Waves Fold Behind Villages : A Brief Glimpse of Newstead

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

Newstead Colliery

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

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

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

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

Newstead Cricket Pavilion

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

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

Newstead Station Hotel

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

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

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

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn.  How

Isolated, like a fort, it is –

The headed paper, made for writing home

(If home existed) letters of exile.  Now

Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.

Newstead Station Hotel 2


A Last Look Back : Bedford School And Belper Meadows

(I suppose this is a kind of “Extra”, such as you get on DVDs after the main feature has finished.  A couple of matches I attended this season, but didn’t write about at the time.)

Bedfordshire v Hertfordshire, Bedford School, July 2013

Derbyshire 2nd XI v MCC YC, Belper Meadows, August 2013

“Dr. Johnson remarked that if he had no reference to posterity he would spend his life driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman, and, never minding the company of pretty women, there are few more enjoyable ways of spending the English summer in peace-time than riding briskly about the country in trains and cars from one cricket ground to another.  To be sure an object beyond the mere watching of cricket is necessary lest eternal contemplation lead to surfeit, to spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction …”  Dudley Carew, from ‘To the Wicket’ (1946)

Quite so.

I think that you would have to watch cricket professionally for there to be any danger of it leading to “spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction” but, nourishing as a constant diet of good plain cricket at Grace and Wantage Roads may be, I do sometimes hanker after pastures new, particularly when I look through the grounds where Minor Counties and Second XI cricket are played.  Bovey Tracey, Shifnal, Cresselly, Redruth, Mumbles, Great and Little Tew, Aston Rowant, Copdock, Ombersley, Frocester, Sidmouth (if you have a spare moment, try rearranging them into a poem).  I don’t suppose, the state of the railways being what it is, that I shall ever see cricket played at most of those grounds, but I did take advantage of the T20 break this year to visit two of the more picturesque sounding grounds within reasonable travelling distance – Lady Bay in Nottingham (which I wrote about earlier in the season) and Belper Meadows in Derbyshire.

I also paid a visit to Bedford School, where I saw Bedfordshire play Hertfordshire, once, that is, I’d managed to gain entry to the place.  Locating the School is easy enough, but finding an entrance that was open involved a complete circumnavigation of the perimeter walls, rattling at a succession of locked gates (they didn’t seem to be expecting many spectators).  Once inside, the pitch was one of many, overlooked on one side by an imposing red brick building

Bedford School 1

on another by the Pavilion, modern and largely dedicated to Alistair Cook, though it also displayed honours boards that stretch back as far as E.H.D. Sewell

Bedford School Pavilion

and on a third by a marquee, which seemed to be there to accommodate the great, the good and the red-trousered of Bedfordshire cricket

Bedford School marquee

Apparently I was there on President’s Day, and at lunch the great and good disappeared into the marquee, not to re-emerge until tea.  I didn’t have the impression that Bedfordshire were taking the game particularly seriously, after the initial session, as Hertfordshire piled up a considerable total on what seemed to be a fairly dead pitch.  Periodically a huge cheer was heard from the marquee, answered (ironically, perhaps) by the Bedfordshire fieldsmen and the Captain spent most of the afternoon performing imitations of his teammates’ fielding.  At tea, the G&G emerged, fairly well-lubricated in some cases and I headed home, perhaps to return another day.

Somewhere I will definitely be returning another day (if I’m spared) will be Belper Meadows, where I went to watch a pleasant enough match between Derbyshire 2nd XI and the MCC Young Cricketers.  Belper is a small town with a distinguished industrial history eight miles from Derby, on the edge of the Peak District, not quite pretty enough to attract much in the way of tourism.  As at Bedford, I had some difficulty locating the ground and found myself in a cafe in search of a cheese and onion roll and some directions.  An elderly man, who I would say was on the cusp of eccentricity and something else, offered to accompany me to the ground, telling me that he walked to Belper from Derby and back every day and soliloquising about the joys of the single life.  I did wonder quite where he was taking me, but he did indeed lead me down a narrow passageway beside the town library (all the best grounds seem to be reached by narrow passageways) and there it was.  Technically the club is Belper Meadows and the ground Christchurch Meadows and it too is overlooked by an imposing red brick building, in this case a mill, built in 1913


and, on another, by a vista of rolling countryside

Belper 2

I remember that this match was at the same time as the hoo-ha about Stuart Broad walking or not amid fervent debate as to the existence or otherwise of the Spirit of Cricket.  I have always pictured this Spirit of Cricket as a shy nymph (perhaps portrayed by Sir Edward Poynter) unlikely to reveal herself under the glare of television cameras and the gaze of thousands of Test Match spectators, but who may be surprised sometimes (when you are least expecting it) in the quiet places such as Belper Meadows.  I may have sought the elusive Spirit in many places this season, but felt I was closest to her presence here.

Belper is on the Derwent Valley Line (as are many cricket grounds)


pleasant with lavender, buzzing, on the day I visited, with butterflies and bees

Belper Station

and I think (pace Dr. Johnson) that had I no reference to posterity, or indeed practicality, I could quite happily spend my Summers riding the Line from one ground to another.

Enough looking back, I suppose, as we are now well into the football season.  I couldn’t help noticing that, sandwiched between Christchurch Meadows and the Mill, was a tidy little football ground with some rather attractive cowshed-style stands, the home of Belper F.C., so perhaps I will have another reason to ride the Derwent Valley Line before the year is out.

Two Sessions And A Funeral : My July In Cricket

When cricketers keep a diary of the season and they’ve hit a real low it is traditionally indicated by the words “No entry”.  I’m tempted to try the same approach, but – for the record – here is a brief account of my attempts to watch cricket in the month of July 2012 (“The year without a Summer”).

Middlesex 2nd XI v Surrey 2nd XI , Radlett

The fascination of Radlett for me is that it’s the first ground I can see from the train on my journey into work when the darkness begins to lift at the end of February.  It seems to offer hope that the Winter is ending and Summer cannot be far away.  Ha!

I had two alternative days pencilled in for this visit.  The first was postponed so that the Surrey players could attend Tom Maynard’s funeral. The second offered just enough hope of play to make the journey worthwhile (there was a spell of bright sunshine between Wellingborough and Bedford) but by the time I arrived it was the familiar wet pitch/thin drizzle scenario.  I cut my losses and spent the afternoon in St Albans Cathedral instead.

On the two days I didn’t attend there seems to have been quite a decent game.  I note that Surrey’s 2nd XI seam attack (Jon Lewis, Tim Linley and Chris Jordan) would give Leicestershire’s first choice bowlers a run for the money.

There are actually two grounds and two pavilions there (the one visible from the train is the reserve ground) and I see from this week’s Cricketer Magazine that Middlesex are specifically developing it as a ‘base away from London‘ with ‘state-of-the-art gym, physiotherapy room, dressing room and first-class quality grass pitches’.  How the other half live, eh?

This is the main pavilion –

and this the one on the reserve ground –

Warwickshire v Sussex, Edgbaston, County Championship

It’s always seemed odd that I’ve never made it to Edgbaston, given how close it is – as the crow flies – to where I live.  But then the crow wouldn’t have to take the train to New Street (dread station!) or pay to get in.  In any case, there was so much rain that I didn’t even bother setting off.

Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Grace Road, CB40

This CB40 match had been cunningly slipped in on a Saturday afternoon, but they didn’t quite succeed in throwing me off the scent and I managed to catch the first and worst half of it (the start was delayed until 3.15).  There was some decent batting from the Pears’ Phil Hughes (who didn’t look as unorthodox as I’d expected) and Moeen Ali (who makes Hashim Amla look like he’s sporting a bit of five’o’clock shadow)

but what caught my eye was the performance in the field of the Foxes’ bargain basement acquisition Mike Thornley.

Thornley (nickname ‘The Major’) was released by his first county (Sussex) but given a second chance by appearing for the Unicorns.  Since being picked up by Leicestershire he’s impressed with the bat but I didn’t realise he bowled as well.  He is old – at 25 – by the standards of the current Foxes squad but – in the field – looks rather like a reincarnation of Charles Palmer (though I don’t think he wears glasses).  He bowls the kind of military medium that you’d expect to see from someone who used to be quite useful in his youth turning over his arm in the Parents’ Match and doesn’t seem to have got the memo about the need for athleticism in the field for the modern multi-dimensional cricketer.  I have hopes of seeing him bowling lobs before the season’s out.

In the second – and better – half of the match, which I missed, Leicestershire won, thanks to a century from Ronnie Sarwan and some hitting at the finish from Harborough’s own Rob Taylor.  With Josh Cobb now installed as the one-day Captain, hopes are rising for this very young side – if, of course, they can ignore the waggling of cheque-books (or credit cards, I suppose, in today’s money) from the region of Trent Bridge.

Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, Wantage Road, County Championship

Having watched one session of a CB40 match on the Saturday I followed it up with one session of a Championship match on the Sunday afternoon.  This seemed to have been cut-and-pasted from another season altogether or possibly another era.  In bright sunshine, promising youngster Rob Newton and blaster from the past David Sales progressed to almost simultaneous centuries against some woeful Glamorgan bowling.

(Interesting to see – by the way – that Roy Virgin has branched out into running health clubs.)

Sales is a fine batsman (think Rob Key-cum-Ali Brown) who, if it hadn’t been for a series of injuries and possibly the arrival of Duncan Fletcher, would surely have been given a chance by England.  Last season he averaged in the low teens and finished bottom of the Northants’ batting averages and most experienced judges (including those at Wantage Road) would not have expected to see much more of him.  But here he was rolling back the years and looking a fine prospect.  I see from The Cricketpaper that he has been ‘given permission to circulate his details to other counties’ and I hope some of them had their spies at Wantage Road.  Probably too old for Nottinghamshire, though.

Derbyshire v Yorkshire, Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, County Championship

If I had to sit at a cricket ground and watch a series of pitch inspections I suppose it would be Queen’s Park.  Everything was in place – the sun reflecting off the marquee –

the sound of children’s laughter from the playground –

the merry whoop-whoop of the miniature railway, some optimistic signs

the only thing missing was the cricket, which was abandoned shortly before 2.00, with a ritualised series of handshakes on the balcony –

I should have known something was up when there was no-one there to charge admission on the gate – though I saw that one thrifty couple (from Yorkshire, presumably) were taking no chances and had set up their deck chairs outside the perimeter fence.

So, on to August, when I’m planning to …

But, if you want to make the Gods of Cricket laugh, write about your plans on your blog.

Ornithology With Orwell

Older readers may remember the feature Nest Watch, which appeared on this blog in March of last year.  In it, I observed a pair of magpies painstakingly dismantling an old nest (or, as a reader suggested, a squirrel’s dray) and reassembling it into a new nest higher up the tree.  At about the time the nest disappeared from view behind foliage, the magpies seemed to have been chased away from their nest by a crow.  

Once the leaves had fallen – as leaves do – the full magnificence of the finished nest was revealed.  I have often reflected on it – and the effort that went into its manufacture – throughout the winter as I smoked a reflective gasper or two in the garden of the vanished St Mary Aldermanbury.  A week or two ago, I spotted two magpies – probably the same ones (you can see them – if you look closely – in the photograph below) making what seemed to be a reconnoitre of the nest with a view to reusing – or possibly reassembling – it when the mating season arrives.  And so, reassuringly, and at last, we begin again.    

By coincidence, I was re-reading* Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier recently when I came across this passage (he is leaving Wigan by train).  It struck me as unaccountably funny (particularly the line in bold) –

Although the snow was hardly broken the sun was shining brightly, and behind the shut windows of the carriage it seemed warm.  According to the almanac this was spring, and a few of the birds seemed to believe it.  For the first time in my life, in a bare patch beside the line, I saw rooks copulating.  They did it on the ground and not, as I should have expected, in a tree.  The manner of courtship was curious.  The female stood with her beak open and the male walked round her and appeared to be feeding her.”

Why this is funny, I’m not sure.  Perhaps the image of the tall, awkward Orwell in his workingman’s disguise peering from the window of his railway carriage, sucking his pencil and gravely noting down –

Rooks copulating – on ground not in tree

 or, perhaps, because of Orwell’s insistence on that pseudo-medical vogue word copulating (I suppose that – in spite of his natural almost-prudishness – he was still trying to be a little more like Henry Miller).

His publisher (Gollancz) changed “copulating to “courting” – Orwell agreed to settle for “treading”.  “Treading”?

Anyway, roll on the mating season.

*This can be a very irritating expression, but I have reached the stage in life where there seem to be an awful lot of books to re-read.

Wicksteed Park Again : The Boating Lake In Winter

Let us continue this sentimental journey back to Wicksteed Park (Oh Goody! – The Readership), down past the station for the miniature railway to the boating lake.

The lake was created  by Charles Wicksteed rather high-handedly (by today’s standards) diverting the Ise Brook.  It is said that, when the lake was first opened to the public, Wicksteed walked across it, his hat left  bobbing in his wake (walking on the bed, not the surface, I should add).

It covers a vast expanse of 30 acres.  Proper rowing boats (as well as Flintoff-style pedaloes) are available for hire, and the best time to come is on a weekday in Summer (outside the school holidays), when it is possible to have the lake to yourself and do some proper rowing.  A full circuit of the lake – taken at a decent lick, and with a detour to investigate the mysterious island in the middle, with its nesting swans – takes about 45 minutes (the cost of the cheapest period of hire).

The second best time to go, though, is in the dead of Winter.  If you’re very lucky, the lake will be frozen, and you will be able to watch the swans and ducks skidding over its surface.  If you are very daring – and not afraid of sinking up to your nose in ice – you could try walking on it yourself.

If you are slightly less lucky, you will find that the lake is in the process of being drained – apparently so that it can be deepened to prevent the accumulation of weed that often clogs it – and that it is drizzling.  If so, however, you might be able to shelter from the rain in some carriages from the recently decommissioned miniature train Cheyenne that have – unaccountably – been left standing by the lakeside, while the willows weep around you.


What more could you ask for?

Spotters Spotted

There were no trains today between Bedford and East Midlands Parkway, due to “essential engineering works”.  Instead there was a complex web of “replacement bus services”.  Arriving at Leicester Station, I spotted a man taking photographs of the replacement buses.  Waiting for the bus back to Harborough, I saw another man writing the registration numbers of the buses down in a little notebook.  He seemed to be having the time of his life, bantering excitedly with the station staff “That’s the second one to East Midlands Parkway in a row!”.  Back at Harborough – another man, another notebook.      

Perhaps this is what trainspotters do when there are no trains to spot?

Peace And Light In Long Eaton

I recently satisfied a long-nursed curiosity by visiting Long Eaton.  I don’t know about you, but I find that, if I hear an announcement about where a stopping train is going to stop often enough, I develop a growing urge to visit that place : I hear about Long Eaton several times a day – “Passengers for Langley Mill, Alfreton, Long Eaton and Derby change at Beeston …”.

I wasn’t there for very long (I managed to combine this trip with a visit to that other faraway place with a strange-sounding name East Midlands Parkway) but long enough to get the gist of the place, as it were.

The main thing to note about Long Eaton is that it is very long.  One very long road running alongside a canal with houses strung out alongside it.  The walk from the station to the centre of town took about half an hour, but, by happy chance, it took me past what I think it’s safe to assume is the town’s Jewel in the Crown.

I’m pleased to say that it’s the Library.  Just look at this –

Long Eaton Library 2

Pax and Lux – not, as you might think, advertisements for stuffing and beauty soap, but Peace and Light – and I think that all of us, in these oafishly disagreeable times, and not just the good folk of Long Eaton, could do with a stiff dose of both.

The interior lives up to the promise of the entrance with this stained glass window, apparently the work of one Andrew Stoddart of Nottingham (not the cricketer of the same name), depicting four muses of literature, poetry, music and painting –

Long Eaton Library Window 1

and I was particularly taken with this, which is almost a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon (“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”) 

Long Eaton Library Window 2

I think, if I were in charge of the internet, I would make it compulsory to display this at the top of every blog, forum and website in the land (or perhaps only the Guardian’s Comment is Free).

The Library is a Grade II listed building, and a more technical description (“The pediment has small dentillations and a mosaiced tympanum“, apparently) may be found here.

Stump Watch St Pancras 2

Well, that was quick.  The Lego tree at St Pancras is now in its full majesty and lit up like the fleet.  As you can probably tell from the picture, it must be one of the most photographed trees in existence, though I like to think I was one of the first to capture it in its formative stages.  Perhaps one day I shall be able to say the same about our own dear Stump.  

I surmised the other day that the tree might be the work of the folk in the branch of Hamley’s at St Pancras.  Not so, according to the Evening Standard.  Apparently, it was “made by children from Edith Neville Primary School, Camden and Copenhagen Primary School Islington as well as the Harpenden Explorer Scouts Unit” (perhaps the Explorer Scouts were the ones who scaled the summit of the tree – SAS-style – in the final stages of its construction) and “created by Duncan Titmarsh of Bright Bricks, the UK’s only certified Lego Professional” (a career there for any young person to aspire to).

So it’s Hats Off and Mince Pies All Round to all involved!

Incidentally I have, once again, risked my liberty to bring you this story.  Moments after I’d taken a snap of the tree from the “upper concourse” an announcement came over the Tannoy that flash photography was Strictly Prohibited on the platform and the station concourse.  Why this is, I’m not sure.  I suppose it might be distracting to a driver if a flash went off as he was arriving into the station.  Or, perhaps, there is a danger that one of the armed police one often sees at St P might mistake a camera flash for an explosion and rake the platform with sub-machine gun fire, or, at best, wrestle me to the ground and electrocute me.

Rather disconcertingly, immediately after this incident, I found myself sharing a table on the train home with three (very amiable) policemen.  

It’s a police state, I tell you!  What about Magna Carta! etc. 

Varying Degrees of Absurdity at Trent Bridge

Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire, Trent Bridge, County Championship, 7th May 2011

My daughter, who is studying Camus at school, asked me the other day if I could define The Absurd for her.  I failed, but I might have been able to give her a better idea by taking her with me to Trent Bridge on Saturday.  (Camus was a footballer, of course, rather than a cricketer, so it might have been a more Beckettian variety that she was absorbing.)

The first absurdity, I suppose, was that I was going there in the first place.  There was clearly little chance of a result, it was drizzling when I left and the forecast was uncertain.  I do feel, though, that it’s the days spent sheltering in the stands and looking out for a sign of a break in the clouds that make one appreciate the days of unbroken sunshine.  And I can think of nowhere better to sit and watch the rain fall than Trent Bridge.

On the way, we saw a crude attempt at demonstrating the meaning of Absurdity from a group of Brighton and Hove Albion fans on their way to watch their team play Notts County.  They were dressed variously as Elvis Presley, Her Majesty the Queen, The Pope and so on, but this is now so commonplace that it scarcely raised an eyebrow.

It was drizzling when I arrived at the ground, but it began to clear at about noon.  It was announced that the players would be taking an early lunch (a bit soon after breakfast for my taste, but perhaps it was a hypothetical lunch).

It was when play got under way that the refinement of the absurdity showed itself.  Yorkshire had scored just over 500 in their first innings, Nottinghamshire slightly less.  Adam Lyth and Joe Sayers for Yorkshire had reached 23 for no wicket.  Now, it would not have been impossible, if Yorkshire had a captain with the gambling instincts of a Tennyson, or an Ingleby-MacKenzie (an unlikely scenario, I grant you) to try to achieve a result.

Throw caution to the winds, bat as if it was a one-dayer, declare 230 ahead with 30 overs to go and – who knows?  A friend whom I had run into at the ground and I were speculating romantically about this possibility when, behind us, a more realistic party pointed out that there would be declaration from Yorkshire – but only because their over rate was minus 2 and they would need some rapid bowling from their spinners to make up their quota if they were not to lose points.

My suspicion is that both sides would happily have shaken hands on a draw after five minutes, but were obliged to play as if for a victory that might have come if they had played for another three days.  Not only might a gamble have lost Yorkshire their points for the draw, but another sixteen points for Notts would have given them a head start in the Championship race.  Yorkshire were also due to play in Canterbury on Sunday afternoon, and must have fancied making an early getaway.

That’s not to say, of course, that Yorkshire approached their task in a frivolous spirit.  I have seen Adam Lyth compared (in a spirit of flattery) to Geoffrey Boycott, and he is no more likely than the Fitzwilliam man to pass up the chance of grinding out a half century, whatever the circumstances.  This he duly did, as Luke Fletcher repeatedly pinged the ball harmlessly over his head.

Yorkshire declared at tea, and this was where the absurdity moved from the implied to the overt.  At first Adil Rashid and another legitimate bowler whose name escapes me hurried through a few overs, but then, with 5 o’clock approaching and the coach to Canterbury (metaphorically) starting up its engine, we saw what I believe is the second over bowled by ex-Northamptonshire wicket-keeper Gerard Murphy in a 15-year first-class career.  This did the trick, and as the scoreboard showed the Yorkshire over rate click back to zero and the clock struck five, the teams shook hands and called it a day.

(I didn’t literally hear the clock strike five incidentally, but, if I had, it might have been this one – the Harold Larwood Memorial Clock.  I wonder why they gave him a clock?)

None of the above should be taken to imply that I didn’t enjoy myself, by the way.  Who could enjoy cricket – or anything else – without a healthy sense of the Absurd?

Coming soon on this blog – today’s action from Fenner’s, as Kevin Pietersen returned against Cambridge.  I wouldn’t take too much notice of what Pringle has to say about KP’s dismissal in tomorrow’s Telegraph, by the way.  Wasn’t back from the pub until 2.15 and missed the whole thing.

“Find the Lady” with Bill Bowes

 (Still messing about with the scanner here.  A bit skewiff, but I think I’m getting there …)

Bill Bowes - Conjuror

Bill Bowes - Conjuror


How did leading cricketers keep themselves amused in the dressing room and on tour in the days before Playstations and Twitter?  Here we have one answer, from Bill Bowes, the Yorkshire and England fast bowler … card tricks!  This is from his autobiography “Express Deliveries”, from the days when Leicester racecourse gangs (as read about in Brighton Rock) could operate with impunity on the nation’s rail network.  East Midlands Trains would never stand for it.

“Sitting in the dressing-room at Lord’s one wet day when I was nineteen I was fascinated by a display of conjuring given by Arthur Cuthbertson, a minor counties cricketer.  The amateur conjuror is always assured of a good audience in a cricket pavilion, and among the magicians I have known were … Ronnie Aird, the assistant secretary at Lord’s.

I was so interested that I determined to find out “how it was done”, and when I began to play for Yorkshire I had several opportunities for further study when local theatres invited us to see the show.  If there was a magician on the bill I would beguile him into teaching me a few non-secret tricks.  Often on rainy days the boys asked me to go through my repertoire of deception, and at winter cricket dinners I found that my tricks provided a good excuse for not making a speech.

I made the acquaintance of the “Find the Lady” expert in a Leicester racecourse gang.  He was a twister, no doubt, but what a performer!  He worked the trains on which we often travelled and I and others of the Yorkshire team came to know “Ucky” as a great character …

I also resorted to fair booths, and at Kettering spent every evening of our stay in the conjuror’s tent, paying my twopence with a monotonous regularity …

When I was stationed in Cairo during the war I developed an acquaintance with a gulli-gulli man – a street entertainer – who could produce chickens, snakes and even coconuts from little alumium tumblers.  

I have had countless hours of enjoyment engaged in the art of sawing women in two, turning sugar into sand and milk into beer, reading minds or transferring thoughts, and causing the strange disappearance of people, cabinets and even bulky articles such as motor-cars.”   

Can Tim Bresnan say as much?  I suspect not.