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Northamptonshire v Somerset, Wantage Road, County Championship, 12th July 2014

The second time I’ve been to Northampton for a first-class match this season and the second time they ended the first day on at least equal terms with superior opposition (only to lose heavily).  This is perhaps not unconnected to both Yorkshire and Somerset having played a T20 at home on the Friday evening before travelling to Northampton for a 12.00 start on the Saturday.  This would, of course, have only affected those who played both games, not including Marcus Trescothick, unexpectedly left out for the T20 fixture.  What was the story there?  I don’t know.

I’m not sure I remember much of the Marcus Trescothick story since he left that tour of India in 2007 (so long ago!) to be replaced by Alastair Cook.  I know he has made runs consistently for Somerset, with an annus mirabilis in 2009 (I think) but a gentle decline over the last couple of years.  This season he has rallied and on Saturday made his fourth first class century of the season (without ever looking particularly at ease).  He is now 38, with 55 first class centuries (and 28 in limited overs) to his name.  Somerset have won nothing, but have come second in all three competitions at at various times (all in the same year in 2010, under his Captaincy).

Tempting, if futile, to speculate on what might have happened had Trescothick not left that tour.  Might he, not Pietersen, have taken over the Captaincy of England from Flintoff?  Would Cook’s entry into Test cricket have been long delayed, or might he have displaced Andrew Strauss?  Would Pietersen still be playing, would Cook be Captain?  The what-ifs are innumerable, but it’s safe to assume that Trescothick’s career would have ended a few years ago (in tears like Vaughan or with a whiff of acrimony like Strauss) and he would not now still be plying his trade in the decent obscurity of Wantage Road.

A couple of incidents on Saturday would, had they occurred in a Test, have been subjected to microscopic examination on TV and amplification from every kind of media.  A ball from David Willey (who looks to be back close to his full pace, encouragingly for England but too late for Northants) struck Craig Kieswetter full in the face.  He was felled so instantly and dramatically that even Willey looked panicked.  A groundsman wandered on with what looked discouragingly like a giant dustpan and brush but was sawdust with which to soak up the blood on the wicket.

 

Kieswetter

A few minutes later Kieswetter’s replacement, Trego, seemed to have been caught at slip by Andrew Hall off Willey’s bowling.  The Umpires seemed unsure whether the catch had been taken cleanly and were disinclined to take Hall’s word for it.  Trego , similarly minded, remained unmoved.

 

Will Trego or will he stay?

With Kieswetter’s blood still wet at the crease, Willey and Trego (normally two of the “feistier” characters on the circuit) seemed disinclined to make much of the incident and even those in the crowd who held strong views were soon distracted by the announcement that real ale left over from Wednesday’s Tom Jones concert was being sold off for £2.00 a pint (and very good it was too).

Without slow motion replays, closeups and allied technologies it was, of course, impossible for anyone in the crowd to form an informed opinion as to whether the catch had been cleanly taken or not.  As I sipped my pint of Sunchaser  (in a Tom Jones commemorative mug) round the back of the Steffans stand I fell to musing as to whether cricket is really seen more truly under the microscope of TV than via the panoramic view from the stands.  Is a butterfly better understood on a slide than on a flower? (Powerful stuff, that Sunchaser.)

I wondered too whether Trescothick ever envies the man who took his place all those years ago?  Might he not (illnesses aside) be happier away from the limelight where the cameras are generally in the hands of friends and admirers?

Trescothick's 100

Would he rather be examined this closely?

Trescothick

Or as closely as this?

 

Alistair Cook

 

Leicestershire v India, Grace Road, 28 June 2014

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Worcestershire 2nd XI, Grace Road, 1st July 2014

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As a change from games overshadowed by the landscape or the elements, here is one overshadowed by the crowd. There was a crowd worthy of the name, for one thing, about three-quarters capacity, I’d say, enough to create an, as they say, vibrant atmosphere, but not so full that I had to remain rooted to my allocated seat and unable to circulate, and Duncan Fletcher’s insistence on making the game into 18 of India against 14 of Leicestershire had effectively reduced it to an exhibition match.

In the past, I’ve had mixed experiences with representative and tourist games at Grace Road.  The game against Australia in 2005 was a bilious, lager-soused affair, much of the bile being secreted by “England fans”, scenting an early taste of Australian blood.  A game against Pakistan (though there was less lager involved) was similarly fractious.  As I reported last year, a visit from the England Lions involved such an army of ECB chino-clad functionaries with lanyards round their necks, security men with walkie-talkies, and sundry camp followers commandeering the ground that those few of the Leicestershire faithful who’d turned up felt we being evicted from our home ground by our own national team.

It has to be said that many of the regulars were notable by their absence against India : some resented having to pay an entrance fee on top of their membership, some didn’t want to watch an exhibition match, some simply preferred (it being a Saturday) to watch their clubs and some (including some of those who did turn up) objected to being excluded from the inner sanctum of the Charles Palmer Suite to make way for what appeared to be the Great and Good of the local Indian community, who also had a chance to meet the players.  They might, too, have objected to the Indians being allowed to use the home changing rooms.

I have to say that the Indian presence felt less obtrusive than that of the ECB last year.  The stewarding was fairly relaxed, the Indians seem to travel comparatively light in terms of support staff and, if I’d felt so inclined, I would have been close enough to have offered M.S. Dhoni* (after all, one of world’s most famous sportsmen) a high five (though I managed to restrain myself).

 

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And, given the demand, (Dhoni is in the middle of this lot somewhere) I thought the Indians made a reasonable effort to make themselves available to their own supporters.

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Having said that, although the crowd gave the impression of being mostly “India supporters” it was noticeable that a substantial proportion of them appeared to be supporting both sides at once (as, indeed, why wouldn’t they, given that they mostly live in Leicestershire and, in many cases, have grown up playing for and watching Leicestershire clubs?).  Partly for that reason I can rarely remember feeling part of such a harmonious crowd at a large sporting event.

Inevitably, play was interrupted for a couple of hours by rain and it was good to see that the Indian community have adapted so well to the English custom of not allowing a bit of rain to spoil a Good Day Out.  I have written before that any English event held in the Summer aspires to the condition of a Village Fete and all the old faithfuls were available here: the lads getting pissed at the beer tent, face painting,  temporary tattoos (a luminous Virat Kohli was doing well).  Trays of chips doused in tomato sauce were selling like hot cakes and we were treated to displays of dancing by local youth.  The juniors gave us “We are India” to the tune of the Gap Band’s “Upside Your Head”

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and the seniors what appeared to be a fusion of classical dance with the faintest hint of twerking.

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Shades of my Blackpool and my Seaside Special of long ago.  And if you couldn’t get to have your picture taken with M.S. Dhoni there was always Kali “the Destroyer” Fox.

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On the field, there was a selection box of rusty Indian fast bowlers on view.  As none of them bowled for very long the best I can do is to report that P. Singh is enormous (and could have a career in films playing giant bodyguards and warriors) but largely harmless, as is Ishant Sharma, whereas B. Kumar and (particularly) Mohammed Shami looked more threatening.  None of them posed too many problems for Angus Robson and Greg Smith and it was a pity that their centuries (both “retired out” at tea) don’t have first class status.

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Whether Angus’s big brother et al. will find it as easy to score off this fairly moderate bowling remains to be seen, though, if not, it does suggest that there is something about playing for England that makes batsmen lower rather than raise their games.

Angus Robson was back at Grace Road on Tuesday, in front of a much smaller crowd (consisting, in fact, of the members who had been absent on Saturday). Playing for Tooze against Worcestershire 2nd XI, he was bowled first ball.  As I’ve suggested before, the gradient between the game’s pinnacle and its lower slopes is not, perhaps, as steep as is generally supposed.

Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang ...

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang …

* I think. Hard to recognise without his sunglasses.

Leicestershire v Derbyshire and Worcestershire, Grace Road, County Championship, June 2014

So, how has June been?  Looking back at the photographs I’ve taken, it seems to have been a very green month (in fact I don’t think I can remember a greener) with some blues and some awesome (in the non American teen sense) cloud formations.  The cricketers seem to have been a detail, more a pretext than a subject.

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But then the cricket itself has become a little predictable.  Leicestershire have now played 8 Championship matches, have won 0, lost 4 and drawn 4.  As suggested by their haul of bonus points (41, more than all but the two top sides, Hampshire and Worcestershire, who have both played one match more) they have not been playing badly.  Four of the top 20 run-scorers in the division come from Leicestershire, as do 2 of the top 20 wicket-takers.  Apart from the first-day fiasco against Kent, they have been on at least equal terms by the end of day 2, and mostly still in the hunt by the end of day 3.  But still we are bottom of the table.

My new routine – to attend on a Sunday and a Tuesday – means that, as there’s been a merciful absence of rain, I generally see the same side bat twice.  Against Derbyshire, it was Leicestershire, against Worcestershire it was the opposition.  In both cases the first day was encouraging.  Against Derbyshire, Leicestershire recovered from 11-3 to 311, in the face of some lively bowling from Footitt and Palladino.  Against Worcestershire, some lively bowling of our own from an all-pace attack removed the top-of-the-tablers for 237.

On the two third days I caught the end of a century from Derbyshire’s no. 8, David Wainwright and then saw him take 5 quick wickets to reduce Leicestershire to 113-6.  A workmanlike cricketer from Pontefract, whose baggy cap gives him the air of a young Gilbert O’Sullivan, he may never before have been cheered off the field twice in a day

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and may never be again.  Against Worcester I saw our all-pace attack struggle on a pitch that was starting to take spin, another century for Daryl Mitchell and a maiden ton for young Tom Fell.  On the last days, in my absence, Derbyshire knocked off the target of 188 for the loss of a single wicket and Ajmal, predictably, took 6-19.  The losing margins were 9 wickets and 234 runs respectively.

So, those are the facts, but what it is to be done?  I don’t know.  It might help if Ronnie Sarwan were to relinquish the Captaincy in favour of Josh Cobb (or, since I don’t know the players well enough to make that kind of judgement, anyone else who has a genuine ambition to Captain a successful Leicestershire side – Rob Taylor, perhaps).  As I write, we have finished on roughly equal terms after the first day against Surrey at the Oval and there really isn’t any good reason why we shouldn’t win that or any other match.  But then reason, as my good friend the Gnome was pointing out just the other day, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

The littleness of human existence is an odd lesson to take away from a game of cricket, but then what other opportunities are there in modern life to spend seven hours comparing a spectacle of human striving with the vastness of the vaults of heaven (so to speak)?  And at three in the morning in January, dreaming of Flaming June at the cricket, what is it that I’m thinking of?  Whether Matt Boyce can ever truly establish him at the top of the order, or this?

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or this?

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A Gnome comments:

Gnome 2

Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t you?  Midsummer madness, I calls it …

 

Another Sunday spent watching County Cricket instead of blogging, or, indeed, going to Church.  It did occur to me, in a week when no-one with an ounce of sense has been debating the relationship between cricket and religion, that Jack Hobbs would have felt unable to appear in the County Championship at all under the current arrangements.  As an expiation of sorts, here is an XI who might have felt equally uneasy about turning out on the Sabbath.  What we are looking for here is cricketing ability combined with a more than purely conventional Christian observance.  I did think of including Yousuf Youhana, but I believe he is no longer available.

1. Jack Hobbs (Surrey, England & C. of E.)

Described by John Arlott as “the best man I ever knew in my life … There was something almost Christ-like about him, there really was.”  His faith was generally unobtrusive and only came into conflict with his profession when touring India and Ceylon with the Maharajah of Vizianagram’s XI, when he declined to play on a Sunday.  The Maharajah respected his wishes and rescheduled the games so that Sunday was a rest day.  “I owe him a tremendous debt for his kindness” commented Hobbs.

2. Louis Hall (Yorkshire & the Methodists)

When Lord Hawke took over the Captaincy of Yorkshire in 1886 he inherited “nine drunks and one Methodist lay preacher“.  That man was the marvellously lugubrious Louis Hall, described by Hawke as “a strict teetotaller, the first who ever played for Yorkshire”.   “Of angular build, painfully thin and severe of expression, Hall stood apart from his fellows” (according to Hawke’s biographer). He was known (for some reason) as “the Batley Giant”, stood 5’10” tall and was the first of a long line of obdurate Yorkshire openers.  (Some might opt for Matthew Hayden as an opening partner for Hobbs, but that wouldn’t allow me to reproduce this wonderful portrait …)

Louis Hall

3. Right Revd. David Sheppard (Sussex, England & C. of E.)

Might not necessarily qualify for the side on the grounds on playing ability alone, but assuming that we are playing against representatives of some other religion, I feel his emollient and open-minded approach might help to cast oil on troubled waters, should the need arise.  “He was the subject of ‘This is your life” in 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Islington Boys’ Club” according to Wikipedia.  He would also be my Captain.

4. Ted Dexter (Sussex, England & C. of E. (?))

Needs no introduction as a cricketer.  A “born-again Christian”, I have him down as a member of the Established Church, though I suspect that his beliefs tend towards the syncretic.  Will not be allowed to lead the team in any renditions of specially adapted hymns.

5. Hanse Cronje (Leicestershire, South Africa & some kind of South African church)

A controversial selection, perhaps, but what is Christianity about if not the redemption of sinners?  Wore a wristband asking WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?), though some of his answers to this question seem to have been a bit wide of the mark.

6. Albert Knight (Leicestershire, England & the Methodists)

Deserves a book to himself, and would have one if some enterprising publisher thought to reprint his “The Complete Cricketer” (1906).  Educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys (the same school as David Attenborough, Simon Hoggart and Dan Cole), he was described by E.E. Snow as “a widely read man and a keen student of the classics which he would often quote during a game, to the astonishment of friend and foe alike“.  Another lay preacher, he was given to praying loudly for success during his innings, a practice which Walter Brearley considered unfair and for which he reported him to the M.C.C..  Gavin Ewart quite unfairly described him as mad in a poem, though he perversely retracted the slur in a footnote.

7. C.T. Studd (Middlesex, England & C. of E.)

Born in Spratton, Studd played in the Test against Australia that led to the invention of The Ashes, but gave the game up in favour of missionary work in China and the Belgian Congo, where he died in 1931.  Firmly of the belief that anyone who had not been baptised was condemned to hellfire, he might have to be restrained from proselytising too forcefully in the field.  A useful fast-medium bowler and a competent bat.

8. J.R.T. Barclay (Sussex, Hong Kong & C. of E. (?))

In here because I have a vague idea he is a churchgoer and I need a spinner. Could also act as Vice-Captain.

9. Herbert Strudwick (Surrey, England & C. of E.)

England’s leading wicket-keeper for many years, he was discreetly devout and usually accompanied his friend Hobbs to Church on Sundays.

10. Wes Hall (Barbados, West Indies & the Pentecostalist Church)

The most fearsome fast bowler of his generation, he is always described as coming into bowl “with his crucifix flying”, which I hope won’t be found offensive.  Later in life he was ordained as a Minister in the Pentecostalist Church.  Would form a formidable new ball partnership with …

11. Rev. Walter Marcon (Eton, Oxford University & C. of E.)

A bit of a wildcard selection, Marcon specialised in bowling ferociously fast round arm full tosses.  He once broke a batsman’s leg with one of his deliveries and W.G. Grace reported that his father remembered him bowling to a field with three backstops and no fieldsman in front of the wicket.  One batsman tried to take him on by driving him, but the bat was knocked from his hands and broke his wicket.  After graduating, he took Holy Orders and became the Rector of Edgefield in Norfolk.

12th Man and Spiritual Advisor. Rev. Andrew Wingfield Digby (Oxford, Dorset & C. of E.)

Experienced in the role.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night …

 

A Gnome writes …

Gnome 1

 

There’ll be no blogging from His Nibs today.  He’s off to the cricket (“that’s if there is any cricket“, says he meaningfully).  That’s the trouble with this new fad of Championship matches starting on a Sunday.  Now I’m not religious myself (lestways not that religion) but I don’t hold with it. ‘Taint natural and there’s no time for Mr. so-called “Backwatersman” (long time since I saw him  anywhere near a boat) to waste his Sunday afternoons practising his Neville Cardus imitations.  Too busy stuffing his face with pies in the Meet and taking photographs of clouds, I don’t doubt.

But as he’s taken my name in vain the other week I thought I’d shove my two penn’orth in, for what it’s worth.  So what’s been happening to Leicestershire since His Nibs last deigned to write about them?  Straight down the pan, that’s what.  Three good days against Hampshire, then bowled out for less than a hundred.  Lost.  Saved from a beating at Tunbridge Wells by the rain.  Beaten by Gloucestershire after a “sporting declaration“.  And we’re not doing too well in the tip-and-giggle neither.  And then there’s the rain.

So who’s fault’s this?  Clock the vacant-looking fizzog at the top of this blog.  Which damn’ fool was it that said “there’s a good feeling at Grace Road this season” after only two games?  When he knew as well as I do what would happen.  If I put this to him he puts on his clever face and talks about “cognitive” this and “fallacy” that, but, as he admitted the other week, I know (and he knows) that the the Grey Mother Cricket will not be mocked.  But I don’t doubt he’ll be back tonight with a silly grin on his face, blethering about Leicestershire still being in with a chance of promotion if only Nathan Buck’s form holds up and a few more of our “sporting declarations” come off.  Some folk will never learn, mark my words.

 

Now, Charlie, I’m sure you can recapture your sparkling early season form with the bat ...

Gnome 3

 

Not a very memorable May.  Too much mizzle-dodging, a washout at Trent Bridge and a washed-out Bank Holiday T20 double-header at Fairfield Road haven’t helped.  I have seen two days of Hampshire batting at Grace Road (a game we lost thanks to the first dramatic collapse of the season), an imperious innings from James Taylor against Durham at Trent Bridge and Northants running through a T20-hungover Yorkshire side at Wantage Road.  I can confirm that James Vince looks a useful batsman in good nick, but then, as this is the time of year when, England being dormant, a larger portion of the iceberg of English cricket is visible above the water than usual, you will have been able to read all about that in a mainstream media outlet of your choice.  The blogger feels a little superfluous.

But then memory is a curious thing and one match has stuck in my mind, a one-day 2nd XI affair between Leicestershire and Notts at Leicester Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe are one of the oldest extant clubs in the County, formed in 1873, though they only moved to their present ground in 1953.  The name is presumably the result of late-flowering Scott-worship and their current ground occupies land that was once part of the long-gone Leicester Forest (they share a complex of grounds with the Rugby club of the same name).

As I say, the forest is long gone, along with its attendant knights, but its spirit lingers on in the lines of vast conifers that flank the ground.

Ivanhoe 1

In a strong wind they rustle and shimmy distractingly like a can-can dancer’s drawers and, in any conditions, seem to reduce the players to tiny, Subbuteo-scale, proportions (even the self-described “big goober” Luke Fletcher).

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Fletcher was one of a number of those playing in this game who have flitted in and out of this blog in the five years of its existence, in different circumstances, like characters in some roman fleuve.  Fletcher first appeared at a Seconds game at Kibworth that was interrupted by the harvest in a neighbouring field, looking like “a Polish builder who had wandered in and asked if could have a go at bowling”.  He later turns up frustrating Middlesex at Trent Bridge by “poking around like Peter Roebuck“.  Coach Newell advises him he could be the answer to Nottinghamshire’s bowling problems if he could lay off the ale.  And now here he is back in this just-submerged proportion of the cricketing iceberg, alongside other long-term denizens of this world such as Ollie Freckingham and Tom Wells.

Freckingham and Wells first appear as the fastest pair of bowlers in the Leicestershire League, playing in the County Cup Final for Loughborough against Harborough.  Freckingham rises to the surface, is for some time the leading wicket-taker in Division 2 of the Championship and is elected Player of the Year for 2013.  Now he too is back in this pleasant demi-limbo between club cricket and the bright floodlit uplands of the professional game.  There are others here too: Alex Wyatt, who has been not quite established in the First XI since he made his debut in 2009, Paul Franks (the last Young Player of the Year not to appear for England), Dan Redfern, who looked set to star for Leicestershire this season but finds he can’t get back into the side after a finger injury, Billy Root (brother of the more famous Joe), Sam Kelsall (waiting to fill the gap created by James Taylor if he ever gets into the England side) and more.  They all have their stories.      

And then there are those who are no longer here.  On the day that this match took place two long-time residents, Harry Gurney and Rob Taylor, were appearing against each other for England and Scotland respectively.  (The last time I saw Gurney was at another 2nds match at Nottingham’s Lady Bay ground last year, in opposition to, as it happens, and in conversation with,Freckingham.)  Of course there are reasons why one player rises to the surface and another submerges but some of these players might be forgiven, as they strain for pace in the shadow of the mighty conifers, for feeling that their fates have less to do with reason than the caprices of some flighty forest-spirit.  Modern cricketers may be adept at paying lip service to the new philosophies (e.g. small margins) but in their hearts they know better than not to placate the old religion of Mother Cricket.

Part of this loss of faith in the men of reason may be down to the sudden re-appearance of Mitchell Johnson, which seems to have caused as much panic as the reappearance of Halley’s comet did in 1066.  Gurney and Taylor are both beneficiaries of the cry “Find a left-armer, any left-armer really (even Tymal Mills)!” and another beneficiary (if that’s the word) of the destruction of Graeme Swann and the consequent cry “Find a spinner, for God’s sake find a spinner!” was playing at the Ivanhoe.  Rob Sayer, who plays his club cricket for Peterborough, and has hardly played for Leicester 2nds, took some wickets for England Under-19s over the Winter and consequently featured in more than one “Ones to watch” feature in the Spring.  He may well go on to great things, but, on this showing, he is no better a bowler than another spin-bowling Rob who also took some wickets for the England Under-19s, couldn’t get a contract with Leicestershire and is now back performing very effectively for Market Harborough.

Ivanhoe 2

 

(As to who or what the Presiding Spirit behind all this is, who knows? Well, I think the Last Gnomes know.  They know everything else … where to get off the bus so that you don’t have to retrace your steps for half an hour, where to get a cob on a Bank Holiday, where the only bench on the ground is, where to find a scorecard when they aren’t on sale, exactly what went on at Sileby that time.  But then, of course, they have long ago retreated back to what’s left of the forest, and they aren’t telling …) 

(To fill a sad gap, I thought I’d revive this, which I originally published this time in 2010.  The blog was a rather different beast in those days …)

I realise that, with all the excitement of the start of the cricket season, I’ve almost allowed what are often thought of as two of the most poetical of months – April and May – to go by with hardly a poem or song.  So, as it’s Whit Sunday, here is a song which I think also works as a poem.  The lyrics to Dancing at Whitsun (or Whitsun Dance) were written by Austin John Marshall, the husband of Shirley Collins;  the tune is traditional.  The version I know best is by Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor), though there also recorded versions by Shirley Collins and Maddy Prior with Tim Hart.  I can’t find any of these on YouTube, so here is a version by “LiteGauge”, recorded as a tribute to Tim Hart.

The lyrics seem self-explanatory, but apparently had a slightly more specific context when they were written (the mid-1960s).  It seems that folk dancing had come to be seen as predominantly an activity for old ladies (and sometimes denigrated for that reason), and the song suggests one reason why this might have been so.

Dancing at Whitsun, by Austin John Marshall

It’s fifty-one springtimes since she was a bride
And still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green
As green as her memories of loving

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now
As gentle a measure as age do allow
Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn
Where once she was pledged to her true love

The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free
No young men to tend them, nor pastures to see
They have gone where the forests of oaktrees before
Had gone to be wasted in battle

Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons
There’s a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once was
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

There’s a row of straight houses in these latter days
Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze
There’s a field of red poppies and a wreath from the Queen
But the ladies remember at Whitsun
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

(Apologies for any copyright violation.  Will remove if requested).

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