Thursday, 2 July 2015

I don't want a pickle

Bust of Catullus in Sirmione
Long suffering readers of these pages, being widely read, are familiar with the works of the Roman poet Catullus.  Not that they will find any cricketing references in his surviving work (perhaps he addressed cricketing subjects in verses that have not survived - we shall never know).

But the most famous quote from his work seems uncannily to have been inspired by Fantasy Bob.

'Ave atque vale,' the opposition wicket keeper will frequently mutter as FB pointlessly scratches his guard.  Hail and farewell - a simultaneous greeting and departure.  Catullus was evidently aware of the all too transitory nature of FB's visits to the crease.

FB was put in mind of Catullus during his recent Italian visit when he and Mrs FB spent some delightful days on the peninsula of Sirmione, a location celebrated by the poet.   Despite the overtly sexual content of much of Catullus' work, carefully selected verses were a set text when FB did Higher Latin.  Contrary to the belief of many of his junior team-mates in the Carlton All Star 4th XI, Latin was not still a living language when FB studied it although it may only recently have died.

Sirmione is a narrow peninsula on the southern end of Lake Garda and at its tip are the ruins of a Roman villa which is claimed to have belonged to Catullus' family, even though there is no match report which provides certain evidence that he was ever there. Whatever is the historical reality, FB and Mrs FB spent a pleasant morning poking around the ruins.  Catullus was the scion of a wealthy Veronese family and the villa, which is no modest 2 up 2 down holiday cottage, but spreads over 5 acres, would seem to suggest a certain level of wealth in its owners.   The atrium alone was the size of a decent cricket square.  Not that Catullus would have made much use of such a facility, his interest in cricket being negligible.

Just as there is no evidence that Catullus had any interest in cricket, there is no evidence that he had any interest in motorbikes. His poems do not mention them. In this he has so much in common with FB.

Harley Davidsons in Sirmione
So if there was one thing that Catullus might not have expected in Sirmione it was a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  For that is what FB and Mrs FB encountered on their way into Sirmione - a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  Their visit coincided with the Sirmione Harley Party, a weekend gathering of Harley owners from all around Europe.  The throbbing roar of their grand parade on Saturday afternoon could be heard all around Lake Garda.  Get your motor running..............

FB looked hard but he did not spot any cricketers among the bikers.  There might have been a chance that MS Dhoni would be there - for the great Indian skipper has a collection of motor bikes and indeed owns a motorcycle racing team.  But Dhoni did not show.  Nor did Glen McGrath - reported as touring New Zealand on a Harley earlier this year.  FB struggled to convey his disappointment at these no shows to Mrs FB who appeared wholly unconcerned.

MS Dhoni on bike
He found consolation for suddenly he found himself singing to himself his long forgotten but favourite motor cycling song.

I don't want a pickle, Just want to ride my motorsickle, 
And I don't want a tickle, I'd far rather ride on my motorsickle, 
And I don't want to die, Just want to ride my motorcy...........cle.

Mrs FB's eyebrow rose.  She suggested that the sound of the Harleys was considerably more musical than FB's ululation.

But FB was undeterred.  This great lyric is so good it could have been written by Catullus - but it wasn't.   It is by Arlo Guthrie and FB fondly remembers hearing it many times in the late 1960s on the late night progressive music programme on AFN.  He should have been reading Wisden of course but at that time progressive rock had more attractions and seemed likely to change the world.

Hear the song on this link - with its splendid comic narrative about how the song was written and the exhortation to his audience to sing it with enthusiasm.  Mrs FB could not hold FB back.

Sadly, Arlo Guthrie never wrote any song about cricket.  This much he had in common with Catullus.


  1. This song seems to dwell less on the motorcycle, more on the pickle. Perhaps Catullus had a fondness for pickles - we shall never know......

    1. The poems suggest that Catullus had a fondness for many things.

  2. Including his muse, Lesbia, who reportedly had 5 other lovers. This sounds like a pickle to me.