Older readers (if any) may remember that Robert Herrick, the cavalier clergyman and poet, made almost as many appearances in the early days of this blog as overnight sensation James Taylor. As he (Herrick not Taylor) was, to the best of my knowledge, “outside cricket” he has rather faded from the scene recently, but I was reminded of him again when I came across a 1961 edition of “Selected Poems”, edited by John Hayward and published in the Penguin Poets series.
In particular the cover is rather lovely:
I’d suggest it would serve well as wallpaper (literal or virtual) or – with the festive season approaching – as wrapping paper or a slightly oblique greetings card. As for the verse inside the card, how about this (some lines from Herrick’s “To his Mistresse objecting to him neither Toying or Talking“)?
Small griefs find tongues: Full Casques are ever found
To give (if any, yet) but little sound. Deep waters noyse-lesse are; And this we know, That chiding streams betray small depth below.
“The days dwindle down to a precious few … September …”
I’m afraid that this has been an undesirably busy month. “My September in Cricket” will have to wait until October, or possibly even the further into the depths of Winter, when – after all – I shall have little else to write about. But – just to dispel any impression that this blog has finally turned up its toes and handed in its dinner pail – here, almost exactly six months after the end of the Rugby and football seasons and the beginning of the cricket season, is my last look back at the the cricket:
and my first sight of the football:
I think the main change since the Spring is that the gravestone in the right foreground, bearing the inscription from Tennyson
This is the poem I had intended posting last weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of John Betjeman’s death, and as an apology for not having written anything else. (WordPress and, apparently, the Internet Watch Foundation had other ideas). The sun had shone, you see, and I had spent the whole weekend watching cricket.
The Last Laugh
I made hay while the sun shone. My work sold. Now if the harvest is over And the world cold, Give me the bonus of laughter As I lose hold.
Now, of course, it is going to rain all weekend and I shall have no such excuse. Where are the Internet Watch Foundation when you really need them?
No time for proper blogging today – alas! – but here is a snapshot of Winter passing into Spring (as I make other plans). This is the view of Market Harborough cemetery from Northampton Road on my way back from the Rugby, last Saturday and this. It will be Autumn before the sun is at this angle at that time again and the quality of the light will be quite different.
The inscription on the large headstone to the right of the picture is from Tennyson (Alfred, not Lionel) and reads
Then let wise Nature work her will,
And on my clay her darnels grow,
Come only when the days are still,
And at my head-stone whisper low,
And tell me if the woodbines blow.
I wonder how many passers-by have paused to read this over the years (and how many of them have been able to answer the question?).
A fleeting visit to Newstead in Nottinghamshire, a former mining village whose colliery closed in 1987.
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 –
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) –
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”:
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.
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.
Belatedly, the Stump in January, looking a little like a Christmas pudding with sparklers stuck into it:
and, as a bonus, the Stump in context. It does have an awfully long way to go to regain its former glory, as you will see.
These scenes may, perhaps, prompt a sigh of regret – “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” Or perhaps not. It is one of those phrases, like “whatever happened to the crispy bacon we used to have before the war?” or “I understand he speaks very highly of you” that I tend to slip into the conversation without really knowing what they mean or where they come from.
“Mais, où sont les neiges …” is actually the refrain of a poem by François Villon – Ballade des dames du temps jadis – that was popularised in England by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1870 translation as The ballad of dead ladies. Rossetti couldn’t find an exact English equivalent for “antan“, so he invented his own word “yester-year”. The neologism caught on and is now, of course, a great favourite of DJs on oldies radio stations. Here is Rossetti’s poem:
Ballad of Dead Ladies
Tell me now in what hidden way is Lady Flora the lovely Roman? Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais, Neither of them the fairer woman? Where is Echo, beheld of no man, Only heard on river and mere– She whose beauty was more than human?– But where are the snows of yester-year?
Where’s Heloise, the learned nun, For whose sake Abeillard, I ween, Lost manhood and put priesthood on? (From Love he won such dule and teen!) And where, I pray you, is the Queen Who willed that Buridan should steer Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?– But where are the snows of yester-year?
White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies, With a voice like any mermaiden– Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice, And Ermengarde the lady of Maine– And that good Joan whom Englishmen At Rouen doomed and burned her there– Mother of God, where are they then?– But where are the snows of yester-year?
Nay, never ask this week, fair lord, Where they are gone, nor yet this year, Except with this for an overword– But where are the snows of yester-year?
Time, I think, for another excerpt from Lionel, Lord Tennyson’s second autobiography ‘Sticky Wickets‘.
For those who aren’t familiar with this Tennyson, he captained (‘Happy’) Hampshire between 1919 and 1932 and played nine times for England (three times as Captain). He is probably best remembered for taking on the fearsome Gregory and MacDonald (literally) single-handedly at Headingley in 1921
(scoring 63 and 36) and the match against Warwickshire in 1922 when Hampshire were bowled out for 15 in the first innings but went on to win by 155 runs (thus winning a £10 bet he’d made with the Warwickshire skipper Freddie Calthorpe).
He was also the Grandson of the great Victorian Laureate. This was both a source of pride (he once bet the fellows in his club that his Grandfather had written Hiawatha) and something of a burden. Although in other respects they were quite unalike, like Lytton Strachey he chafed at the bonds of Victorian respectability. In ‘Sticky Wickets’ he describes the atmosphere in which he was brought up by his own Father, Hallam, and how he, at a very early age, first managed to land himself in the soup.
“It was an atmosphere of veneration, indeed, that was almost religious, and anything that tended even in the slightest degree to impair it he visited with the severest disfavour. His observations frequently began with the words “My father said” or “My father thought”. In fact, he seemed to refer all questions of importance to that past oracle, so mighty in its own day, and may be said never to have wholly emerged from the Victorian age.
Such devotion, like all things on earth, had its opposite and inconvenient side. My father never realized, I feel sure, that it was impossible for the Farringford tradition to be preserved for ever without change, or that, so far from exercising much restraining influence on myself, it rather tended, by the law of contrariety, to emphasize my natural aversion to a highly solemn view of life.
My grandfather, however much I may sometimes have suffered on his account, was a great Englishman, and not altogether so solemn, I fancy, as some people believe. Certainly he could crack a bottle, and tell a good story after dinner almost to the last day of his life.
Only one incident of my association with him survives the passage of years, and that one an occasion on which, regrettably enough, I disgraced myself.
At that time the phonograph, an early form of the gramophone, had just been invented by Mr Edison, the great American. who died in 1931, and he had sent, as a present, one of the instruments to Farringford. On receipt of this gift, and for the interest and edification of posterity, the Laureate was persuaded to make some records by reciting a few of his poems.
One must reconstruct the scene more or less from imagination – the family circle gathered in the room where the experiment was to take place – my father, grave, filial and attentive – my mother, bright, eager, active and anxious to help the old poet in every way, for she was a great favourite of his – my grandmother assisted thither from her invalid couch – and lastly myself, aged about two years. For – and this was the reason for my presence – it was thought only right that I should be there, if only to be able to say in after years, whether the experience stuck in my mind or not, that I had been one of that select audience which heard the great poet declaim for the benefit of future ages.
Everyone in the room (one must suppose) stood hushed to attention, and then after the necessary interval of preparations came the poet’s great voice booming and rolling sonorously forth the majestic harmonies of his verse to be recorded for ever on the sensitive wax. But even as the listeners waited entranced, and his organ voice went rolling on, suddenly the whole thing was brought to a disastrous close – by me.
I had emitted some infantile noise that entirely ruined the record.
Though I have not actually heard it myself, I believe this record is now in the British Museum, and that my ill-timed interruption is faithfully reproduced. Owing to some lack of care in preserving the wax-cylinders from damp, however, I am informed that both this and the other records made at the time are lamentably indistinct.”
Tennyson recorded eight poems in all, so it’s not clear which one it was that Lionel ruined. The most famous, and the only one I can find on the internet, is this recording of The Charge of the Light Brigade. The BBC’s Poetry: Out Loud site has this to say about the recording : ‘The knocking halfway through remains a mystery. Perhaps Tennyson was providing his own sound effects.’
Well, perhaps. Or perhaps what we can hear is the sound of the infant Lionel knocking his tiny bat in.
Hornung, the author of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, was an occasional versifier. Most of his verse was inspired by the Great War. Oddly, in the light of the ambivalence (verging on cynicism) of the Raffles books towards the idea that cricket was the embodiment of the Englishman’s moral code, he began by writing some fairly awful War-as-the-Great-Game-type stuff, for instance –
The Schools take guard upon a fierier pitch
Somewhere in Flanders.
Bigger the cricket here; yet some who tried
In vain to earn a Colour while at Eton
Have found a place upon an England side
That can’t be beaten !
His son Oscar, who had played cricket for Eton, had written from the front, comparing the War to “putting your left leg to the ball at cricket” or playing in a house match “only the odds are not so much against us here and we’ve more to back us up.” He was killed in July 1915. His Father volunteered to work at the front, manning a canteen run by the YMCA and organising a small lending library for the troops.
(The pictures are of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark.)