage to bring up the half-ton or not.
    My year 12 English Expression (not Literature) teacher urged us to read a novel a week to support our English. This provided the motivation for a life-long reading habit. During my working life I rarely achieved that rate of progress, but I always had at least one non work-related book in progress.
    If I can throw a couple of personal preferences into the mix.
    From a sports perspective, Richard Ford “The Sportswriter” or any of his others.
    Brian Glanville – various novels and non-fiction on British and Italian football .
    Tim Parks – “A Season with Verona”.
    My non-sports tastes are idiosyncratic and dated, but I do like Vera Brittain, John Mortimer, John Updike.
    Best of luck. I will look forward to reading about your experience with this adventure.

  11. Jeff Smith says:

    Hi Jack,
    Good review and looks like a good read.
    As a Demons supporter I found a biography on Liam Jarrah, it really does a great job in helping us understand the problems faced by indigenous players. Particularly those from way out in the dessert.
    Found it really good read.
    Regards. Jeff

  12. JBanister says:

    Thanks Peter. I’ve dropped them on to a list. At any rate, I also find the only way really to learn to write or to continue to evolve your writing is to read. I’m sure the fact I read intently as a kid has helped!

    I’ve been meaning to read “A Season with Verona” for about six years now, so hopefully I get there sooN!

    Jeff – Liam Jurrah is definitely one to read. I know the book is out but it doesn’t seem to have generated much noise. Any idea why?

  13. John Butler says:

    Only one a week, Jack?

    What are you doing with the rest of your time? :)

    Some good ones on the initial list. Looking forward to your thoughts.

    Cheers

  14. JBanister says:

    Thanks JB. Amazingly, I’m finding there’s a distinct lack of time left to binge-watch shows on Netflix.

    Possibly for the betterment of my intellectual capacity, I think!

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