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.”

I Watched A Blackbird : Thomas Hardy

What to do for Easter?  I had some rather attractive pictures of  The Man of Sorrows from my brief holiday in Spain, but these are presumably still somewhere at Wantage Road with my lost camera.  I tried to Share a video of  Easter Parade, by the Blue Nile, but it didn’t want to be shared.  I found a couple of interesting poems by A.H. Clough and A.E. Houseman, but these were discouraging and frankly atheistical.  So here is an Easter poem of a sort, by Thomas Hardy.  Back to nests again, I’m afraid.


 ‘I Watched A Blackbird” 


I watched a blackbird on a budding sycamore

One Easter Day, when sap was stirring twigs to the core;

I saw his tongue, and crocus-coloured bill

Parting and closing as he turned his trill;

Then he flew down, seized on a stem of hay,

And upped to where his building scheme was under way,

As if so sure a nest were never shaped on spray.


(Wouldn’t you know it?  I did try to take a picture of a blackbird to accompany this with my new, improved, replacement camera, but – although they are everywhere to be heard-  not one is anywhere to be seen.  But I’m sure you have probably seen one before.) 

My Lonely Nesta

 Another Postcard from the Other Side, and an enigmatic little short story in itself.

The verse reads:


“Thy Will Be Done”

My God, my Father, while I stray

Far from my home, on life’s rough way,

O teach me from my heart to say

“Thy Will be done”

Though dark my path, and sad my lot,

Let me be still and murmur not.

Or breathe the prayer divinely taught

“Thy Will be done”.


The young woman in the picture appears to be in mourning, and returning from a grave or chapel of rest – but what is the significance of the small red bag or purse that she is holding?  Or is it a Bible or Prayer Book?

The card is addressed to : Miss N. Hughes – 4, Poplar Grove, Seaforth, Liverpool, is postmarked Croeslan and dated 2nd August 1909.  It is unsigned and reads –

“Dear Nesta.

I have been wondering a great deal how you are getting on.  Shall be very glad to see you home.  Ceridio (?) & myself never went near the picnic after all.”

Croeslan is a small village in rural Ceredigion.  Seaforth – in those days – was a fairly genteel seaside town (the childhood home of W.E. Gladstone).  I’d guess the sender of the card was Nesta’s mother.  But beyond that I think we can only speculate.


(And what might have happened at that picnic?) 



Another chance to see … Epiphany, by Andrew Norris

A little late for the day itself, but as this is the first Sunday after Epiphany, I thought I’d offer another chance to view this video, which I first posted on here back in the Spring.  It is one of the very few posts on this blog that I return to from time to time – not to re-read my own deathless prose, but to watch the video again.

It’s called Epiphany, and was assembled by the artist Andrew Norris from excerpts from the film A Canterbury Tale, by Powell and Pressburger, with music from Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.  Rather wonderful, in my view.

I see that the last time I posted this – (see here) – I was musing rather aimlessly on the subject of slowness, in the context of train travel.  Still topical, I suppose, in the light of the government’s decision to continue with the last one’s misbegotten plan for a high speed train link between London and Birmingham.

Two Seasonal Martyrs : Stephen and Wenceslaus

Boxing Day.  Particularly now most of the traditional sporting calendar has been snowed off, the thoughts of the Christian world turn inevitably to martyrdom.  St Stephen (whose feast day this is) was the first martyr, stoned to death by a Jewish mob, incited by Saul of Tarsus (later, of course, to change his name and find greater fame in Rome).  I suppose this is an example of one of those things – not unknown at Christmas – that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but regrettable later.

Martyrdom of St Stephen

Anyone who has been having trouble with their family over Christmas (which I know can happen) might like to contemplate the case of another martyr – Good King Wenceslas, who famously looked out on the feast of Stephen.  In his historical guise as Duke Wenceslaus of Bohemia, he had to contend with a mother (Drahomira) who strangled his grandmother (Saint Ludmilla) and a brother (Boruslav) who had him murdered on his way to church.  Wenceslaus did, however, apparently have the ability to walk on ice in his bare feet and melt it as he went, which must have come in handy at this time of year, and, I hope, provided some compensation for his troublesome relations.

Saint Wenceslaus of the Hot Feet

“Christmas Trees” by Geoffrey Hill

Geoffrey Hill, in festive mood.  Although I think I can get the gist of the poem, I frankly have no idea what it’s got to do with Christmas trees.  The inverted commas around the title are Hill’s, and perhaps provide some clue.  Answers on a postcard …

“Christmas Trees”


Bonhoeffer in his skylit cell

bleached by the flares’ candescent fall,

pacing out his own citadel,


restores the broken themes of praise,

encourages our borrowed days,

by logic of his sacrifice.


Against wild reasons of the state

his words are quiet but not too quiet.

We hear too late or not too late.


(Haven’t bought ours yet, by the way.  Hope it’s not .. er … too late.)



Caspar David Friedrich : Winter Landscape


September Sun by David Gascoyne

As I’ve mentioned before, getting up early does have its compensations at this time of year.  Before the darkness descends completely, I can see the dawn before or during my train journey into work and the sunset on the way home.  Sometimes the effects can be quite spectacular.  Here are a couple of photographs I took the other morning in between Harborough and Kettering.  It looks as though there is a high wind blowing from left to right, but in fact it is the speed of the train (heading from left to right) that causes this effect.


And here is a poem to go with them.  David Gascoyne was originally a Surrealist, who published his first volume of poems at 16 and rescued Salvador Dali from the diving suit he had unwisely chosen to wear to the London International Surrealist Exhibition of  1936.  He flirted briefly with the Communist Party, was involved in the Mass Observation project, performed with ENSA during the war and spent most of his later life in France.  His post-war poetry was generally in this Neo-Romantic style and was deeply religious.

By the nineteen-seventies he found himself living on the Isle of Wight, and spending some time in a pyschiatric hospital.  One day a therapist – Judy Tyler Lewis – visited.  Her role was to read poetry to the patients in an effort to cheer them up.  She read September Sun.  Gascoyne stood up and pointed out that he had written it.  At first she assumed this was a delusion, but soon discovered that it was the truth.  One thing led to another, they married and lived happily after after.  Poetry can occasionally make something happen, you see.


September Sun: 1947
by David Gascoyne

Magnificent strong sun! in these last days
So prodigally generous of pristine light
That’s wasted only by men’s sight who will not see
And by self-darkened spirits from whose night
Can rise no longer orison or praise:

Let us consume in fire unfed like yours
And may the quickened gold within me come
To mintage in due season, and not be
Transmuted to no better end than dumb
And self-sufficient usury. These days and years

May bring the sudden call to harvesting,
When if the fields Man labours only yield
Glitter and husks, then with an angrier sun may He
Who first with His gold seed the sightless field
Of Chaos planted, all our trash to cinders bring.

Canticle for Good Friday : Geoffrey Hill


Bouguereau : Pieta

There are surprisingly few poems in English about Good Friday.  The resurrection as an abstraction  is easy enough to assimilate to the way in which we generally think of Easter – the return of life to the earth, as popularly represented by bunnies, eggs and chicks.  The physical event of the human sacrifice required to bring about this resurrection is harder to come to terms with.  I doubt that the crucifixion has ever – since the reformation at any rate – entered the popular consciousness of the English in the way that it has in Catholic countries.  We prefer our crucifixes to be restrained, discreet and bloodless:  they rarely intrude into our homes. 

Here, though, is a poem for Good Friday, by Geoffrey HillHill is at the same time profoundly English – indeed claggily Mercian – and Latinate in his sensibility.  The poem is, I think (I could be wrong), told from the point of view of the Apostle “Doubting”  Thomas.



The cross staggered him.  At the cliff-top

Thomas, beneath its burden, stood

While the dulled wood

Spat on the stones each drop

Of deliberate blood.


A clamping, cold-figured day

Thomas (not transfigured) stamped, crouched,


Smelt vinegar and blood.  He

As yet unsearched, unscratched,


And suffered to remain

At such near distance

(A slight miracle might cleanse

His brain

Of all attachments, claw-roots of sense)


In unaccountable darkness moved away,

The strange flesh untouched, carion-sustenance

Of staunchest love, choicest defiance,

Creation’s issue congealing (and one woman’s).

Exterminate all the brutes?

As I think I’ve mentioned before on a couple of occasions (in my Pollyannaish way), this is the time of year when thoughts begin to turn to the Spring, to the return of life to the bounteous earth and so on.  In a recent post the poet Francis Meynell was musing thus – “I keep this time, even before the flowers/ sacred to all the young and the unborn /to all the miles of unsprung wheat“.  It’s time we saw a lamb or two : the birds are in song in the early morning and are eyeing up suitable locations for their nests (e.g. my roof).  Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day and the young uns have got a bit of a glint in their eyes.  You get the picture.

It does seem, though, that some people’s thoughts are turning in quite a different direction.

A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I read the following alarming piece of writing on the blog Stumbling and Mumbling – A modest proposalIt’s too complex a piece to paraphrase accurately (and, as always, frighteningly brainy) but it asks why, if we accept three commonly accepted beliefs (that the population needs to be reduced, that public spending needs to be cut and that there is a self-perpetuating criminal underclass) we should not be in favour of the compulsory sterilisation of those who are likely to produce feral children.  As the title of the piece implies, the author isn’t actually advocating mass sterilisation, and, indeed, states explicitly that he is against it (though he doesn’t exactly seem to be motivated by savage indignation about the idea either).  But I do find it alarming (and baffling) that the thought came into his head in the first place, and equally so the calm and rational way in which the debate proceeds in the comments.

There are any number of rational arguments against this proposal, but I don’t think I can get past what I think the author means by ” The Urgh Factor“.  Imagine what it would feel like to be a woman with few other prospects who had set her heart on having children, only to be informed (presumably by some government functionary) that she was to be carted off to hospital and sterilised instead.  At which point the mind of anyone with an ounce of sensibility would  indeed revolt and go “Urgh – what a disgusting idea”.  And that would be an end to it.

I might have forgotten this, if, a couple of days later, the comedian Ricky Gervais hadn’t come out with the following, in an interview with The Times –

“Should we impose a limitation [on having children], then? “Yes, based on … stupid, fat faces,” he snarls. “If there’s a woman in leggings, eating chips with a fag in her mouth, sterilise her.” (Why leggings, incidentally?)

I do realise that Gervais – as a comedian (that new clerisy) – is only joking, but it’s still worth noting how many people seem to agree with him – though perhaps they too are only joking.  The most highly rated comment on the Mail Online, for instance,  is “you know how the saying goes…’many a true word said in jest’! I’m with him on this one 100%” and there is a frankly flabbergasting discussion on the official Richard Dawkins fansite  –

I might also mention in this connection the enthusiasm expressed in a couple of comments on this (excellent) post – This article is not witty– for the idea that castration is the way forward in dealing with those who are likely to perpetuate a cycle of abuse.  The slight difference of emphasis here (castration rather than sterilisation) is, I think, down to the commentators being women rather than – as in the case of S&M and the Mail – mainly men. 

And then again, at a slight tangent, we have Master Amis’s latest amusing thought experiment – that we should set up euthanasia booths for the elderly to prevent “a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.”

Now of course S&M is really saying something about the nature of managerialism.  Gervais is only joking and Amis is being satirical, but I do find it shocking quite how many people there seem to be going around with this stuff swilling around their heads – this fear, this disgust, this contempt for the poor, the feckless, the old even and quite how little permission they seem to need, once the unsayable has been said, to indulge in these weird fantasies of mucking about with other people’s reproductive systems.   Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills …

Mind you, I do quite like the idea of “The Urgh Factor” and think it could work as TV programme.  The aim would be for a succession of controversialist bloggers – contrarians, sweary libertarians, what-iffers and general loons – to see who could make the panel of judges  – all bleeding heart liberals – the most angry and upset.  Bonus points would be awarded for the superficial plausibility of the argument, but making the panel physically sick would ensure instant victory.