Long A-Growing

On this thoroughly miserable weekend (not helped by waking at 4.00 to the crowing, not of a cockerel, but Glenn McGrath) let us make a nostalgic pilgrimage to the site of the Stump.  Long time readers may be wondering whether it has somehow – hope against hope! – managed to revive, but I’m afraid the answer is that its mortal remains still slumber in the earth and the grass has begun to cover it.

Stump November 2013

I am reminded of the old song …

The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green,
The day is passed and gone, my love, that you and I have seen.
It’s on a cold winter’s night that I must lie alone,
For the bonny boy is young but a-growing.

At the age of sixteen he was a married man,
And at the age of seventeen the father to a son,
And at the age of eighteen his grave it did grow green.
Cruel death had put an end to his growing.

 

Waves Fold Behind Villages : A Brief Glimpse of Newstead

A fleeting visit to Newstead in Nottinghamshire, a former mining village whose colliery closed in 1987.

Newstead Colliery

To the superficial eye it ticks the boxes for the identikit “former mining village”.  The rows of terraces are present and correct (though most look reasonably spruce). There is a vandalised phone-box (someone had ingeniously managed to weld a melted cigarette lighter into the coin slot).   Two hooded youths (straight from central casting) loitered outside the closed-down fish and chip shop and were asked by a passing old man in a flat cap “What’s the matter, lads, nothing to do?”.  So far, so predictable.

It is true that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to do there.  It has a small Post Office and convenience store, a Primary School, a Community Centre (with a cafe, although that seems to shut at 2.00 pm), a Sure Start and a skatepark.  It also has its own railway station (which many villages would die for, or without) and a reasonably frequent bus service.  A little sleuthing shows that the village attracted some serious attempts in regeneration towards the end of the last decade, including the lottery-funded Village SOS project, which involved turning the site of the former colliery into a Country Park.  Ominously, there seems to be little trace of regenerative activity since about 2011.

Above all what it has going for it is its natural beauty, which would particularly appeal to lovers of deciduous forests in Autumn.  One contributor to the regeneration project described what they were trying to do as “healing the scars” inflicted upon the landscape by the industrial revolution (presumably an allusion to local boy D.H. Lawrence).  It seemed to me at least as much like the sands of the desert steadily removing all trace of human habitation, but no doubt that it is merely a matter of temperament.

Inevitably, as a barely regenerate Man of Sensibility, what moved me most were the ruins rather than the signs of renewal.  Close by the railway station is this –

Newstead Cricket Pavilion

What appears to be a functioning football pitch, overlooked by a cricket pavilion and ringed with benches, suggesting that cricket has been played here in the not too distant past.  The story appears to be that Newstead Colliery, a strong side in its heyday who produced several County cricketers (this is Larwood country), merged with nearby Newstead Abbey in 1987 when the Colliery closed and their former ground was purloined for a housing development (though much of that is still scrubland).  The merged club continued until earlier this year, when it disbanded through a lack of players.  The hands on the pavilion clock have been broken off, but they seem to be stuck permanently at about 12.20 (so it’s unlikely that there will be honey, or anything else, for tea).

On the other side of the station is this – the Station Hotel (the rail history of Newstead is complicated: in its heyday the village had two stations, both shut by the 1960s.  Almost miraculously, the Robin Hood line was reopened in 1993 thanks, initially, to support from the local Council) –

Newstead Station Hotel

a rather lovely building to my eye, and the only pub in the village, but no longer open for business, a small notice in the window plaintively advertising “Public House for sale“.

The delicate lettering on the frontage records the date 1911, although a local source indicates that it opened in 1881.   As recently as 2008 the hotel was receiving plaudits for its choice of real ales and beer garden, it seems to have hosted musical evenings, but, like the Cricket Club, it met its end earlier this year.  If I had the money, I’d be tempted to buy it myself.  Part of its appeal is simply that it is a railway hotel, a fossil from the days when it was assumed that it should be possible to step off a train and find a bed for the night, a decent supper and a nightcap in a companionable snug.

But, inevitably, there is a melancholy tinge to these pleasant imaginings : the conclusion of Larkin’s “Friday night in the Royal Station Hotel”:

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn.  How

Isolated, like a fort, it is –

The headed paper, made for writing home

(If home existed) letters of exile.  Now

Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.

Newstead Station Hotel 2

Imagine!

LP Cover Of The Week : “… This England”

The latest addition to my impressive collection of charity shop compilations of music from the Cowpat School (my usual accompaniment to my early morning journey to London).

This England

If the sleeve designers – “Studio B : the creative people” – had wanted to take the literal route they could have chosen a cuckoo, a Summer night on a river or St. Paul’s, but instead they’ve opted for … a cow.  Believed not to be the same cow that appeared on the cover of “Atom Heart Mother”, but then they probably couldn’t have afforded her rates.

“Little Beauty” : Rupert Brooke On Baseball

Another of the tourist attractions of Rugby, vaguely topical as Remembrance Day approaches, is this statue of Rupert Brooke, located close to the (very ordinary) house in which he was born.  It is the creation of Ivor Robert-Jones (also responsible for the statue of Churchill in Westminster Square).  I’m in two minds about its worth as a memorial – something about its barefootedness suggests the Style Editor of GQ Magazine wondering which socks to wear that day.

Rupert Brooke 2

Was Brooke a cricketer?  Only an active one at school, apparently (like many, he seems to have given up playing when he went to University) but, in searching for a connection, I came across this passage from a letter he wrote while visiting the USA in 1913, describing a visit to a baseball game between Harvard and Yale:

“One of the great events of Commencement, and of the year, is the Harvard-Yale baseball match. To this I went, excited at the prospect of my first sight of a ‘ball game,’ and my mind vaguely reminiscent of the indolent, decorous, upper-class crowd, the sunlit spaces, the dignified ritual, and white-flannelled grace of Lord’s at the ‘Varsity cricket match. The crowd was gay, and not very large.

… I had time to observe the players, who were practising about the ground, and I was shocked. They wear dust-coloured shirts and dingy knickerbockers, fastened under the knee, and heavy boots. They strike the English eye as being attired for football, or a gladiatorial combat, rather than a summer game. The very close-fitting caps, with large peaks, give them picturesquely the appearance of hooligans. Baseball is a good game to watch, and in outline easy to understand, as it is merely glorified rounders. A cricketer is fascinated by their rapidity and skill in catching and throwing. There is excitement in the game, but little beauty except in the long-limbed ‘pitcher,’ whose duty it is to hurl the ball rather further than the length of a cricket-pitch, as bewilderingly as possible. In his efforts to combine speed, mystery, and curve, he gets into attitudes of a very novel and fantastic, but quite obvious, beauty. M. Nijinsky would find they repay study.

One queer feature of this sport is that unoccupied members of the batting side, fielders, and even spectators, are accustomed to join in vocally. You have the spectacle of the representatives of the universities endeavouring to frustrate or unnerve their opponents, at moments of excitement, by cries of derision and mockery, or heartening their own supporters and performers with exclamations of ‘Now, Joe!’ or ‘He’s got them!’ or ‘He’s the boy!’

This interested me partly because I’ve recently been reading Ed Smith’s earliest (and, I think, best, least Gladwellian) book “Playing Hard Ball” (about baseball and its relationship to cricket).  Smith too was surprised by the way in which “unoccupied members of the batting side” get involved in the game, particularly the way that “the dugouts empty” (i.e. the coaches and spare players leap out and square up to each other at moments on dispute on the pitch), but I doubt whether he or any contemporary English observer would be surprised to hear the fieldsmen, let alone the spectators “joining in vocally”.  Brooke, too, might have been less surprised if he had watched his cricket at – say – Bramall Lane.

What divides Brooke from Smith (and most modern writers about cricket) is that he expects to find beauty in the game : Brooke is an aesthete, Smith an intellectual.  Cricket still attracts any number of  intellectuals (often with a political, philosophical, economic or especially statistical bent) but I’d say aesthetes (if there are any left) have shifted their attention elsewhere.  The strain of aestheticism (not always of the purest greenery-yallery kind) that runs through earlier writers about the game such as E. V. Lucas, Edmund Blunden, Cardus (in his earliest Paterian phase) and Dudley Carew (none of them primarily writers about cricket, not even, in his own mind, Cardus) has been extinguished, with Arlott (by no means purely an aesthete, of course) perhaps the last of the breed.  The occasional white-clad figure stills flits to and fro o’er the greensward in the twilight, but to general derision.

As a footnote, it is interesting that Brooke pays so much attention to the baseball players’ outfits (“The very close-fitting caps, with large peaks, give them picturesquely the appearance of hooligans” is prescient).  Brooke’s own choice of leisurewear was described thus by Margaret Lavington in a 1915 memoir:

In those days he always dressed in the same way: cricket shirt and trousers and no stockings; in fact “Rupert’s mobile toes” were a subject for the admiration of his friends.”

This appears to be his costume in the Rugby statue and presumably, in the best-known depictions of him, that loose-fitting, soft collared poetical shirt is actually his cricket shirt.  Would a modern Brooke care to be seen in public in, say, the current England one-day strip, let alone some of the monstrous creations in polyester that have been foisted on our County sides in recent years (socks or no socks)?  I think not.  Not that I’m suggesting that this is why our latter-day aesthetes have fled the cricket field, but clearly it can’t help matters.

Dear Pig : Trolling In The 1940s

Dear Pig

Once again I’m afraid I’ve failed to think of anything interesting to say about County Cricket, but here instead is something on a sadly topical subject.  This is from the preface to ‘Dear Pig’ by Nathaniel Gubbins, first published in 1948.  Gubbins (who had puzzlingly adopted the name of a much better-known writer as his pseudonym) was a whimsical humourist for the Express, hugely popular during the War, though I’d say now largely forgotten.  After the War, his left-wing opinions brought him into conflict with Lord Beaverbrook and his column was dropped.

“Dear Pig

I address you as ‘Dear Pig’ for two reasons.  I do not know your name.  For more than seventeen years you have sent me a weekly unsigned letter to the Sunday Express addressing me as ‘Dear Pig’.

Your first letter reached me the day after my first column appeared.  Like the eight hundred and fifty letters which followed at regular intervals it was terse, to the point and highly critical.  I think I can remember the exact words.  They were ‘Dear Pig, what tripe’.

… I know you are passionately devoted to doggies and kiddies.  You are also a stout defender of the ladies.  Whenever I have offered some mild criticism of women, children or dogs, your letters have always been more vituperative and have appeared, at times, to have been written in a state of great agitation … I have been able to imagine you, hot with indignation, grabbing pen and paper before your anger had time to cool and rushing to the post office immediately after your Sunday morning breakfast.  One one occasion you were so upset about a harmless little rhyme I wrote on motherhood that you threatened me with a horsewhip.

I think you are also a plain man who prefers facts to fancy.  It is impossible to remember how many lines you have written in complaining that cats and sparrows can’t talk and that the many letters sent to me by animals and birds were ‘all a lot of lies’. … I have a sincere admiration for you.  I admire your persistence in reading something which has infuriated you for seventeen years.  A weaker character would have either turned a blind eye to my column, or bought  another Sunday newspaper … I also admire your courage.  Even when you were bombed out during the raids on London you staggered to the nearest post office still standing, grabbed a lettercard and wrote:

‘Dear Pig, My house has gone and your rotten article with it – one of the worst I have ever read.’

When you were ill in hospital you called for a pencil and paper and scrawled:

‘Dear Pig, I am feeling pretty bad and no better for reading your muck.  This week you have touched bottom.’

So for all these reasons I am dedicating this book to you and taking its title from you.  If I knew your name and address … I would send you a free copy, so that you could have the misery of reading some of the column all over again.

I any case, if you buy a copy I shall look forward eagerly to your comments.

Sincerely,

NATHANIEL GUBBINS”

A No-Win Situation

Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, County Championship, Grace Road, 12th June 2013

There are those who would have you believe that day 2 of a Championship match between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire is likely to be a tedious occasion (and that this is likely to be a tedious post).  Unfortunately, they would be quite correct.  Apart from giving me another chance to mount some of my favourite hobby horses, the most interesting aspect of the day was my discovery that, if stared at for long enough, the roof of the George Geary Stand bears a slight resemblance to some kind of minimalist work of art (perhaps one of Dan Flavin’s neon sculptures).

George Geary Stand

The team news was that we would not, in fact, be seeing Leicestershire’s dream bowling unit in action.  Hoggard was at the ground, but not on the pitch (having apparently picked up some kind of mysterious niggle since his 8 wicket performance for the 2nds the other week).  The suspicion grows that he won’t be seen in a Leicestershire shirt again (unless his plan is to sneak back into the side for the T20s).  Nor would we be seeing acting Captain Cobb, who appeared to have followed his first decision as Captain to drop himself down the order by dropping himself altogether.  He later turned up playing T20 for the 2nds, which I suppose shows where his and our priorities lie this year.

The Captaincy passed to Matt Boyce, whom many good judges believe would have been offered the position before if he had been certain of his place in the side (the general view being that he is the brains of the outfit).  His first decision, having won the toss, was to follow the modern fashion and bowl first.  It looked to be the case that we had prepared a lifeless pitch to foil the thus far all-conquering Northants attack.  Predictably, our own youthful seamers struggled, and were not helped by five dropped catches. By close of play on the first day Northants had reached 320-4.

On Day 2, when I was there, Northants once again batted on past the 110 over mark, narrowly missing out on the last batting bonus point (395-5) and then on past all reason, before declaring on a quite superfluous 567-7.  As a tactic this would make sense if the game were guaranteed to last the full four days, but a moment’s thought, or a brief look at the weather forecast, would surely have told them that they had effectively batted themselves out of any chance of winning the match, or even achieving maximum bowling points.  The strategy appeared to be one of ‘mental disintegration‘, and it’s true that poor Ollie Freckingham looked a broken man as he left the pitch (having taken 0-122), but the only real signs of mental disintegration were among the crowd, especially the Northants supporters, who seem unanimously convinced that they will, once again, be pipped at the post for promotion.  As it was, Leicestershire crept on through two heavily rain-depleted days to finish on 238-6.  And that was it.

So, have Northants really blown it again?  They stand at the head of the table, with 127 points from 8 games.  Lancashire are in second place with 94 from 7, and the two meet this week at Old Trafford.  My prediction would be that Lancs, who are the only side of any real quality in the Division, will overtake them and head the table.  The question is whether any other side can rouse themselves enough to take second place and I suspect the answer is no.  The sides who are playing well lack quality and the better sides (Hampshire, Kent, Essex) are playing poorly.  Hampshire do, at least, seem to have had a look at the points scoring system and the table and tried to achieve a result by forfeiting an innings against Gloucestershire last week, but cocked it up and lost by 198 runs.

When the Championship resumes in August we can expect to see a flurry of declarations and forfeits as sides who are incapable of bowling the opposition out twice (particularly in three days) scramble for points, and we may see some unexpected results.  Who knows, Leicestershire might even win a match.  It does strike me that it might be better to learn how to declare and achieve results in the first half of the season and then consolidate, if necessary, in the second, rather than dozing through the first half and panicking in the second.  But I’m sure our Captains and Coaches (who, I suspect, now devise the plans for the Captains to ‘execute’) know what they’re doing.

I feel unable to bring you action shots from this match as, frankly, there wasn’t any to speak of, but here are a couple of shots of the most memorable innings I saw last week – a whirlwind and career-best 57 from Stan Galloway of Barrow against Market Harborough.  He is a rare bird these days, as a Caribbean cricketer in the Leicestershire League, he eschews the use of a helmet in favour of a towering tam that lengthens as the seasons go by and his innings seemed to my rheumy old eyes to blow in on the warm air of warmer climes and happier days.

Stan Galloway

Stan Galloway 2

Frederick Delius : Yorkshire Cricketer

“His eyes half-open, the wonderful dome like finely chiselled marble, the sinuous and gouged neck, the loose white open-necked shirt and loosely knitted tie, perfectly creased white cricket trousers and white canvas shoes, bare legs like triangular sticks of wood – it all seemed so terribly, overwhelmingly sad.” (Felix Aprahamian, describing a meeting with Delius in 1933).

Gerhardi_-_Frederick_Delius

The question of cricket and music, and whether the two should ever be mixed, divides opinion.  Some clearly find that hearing ‘Another one bites the dust’ over the Tannoy whenever a batsman is dismissed or ‘Tom Hark‘ when a boundary is hit enhances their enjoyment of the game.  I differ on this point, but feel that a brass band (of the kind that used to play at the Scarborough Festival) would be perfectly acceptable, as would a string quartet at – say – the late lamented Oakham Festival, or perhaps at Tunbridge Wells.

Thanks to modern technology, of course, we can now choose whatever soundtrack we like to accompany our cricket.  If I had to choose the work of a single composer my first thought would be Frederick Delius.  If, in the depths of Winter (today, for instance) I close my eyes, ‘On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring‘  will take me to the first day of some Platonic early season fixture. On a wild Winter’s night  ‘A Song of Summer‘, ‘The walk to the Paradise Garden’, ‘A Summer night on the river‘ can transport me to that Ideal day at the cricket in High Summer that rarely arrives in reality but, once experienced, lingers at the back of the mind, to be summoned by music or willpower however bleak one’s surroundings.

I’ve always suspected that this was a purely personal association, but a little research reveals that Delius was, indeed, a lover of cricket and a decent cricketer in his own right.  And not only that, but a Yorkshire cricketer.  The Delius family belonged to that type of Yorkshireman almost peculiar to Bradford, as described by another Bradfordian, J.B. Priestley:

‘There was this curious leaven of intelligent aliens, chiefly German-Jews and mostly affluent.  They were so much a part of the place when I was a boy that it never occurred to me to ask why they were there.  I saw their outlandish names on office doors, knew that they lived in pleasant suburbs, and obscurely felt that they had always been with us and would always remain.  That small colony of foreign or mixed Bradfordians produced some men of great distinction, including a famous composer [Delius], two renowned painters, and a well-known poet.’

When Eric Fenby (the composer’s amanuensis in his later years of French exile, when he was blind and compelled to use a wheelchair) was first introduced to Delius, they ‘bonded’ (as we would now say, perhaps) over cricket:

“We talked about Scarborough, which he had known very well as a boy. Did I go to the Cricket Festivals as he had done? Did I know Filey ? What glorious times he had had there when his family used to take a house in the Crescent for the summer holidays ! How he loved playing cricket in the neighbouring villages of Gristhorpe and Hunmanby, and what fine fellows the farm-hands were!”

and later in Fenby’s ‘Delius as I Knew Him‘ we learn how talk of cricket seemed to release the invalid from his confinement and lighten his mood:

“That summer, Delius was particularly interested in the cricket test matches between England and Australia. Every morning, when I came down to lunch, I read to him the scores and the full account of each day’s play. The progress of each match was watched with as much keenness as that of two spectators on the ground, and Mrs. Delius used to say that she had never heard so much talk about cricket as when her ‘two Yorkshire lads’ got together. And the old ‘un used to brag how, in his prime, he had never let a loose ball go by without punishing it unmercifully, and never dropped a catch in the slips, and the young ‘un used to believe him and tell how he had once skittled a team of yokels with his googlies for seven runs.”

So well-known is this image of Delius as tetchy and imprisoned by illness that we forget the younger man.  His sister Clare, though, in her memoir ‘Memories of my brother’ relates:

“At cricket, however, both he and his brother were notable successes. It was his passion for cricket, indeed, which oddly enough helped him forward on his musical career. Coming from the playing fields one day, the boys were playing about with the wickets which they had just drawn, using them as spears. One of these missiles, thrown with great force, stuck in Fred’s head, causing a very serious wound. The illness was a lengthy one, involving a long period of convalescence. During those days of enforced idleness, Fred spent the whole of his time at the piano in one or other of the music rooms. Sir Fred Moore has told me how my brother used to waylay him in the passage, and drag him into the music room and make him sing for him. ” It didn’t matter whether I had the music or not. If I knew the words and tune, that was enough. Fred would make up the most wonderful accompaniments, full of the marvellous harmonies for which years later he was to become so celebrated.”

The precise details of Delius’s playing career are harder to track down, though, in an article in the ‘Delius Society Journal’ from Spring 2004 entitled ‘Delius, the Cricketer‘,  T. Ian Roberts has found the details of a match between Giggleswick School and Mr. W.A. Dawson’s XI (a touring side from Bradford) from May 1882 when one F. Delius scored 11 and 4 and took 1-22 off 40 balls.  In another issue of the Journal Fenby informed its readers that the portrait by Ida Gerhardi that appears at the top of this piece was probably painted when Delius was ‘playing cricket for Paris‘, so clearly he managed to carry on getting the odd game after he left England for France in 1897.

Exile and blindness were the conditions by which Delius was constrained, and perhaps it would be missing the point to load my MP3 player with music by Delius when actually watching – say – Leicestershire take on Nottinghamshire on the 3rd of April in a pre-season friendly.  If  Delius was thinking of his youthful days at Scarborough when writing some of his Summer-summoning pieces from his French retreat (and I think he may have been), he was attempting to reclaim and preserve those perfect moments, the essence of the thing; it would be unwise and unfair to expose the phenomenal reality in front of one’s eyes to such comparisons.

The perfect person to write about Delius the cricketer would have been Neville Cardus.  They did meet once, in 1929, though they do not seem to have talked cricket.  Cardus remarked on Delius’s Yorkshire accent and wrote:

“There was nothing pitiable in him, nothing inviting sympathy in this wreck of a physique. He was wrapped in a monk-like gown, and his face was strong and disdainful, every line on it graven by intrepid living.”

Cardus wrote the obituary for Delius in ‘The Manchester Guardian’. I think this passage gets to the heart of the matter:

“Nearly all of Delius’s music recollects emotion in tranquillity. The sudden climaxes of passion – and we get one of the most beautiful in all music in the “Summer Garden” – are not climaxes caused by excitement of blood or nerve. They are the climaxes of a mind moved by the poetry that comes of beauty remembered. Delius is always reminding us that beauty is what is left for us when the show of life has passed on. Experiences have all sorts of values and significances. Other composers are more human than Delius, because their music contains the dynamics of life and action felt immediately – now!

Delius seems almost always to be aloof from the life active – life which, because it is active, is transitory.

To-day Delius’s music is loved, not merely liked, because in an age when most of the arts have little to do with beauty, but have apparently been overwhelmed by the complexity, the cynicism, and even the hastiness and noise of modern civilisation in this age, Delius has made for us a music which is serene and never unbeautiful.”

‘The Field’ Is Full Of Shades : ‘Delineations Of Cricketing Moments That Caught The Artist’s Eye During 1939’

The dispute between the BCCI and the media means that the ‘papers and magazines continue to be unable to use contemporaneous photographs to illustrate reports of cricket in India.  Mostly they have chosen to use stock photographs instead (an old photograph of Jimmy Anderson celebrating to illustrate him taking a lot of wickets, for instance).  This may work in the short term (though smudgers may find it worrying that their work seems so interchangeable) but, in the longer term, it is probably unsustainable.  The Dorian Grey effect will set in – if Panesar is still wheeling away in ten years’ time, his beard may have turned snowy white but the pictures from India will suggest that he’s been at the Grecian 2000.

One solution might be to appoint some sort of tour artist.  It would be a simple matter to smuggle a sketchpad and a pencil into the ground and the BCCI could hardly object to someone sketching away for (if asked) private use.  But there are problems here too.  Artistic depictions of cricket tend to fall into a number of categories.  Views of grounds are understandably popular.  There are instructional illustrations (how to play the forward defensive), portraits (Grace Road has some fine examples by Bryan Organ of, amongst others, Jackie Birkenshaw) and any number of caricatures, whether of the Spy variety or the Roy Ulyett school of huge heads perched atop tiny bodies.

But there are very few that purport to illustrate specific events in real matches.  The difficulties are obvious.  Cricketers don’t keep still and, even if they did, it would be difficult to capture the decisive moment on paper from beyond a distant boundary.  So these drawings are a bit of a puzzle.  They were originally published in The Field magazine in 1939 under the title ‘Delineations of cricketing moments that caught the artist’s eye during 1939’.  The artist is uncredited, but seems to have had both a knowledge of cricket and some training as a fine artist.

They are idealised – all eyes are drawn to the ball and the ‘keeper invariably stands up in the interests of composition. There is evidence that the ruler and the protractor have come into play.  Monty Garland Wells may not have had quite such a serene expression if he’d just knocked up a hard chance in the slips without knowing the outcome but these drawings do have the force of lived (or at least closely observed) experience.  From the batsman’s ‘body language’ there is little doubt what the outcome of Arthur Wood’s appeal will be, whoever drew Captain Stephenson knows what it is like to be momentarily wrong footed by the anticipated cover drive turning into a square cut, there is little doubt where that ball to Gimblett will be going.

So, as I say, a bit of puzzle (though it is possible the artist was working from photographs).  Any suggestions as to the identity of the mystery artist gratefully received.

(1939 was a good year for Wood and Gimblett: Wood (at the age of 41) played three of his four Tests and was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year; Gimblett went through a ‘purple patch’ early in the season and won a Test recall, although it was not to last.   The war effectively brought to an end the careers of Wood, Stephenson, Paynter and Garland-Wells.  Captain Stephenson, who had retired from the Army in July 1939, was recalled and attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  Garland-Wells served his country by becoming a code word for Field-Marshall Montgomery (‘more impenetrable to the Germans’ according to Wisden ‘than the most complicated cipher’). 

An impression of Paynter cutting a rising ball

An impression of Paynter cutting a rising ball

Arthur Wood anticipates the decision to an l.b.w. appeal

Arthur Wood anticipates the decision to an l.b.w. appeal

Harold Gimblett jumping to the pitch of the ball

Harold Gimblett jumping to the pitch of the ball

Captain J.W.A. Stephenson, the Essex all-rounder, fielding at cover-point

Captain J.W.A. Stephenson, the Essex all-rounder, fielding at cover-point

H.M. Garland Wells dives at a hard chance in the slips and succeeds in knocking the ball up

H.M. Garland Wells dives at a hard chance in the slips and succeeds in knocking the ball up

Spouting Geysers And A Ground Without Women : On Tour In New Zealand

So, the England touring party has moved on to New Zealand.  But what can they expect to find there?  Let us consult the recollections of an earlier generation of tourists.

Until recently the tour of New Zealand was tacked on as a coda to the end of a tour of Australia, and generally seems to have been treated as an opportunity for a spot of rest and relaxation after the rigours of an Ashes series.  Certainly the earliest tourists seem to have come away from positive impressions of the place.

Frank Woolley was one of the party on the first tour in 1930 (a free-standing tour, in fact), as he recalls in ‘The King of Games” –

“I also have the most pleasurable recollections of playing against New Zealand teams, both here and in their most beautiful country on the tour of 1929-30; a country so lovely that in places it almost equalled my Kent!” (High praise indeed!)

“The New Zealanders play cricket as do the South Africans.  Their geysers and hot springs do not explode if New Zealand loses, and they can win as cheerfully as we can, with a handshake for the losers.  The real blood of cricket courses through the veins of New Zealanders … Everywhere enjoyable and happy though quite serious play, and open-handed hospitality … These men are saturated in sport, they are natural Games-Men.

(I think there is a slight subtext here: the next chapter opens with the words “There is no doubt that Australian cricketers not only approach Test cricket in a different spirit from that in which we do, but they play in it differently.”)

The next tour was the first of the post-Ashes variety, that being the ill-tempered “Fast leg-theory” series.  According to Cricinfo “the addition of New Zealand to the tour itinerary was not overly popular with the players“, but, once they were there, they seem to have had a fine old time.  This is Herbert Sutcliffe (from ‘For England and Yorkshire’):

“New Zealand, a jewel of a country, delighted me.  They are grand folk in New Zealand.  My cricket was a sorry failure there, but they looked after us so well that they made me forget it … In Auckland I had to be content with under 30 runs, but I got a century out there, and, as a result, had the distinction of having my name hoisted in a very exclusive spot.  I have told earlier of “The Valley of Peace” – the cricket ground to which only men are allowed to go * – which is a few miles outside Christchurch.  There I played for the local team , and, with a not-out hundred, qualified for a position on the honours board in that picturesque little pavilion with which this delightful ground is adorned.

A wonderful little country is New Zealand, with its hot lakes, spouting geysers, its west coast Fjords in the South Island, which rival those of Norway in their enchanting beauty, its magnificent snow-capped mountain-ridges and, above everything else, its glorious loyalty to the Motherland.  You cannot find a better British subject than the Briton who is a New Zealander.  I found the country something of a paradise.”

Bill Bowes (in ‘Express Deliveries‘) confirms Sutcliffe’s account (though he seems to have encountered the ‘Woman Question’ in a slightly different guise):

“By comparison [to Australia] our visit to New Zealand was restful; it had the good-natured amicability of the cricket festival.

I have travelled much around the world since those days, and though my spectacles ** may have given me a rosy vision of that charming antipodean autumn, I still hold to my first impression, that, after England, New Zealand is the finest land in the world.

At Wanganui … we found that most of the town had gathered to greet us and the Wanganui Girls’ Cricket Club members had turned up in whites, gaudy caps and blazers and formed an archway of cricket bats to walk under.

It was arranged for us that we should have a Maori reception … the head of the tribe and his wife, in full tribal dress, shook hands with us, after which we entered in procession.  Men and girls – the men stripped to the waist and the girls wearing red pullovers *** and bead skirts – danced and sang in greeting.

We went to a concert given in our honour that night, saw spectacular poi dances, and for the first time heard the tune later made famous by Gracie Fields as “Now is the Hour”.  The Maori dances are all set to the most delightful tunes and I often wonder why Gracie did not bring back more of them.

The Maori are great people, and unlike the Australian aborigines, have excellent figures as well as kindly dispositions and a great sense of humour.”

Thanks, Bill.  I think we’re getting the picture.  Perhaps a third tourist from ’32-’33, Eddie Paynter, might have a different view? (This is from ‘Cricket all the Way‘):

“We were impressed by the charm of all members of the New Zealand native race.  One must not dare to compare Maoris with the original inhabitants of Australia, that we had met earlier in the tour.  Generally speaking, Maoris, although a native race, are polite, charming and have a reasonable appreciation of the civilised way of life.

Dressed in the traditional grass skirts, the Maoris treated us to an exhibition of dancing followed by an impressive selection of Maori songs, rendered by a mixed choir.  It was here, in 1933, that I first heard a version of the song which, a decade later, Grace Fields was to make popular under the title of ‘Now is the Hour’.”

Right, OK, OK.  I think that’s quite enough of that for the moment.  But before we go to the news, there’s just time for a little music.  Having heard so much about it, I’m sure you are keen to hear ‘Now is the Hour’, so here it is.  According to Wikipedia, incidentally, this was not a traditional Maori song at all, but was originally published in 1913 as ‘Swiss Cradle Song’ and credited to an Australian: the Maoris adapted the tune to their own words.  No doubt there is room here to have an interesting debate about cross-cultural fertilisation and authenticity in popular music, but I think I’m going to leave Gracie to it and have a lie-down.

Take it away, Gracie!

Notes:

* This blog in no way endorses the attitudes implied by this remark.

** These are literal spectacles.

*** Not usually a part of traditional Maori costume. Perhaps worn for the benefit of the tourists?

“It Is The Electric Chair For You, My Boy” : England Skipper In Near Death Experience

Your correspondent must admit to feeling a little under the weather *sniff* at the moment (and what bloody awful weather to be under).  But what better way to raise the spirits and blow away those Winter Blues than another gallivant down memory lane with Lionel, Lord Tennyson?  (“Almost anything” – the Plain People of Leicestershire.)

Tennyson was remarkably prone to what we would now call “gaffes” and unfortunate misunderstandings.  For instance, according to Jeremy Malies “at a fancy-dress ball in the 1920s, having won the booby prize of a pumpkin for his representation of Judge Jeffreys of ‘The Bloody Assizes’, he threw his trophy at Sir Home Gordon, missed, and knocked the Mayoress of Folkestone out cold” and “at the height of the Spanish Civil War he nearly caused a riot in Gibraltar by wearing an MCC tie, its colour scheme being an exact match of the Spanish Royalist flag.”

But his most serious – and potentially life-threatening – misunderstandings tended to involve him finding himself – quite innocently – in what might have appeared – to the suspiciously inclined – to have been compromising situations with other men’s wives.  (We have already seen how one such misunderstanding led to him having to make a hasty exit down a rose trellis during a pre-War tour of South Africa.)

This anecdote is from his account of a trip to America, from which he managed to return with a wife of his own (his second), pictured with him here aboard s.s. Empress of Great Britain in 1938

With my reputation?

With my reputation?

“From Lake Forest I went to another smaller town in the neighbourhood which, for reasons which will be appreciated, I will not name.  During my stay in it I had a rather startling adventure, which, I insist, was through no fault of my own.  I had first met the beautiful lady I am going to write about at Palm Beach where she was on a visit.  There I often went out and danced with her.  Having heard that I was staying in the region of her home, she invited me to go and see her.  Her husband, I must mention, was a business man in Chicago and away at his office practically all and every day.  My last morning in the neighbourhood this gentleman, who had stayed at home instead of going to business as usual, suddenly made his appearance as I had come to make my adieux and without the slightest warning pointed a revolver at my head.

“Get out of here,” he bellowed, “What the hell do you mean by playing around with my wife?” His face was purple.  His eyes were red with rage (or, as I afterwards discovered, excess of alcohol had something to do with it) and his finger trembled on the trigger as the muzzle waved up and down about four yards from my head.  The lady shrieked and fainted and I, after a second or two of stupefaction, exclaimed “What the hell do you mean?”

“I have heard all about your doings in Palm Beach,” yelled the infuriated man, paying no heed to his insensible wife. “Your last hour has come: I am going to shoot you dead.”

“Don’t be so damned ridiculous,” was the best answer I could think of.

“I am,” hissed he, “so prepare to meet your God!”

“Well then,” replied I, opening my coat and hoping the revolver was not loaded, “if you are determined to shoot, shoot here,” and forthwith I pointed at my heart. “Make a clean job of it, and if I understand the laws of your country it is the electric chair for you, my boy.”

The madman was too far off for me to rush him and I spoke thus as a bluff, trying to look as cool as possible, though I was really far from feeling so inwardly, since he seemed quite insane and capable of anything.

There came a loud bang.  The revolver, which had been travelling in a semi-circle in his wavering hand during the conversation just described, had gone off and by an extraordinary piece of good luck had done no more damage than make a hole in the wall behind me.  The explosion seemed to sober my inebriated friend.  For a moment he stared stupidly at the barrel and then collapsed into a chair.  This was the moment for action on my part.  In a second I was at him, wrenching the weapon from his fingers and stood over him with it.  After a heated argument he rang the bell for whisky and soda, subsequently despatching half a dozen whiskies in about as many minutes.  Meanwhile his wife had recovered from her swoon and was screaming and praying, so it was not much good trying to make a formal adieux to either of them.  Being due to play a round of golf, I left the house without any more words, thankful for such an extraordinary escape.  Strangely enough I played afterwards the best round of my life.  That just shows you, as I have already remarked, what a queer game golf is.”

A queer game indeed.  Once again, I feel I must ask whether if – say – Ian Bell were to find himself in such tricky circumstances he would conduct himself with such admirable sang-froid?  I’m not sure that we could.