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Diary, Tuesday November 18, 1997:

There comes Miss Jones. She is still very ill. “Hurt in me stomach, and me feevah inside, and me cough” She is lovely. “Me use two bockle of syrup already..” She has a thin golden rim around her front tooth. It is fashionable. She is kind, with a slight tendency to whinge. But then what do I know about her life and its hardships. The cycle ride was lovely this morning. I started out at 7.10 when the shadows are still reasonably long, hurtled down the hill, the dog making a playful attempt to bite the wheel and then up again, squeezing myself between the grass berm and the cars that will not give an inch. Up Charlemont Avenue, which is a slow hill, good for the legs, and then past Hope Zoo onto Old Hope Road, where I passed a man on a bicycle who started hurling abuse at me. A new day has dawned: Jamaica has got through to France, the World Cup football finals and the feeling of it is everywhere. One feels a jealous guarding of the triumph. I collected Nick Hare and his wife Sophie from the Airport on Sunday, just after Mexico and Jamaica drew after a boring match. The streets were lined with people waving flags. One girl, gyrating her hips in front of a car, had crunched all traffic to a well-deserved stop. Pick-ups and lorry’s were carrying heaps of young men, waving flags and wearing Jamaican head scarfs. Green, yellow and black. The prime minister called a public holiday and is widely thought to be on the point of calling an election. However, the voter’s list is not ready yet.

Dear Charles

Thanks for your lovely fax. As always it has taken me too long to respond. It is somehow hard to fathom that it is four years since we discussed the ins and outs of this job in Jamaica. It is just as strange to think that we should be back in Europe within the next year or two.

Things are going well enough. We are just about on the final lap towards buying a little pad in The Hague. It is not so much that we have serious plans to resettle there, we just really want a foot to the ground somewhere. Having said that the children are dead keen to go back and have transformed sleepy old pompous The Hague into to something well beyond the New Jerusalem, with streets of gold and her light like unto a stone most precious. For all their dreaming, the kids are having an incomparable time here: beaches, pools, endless supplies of mango, you name it. It is a veritable lost paradise. Football every Saturday...

Actually I am very disappointed you have not turned up at our doorstep yet. I really think you should give us a go. It is an amazing island and it would be fun to solve the world’s problems with you at the end of a beer.
Victoria is very busy keeping our heads above the sea of children we have so irresponsibly created. Still doing her thing with the stove and cooker and trying at the same time to be patient under the endless, endless demands for porridge, clean nappies, pencils, paper and pencil sharpeners, the solution to times-tables questions and the whereabouts of lost shoes. She’s looking very well under the pressure though, obviously trying hard to retain her biological advantage over me.

She is succeeding. I have given up evolutionary competition for a more immediate and primal gratification in football, which, apart from having forced me to skive off work twice so far, has embroiled me in a tortuous identity crisis. Here we are as a family, in Jamaica, a rich confluence of Dutch, American and English Genes. As a result it has not been easy to allocate loyalties or tie them down with any conviction. Afraid of the arrogance and irritating smuggness which usually seizes the Dutch team at these moments, reducing them to a set of awkwardly dancing clodhoppers, I tried to ban them out of my mind and even refused to learn their names. I did not even watch them during the first round, concentrating fully on the pathetic comedy of Jamaica in the face of the awesome power and confidence of Croatia & Argentina. I did not watch the third match they played against Japan, but the smell of blood in the air as the Jamaicans devoured their first and only victory was extraordinary and slightly unpleasant. The population converted from being despondent apologists to belligerent victimists in 90 minutes. Instead of explaining their earlier humiliation with the forgiving it-was-our-first-time approach, they went for far flung arguments which tried to conceal their poor performance under the comfortable duvet of fate and unfair decisions. Things have calmed down considerably now and the mundane has returned to their lives.

Not for me. I desperately wanted the English to thrash Argentina, but, at the same time, wanted to avoid an encounter between the Dutch and the English. I would have been too afraid of the Dutch losing against the English, and even more afraid of thinking the football of Owen more graceful than that of Overmars. Which it is. By the time the Dutch qualified for the quarter-finals they had fully regained my respect and religious devotion, which shows me up as an opportunist. As a result I am both sad and glad that the English lost yesterday.
Watching the match with a Cameroonian colleague was a sobering experience. Losing at the World Cup is not about football. After sniggering and whispering to me that football was better than sex -he has a pencil-line moustache- he confessed he was still nurturing the mortal offence of a series of preposterous decisions against the Cameroon team by the referee in their last match. For him it merely entrenched the subterranean workings of racism and tempted him into the Conspiracy Theory Camp.

Early on during the tournament I had decided that for people like me the nation-state had had its day. I really wanted the oldest and newest continent to have a chance and was very vocal in my support for Nigeria until they too were thrashed ignominiously, like Jamaica before them. That inevitably threw me back to having to adopt a fierce and unrelenting, jingoist nationalism, especially now that Holland is playing Argentina on Saturday, a match that will no doubt be forgotten by the time your receive this letter, but which, to me, puts the Dutch under an ersatzpfligt to set right what “they” did to “us” in 1978. As a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoiceth the strong man to run a race. Paraphrase of Psalm 19. Excuse all the biblical references but I am slowly being absorbed into the Jamaican collective subconscious and feeling my firmly occidental and healthily secular frame of reference giving way under the constant wash of Jamaican religiosity.

What is most beautiful about these sublimated virtual battles in football is their experiential omniverousness, they are full in an aesthetic sense, a great meal. I can understand hooliganism, it is an aesthetic sensitivity involving our desire to make sense of ourselves in the world by constructing an “us” and a “them” in glorious images and colourful generalisations. This sensitivity is too gossamer to express in anything but immediate violence. The gap between the subtlety and earnestness of the desire to belong and be different at the same time, and at different scales, and the lack of compelling and adequate alternative forms of expression can only be filled by the joy and release of violent gestures. The expressive range goes from the clenched fist, tense biceps and ventilatory violence in front of the television, to the worst that some Neanderthal can think of after the match in a state of drunken stupor and disappointment. Violence makes such differences between us and them come true, as if by miracle. Violence hypostatises difference. Violence is the magic potion which congeals us into us and them into them. The football-field at the national scale binds in it all the fluid generalisations and carefully formed prejudices about “them” and sets “us” apart on so many levels by bringing us close together on the field. The narrowing of two nations with the playing-field as focus creates an intensity and abandon similar to the heat generated by gravity at the centre of the earth.

I am always really surprised that I should support a Dutch Team. For me it is not something I can take for granted. It is not that I reject my Dutchness, far from it, I have always embraced it wholeheartedly without really knowing what it is. Connections become dubious at the possessive level. How do I own these people? How have they become “mine”? How is it possible that my English friend cannot suppress his frustration that the “English” should have been thrown out and “the Dutch” be allowed to continue? And why do I feel so smug about this? What do I share with these football-playing people whom I have never met, whom I do not even really want to meet? And yet there it is. This Dutchness, which I can define only in dubious terms, with wishful generalisations and in terms of uncomfortable realisations that there is this topolatrous pool of collective values and artfully constructed memories of a golden past, filled with triumphal images, which can only be claimed by “being from there”, which binds me to people I do not even like and who in their turn loathe everything I might stand for. The answer: Saturday July 4th, Marseille; Holland-Argentina and after that, Wimbledon.

Give my love to Jo and of course to Rosie and Sam. I hope we see you again soon.

Love Jake



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