Book review: If It Was Raining Palaces I’d Get Hit By The Dunny Door

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Yes, it’s good. There’s a review for you.

Okay, let’s do a little bit more. First of all, the title. If It Was Raining Palaces I’d Get Hit By The Dunny Door is quite transparently a bit of Australian slang. It’s a way of saying you’re unlucky even when it’s nigh-on impossible to be so. The subtitle is ‘The Ashes travails of a whingeing Pom’, which should go some way further to explaining what this book is about.

The author, Nigel Henderson, is a freelance journalist who mostly works on the Times’ sports desk. During the last Ashes series, he delved into his bank account and took his girlfriend, Sue, on a punishing jaunt around Oz following the English cricket team. When we describe it as punishing, we mean the cricket mostly.

That’s probably the main weakness of the book, actually. While it’s well-written, flitting from light-hearted anecdote to deeper thoughtfulness, the subject matter’s a bit unremittingly bleak if you’re an England supporter and being as this is written by a self-proclaimed ‘whingeing Pom’ it’s aimed at those people.

It’s billed as part sports book, part travelogue, part loser-lit, but the travelogue aspect never really takes centre stage. We’d guess it was never really supposed to, but in light of the one-sided nature of the cricket, it might have been better to bring it the fore a touch. Even an English cricket writer can’t sustain the humour-in-tragedy tone for an entire book.

The best parts are the dealings with the locals. Some were clearly humorous at the time, but even those that were probably borderline unendurable become entertaining in the retelling.

At one point, during the subsequent one-day series in which England were victorious, Mike Hussey is dismissed. Henderson has been getting pissed off with some mouthy Australians a few rows back from him and turns to celebrate the wicket in an ‘in your face’ kind of way. They notice and retaliate with the the ferociously barbed shout: “Grey shirt” because Henderson is indeed wearing a grey shirt.

In a way it would be good if that ended there, but they actually recover quite well. The chant becomes: “Grey shirt, grey hair, grey man, grey country.” Henderson’s internal response is “That’s harsh. The shirt, the man and the country I can take, but the hair? It’s not like I’m completely grey. There’s a bit around the edges I grant you, but Sue says it makes me look distinguished. Is she fibbing?”

Sue’s role is to reflect Henderson’s thoughts back at him with added clarity, so that you see the absurdity of what he’s thinking and what you too would doubtless be thinking in his shoes. Any mindless cricketing optimism is soon undercut by someone who barely knows the game and on a train journey ‘the longest stretch of straight track in the world’ can go from sounding like a quirky little point of interest en route to something that literally defines bordom, depending on who’s describing it.

Speed-read the bits where Flintoff’s chipping a catch to mid-on and you’ll like this book. It’s a cricket book and it’s not a biography of a 25-year-old.

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