Commercial Break


Although you are ...

A little late to apply, unfortunately.  This appeared in an issue of Playfair Cricket Monthly from 1968 and any “able young men” who applied for one of these jobs will long ago have sailed into the peaceful waters of retirement.  Apart from the fact that such an advert would be illegal on at least a couple of grounds today, it is striking that there is no mention of anything as tiresome as qualifications, “team-working”, “dynamism”, let alone that sine qua non of the modern employee “a passionate commitment to customer service”.  (It doesn’t look as though a grasp of conventional punctuation mattered too much either.)

The implied message seems to be “Bit of a bore, between ourselves, Old Boy, but nothing too arduous and you can slope off at four, so you should be at Lord’s in time to catch the final session most days.”  I rather admire the frank admission that no-one in his right mind would work for a living if he could spend his days at the cricket instead, but we must, of course, be grateful that this lackadaisical and amateurish attitude has been flushed out of our financial services industries by the Forces of Change.  Otherwise where would the country’s economy be?


Cricketers’ Wives

No more cricket to write about for another six months, of course, so let us take a stroll down Memory Lane (in my case an increasingly badly lit and potholed lane, overgrown with briars).  Here, from ‘The Cricketer” Spring Annual of 1981 (the cover story was “West Indies Crisis”, in this case the Jackman affair) are seven wives of English cricketers, snapped on their way out to join their husbands in the West Indies and trembling on the verge of an exciting new decade.

England cricketers wives

l was thinking of setting this as a quiz, to see if anyone is obsessive enough to recognise not only obscure England cricketers of the early ’80s, but their wives as well (and if you’d like to have a go at this feel free) but here we have (from left to right) Mrs Kathryn Botham (looking wary, as well she might), Mrs Gail Bairstow (feisty, though I don’t think the word had been invented then in England), Mrs Brenda Gooch (regal), Mrs Sue Emburey  (not unused to posing for the camera, I’d say), Mrs Elaine Gatting (apprehensive and possibly weighed down with jars of Branston’s), Mrs Helen Dilley and Mrs Angela Stevenson (perhaps, having seen Mrs Gooch, feeling a little under-dressed).

This wasn’t exactly cricket’s Baden-Baden moment, but it did mark the beginning of a decade when the tabloid newspapers began to take an interest in cricketers and (if they weren’t careful) their wives and the point when the relationship between the England set up and the press began to sour.  Instead of a tour party being accompanied by a handful of correspondents who could be trusted to concentrate on on-field affairs and keep any stories of late night high-jinks under their hats, they were joined by what Frances Edmonds, the only cricket wife to become as famous as her husband, described as

“this plague of venomous typewriter toting scorpions. They fly out at the drop of a sub editor’s hat to join the motley crew of ‘World Exclusive’, ‘Phew what a scorcher’ artists, and parasite on to the cricket-host … They simply stick around in the bar, the disco, or the swimming pool like some burgeoning bacteria, waiting to erupt with the next noxious outpourings of their monosyllabic minds and their pernicious prose, desperate to justify their enormous tabloid expenses with any piece of genuine gilt-edged gutter filth they can dredge up.”

Clearly this was not a desirable state of affairs, but I suppose it at least indicated that the tabloid press thought their readership would be interested enough in cricket to want to know what its stars got up to off the pitch.  Although the occasional player (Tufnell, for instance) gave them something to write about in the ‘nineties, that interest gradually faded as Premier League football (and its accompanying camp-followers and WAGs) began to bloat and blot out interest in any other sport.  At the same time the notion of media management took hold of the ECB to the extent that not only the “typewriter toting scorpions” but the legitimate cricket correspondents were denied access to the players other than through press conferences that made them seem half-witted and stage-managed interviews that recall Hollywood in the 1930s.

Kevin Pietersen has done has best to raise the profile of the sport by marrying a talent show pop star, Alastair Cook’s wife raises sheep and I think Ian Bell’s wife has a French name, but beyond that their private lives are shrouded in decent obscurity.  No doubt this is as it should be, but then I suspect the entire England squad could walk down most of the high streets of England without more than a flicker or recognition, which is perhaps less desirable.

Not that it’s any of my business, but it is hard to resist some idle Googling to find out what’s become of the seven wives in the intervening 32 years, at which point a certain melancholy sets in.  Kath Botham we know about.  Gail Bairstow features briefly as his first wife in David’s obituary “he nicknamed her ‘Stormy’, which reflected their later relationship”.  Brenda Gooch was divorced from Graham in 1992, citing the pressures of being a cricketer’s wife.  Susie Emburey and John appear still to be happily married, as do Elaine and Mike Gatting (she crops up in a property feature in the “Daily Express” about their villa in Barbados, suggesting that her initial trip to the Windies was a success).  Helen Dilley also appears briefly as the first wife in her husband’s obituary “Ashes hero left nothing in his will” and Angela Stevenson is mentioned in an account of how the PCA are paying Graham’s hospital fees following a serious illness.

What is melancholy here, I suspect, is that – however hard the life of a cricketer’s wife may be – none of it is unique to cricket.  Take any seven friends, any seven club players from 1981 and three divorces, one suicide, one premature death and one incapacitating illness would be about par for the course.

A gloomy reflection for a gloomy October night, I’m afraid, with a long close season stretching out ahead of us.

“Leicestershire For The Championship?” : One From The Archives (Alas)

I’m afraid that – once again –  coverage of Leicestershire’s latest defeat, this time to Worcestershire by nine wickets, has had to be held over, due to lack of time and, frankly, inclination.  Predictions are always tricky things, but, although my horse Yorkshire have stumbled alarmingly in the closing straight of the Championship race, I’d say the figurative money I have on Leicestershire for the wooden spoon is already earning interest in the bank.

But my time at Grace Road on Saturday was not entirely wasted (it never is).  I satisfied most of my Christmas card needs with this year’s offering from the Friends of Grace Road shop (a charming snow scene of Grace Road, as always) and whiled away the time as Worcestershire crept largely unimpeded to the 187 they needed to win the match by flicking through some back copies of The Cricketer I’d picked up from the same source.

The Spring Annual of April 1983 particularly held my attention.  It was something of a shock to be reminded of quite how conservative the magazine was under the editorship of Christopher Martin-Jenkins.  The whole thing is such an instructive time capsule of the period that I intend to save it for some Wintry day to write about in full, but – as a taster – it contains an article entitled “A body blow to Apartheid : Michael Owen-Smith reviews the extraordinary success of the [rebel] West Indian tour“, a full page of poetry submitted by readers, “Geoffrey Beck: an unsung cricketing cleric” by Alan Gibson, a history of Rutland County Cricket Club and a piece by Guy Williatt (“former Captain of Derbyshire and Headmaster of Pocklington School”) arguing for the continuing relevance of independent schools to the health of English cricket.

Different times, but the biggest jolt – given the context in which I saw it – was delivered by coming across this (at the head of a piece in which “John Thicknesse of the New Standard previews the Schweppes County Championship”).

Leicestershire for the Championship

Predictions, as I say, are usually odorous (Leicestershire finished fourth that year) but I have to admire the self-confidence displayed here.  Perhaps for next year’s Christmas card Josh Cobb (our current Captain and the son of Russell, the man in the natty sheepskin and cloth cap combo to the right of the picture) could be persuaded to re-enact this scene, substituting “promotion” for “Champions”?

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.



Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

I’m looking forward to reading Ed Smith’s new book ‘Luck : what it means and why it matters”, which has been getting some very complimentary reviews (I know this because I follow his Twitter account and he’s been retweeting them all).  

On the subject of luck, I happened to be flicking through the News of the World & Empire News (two Great British institutions that have seen better days there)Two-in-One Football Annual for 1961-62

when I came across this –

I’m not sure whether this is an example of a lucky or a very unlucky juxtaposition of advert and text.  If you can’t read it, on the left we see Days of Disaster – taking in the Munich Air Disaster, the Bolton and Ibrox Disasters (in which 33 and 25 spectators died respectively) and Derek Dooley’s Misfortune (a broken leg leading to amputation).

It also, topically, lists various players who have died in the course of a game – John Thompson, the Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper (fractured skull); S. Raleigh of Gillingham (concussion); James S. Thorpe, the Sunderland goalkeeper (diabetes) and two players killed during the Army Cup Final replay at Aldershot in 1948 (lightning).

Under the heading Curiosity S. Wynne is noted as having scored two goals for each side, although he too later died during a match (cause unknown).

On the right (as some kind of prophylactic against this terrible wave of bad luck) Solomon’s Seal.  The Seal was “carried by three First Dividend winners in the Treble Chance … Beautifully GOLD PLATED this exquisite piece of jewellery also adds a magic touch of glamour to women of all ages … Men usually carry it in a pocket.  Until recently SOLOMON’S SEAL was made in solid gold only for twelve guineas, but leading soccer stars and their wives have been delighted with the new beautiful GOLD-PLATED creation.

SOLOMON’S SEAL is said to attract GOOD LUCK like a magnet.  PROVE IT with this GOOD LUCK TEST.  Look at it … hold it … make a wish.  If you do not enjoy GOOD LUCK within seven days, send it back, and I will refund your money AT ONCE!  Would I dare to give this GOOD LUCK GUARANTEE if I doubted the powers of SOLOMON’ SEAL?”

Newspapers like the News of the World, and magazines such as Reveille and Tit-Bits, used to be full of adverts for good luck charms of this kind (Lucky Leprechauns, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the like), usually in connection with the football pools.  Whether anyone really believed that they worked I don’t know, but they do, at least, represent an acknowledgement of the role of luck in human affairs, as opposed to the denial that Smith identifies in the complexities of risk management and financial technical analysis.

“Denying the existence of luck appeals to the basic human urge to control everything – a neurosis that affects almost every aspect of our lives. It is difficult to accept that we are all, to some degree, victims and beneficiaries of circumstance.”

Not that the scientific approach was unknown to the readers of the News of the World Annual. If only Lehmann Brothers had had acccess to CEDRIC – the wonder draw-forecasting electronic brain!  

One Million Fairly Similar Words For Snow

Experts are claiming that this weekend’s snow event is already the best-documented since records began, with almost half a million tweets, fifty thousand blog posts and over a million photographs already available on the internet, not to mention innumerable Facebook updates.

A future historian of everyday life, writing from the year 2112, will have this to say –

“It’s quite hopeless, from my point of view.  As with every aspect of everyday life since the invention of social media, there is simply too much evidence and I don’t know where to start.  In future I’m going back to the seventeenth century, where every scrap of evidence is invaluable.”

And here’s my contribution to the white noise and light … this lunar, deep-sea object is a poppy in the backyard, Saturday night –    


(Stop it! You’re making it worse! – A Future Historian)

The Disagreeable World of John Lydon

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and happened to be browsing through the Silver Jubilee special edition of Punch

(- ah, those eminently civilised and agreeable humourists of yesteryear – Basil Boothroyd! Sheridan Morley! Christopher Booker! – not to mention my dear old chum and quaffing partner Wallace Arnold) when I came across this –

Now, to my rheumy old eyes, this looked very much like an advertisement for that innovative recording Metal Box by Public Image Limited and, indeed, the (dread word!) logo does look very similar.

But how can this be?” – quoth I – “surely the Sex Pistols were still in full flower in Jubilee Year, and have I not just – a few pages earlier – been reading some good-natured chaff on that very subject by dear old Kenneth Robinson?”.  Closer inspection (with my reading glasses on) revealed that it was an advertisement for Metal Box Limited, the well-known manufacturers of … metal boxes.

Now there is nothing wrong with a little creative reappropriation, or as our chums sur le continong say détournement* (though who would have guessed that the young Lydon was a subscriber to Punch?)

But imagine my surprise when – coming a little more up-to-date – I read this in the latest edition of Mojo magazine –

The duo [i.e. Wobble and Levene] booked four early February dates … billed as “Metal Box in Dub” to air instrumental improv takes on PIL’s classic album from 1979.  Wobble, however, contacted MOJO to say that … he received a letter from John Lydon’s lawyers threatening legal action, and that … Lydon sought to copyright “Metal Box” in his name alone …” 

A fine kettle of worms, methinks.

(*A détournement is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International and consist in “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” as Wikipedia puts it).

Follow Me On Twitter (or not – it’s entirely up to you)

After years of Twitterscepticism, I have resolved to dip a tentative toe into the Twitterstream, so, if you’d like to subscribe, I believe the application form is to the right as you look at it.

As I currently have no mobile equipment that allows me to Tweet on the hoof, or much idea of how I can use it constructively, my Twittering is likely to be of a fairly passive nature to begin with.

I shall be publicising my posts on this blog via Twitter (if I can get it to work), following a few of my favourite bloggers, and perhaps a few stars of the Twittersphere, such as the belligerent QPR midfielder-philosopher Alain de Barton.  

Plus of course, James Taylor (the noted gourmet).

We Don’t Look Backwards And We Don’t Look Forwards : The Vision of Kevin Pietersen

After another lengthy interruption caused by a cock-up on the broadband front, let me try to rerail my train of thought and remember (without the benefit of hindsight) what I was going to say on Wednesday.

 So, what was Ian Bell’s View From The Middle, going forward into the Second Test?  The edited highlights were these …

“absolutely gutted … the dressing room really hurt afterwards … bit of a shake-up … we’re going to have to work very hard if we want to keep winning Test Matches … have to try to stay level and not to dwell on it … the key is to have time in the middle … have to raise our game … must not get too carried away with thinking about what happened there … stick together through good times and bad times … enjoy the challenge … chance to bounce back quickly …”

Meanwhile, in an interview in the Metro, Alastair Cook took a similar view (“England moving swiftly on : We have put Dubai to bed“)

“We discussed what we needed to do and we put it to bed … learned from mistakes … all about thinking how we can win this game … always managed to bounce back … characters in the side who do like those sort of challenges … runs are just around the corner …”

But, of course, flagging this up is churlish stuff on my part – shooting ducks and duck-makers in a barrel.  If you had a twelve year old whose side had just lost heavily and unexpectedly, this is exactly what you’d be telling them.  And it’s not as though the feeble column with a cricketer’s name attached is a new phenomenon.

This is from Bruce Hamilton’s novel Pro, set in the 1920s.  Jim Revill (a sort of Sutcliffe-Woolley figure) is explaining where his money comes from –

And those articles in the Gazette – there’s a lot of money in them”

Do you really write them?”

Not on your life.  They let me have the proofs though, and if there’s anything too damn silly I cross it out.”

What irks me is not so much the thought that the newspapers are palming off some PR fluff as an insight into the minds of Test cricketers as the suspicion that this watery stew of management theory and self-helpisms really is all that Cook, Bell et al. have in their heads and that to be successful, to be, indeed, the Number One Side in the World™, that is necessarily so. 

The deep thinkers (the Smiths, Roebucks and Jameses) can think themselves to the edges of international cricket and then think themselves back out again, the happy animals are sailing off unsteadily into the sunset on their pedaloes, but those who sincerely believe that whatever achieves results is right will inherit the earth (or at least the No. 1 spot in the ICC rankings).

But then again, perhaps it was ever more-or-less thus, and that the reason the players of the past are – to those of us who rely on the written and spoken word for our knowledge of Test cricket – more vivid and three-dimensional than those of the present is that the Woolleys and Rhodeses exist and persist as the creations of writers who really could write, and newspapers that preferred to give space to their writing over the unmediated thoughts of the players.  Rhodes had Neville Cardus to write his lines for him, poor Bell has to write his own (though he could, I suppose, just let his bat do the talking).

Mind you there is one player who can elevate self-help speak to an almost mystical level.  This is Kevin Pietersen, from an interview in this week’s Sport magazine –

“We don’t look backwards and we don’t look forwards, because that’s got nothing to do with what’s happening right now – and I think that’s what Andy Flower and Strauss have brought to the party … what’s magnificent about this squad is the longevity of its happiness.  Off the field, all our doors are open throughout the hotel, the boys are in and out of each other’s rooms playing FIFA, playing cards and talking nonsense …”

Allowing a little hindsight to creep in, though, I wonder whether, now that Dubai seems to have leapt back out of bed – leaving poor Geoffrey Boycott homeless – the longevity of Andrew Strauss’s happiness is likely to be increased by having Kevin Pietersen, locked into his beatific vision of the eternal now, wandering in and out of his room, talking nonsense.

We shall have to see.