Small Griefs

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.

Not festive, perhaps, but possibly timely.

Golden Hours (A Trick Of The Light) : My July In Cricket

Northants 2nd XI v Sussex 2nd XI, Finedon Dolben CC

Bedfordshire CCC v Cambridgeshire CCC, Bedford Modern School

Leicestershire v Derbyshire, Royal London Cup, Grace Road

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Warwickshire 2nd XI, Grace Road

(all July 2014)

“Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”

I have quoted that passage (from “The Summer Game” by Neville Cardus) before.  It describes an experience that he that hath understanding of that vexatious phrase “the Spirit of Cricket” will have had at least once (perhaps as often as once a season, if they’re lucky), even if he (or she) might be shy of admitting it.  English cricketers may, as Bernard Shaw once unintentionally pointed out, be unspiritual people, but cricket does occasionally allow them a glimpse of, if not eternity exactly, a kind of seemingly infinite simultaneity.

Of course it’s not necessary to sit in the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning to summon the Spirit of Cricket (she is that not that local or particular a Deity).  If I were to try to summon her deliberately I’d have a couple of pints at lunchtime on a sunny day and sit in the stand on the roof of the Charles Palmer Suite (which usually does the trick).  But at the beginning of the month I was surprised to be surprised by the Spirit in what is, almost literally, my own backyard, the Little Bowden Recreation Ground.

At the end of an overcast day which had turned brilliant to the point of hallucination towards evening I made a slight detour on my way home and chanced upon the time-honoured closing stages of a close encounter (the last man, the last over, the winning run, the handshake, the pub).

Little Bowden Rec July 2014

No doubt it was merely a trick of the light (at close to what photographers call the “golden hour”) but at that moment the two elevens seemed to contain all cricketers everywhere and of all time, stretching back to Hambledon and beyond.

Of course, it is the curse of visionaries (think of Rat in “the Wind in the Willows”, for instance, or even Julian of Norwich) that they cannot convey in words the substance of their visions to those who haven’t shared them, which is why it is generally wiser not to attempt it.  But something of that feeling has remained with me through the month and lent a sense of unity to what are, on the face of it, unrelated happening and sights …

… Nathan Buck attempting to score off a last over bouncer from Mark Footitt …

Young Buck

… some natty duck-egg blue sight screens at Finedon Dolben …

Finedon 1

(the batsman is Samit Patel’s brother Akhil, seen here leaving the pitch looking pained after narrowly missing his century)

Akhil Patel

… a tree in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, which overlooks the ground at Finedon (and where at lunchtime the incumbent, the popular radio evangelist the Rev. Richard Coles was supervising the raising of the bellows) …

Finedon Churchyard

… a Cambridgeshire player (who I think embodies the Spirit of Amateurism as much as anything) tucking his trousers into what appear to be (Harlequins?) rugby socks …

Bedford 1 (socks)

… the same displaying a broadness of beam in the slips not seen in the professional game since the heyday of Cowdrey, Milburn and Sharpe …

Bedford 3 (slips)

… a World War II bomber that passed low over the field at Bedford in the late afternoon …

Bedford (2) bomber

and even the poor, much abused alleyway that leads to Grace Road …

Grace Rd alleyway

… until, as the month ends, the skies darken and the outfield parches, Barrow Town’s Stan once again hit out boldly in the closing overs …

Stan Fairfield Rd Aug 2014

So, Lo! – do you see? – it all coheres!  Well no, of course, it doesn’t really cohere at all, but sometimes – do you see? – it just seems to for a moment.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a fine Summer evening, and there might be some cricket still going on somewhere in the vicinity …

(On a more sober note, future England watchers should make a note of the name Sam Hain, who took advantage of the new 50 over format to build a substantial century for Warwicks 2nd XI at Grace Rd. last week.  The new Ian Bell, mark my words, unless he changes his mind and decides he’s Australian again.)

Preferably Not On A Sunday : A Christian XI

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 Child’s Christmas In Manchester : by Neville Cardus

Anyone who feels disappointed by their Christmas presents this year might want to spare a thought for the numerous cricket-loving Dads of 1950 who must have been presented with a copy of “Second Innings” by Neville Cardus (“That’ll do for Dad, he loves his cricket“).  Picture them settling down in their favourite armchairs after lunch, sticking their feet up on the pouffe, lighting their pipes and looking forward to seeing what old Cardus might have to say about Freddie Brown’s prospects in Australia, only to be confronted by something like this:

“For though Kant was unable to go beyond appearance to reality, and though his metaphysic ended in an attempt to show us how we might know rather than what we actually do know, he at least spared us from a sort of conception of mind as a passive uncreative blank tablet – a sort of blotting-paper of consciousness upon which the external universe doodles away endlessly and without meaning.”

Scratched heads all round.  By 1950 Cardus was tiring a little of cricket and more tired of being stereotyped as a cricket-writer (a thing he’d never set out to be).  His own choice of title for the book had been (with a nod to Proust) “Remembered Pleasures”: his publishers had cannily insisted on a title suggestive of cricket, though the book contained little about the game.  At least there’s no danger of such misunderstandings occurring if you’ve stuck to the later works of Beefy, Bumble or Boycs.

Rather like a later “Autobiography“, “Second Innings” opens with a bravura passage recalling a South Manchester childhood, although, in the case of Cardus, distance seems to have lent enchantment.  This passage is about Christmas, and I wish you all an equally merry and enchanted one.

“Did it always snow at Christmas when we were young?  I cannot – or at least I will not – remember a “green” Christmas, a Christmas of rain and fog.  The covers of the illustrated papers and “double numbers” turned the nurseries into a glory of holly and robin redbreast and stage-coaches and rosy inns and coachmen with pleated capes.  Snow at Christmas makes the clock go back; it touches everything with a medieval spirit, mingling jollity and the grotesque; “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and “The Mistletoe Bough”; brandy flames round the pudding and ghost stories.  If Christmas Eve should be white and moonlit, the star of mysticism may be seen to shine over even an English Christmas; for the English Christmas is one less of poetry than of hospitable prose.

When the meadows froze, people would hunt out skates, wooden and steel.  The rivers and ponds were a mass of moving figures.  At any moment the weight of them threatened a crash and splintering a crash and splintering of ice.  Elderly men with mufflers over their shoulders puffing out their breath on their cold air.  Boys and girls, young men escorting young ladies, their skates rhythmically keeping time.  Then there were “slides,” on which a perpetual queue proceeded in various attitudes of arrested animation; some dashing along legs wide asunder, others as though human volition were gone – once landed on a slide there was little freedom of the will and much stiffness at the knee-joints; and as you glided forward, or rather were subtly propelled, there was always the feeling that the person behind you was inimical, at least not friendly.

Then there was the Christmas pantomime.  I once stole out of my home and without a word to anybody went to an afternoon performance of Aladdin. I climbed to the high gallery of the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester, admission sixpence.  While I sat aloft, and looked down on all the kingdoms of the world, time came to a standstill, and outside the afternoon turned to night.  When the spell was broken I found myself in the Oxford Road; snow was falling.  There had been no warning of it when I entered the theatre.  I had sat in the gallery trembling with excitement as one scene was conjured from another.  All the time, behind my back, the snow had come to a great city on the eve of Christmas.

Under a clear moon and a sky pulsing with stars as through frosted, I was allowed to go out with the Christmas “Waits” singing carols.  I carried a lantern which was like a little castle; through a skin of parchment it was possible to see the wick inside burning steadily.  The glow thrown upward by the lamps set into relief the faces of the singers; and I remember an old man with a beard like Christ;  the shadows on his cheeks and under his eyes made me think of a picture I loved – Holman Hunt’s “the Light of the World.”

The snow was hard under our feet.  When we walked up the drives of houses in Victoria Park we made crunching noises, and we spoke in whispers as we prepared to sing outside the wide porches.  There was a desire amongst us that the carols should he heard inside the houses without warning: it was a seasonal ritual and greeting.

Christians awake!

Salute the happy morn!

After a while, long enough to suggest that our music had been listened to for its own sake, the door would open and we would be asked to come inside.  It was this way, I think, that I first saw a large gleaming dining-room and old furniture, a chandelier, a crackling log-fire and silver rimmed biscuit boxes.  Our host might easily have been little Max himself, not old yet, with many Christmases still before him.

I was not allowed to stay out all through the night and go with the “Waits” from house to house until Christmas morning dawned; but in my little bedroom at home I would wake very early and grope for my stocking and try to guess without lighting a candle what was in it.  And I would hear, from the distance, now near on the wind and now far, the cheerful greeting:

Hail smiling morn,

That tips the hills with gold!

Snow on the roofs, in the streets and in the fields beyond, a mantle of peacefulness.  Snow falling, and snow dissolving, as imperceptibly as all these happy hours were vanishing and passing on their way.  At no point could we detect a transition, increase or decrease; nobody ever saw the first or the last flake of a snowstorm.  So, like to the falling snow, in which no flake is different from another, or more laden with fate or change – so with our myriad lives and the whole of the world of those days.  Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men.  Where was the mortal heart that didn’t believe it?  No man envies another and would take his place; yet the years bow us here and there, and we are sent drifting on winds as wayward as those that swing the weather-vane on the snowy roof.”

Consecration, by E.W. Hornung : A Poem For Remembrance Sunday

E.W. Hornung
Children we deemed you all the days
   We vexed you with our care:
But in a Universe ablaze,
   What was your childish share?
To rush upon the flames of Hell,
  To quench them with your blood !
To be of England’s flower that fell
   Ere yet it break the bud !
And we who wither where we grew,
   And never shed but tears,
As children now would follow you
   Through the remaining years ;
Tread in the steps we thought to guide,
   As firmly as you trod ;
And keep the name you glorified
   Clean before man and God.
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.)

“Without Even Having Sacrificed His Whiskers” : Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln

Here is another – less troubling – monument to be found in Lincoln Cathedral.  It is slightly tucked away, but then it would probably be too large to move.  From a distance it appears to be a statue of the Pope, which would be a surprising thing to find in an Anglican Cathedral, but – as you will see – it is, in fact Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln between 1885 and 1910.  It is still unusual to find such a monumental monument to a Clergyman (the photograph does not really convey the size of the thing). It would be surprising if, for instance, Bishop Tim of Leicester were to be commemorated in this way after he vacates his Cathedra.

Closer to, he seems rather less intimidating and, indeed, rather kindly.  There is a hint, perhaps, of Private Godfrey putting his hand up to be excused.  (This photograph, incidentally, might give the impression that the statue is made of solid gold, but that it is not the case).

I must admit the name was unknown to me, but it appears he was certainly one of the better sorts of Bishop.  He was appointed at the age of 59, having spent most of his career in Oxford, as the Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology, Canon of Christ Church and founder of St Stephen’s House.  As Bishop, according to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, he “won the affection and reverence of all classes by his real saintliness of character” and, according to another source was “the most loved man in Lincolnshire”.  His great strength seems to have been in the area of pastoral care.

The most dramatic incident of his career as Bishop was his trial before Archbishop Benson for “ritualistic practices” between 1888-1890.  Apparently this stemmed from a complaint lodged by a Solicitor from Cleethorpes named Ernest de Lacy Read.  In his opponents’ view

“By the work he maintained at Cuddesdon; by his apparently sincere regard for Romish playthings; by the display of gaudy gew-gaws at his enthronement; and by his self-conscious vanity in sitting to be ‘taken’ for the admiration of ‘the faithful’ without even having sacrificed his whiskers to the Catholic razor, he is unquestionably assisting in ‘digging the grave of the Establishment.'”

The outcome of the prosecution seems to have been a compromise, whereby he was allowed to continue with most of his “ritualistic practices” as long as it was understood that there was no sacerdotal significance to them.  He was allowed to have lighted candles on the altar, for instance, but only for the purposes of illumination.

In an interview with the newsletter of the Friends of Lincoln Cathedral, Rowan Williams gave his view of the trial (King might have struggled to understand the second sentence here)

“Here was one of the holiest, most learned, most pastorally engaged, most involved bishops in the Church of England going through a ridiculous process, which everybody was embarrassed about.  Archbishop Benson was clearly embarrassed about it, and I think that general embarrassment did teach Church and State something about the need to give the Church a little bit of room to work out its own disciplines on its own terms about worship, and to catch up with the flexibility and changes in worship practices that were going on on the ground.”

He also comments, rather feelingly –

“I think he would be amazed at the amount of paperwork and regulation that we’ve created for ourselves and that we’ve created in response to Government pressure, and I think he would be disappointed that we were focussed so much on rather short-term goals.  King was a deep man, and he believed that clergy ought to have depth; that they ought to have the kind of training that allowed them to go deep in their own faith, and the resources of the tradition, and of the Bible, and I think he would have said that we’re very much at risk of crowding that out, of creating people who are problem-solvers rather than thinkers and reflectors.”

Following his death, there were calls for King to be canonised, though he has had to make do with a lesser festival on the 8th March.  I don’t know how the monument was paid for, but it would not be surprising if it was by public subscription.  It is possible that he is shown in the act of making the sign of the cross with the flat of his hand (one of the “ritualistic practices” for which he was prosecuted) – one way, I suppose, of , as it were, showing two fingers to the Cleethorpes Solicitor.

Unlike his predecessor (Christopher Wordsworth) there is no evidence that King was a sporting man.  His nephew, the Rev. Robert Stuart King, however, played football for Grimsby Town and one match for England (a 13-0 win against Ireland).  His great-nephew (also Robert King) played one First-Class cricket match for Essex and later went on to umpire in the South African Currie Cup.

Forgive What We Have Been, Amend What We Are

A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to Lincoln Cathedral.  It has its fans (Ruskin, Pevsner) but – magnificent though it is

it seemed to me to have an uneasy atmosphere, something that suggested it was not quite happy in its skin.

The Cathedral was rebuilt and greatly enlarged by St Hugh of Lincoln, the exemplary 12th century Bishop, who was canonized shortly after his death. The Cathedral invites visitors to imagine themselves as mediaeval pilgrims visiting his shrine.  It’s true that many pilgrims would have been attracted by Great St Hugh, but more would have  there to venerate this shrine (what’s left of it) – the shrine of Little St Hugh.

Little St Hugh was a nine-year old boy, the son of a woman called Beatrice, who disappeared from his home on July 31st 1255.  On 29th August his body was found in a well in the vicinity of what is now called the Jew’s House (Lincoln had a thriving Jewish community, partly because the elder St Hugh had been well-known for offering them protection).  A Jew called Jopin (or Copin) was apprehended and confessed that the boy had been crucified as part of a ritual murder by a group of Jews assembled for that purpose.  He did so either because he had been tortured, or, according to other accounts, because he had been offered a pardon if he confessed.

At this point, King Henry intervened.  Copin (or Jopin) was executed and 90 Jews arrested and held in the Tower of London.  18 were hanged (for refusing to submit to the authority of a Christian court), the others pardoned and released.  The explanation for this seems to be that Henry could confiscate the wealth of those who had been convicted, and his brother could continue to tax those who had been released.

Meanwhile stories spread about Little St Hugh (for instance that when his body had been discovered the well had filled with a blinding light and the odour of sanctity) and there was a rush to canonize him.  He was mentioned by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, a popular ballad was written about him (later recorded in a bowdlerised, Jew-free version by Steeleye Span and others) and Lincoln Cathedral became a major and lucrative site for pilgrimage.

There is something very contemporary about this story.  We can imagine the successive news reports – “Fears are growing for a nine-year old boy from Lincoln who disappeared from his home on 31st July … police are appealing for any information about the whereabouts of nine-year old Hugh of Lincoln … the remains of a boy have been discovered in a well in the Steep Hill area of Lincoln

… a 39-year-old Jew is helping police with their enquiries …”  We don’t have to use too much imagination to picture the angry mob, or the clamour for an early arrest.  Perhaps there was a ‘Justice for Hugh’ campaign.  Accusations of ‘ritual abuse’, too, are not unknown in our own time.

Nowadays, when a child is killed, their shrine takes the form of a spontaneous eruption of flowers and soft toys.  In Lincoln they did things more formally and erected an impressive four storey Gothic edifice over the box containing Hugh’s bones.  This shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and Little St Hugh gradually became something of an embarrassment.  His feast day was removed from the Anglican calendar and the Roman Catholics claimed he had never been properly canonized at all.

The people of Lincoln seem to have been ambivalent about their famous son.  The Jews’s House is still there and is something of a tourist attraction.  There was an attempt to claim (in the early 20th Century) that the well itself had been discovered in the basement of the house, and postcards were sold of it.  The owner of the house later confessed that he had arranged for the well to be dug himself, in an attempt to stave off a threat to have the house demolished.

What to do about Hugh is also something of a problem for the Cathedral authorities.  At St Alban’s Cathedral, the shrine of St Alban has been reconstructed from what is left of the original (again destroyed during the Reformation).  This has not been attempted in Lincoln.  Instead the bones of  Hugh (who, of course, never asked for any of this) are relegated to an obscure aisle, accompanied by an apology which states (quite correctly) that “such stories do not rebound to the credit of Christendom” and ends “so let us pray: forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.”

To the casual observer, the chest looks as though it is designed to keep boots in, or umbrellas and I’m sure many a weary pilgrim has perched on it to take the weight off their feet.  All very pathetic, as they would have said in the 18th Century.

A Wayside Pulpit (On The Way To Trent Bridge)

The Cricketer (rightly, surely) includes Trent Bridge in its list of the best grounds to watch Test Cricket that features in its latest edition.  But (although I admire his use of the semicolon) I’m unsure about the explanation provided for its inclusion by Sambit Bal of Cricinfo –

“Lovely walk to the ground; the openness; the swing; the multiculturalism.”  

The openness and the swing I can see.  The multiculturalism may well be in evidence for a Test Match against India or Pakistan, though less so at County matches.  But I do wonder if he knows a route to the ground that I’ve missed, or whether he might be approaching it from a different direction.

If approaching from the station, it is possible to walk to the ground alongside the canal – which is pretty enough – but the quickest route (the one you need to take if you’ve caught the 9.37 from Market Harborough and want to be there for the start of play) is through a housing estate. 

This has the – admittedly – lovely name of The Meadows, and has (or had) two pubs with the pretty names Poets’ Corner and The Riverside (Poets’ Corner is now closed, with the picture of Lord Byron that used to adorn it removed). The estate can present a jolly aspect of a sunny morning, with cricket in the offing, but in the evenings – at the close of play – it tends to be strangely deserted, apart from the odd hoodie-shrouded youth on a bicycle.

But it does look as though someone has the best interests of the estate at heart.  On approaching last week through the traditional underpass, I noticed that all the graffiti had been erased except for this –

My first thought was that the Government has decided to adopt guerrilla tactics in its War on Obesity, but, a little further on, I deduced from handwriting evidence that it is the handiwork of the local Vicar.

I particularly like “lovin’ the crap out of each other” – perhaps a loose translation of Mark : 12 :31.

I wonder whether it ever occurs to the Rev. Dave to seek a little spiritual salve (perhaps after the Sunday Soak) over the bridge from his estate, at the home of Nottinghamshire cricket?  I know I would, in his shoes.

Bernadette! : A Lourdes Grotto In Rothwell

I was in Rothwell yesterday, to watch the Bones getting beaten 6-3 by Potton United (they now have two points and a goal difference of minus 48).

One thing I like about Rothwell is the feeling that, at some point (perhaps the ‘sixties), it has somehow become cut off from the rest of the world – a feeling accentuated by the fact that everywhere I went yesterday they were playing ‘sixties hits – Sugar Sugar, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, Band of Gold.  Perhaps the ironstone buildings and the dozy, fuggy atmosphere  remind me of staying with my grandparents in Kettering during the Summer holidays.

It does, of course, also have remnants of earlier and stranger selves much older than that.  I have written before about the Jesus Hospital.  The Parish Church has its bone crypt, or ossuary, and then there is the Market Hall.  Like the nearby Triangular Lodge, this was built by Thomas ‘the Builder’ Tresham, father of the Gunpowder Plot conspirator, and was intended to embody his recusant Roman Catholic beliefs in a way that is so cryptic that it verges on the Kabbalistic.  There is a building called the Nunnery, which is believed to be connected with a Priory shut down at the Reformation.

And then there is this, which for some reason, I’d never come across before.  It is a Lourdes Grotto, outside St Bernadette’s Roman Catholic Church.

It is meant to be a replica of the grotto where the Virgin Mary (this figure)

appeared in a vision to Bernadette of Lourdes (the smaller kneeling figure)

Like most post-Counter Reformation Catholic iconography, it exhibits – if not quite a defiant ugliness – then a deliberate indifference to secular standards of aesthetics.  It is intended to exemplify a doctrine, and all else would be a distraction.

Coming across it unexpectedly, it also seemed almost shocking in its wilful un-Englishness (not to mention – to Protestant eyes – more than vaguely pagan).  It doesn’t seem to belong here at all, but in Italy, or Ireland, or France. Or perhaps the shock is in the realisation that there is nothing un-English about it.  If the ghost of Thomas Tresham, or a revenant Nun or some of the older bones in the Ossuary were to chance across it one moonlit night, it would surely make them feel more, not less, at home.

Best Illuminated House Award For Christmas 2011

And this year’s winner in the Privately Owned  Listed Building category goes to the Tower House, Lubenham.

You don’t get the full effect from a still photograph, but the pink light shoots upwards like mercury in a thermometer, then ends with a starburst effect at the top.

The Tower House was originally an 18th century farmhouse.  The tower was added by racing enthusiast Jack “Cherry” Angell to commemorate his horse “Alcibade” winning the Grand National in 1865.  Alcibade is buried in a mound nearby (though, not, I think, in the adjacent churchyard).

A later owner, the Rev. Graham Dilley (no relation, as far as I know) used it as his vicarage.  The ballroom is said to contain a section of the ceiling from Lamport Hall, which the Rev. Dilley – also a sporting man – had won in a bet.  How very different to the home life of our own dear clergy.

Some local residents have commented that “it’s just like the Blackpool Illuminations”.  Well, it’s not that good, obviously, but still a very commendable effort.