Archive for December 2010

Queen’s Christmas message

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas.

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Not in Wisden #7: The Natural World of Fagash

December 14, 2010

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An uncle of mine was a regular subscriber to Reader’s Digest and he would buy gifts and books from the advertisers on their pages. A book he gifted to me was The Book of the British Countryside. As I was a concrete jungle loving urbanite maybe he was trying to instil a love of nature in me. I flicked through the book and then placed it in a deep recess of the house. The slideshow features some of the book’s pages.

There was a boy at my school called Ashcroft – I can’t remember his first name though I’m sure it was a surname, Finlay or Scott or something like that- who was not nicknamed Ashy as would be the common informal way of doing these things or better still, Ashes. He was given the soubriquet: Fagash. As appellations go, this was all wrong for Ashy, who didn’t smoke and had a love for nature.

Fagash played for Millerstounshire in the GDCCC and his father practically owned the county. As a non-country person I’m unsure how you measure land, is it acres or hectares? By any measurement Fagash’s dad owned a huge stretch of green fields where rhubarb was grown. We tried to persuade Mr.Fagash to convert a portion of his grassland into an oval but he was a pragmatic old farmer and there was money in rhubarb. Eventually, he sold up to Barrett Developers and where once rhubarb ruled the roost, there now sprouted little nests of ugly duckling houses.

As a cricketer all Fagash was interested in was the gardening aspect. He had an immense knowledge of wildlife, geology and plants; he was a walking Book of the British Countryside. The *tree that sits inside the boundary at Canterbury, he told us, was a lime tree. We were amazed, one tree looks like another, as do flowers. Cricket bats are made from white willow and treated with linseed oil, he said and the clarity of his precise description impressed us.

One day Fagash was in the outfield, disinterested in the events of the game, as usual. I looked over and saw him bending over to pick something up; his eyes were open in wonder. I was thrilled for him, had he found a new breed of caterpillar or a cooked worm that didn’t make his ground? With disgust, Fagash threw away the item and I ran over to inspect. Truly, the suburbs with their wild animals were intruding into the natural habitats of the countryside. For there beside the sweet smelling grass was the stump of a cigarette butt.

* * * * *

The famous Kent Lime Tree was bowled by Gales in January 2005 after an innings that lasted two hundred years. In March 2005 a new Lime Tree was planted on the same spot.

Phoney War

December 11, 2010

It was a pleasant journey as the bus trudged through the remains of the snow in a leisurely fashion. There were only three of us on the coach and although closely bunched we weren’t invading anyone’s space. Then the girls mobile rang.

She proceeded to have a losing conversation with a friend. The friend was the alpha-female and in total control of the chat. Sitting across from me the passenger on the bus could only remark in fragmentary sentences into her cell.

On the bus, post office, shelves for idiots, on the bus, 4X4 times two, clocked him.

Struggling to get a foothold against the formidable orator at the end of the line, the commuter -who I was now rooting for as the underdog is always popular and in solidarity I felt as if she was my comrade- was having her attempts at a fight back cut short.

Well she sa- life can be- wait a secon- on the bus- there’s no wa- listen up a-

If this were a heavyweight boxing bout the ref would have stopped the fight. I was tempted to grab the phone from her and outtalk the chatterbox. Then the tone of my fellow traveller changed and she started speaking in exclamation marks.

She did what! Robbie Winters! On the bus! Five Times! No protection!

Her high-pitched voice was whining in my ears and was only drowned out by the sound of a blaring version of the Tom Jones classic: It’s not unusual. This was the ring tone of the old bald guy in front of me. Having a guess I’d say he was about ninety-three. He answered his Samsung.

EHHH? HUHHH? CANNAE HEAR YE. SPEAK UP. EHHHH?

Call me old-fashioned but I thought of Logan’s Run. If this book were written today it would state that no one over the age of forty-five should possess a mobile phone. Don’t call me ageist I also think it silly all the young men that sport a d’Artagnan goatee beard but that’s for another tale.

The tranquil journey had now turned into a discordant symphony of banshees and croaking frogs. The girl had found a second wind and was tearing lumps out of her opponent as she began to dominate the telecommunication tête-à-tête with left/right hand switching combinations and rapid fire vocal deliveries. Great, great granddad had changed the phone to his good ear and he continued to shout while his hearing aid beeped like R2D2.

Call me gullible if you will. I’ve always believed the scare-mongering about mobile phones harming your brain. Only in emergencies will I step into the super highway telephony network. With little chance of respite I had no option other than to join the fray; if you can’t beat ‘em and all that. I pulled out my mobile phone and had a game of Pac-Man.

Not that I need any encouragement, this little adventure gives me the excuse to play some Blondie. I wish Debbie would call me. The risk would be worth it.

Not in Wisden #6: Sizzling in the slip cordon

December 8, 2010

During the cold war the American pilot Charles Maultsby on a flight to the North Pole to collect air samples lost direction and entered Soviet airspace with his U-2 spyplane. He is soon caught on radar and the Soviets sent a group of MiGs to deal with the intruder. A hot chase ensued and the Americans scrambled a pair of F-102 interceptors armed with nuclear warheads. By providence Maultsby made it back to Alaska and no dogfights between the superpowers occurred. The cold climes of Alaska were almost the trigger for nuclear Armageddon.

The hottest place I’ve visited is Cyprus; I’m not far travelled. Seated at the window I could watch the plane as it arced round the guitar neck that is Turkish held Northern Cyprus. I trusted on the skill of the pilot not to invade the airspace of the occupier. As I’m still here you can gather we landed safely. It’s always a culture shock for less-travelled Scots venturing to warm countries. We have a high degree of flammability and I put it down to the amount of alcohol stored in our bodies.

Now Cyprus was hot, so hot, that for once an original writer like me has to descend into cliché, it was even hot when you wore shades. There were limited areas for respite though I did find one. Shopping in a supermarket I noticed they had large door less freezers. Literally they were big white coffins with no lids. To avoid the heat I plunged my head and upper body into the bags of frozen prawns and chilled myself to the bone. The effect is only temporary as eventually you have to come up for air and the air is still the same choking, stifling air.

Scotland used to have summers and in this tropical weather the GDCCC was in full flow. On hand to record every match was a resident statistician as cricket wouldn’t be cricket without facts and figures. Daring to be different the number cruncher didn’t just detail strike rates and most career ducks he picked on obscure habits and was a master of analysing human behaviour.

Peering into his notebook I read that a Ruchazieshire player called Sizzler was the most red-headed in the league. This was startling information as half of that county is red-headed. I began to watch Sizzler more closely and had to agree with the scorer’s findings.

At drinks Sizzler would thirstily drink ginger. During play on the baking hot grounds Sizzler felt safer in the slips than in the out field. Was the sun hotter out at long leg? Was there camouflage in the slips? Was Sizzler as second slip standing too near first slip and leaving a gap? All these posers were proof there was something not quite right with Sizzler. In an effort to lessen the dangers from the big yellow star, Sizzler would immerse his face in sun block. Somehow, and he’s not alone in this, he would miss a bit of skin and it would toast. Poor Sizzler, he loved the game but I bet he wished he was born in Alaska.

Alaska will be forever associated with Sarah Palin. It was not always so. By adding an r this word was used often in Glasgow usually in the hope of a date.
“Alaskar out tonight.”

(photo)Sarah Palin doing an impersonation of Dickie Bird.

Sizzler’s averages with women were the same as the rest of us and just as whenever you see a big red button you want to press it, Sizzler disobeyed rules. He looked up at the sun with one eye open. Constantly probing the sun’s off stump, tempting it, in that corridor of uncertainty. If he had wings, like Icarus of old he would have flown right into his nemesis.

“Blinded by the light
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is”

Copyright © Bruce Springsteen

It started with a cough

December 4, 2010

Most doctors will tell you any form of mild exercise is good for you. Walking for instance is a cheap way to get fit and a nice walk is therapeutic. Steering clear of Brownfield areas I walked the lush grassy parks of my fine city. Unfortunately, the temperature fell and the UK was hit by Arctic weather. Nonplussed I continued walking forgetting that I wasn’t really clothed for the snowy conditions. The result being a sore throat and a cough that was as relentless as an express train.

An embarrassing bout of coughing possessed me while I was in the library. The librarian drew me daggers and I could sense my splutters were breaking the concentration of readers. From out of nowhere an Asian man took me by the elbow and led me to the lobby. I feared the worst as I thought I was in the hands of a karate expert. But he wasn’t, he was a Yoga practitioner.

“This yoga exercise should help your cough.” he said.

He showed me the Roaring Lion (Simhasana) technique, calm consciousness was invoked and the coughs subsided. The “Lion” involves breathing in a lungful of fresh air through the nose and expelling violently the poisonous air out of your mouth giving an instant cure for sore throat, coughs and bad breath. Try it, it works.

In a state of nirvana I thanked my teacher. The guru went on to extol the virtues of yoga and enthused on the healthy benefits of a full body massage. Advising me to visit a massage parlour, I politely declined saying that they don’t have a good reputation in these parts. Nonsense, he said, and he recommended a salon on the main road in the city. He went on, everything is above board and the soft hands of the Goddess will refresh the body and soul.

In a state of excitement I went on a reconnaissance mission near the premises. Sure enough, it was sitting in the middle of town besides other retailers. Signs on its window indicated it didn’t just do massages. Hypnotherapy and acupuncture were also on the menu. And the receptionists, they were stunning! If this were the receptionists what are the masseuses going to be like?

I took the plunge and on entering was greeted by one of the most pleasant, beautiful Asian women I have ever seen. She led me down a corridor and into a room. Let me make it perfectly clear I absolutely love my wife. I was only here to relieve my aches and strains. The fact that the establishment was full of pretty women was not important.

“Take your clothes off and lie on the bed. There’s a towel over there, sir. Please use it to protect your modesty. Your masseur will be in presently.”

Lying on my back with the flimsy hand towel over my midriff I looked forward to the experience of being manipulated into a blissful realm. I closed my eyes and dreamed of floating on a clear white ocean. Gently bobbing in the water far, far from the deep snow that lay outside. I imagined being adrift with only the sounds of birds of paradise for company.

“Hello, sailor boy.”

That girly voice rings a bell, oh no, it can’t be. I craned my neck and sure enough in front of me dressed in a pink kimono stood the camp young man from the petrol station.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you work at the garage?”

Pouring oil on his hands he replied.

“I got laid off from the pumps. Come on now, don’t be shy. We’re old friends.”

And he yanked off my towel.

Not in Wisden #5: Brian #5

December 3, 2010

The wings of Pegasus must have made him quite difficult to mount. The warrior from Corinth, Bellerophon, mastered the ferocious steed. As you can see by the photograph Bellerophon was left-handed. From this we can deduce he mounted the horse by its right side. Convention dictates that a horse should be scaled by its left side so as not to injure it with your sword that hangs on the left side of a right-hander. With adroit unorthodoxy we must mark Bellerophon down as one of the world’s greatest Equestrians even though he had a glorious failure when he tried to mount Olympus.

“He’s a southpaw. I don’t want you messing with southpaws. They do everything backwards.” – Tony “Duke” Evers, Apollo Creed’s trainer, warning him off fighting Rocky.

An unorthodox tennis player who was a regular on the school circuit was a guy called Brian #5. There were five Brian’s in our school and Brian #5 was called Brian #5 because he was the worst fighter of the quintet; Brian #1 being the best, obviously. Brian #5 was an ambidextrous fellow who hit the ball with whatever forehand the ball was nearest. With no backhand whatsoever his two-sided forehands made him a formidable opponent. Respected neutrals predicted he’d take my tennis crown. He got his shot at the title. Brian ran me Close but he was no Shergar. I wore him down by alternating my returns to either side and winning the rally when he was tardy in “changing hands”.

His undoubted prowess with a racquet was noticed by a host of selectors from schemes in the GDCCC. Brian #5 was a much sought after -beware of spoonerisms- draft pick. As he lived on the border of Carntyne and Dennistounshire, warfare, quite literally, broke out between the sides. The military wings of both counties came to the fore; it was Gaucho v Powery. The Powery could fight like Bellerophon and they won the services of Brian #5. On signing his contract another “double” detail was revealed; his birthday fell on a cusp: August 20th. Brian #5 was either a Leo or a Virgo.

Huge crowds came to watch his debut for Dennistounshire. Brian #5 was chosen to play in the middle order at number five. A few early wickets fell and Brian #5 came to the crease. Playing completely left-handed he was having a fine knock though he was no Brian Lara. It was while on 23 not out Brian #5 tried something extraordinary. As the ball was bowled he jumped from one side to the other and “changed hands”. Now he was facing the delivery right-handed and attempted something he called a “switch hit”. Unfortunately just like his tennis downfall he was too slow in changing and was clean bowled.

He was roundly booed off the pitch and was the recipient of much verbal abuse. The traditionalists were angry with his brave, not a word usually associated with him, attempt at innovation. As well as questioning his parentage other posers were volleyed at him. Hey Bazza, what side of bed did you get out of this morning? And the crushing. What way do you mount a horse, from the left, from the right or from the back?

Cricket’s shot of genius: the Pietersen switch hit, invented by the unknown Brian #5.

“Pioneers are seldom rewarded; ideas don’t pay. The improvements on ideas do and the tinkers are kings.”
Barry Pain-The Octave of Claudius.