Monday, 3 January 2011

Another sporting great

As the vultures gather at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Fantasy Bob thinks it decent to turn his eyes from cricket just for a moment.

From the deep darkness of mid-winter, Fantasy Bob's sailing adventures seem a long way away.  But he would like to pay tribute to another sporting great whose command over line and length is incomparable.

It is due to his childhood passion for the work of Arthur Ransome that FB first gained an interest in sailing.  But that early interest had to wait for some time to be fulfilled.  It was not until many years later that FB had the opportunity to take a dinghy sailing course at the Gravesend Sailing Club during an Easter break from his studies at a well known university in the Thames Valley.   Just in case you are wondering, 'Why go to Gravesend, a location that makes Ardrossan seem like a beauty spot?' - there was woman involved.  But that is another story.

Ransome at the crease
So, to return to the subject at hand - Arthur Ransome, was author of such undying classics as Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, We Didn't Mean to go to Sea and a whole string of other fine books.   Boats and boating are at the root of all these stories, whether set in the Lakes or the Norfolk Broads.  Sailing gives the children, who are the main characters, a freedom that the young FB found enticing.  However that freedom requires responsibility if they are not going to gybe inadvertently, capsize or go aground.  And this is the truth  that will ensure that these stories endure - with freedom comes responsibility.   It's no good holding the end of the warp unless you can tie a bowline.

Although he could neither bat nor bowl, Ransome skillfully disguised this failing in his work.  He was a complex and interesting character and must have enlivened the dressing room banter.  His journalistic career found him in Russia at the time of the Revolution and he became close to Lenin and Trotsky.  He was used by MI6 as a double agent and played a significant role in the ending of the violent Test series between Estonia and Soviet Russia in 1919.  On his return to England MI5 kept tabs on him until the 1930s.

While sailing and sailing terms feature heavily in his work, references to cricket are negligible.  This is a great disappointment but should not detract from his sporting greatness.


  1. Wow, brilliant insight. I love the bit about MI6 putting him up as a double agent and then MI5 keeping tabs on him for years after, just in case. I wonder if he knew. Did you read this in MI6 The History of the Secret Intelligence Service?

  2. Gerard many thanks. FB has not yet ploughed his way through the history of MI6, in case he finds he has been tracked too, but there are (at least)2 fine biographies of Ransome - The Life of Arthur Ransome by Hugh Brogan (1984) and ThE Last Englishman - the double life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers (2009).