Not a subject on which my wife would consider me an authority. Yesterday I did a quick spot on the Today programme on that subject, with respect to Alastair Cook, the England cricket captain and his astonishing 14-hour innings against Pakistan. They embarrassingly called me Simon Barnes of The Times, but I rose above it.
Cook was praised for his patience, but it’s not patience of the kind you need when you’re trying to make your computer behave, or dealing with a 14-hour flight delay. It’s more like the patience you need when looking at wildlife.
There’s a passage in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (yes, that again, any why not? It’s in the fifth volume of the 12, the one called Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant) in which the characters are discussing Casanova. One asks why Casanova should be considered a great man because he had a lot of women; most men would be bored to death.
That’s why he was great, says Moreland. Because he didn’t get bored. And that’s why Cook is great. He didn’t get bored while batting because he was completely absorbed by the process. He wasn’t fighting tedium: the idea of tedium never entered his mind.
It’s the same thing with the wild world. I may get frantic with the smallest malfunction of my computer, and may start frothing at the mouth when the “flight delayed” signs goes up. But I can sit without even thinking about time when I’m out in the wild.
I don’t present that as virtue. I’m absorbed by the process. I’m consumed. The jobs of looking out and listening out enthral me. It’s hard to stop: like a surfer waiting for one last good wave, I find myself sitting on and on, waiting for one last good moment of wildness.
I don’t go out in search of meditative calm or peace or tranquillity. I don’t go out because I’m a patient man. I go out because the wild world enthrals me and consistently rewards those who sit for that little bit longer.
George Schaller, the great ethologist – student of animal behaviour – did ground-breaking work with lions. (The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations is very readable, and quite enthralling to all of us with a taste for lions. I used it fictionally; something very similar was the master-work of a character in my first novel, Rogue Lion Safaris.) Schaller would spend day after day with lions: and lions like sleep: a 16-hour snooze is nothing to a lion.
Schaller often found his head nodding from empathy. But he stayed with the lions because the subject utterly absorbed him. All of us who operate at a much lower and less directed level can empathise with the empathising Schaller. And sit on. And on.
In such circumstances patience ceases to be a virtue and becomes something not far off a vice. But unlike a real vice, it brings sustained joy and never palls.
* Many thanks to every one who welcomed me back after I posted yesterday’s blog. I feel really cheered and am full of good resolutions. I’ll reply to all when I can.