Thursday, February 18

Our dark material

'This strange hulking presence gnawing its meat was like nothing she had ever imagined, and she felt a profound admiration and pity for the lonely creature.'

- Northern Lights

‘Beast. May I speak to you?

My heart was thumping hard, because something in the Beast’s present made me feel close to coldness, danger, brutal power, but a power controlled by intelligence; and not a human intelligence, nothing like a human. The tattoos that snaked down his arms seemed to wreath his limbs with some organic design. This strange hulking presence pounding the touchline of the pitch was like nothing I had ever imagined, and I felt a profound admiration and pity for the lonely creature.

He ceased his pounding and crouched. Steam rose from his close-cropped head, and his stubble-lined jaw tightened. Then he stood up massively, six feet and more high, as if to show how mighty he was, to remind me of how useless the advertising hoardings would be as a barrier, and he spoke to me from that height.

‘Well? Who are you?’

His voice was so deep it seemed to shake the earth.

‘I’m a supporter of Oxford United.’

‘What do you want?’

‘I want to see you employed.’

‘I am employed.’

It was very hard to detect any expressive tones in his voice, whether of irony or anger, because it was so deep and flat.

‘Employed at what?’

‘I train with the team.’

‘What kind of work is that for a player such as you?’

‘Paid work.’

The beast knelt and began to stretch his mighty legs, heedless of me, it seemed; but then he spoke again.

‘What work are you suggesting?’

‘Fighting, in all probability,’ I said. ‘Soon we have to play Wimbledon at home, and Stevenage away. When that happens, we’ll have to fight to win.’

‘And what will you pay?’

‘I don’t know what to offer you Beast. If honour and glory are desirable to you, I can offer that.’

He was silent.

‘Forgive me for asking, Beast, but you could live a free proud life on the pitch. What ties you to the touchline and the bench?’

I felt my skin shiver all over. The question, which was almost an insult, may have enraged the great creature beyond reason, and I wondered how I’d had the courage to ask it. The Beast stopped his stretch, and came close to the terrace where I stood to peer at my face.

‘I know Stevenage and I know Wimbledon. Now I don’t like these teams, so I shall answer you politely. I stay here and pace this touchline and sit on that bench because they took away my yellow shirt. Without the yellow shirt I can train, but I can’t go to war in matches such as you speak of. I came to Oxford to escape from this league with you, and battles such as these are the air I breathe and the food I eat. They took my shirt from me, and if I knew how to get it back, I should tear that bench from its fixings and hurl it into the stands. If you want my service, I must have this shirt. With that, and I shall serve you in your campaign, either until I am dead or until you have victory.’

With that, I watched the mighty beast turn and resume his ceaseless patrol of the touchline, his eyes focused on something in the distance that before I had not been able to discern. But now I knew that it was a yellow shirt with the Ox's head above the ford on its chest.

[A post in honour of Mark Creighton's service to Oxford this season. Rhys Day and Jake Wright have formed a formidable centre back pairing, and one couldn't argue with that. But in the same way that we wouldn't contest the fox hunting ban, nevertheless the sight of Mark Creighton playing for his place in an FA trophy game seems as sad a sight as a pack of hunting dogs chasing a bag of sand.

Image credits: Image of polar bear adapted from a
photograph by douglasperkins courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons; images of Mark Creighton courtesy of Steve Daniels/Rage Online, and reproduced here with kind permission]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no key to happiness, only a ladder...................................................