Ritual: the FA Cup, and a Sage

Following a heady week with the Li family band, Mahler 9, and Turangalîla, the FA Cup final is another Grand Ritual, which even I hesitate to compare with the Daoist jiao Offering.

After such a difficult season for Arsenal, I’m so happy for Arsène Wenger that they won. For me, in an age when Premier League managers last about as long as Italian prime ministers, Wenger—the archetypal wise father-figure—exemplifies the continuity and values of tradition, and our culture stands or falls with him. His victory also confirms my renewed infatuation with French culture.

While Sanchez is driven and divine, Theo Walcott comes and goes, and Mehmut Özil, “floating, vulnerable muse”, is sometimes rather too languid, his inspiration elusive and intermittent. If someone doesn’t translate his autobiography Die Magie des Spiels soon, then I’m seriously going to have to learn German—as if Nina Hagen and the Matthew Passion weren’t enough of a stimulus.

Ronnie can lose games too—but it’s the principle (Oops, I nearly came out with “It’s not whether you win or lose, but….”). Like Daoists, he and Wenger negotiate expediencies and maintain a core of inspiration in a mundane cutthroat society. Like Li Manshan, Wenger adroitly juggles a pool of performers—OK, this was expediency, but however did he come up with Mertesacker on the bo cymbals (Shurely shome mishtake?—Ed.] after all this time?! Génial!

While I’m about it, amidst a plethora of mercenary fuckwits posturing on the media stage, the Premier League has seen a sudden and unlikely flowering of civilized generous continental managers, pleasantly marginalizing the former Chelsea incumbent—sulky, pouting, self-obsessed, throwing his toys out of the pram. “Remind you of anybody?

My secondary education was inspirational, with several brilliant eccentric teachers in Classics, Music, and English. However, having excelled at football at primary level, at my secondary school we played rugby rather than football. Otherwise I would now (Now??? Come off it—Ed.) be joining Sanchez, Özil, and Walcott in the Arsenal forward line-up, and you would all be spared my crazed ramblings on Daoist ritual and WAM… The rest wouldn’t be history. And isn’t really anyway.

Oh and that’s a bad miss

As Ronnie glides into the second week of the snooker, it’s also worth tipping our notional hats to the erudite commentators (themselves veteran performers, unlike most scholars of, um, Daoist ritual), full of brilliant detail on both the mechanics and psychology of the event—like good ethnographers (there I go again).

Not quite like this:

In WAM concerts, such detailed information is relegated to a printed programme, and unable to respond to the incidents of performance. This is remedied by PDQ Bach (in a live version of his classic radio show and LP):

And actually it’s a highly instructive way of listening…

My favourite BTL comment there:

Is it joke?

A master craftsman

Talking of calendrical rituals, the World Snooker championship rarely overlaps with Easter, but Ronnie was on divine form again on Easter Day. Sure, he can lose matches, but when he’s at the table we’re in the presence of a genius. The World event is most satisfying in its two-week span and the length of the individual, um, ritual segments, like a grand jiao Offering…

However troubled Ronnie’s personal history, the fluency of his technique and the sheer ease of his style recall those of a master musician.

I will be glued to his next match, beginning on Thursday evening. And the snooker also happily coincides with the British Forum for Ethnomusicology conference!

This week’s dinner party

Guests for my fantasy dinner party this week (Friday to Monday):

Jaroslav Hašek, Stella Gibbons, Flann O’Brien, Harpo Marx, Keith Richards, Viv Albertine, Zoe Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Caitlin Moran, Diane Morgan [far-fetched stage name of Philomena Cunk—Ed.], and Bridget Christie.

Dress optional. 1859 for 1900. That gives them 41 years.

It might be churlish of me to worry that Hašek and Myles might not shine in a large mixed group. But hey, it’s a fantasy.

And did those feet in ancient time?

Still thinking about Alan Bennett’s feet and early religious culture:

In the wonderful song Jerusalem, rather like those questions they ask you at the airport check-in desk, you think all the answers are going to be “No”, but you have to keep on your toes (sic, see below) just in case.

Great that it’s tipped for our new national anthem, to replace the meretricious God save the Queen (although the version here is fine)—but we have to take care not to “leave it unattended at any time” in case it gets hijacked by “Paul Nuttall and the UKIPs”.

Mind you (and talking of keeping on your toes), if I had an anthem like this (Wow! Italian opera at its most intoxicating! 1831-ish, see here)

even I would score a goal like this:

(1970—“ancient time”?] That’s right up there with Ronnie’s 147.

I was in Washington DC with the amazing Hua family shawm band in 2002 [more on that story later] when Brazil won the World Cup. We all crowded into the hotel bar early in the morning to cheer them on, suitably lubricated with A Pint of Plain—It’s Your Only Man.

And then there’s our fantasy football team/Daoist ritual band

“which will bring us back to”

Li Manshan!

[Been at the Bombay Sapphire again, Dr Jones?—Ed.]

5’20”

Of all the beautiful things you can do in 5’20” (like playing Yellow Dragon Thrice Transforms its Body at the end of the Transferring Offerings ritual), the divine Ronnie’s 1997 maximum is likely to remain unmatched in human history:

Beats 4’33” any day, with all due respect to John Cage.

I shouldn’t need an excuse for showing this, but here it is. After taking Li Manshan to a conference in Hong Kong (book p.333), I was staying with him in a posh hotel in Beijing when we switched on the TV to find Ronnie playing in the world masters snooker. Snooker has become staggeringly popular in China, but Li Manshan hadn’t seen it before, and his amazement was delightful. So I showed him this 147, which is flabbergasting even if you don’t quite know how ridiculously difficult it is…

After the lavish banquets in Hong Kong, at which we both felt rather uncomfortable, we were happy to eat a simple bowl of noodles in peace together in a little caff over the road. Next day I took him to the station to take the train home and get on with his routine of determining the date, decorating coffins, and funerals.

My favourite expression of snooker commentators is “he’s eying up a plant”. Tang poetry is all very well, but I wonder how you say that in Chinese…

Since Ronnie is often described as the Mozart of snooker, I note that Mozart enjoyed a game of billiards.