I’m horribly aware that I’m not posting much here again, as the parcels of time I have to hand tend to be small right now. So, the last resort of the harrassed blogger, I resort to lists. Here are five things that have been giving me great joy over the last few weeks:
- The North York Moors
- Life on Mars, starring the equally excellent John Simm and Philip Glenister (who, in a moment of brilliance, seems to have partly based his rough & ready copper on Brian Clough)
- Battrick, the cricket management game
- Kate Bush
- Babies who sleep through the night
We have escaped for a week to the North Yorks moors.
I had thought that this would mean that updates will be non-existent. Now I think that, perhaps, updates were virtually non-existent anyway from London, so you might get something resembling normal service for a few days.
The various evils of the smoke (greyness, too much coffee, too much dirt, lack of horizons, illness) seem to be slowly dropping away. More than anything else, here there seems to be more time: time to unwind, think, eat, sleep.
London, I fear, eats time: not just hours, but whole months and years.
More than superficially busy partially on account of heading off next week to the North York moors for eight days on top of the world.
In passing, however, you should know that I got the “Emile Heskey award for balance in front of goal”. In other words, lack of. Far more pleased with runner-up in the goal of the season category, probably earning votes on scarcity value.
This Sunday’s game was marred by a complex territorial dispute where a horde of gaelic footballers claimed our usual space on the common. It transpired that the council had convinced them that they need to pay £100 to use the part of the common marked out as a rugby pitch. We ceded to them, but disputed with the busybody who suggested that what we really wanted to do was apply to the council for the right to pay them £1000 for a year-long licence and the ability to play against stroppy strangers.
I felt particularly sorry for the gaelic footballers having to shell out for the use of public ground. Historically inclined readers can draw their own sad conclusions about which trends this continues.
Father and son time in the park yesterday was enlivened by the overwhelming amount of play going on everywhere. Every twenty yards a little kickabout was going on, underneath a sky bright with frisbees and tennis balls. A raucous scratch game of rounders (Peckham rules, which is to say very few that I could make out) descended into fits of laughter every couple of minutes as someone slipped, dropped or ran in circles.
Most notably, from where we were sitting, I could see half a dozen small groups playing cricket, an obvious carryover from last year’s Ashes. A group of under tens played the unpredictable bounce with steely concentration. A dad bowled endless long hops to his straight-driving son. If we had been looking to fill out all the stereotypes, there would have been an asian father slowly unveiling the mysteries of spin to his sons. They were, in fact, off to my right, under a chestnut tree.
The only thing I couldn’t spot was a Flintoff Flame. The bats and balls were all cheap and cheerful, and I’m very glad.
It’s not just the Weiszs, Johanssons and Lauries of the world that are getting excited about the prospect of reaping a few awards this week. This weekend is the third annual awards for my football (it isn’t a club, not really a team either, so it’s just “the football”).
This means my first evening out since the household increased in size about five months ago, to a local pub and then a meal. Weekly subs of one pound sterling mean that, after the costs of buying a new ball and pump every six months, bibs and corner flags (a bridge too far, some thought), we have enough in the kitty to stand everyone an annual slap up meal.
It would be unfair to suggest that a free meal is anyone’s prime incentive for playing, but it is noticeable that a couple of almost-forgotten players have crept out of the woodwork since Christmas, just in time for inclusion. Generously, we feign to believe that this is their New Year’s health kick in action, and not the siren call of a hot and heavily subsidised biryani.
One charming tradition of the awards themselves is that, in the tradition of kindly schools everywhere, there is a prize for everyone. The entertainment comes in constructing categories for achieving this. In the past, we’ve had the honest appraisal (”Most Improved Player”), the corporate vagueness special (”Best All-round contribution”), the award for Effort (”Most Appearances” and “Most likely to be on time”). The year I (jointly) won “Most likely to pick balanced teams” was a personal high-point.
More fruitful, in general, are the slightly (or significantly) sarcastic categories (”Most likely to be late”, “Most entertaining goalkeeper”), sliding towards the downright pointed (”Most likely to cause an injury”, “Most likely to cry on the pitch”, “Most likely to cause an argument”, “Biggest risk to own defence”).
I’ve written most of this year’s awards, and it seemed like a good idea to use the shining examples of our modern day professional footballers to give the categories an extra incentive. Some examples:
The Rio Ferdinand award for forgetfulness
The Emile Heskey award for balance in front of goal
The Little Mickey Owen award for goalhanging
The Alan Smith award for leg-nibbling
The Craig Bellamy award for on-pitch gobbiness
The Teddy Sheringham veteran’s award (although none of the current players are quite of Mr Sheringham’s vintage)
Normally I’d be aiming for the “Best Winger” award, on the basis that I can occasionally cross the ball left-footed, which my colleagues regard as some kind of voodoo, but I understand is due to my actually being left-footed. Unfortunately, I forgot to put in a winger category, so my hopes this year rest mainly in the Emile Heskey and the Steven Gerrard (for defence-splitting passes, of which I helpfully unveiled a couple for the benefit of the voting constituency last week). I’m only grateful that there’s no Lawrence Dallaglio award for “best use of rugby-style handoffs”, for which I retain an unfortunate and confused aptitude. Wish me luck!
I’ve never had a problem mixing fiction and reality. Fiction is made-up, reality is mostly true, and everything in between is what-you-will. What, I ask you, could be easier?
The only points of confusion I ever knowingly encounter are where I find myself looking at something I know to be real only to be overwhelmed by the sensation that it belongs to a fiction somewhere. This is the Ffordian phenomenon of pagerunners with which the Deep North has so much fun, only relating to things not characters.
Today I’ve been experiencing the confusion with the universally derided launch of the “British FBI” SOCA, a crimebusting initiative that looks and feels exactly like the launch of a new primetime drama.
Everything from the foolishly jaunty acronym to the ersatz governmental logo shouts that this is an exercise in trying to look like a cool version of a government agency, probably involving lots of mod coats, moodily lit corridors and cod jargon. Which, I suppose, it is. A real agency that is trying to look as exciting as fictional versions of real governmental agencies.
This is government policy based on watching too much Spooks.
I blame my increasing confusion on the BBC’s enthusiastic adoption of fake websites as teasers for upcoming series (such as Doctor Who). I did scroll to the bottom of the SOCA website looking for the tell-tale disclaimer, and when I couldn’t find it concluded that Auntie was just upping the ante.
I have reached that stage of my life when it becomes absolutely apparent that I do not know enough sea shanties. It’s not good enough to know words to just “Dance to thee daddy”, “Homeward bound” and “Blow the man down” when there’s an overflowing squeeze-box of songs that would bring the salt water to any man’s eye.
Hurrah then for collectors of sea shanties and other songs of the sea. Aside from raising the question of why I should have even a vestigial memory of Abdul Abulbul Amir (and his foe, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar), every tune listed here contains either a shiver of excitement or a glimpse of the bottomless sadness that only the sea can produce in a man.
Due to the consistency of the trade winds, the destination of the ship would have a large impact on the type of shanty being sung. Joyous outward-bound songs such as Rio Grande would even be associated with a specific action (in this case, turning the capstan, which raised the anchor):
An’ we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
Then away, bullies, away!
Away for Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, me Liverpool gels,
An’ we’re bound for the Rio Grande!
Most of the shanties, of course, are treasure chests of heartbreak and longing. Who could not tremble at the siren call of Van Diemen’s Land?
Come, all you gallant poachers,
That ramble free from care,
That walk out of a moonlight night,
With your dog, your gun, and snare;
Where the lusty hare and pheasant
You have at your command,
Not thinking that your last career
Is on Van Diemen’s Land
Finally, Lord Franklin, a song not a shanty, but one of the very few songs guaranteed to make me shed a tear, as much for its comradeliness as its equally noble and foolish subject. It also holds perhaps the most plaintive opening stanza I know, particularly when heard in Bert Jansch’s unforgivably lovely version:
We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
When the triple DVD of this summer’s Ashes extravaganza arrives, I’ll figuratively swallow it whole. It won’t, however, really represent my memory of what happened. That consists of the sort of half-monitoring the game experiences I described at the time.
To that end, perhaps a better souvenir will the Guardian’s collection of over-by-over reports. The over-by-overs are ostensibly a brief running description of the game for those without radio or TV coverage, but who are online. They’ve developed over time into one of those peculiar interactive rituals, each one developing its own riffs and in-jokes, mostly nothing to do with the cricket itself. Hence, it’s the closest analogue to Test Match Special itself, with puns replacing the cakes.
Take a look at representative samples from the epic, unbearable, final morning of the second test and the doldrums of the rain-and-stress affected final test.
Or settle back and review, if you dare, the whole set of OBOs for the 2005 Ashes, and feel the tension start to tingle up your arms again.
1) Kevin Pietersen cross-bat smashing Brett Lee back down the ground on the way to his prodigious, Ashes-securing 158.
2) Pietersen, belatedly bowled by the mighty Glenn McGrath in his last Test in England, is intercepted on his walk back to the pavilion by Shane Warne, the greatest spinner of all time, also on his last tour of England. Warne congratulates Pietersen on effectively securing the Ashes. Pietersen thanks him gracefully, one in a series of sportsmanlike gestures throughout the series.
3) The averages. Adam Gilchrist, the finest wicket keeper in the game and universally acknowledged as the most destructive batsman in the world, entered the series averaging over 55 in Tests, and 62 in 2005. In this series, he took 18 catches, 1 stumping, and scored only 181 runs at an average of 22.62. His opposite number, Geraint “Dropped” Jones, took 15 catches, 1 stumping, and scored 229 runs at 25.44. Jones’ runs didn’t win England the Ashes; it’s arguable that Gilchrist’s lack of runs did.
4) Jeff Thomson: “England will lose the five-Test series 3-0 and the margin will be worse for them if it doesn’t rain. If you put the players from Australia and England up against each other it is embarrassing. There is no contest between them on an individual or team basis.”
5) Tomorrow’s papers. All of them. Especially the Australian ones.
I suppose that now the rollercoaster Ashes series has unravelled its final glorious twists to leave the England and Wales team (don’t forget those Welsh Joneses, mind), I’ll be partying as far and as relentlessly as recent domestic events will allow.
How right you are.
Shame that’s not very far, but rest assured, all of you, that I’m there in spirit, if not in spirits, and the cub will be settling to sleep tonight to the highlights on a loop.
The Today programme has form for producing bruising interviews. I reported one notable performance by John Reid in stunned almost-admiration some time ago.
Only rarely are the bruises self-inflicted, so a rousing cheer please for the hapless current Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, for his sparkling intervention this morning on the subject of multiculturalism and integration (link liable to disappear quickly).
Howard was busy suggesting that there was no reason why communities of all types could not retain their cultural identity while at the same time fully partaking of the cultural identity of Britishness (implying that this would be possible if only they showed the true British values of not moaning about it, knuckling down and getting on with it). Those that failed accommodate the core values of Britishness could then be gently and courteously invited to go somewhere else.
The interviewer at this point, to pick a topical metaphor, bowled her flipper, reading out a listener’s email enquiring whether this meant that British-born republicans would be expelled.
No, beamed Howard, he didn’t see any reason why republicans couldn’t be “loyal British subjects”.
And so, the week after we buried one of the few genuine political intellects of our age, we prepare to push into retirement another one of its also-rans.
Yesterday, of all days, was not a good one in which to lose internet access. Without having a radio rather antisocially tuned to TMS, office users rely on the ball-by-ball coverage at Cricinfo or The Guardian’s infamous over-by-over coverage. With that gone, it was down to rumour, careful examination of the flight of birds, and the wicket alert email.
So, thanks to cricket-watching posse of Andy, Ben and Nick for the delightful experience of having three emails drop into my inbox almost simultaneously. “Got ‘im!” “Wickettt!” You get the idea. It kept me going long enough to get home and watch the end of it all.
It was not to be another close win against the Aussies, but a draw had the requisite moral correctness.
Speaking of moral correctness in cricket.
Via Mags, the League of Lost Languages has to be one of the strangest little enthusiasms going.
And finally, for a burst of poetic justice so beloved of subeditors everywhere it’s hard to beat Psychic’s crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze.
One of the most appealing of logical fallacies is to suppose that two closely sequential events are somehow related. I think I’m falling for it.
The level of anxiety on the tube network has measurably fallen this week. The polices are visibly relaxed, fewer shoulders tense at the mere sight of a backpack, the normal atmosphere of mildly exasperated boredom has crept back in at the corners like the vile but somehow reassuring malodourousness of the local farm.
On Monday, we were all reading about how Freddie Flintoff had almost single-handedly rescued the second Ashes Test for England, prompting a famous (and squeakingly close) win. On Tuesday morning, the front page of the non-cricket-loving Sun had the earth-shaking news that Freddie was swearing off the beers in order to win us the Ashes. (As Andy pointed out last night, this amounts to laying off the lash for a whole four days between back to back Tests, a heroic feat clearly worthy of the front-page screamer ‘From Beero to Hero’.)
This morning, as those of us at work prepare to monitor the score as best we can, even grotty freesheet The Metro was offering a full-page explaining cricket to its many new followers.
The day before the bombs on 7th July, London was partying because it had unexpectedly won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. It’s crass, I know, but it does feel almost as though the wholly welcome distraction of the cricket has returned us, to some extent, to the unconcerned joy of 6th July.
A piece of paper can be held upright if slightly curled in the hand. If too straight, it collapses: it has no backbone. There is no real backbone here either, but we simulate it well enough, even through something as silly as winning a game of cricket.
I don’t know how you thought I could let the day pass without mentioning the most thrilling Test match of recent times. There is a very simple check for this, by the way. If the cricket makes the back page headline of the tabloids, it was a great game. If it makes the front page headline, as today, it was immense.
On Sunday morning, as England’s firebrand pace attack set about the allegedly simple mopping up operation of the last two Australian wickets, I reluctantly turned off the TV coverage and headed off to the park for the regular Sunday morning football. It must have made a peculiar sight. What appeared to be an egregious act of goalhanging was instead the opposition striker loitering around our goal so that he could listen in to the score on a portable radio. Every time one of the Aussie tailenders thumped or scraped a boundary, the gasp from our goal would bring play to a halt, much to the bemusement of the several Turkish brothers who turn out regularly for the Peckham Rye Commoners.
Communications were hampered by the general fuzziness of the reception, meaning that we were clear when something was happening (a four, a dropped catch, a wicket?) but not exactly what it was. Matters came to a head when, the Aussies having heroically reduced the deficit to a mere 15, Lee was dropped on the boundary by Jones, S. On hearing the initial flurry of exclamation from the commentator, our goalie leapt for joy (carrying a knee injury, very ill-advised). By the time we had made ground to hear for ourselves, he was head-in-hand disconsolate.
After hearing the deficit tick down from over 100 to 15, it crept agonisingly down again, as it became horribly, inescapably clear that the Australian tailenders had pulled off one of the greatest tail-wags in history. Defeat, demoralising defeat, was nearly upon us. The football continued distractedly. Players stopped asking the score. The familiar feeling of impotent fury at sporting defeat welled up, choking every throat (except, of course, the Turkish brothers, who were wound up by the whole thing for entirely different reasons).
Finally, when the last optimist in the park had finally fallen silent, bowed to the inevitable, Harmison mopped up that last wicket with a typically brutish bouncer (drifting leg-side, also typically). The radio hummed out an incoherent blast of white noise. The keeper was leaping. Defender and striker were hugging. Lions were laying down with lambs. I, fetching the ball back from a hoofed clearance into touch, was running onto the pitch throwing it into the air like a well-celebrated catch. Down the pitch, there was some muttering in Turkish to the effect that now, please, might they get their striker back?
Of course I wish I’d been there. There was something rather wonderful, though, about the not-there where I happened to be.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the Scottish football season has just begun, and the English season officially begins this weekend with the Charity Shield. So much for the summer (and so much for the Ashes, but there’s a different story for you).
So when I stumbled across Joseph Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (first published 1801), which naturally covers everything from dice to mummery via cricket on horseback, I immediately looked up what he’d put together on the people’s sport:
Sir Thomas Elyot, in his charming little work entitled The Boke named the Governour, first published in 1531, says of football that it “is nothyng but beastely fury and extreme violence, whereof procedeth hurte, and consequently rancour and malice do remayne with thym that be wounded, wherfore it is to be put in perpetuall silence”.
What can Elyot have been thinking?
I have a marginal connection with Strutt. At my school, in Strutt’s home town, by way of aping public school traditions the boys were divided into four houses for the purposes of inspiring an insipid version of manly Victorian competition, more than a century too late to prepare us for the Boer War. My house was named for Strutt, which I had neglected to remember until now.
Before we leave, please also note Elyot’s nicely Carollian book title. The Boke named the Gouvernour is a contradiction in terms, as it is not named the Gouvernour. More confusing than one of Shane Warne’s flippers, if you ask me.
Disembarking from the tube this morning, I looked down the train and saw six yellow-jacketed police officers pop their heads out of the door almost as one. They exchanged some silly grins as they acknowledged this curious version of peekaboo.
At the exit of the tube station, six more yellow-jackets were busy checking passengers about to go through the ticket barriers. A white man is having his holdall searched. An asian lad is waved to a stop by a WPC before she clocks that he’s carrying no bag whatsoever.
The parades of sirens bugling down the streets are too common now to even raise prickles on the neck. The low panic of life in London at the moment becomes indistinguishable from a kind of black festivity.
Albert Camus, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Vladimir Nabokov, Pope John Paul II, all linked by one important characteristic: they were goalkeepers.
We have talked of goalkeepers before, and we will again, perhaps in comparison to wicket-keepers.
To this short list, of famous net-minders, I’m pleased to note that we can add Niels Bohr, Nobel prize for physics and all.
What are ex-prime ministers for? Last week, Sir Edward Heath (AKA The Grocer, The Incredible Sulk), prime minister from 1970 to 1974 left us, soon after finally retiring from the backbenches, where he had done very little for thirty years.
This morning, ex-prime minister John Major (AKA The Grey Man) was heard making a typically Majorish intervention into the debate over the awful killing of an innocent Brazilian electrician last week by armed police. Major is not one of those politicians with a knack for the happy turn of phrase or the heady soundbite, as anyone who recalls the Citizen’s Charter or the Cones Hotline will readily affirm. His political tin ear has something of the painful resonance of a misshapen steel drum. He was being asked whether there is a shoot-to-kill policy in operation, and if so, is this right.
Major, clearly with an eye on shaping the debate, offered that he didn’t like to think of it as ’shoot-to-kill’ but rather, dramatic pause, ’shoot-to-protect’.
Did we really squirm through six years of this man’s benign and thoughtful guidance?
What are ex-prime ministers for? To remind us why the hell we voted for the other idiot.
Crikey, strike a light, cor blimey and all that.
There I was, about to write up the standard (and surely well-anticipated, if you know me at all) Ashes welcome: best English team in a generation vs. best team in the world, fire in the belly, the old enemy (well, one of them; everyone loathes the English as any fule kno), the old guard of the Aussies against the Young Turks of England. And on. And on. As you can already tell, it would all be a little breathless and confused.
Then, hats in the air, we see that, on the first morning of the Ashes at least, it’s the Aussies who are breathless and confused. They’re not beaten, far from it, but it’s the perfect set-up for the rest of the series.
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