For You, Foxes,The Season Starts Here

Leicestershire v Hampshire, Grace Road, County Championship, 22nd August 2012

“June and July bring in cricket’s gold of the year; August finds the game, like the sun itself, on the wane. Now the sands are running out every evening as the match moves towards its close in yellow light; autumnal colours darken play at this time of year; cricketers are getting weary in limb, and even the spirit has lost the first rapture.” (Cardus – The Summer Game)

Not this year though, not at Leicestershire.

Without access to a calendar, I think any visitor to this match would have guessed it was taking place in May or June.  The outfield was luxuriant, the trees were in full leaf without a hint of Autumnal tinting and the Leicestershire players seemed refreshed and looking forward to the prospect of a successful season.  Which they may be – though it’s probably next season, or the one after that.  Following this perpetually youthful, self-renewing Leicestershire side means always living in hopeful anticipation of a future that never quite arrives, as the better players graduate elsewhere and new hopes take their places.

Soon after I arrived Thakor was left stranded on 85* as Leicestershire were bowled out for 356 (he now averages 81.75 for the season). Hampshire – to mounting excitement from a surprisingly large crowd – were skittled for 181 with 4 cheap wickets for Hoggard, 3 for White and 3 for lanky paceman Alex ‘Pussy’ Wyatt.

Wyatt made his debut in 2009, but has generally only appeared to cover for injuries.  At 6.7″ he can give the impression of a manufactured fast bowler, as though someone has said to him ‘You’re a big lad – have you ever thought about bowling fast?’ He has a tendency to ping the ball harmlessly over the batsman’s head and has rarely looked very threatening.  On Wednesday though he removed Hampshire’s 3-5 (Katich, McKenzie and Dawson) in a spell where he looked – briefly – unplayable.  Perhaps in time – given a bit of strengthening and conditioning work – he might bloom into our Finn, our Tremlett, our Garner (ah these dreams of Spring!).

Leicestershire (as I’m sure you know) won the match by 126 runs, to prise themselves off the bottom of Division 2.

With two (or in some cases three) games to go, seven of the nine sides in Division 2 have won two games, which is roughly where we ought to be in June, with most of the season still ahead of us.  I think it is now mathematically impossible (or highly improbable) for Leicestershire to be promoted, although we are only 24 points behind third placed Yorkshire.  Perhaps the ECB could follow the example of Mr. Gove and – at the last minute – revert the scoring system to the days before bonus points?

Not everyone, of course, is full of hope for the future (or not in cricket, anyway).  Paul Dixey, who has largely been kept out of the side by the simultaneous arrival of Ned Eckersely, has announced he is quitting the game altogether and Will Jefferson – who was struggling around the ground on a pair of outsized crutches – followed suit by announcing his retirement on Saturday.

Of course, no game this season would be complete without at least one downpour.  Here we see rain moving swiftly in over Leicester, as seen from the top of the pavilion.  Ah, these April showers!

Arrangements In Black And Gold : Venetian Nights in Matlock Bath

(More from the Matlock Bath Tourist Board …) 

So, here we are again, in the middle of the annual rolling Fire Festival – Halloween, Diwali, Bonfire Night with which we try to ward off the arrival of Winter.

Like the Blackpool of my youth, Matlock Bath gets in early on this one with its Illuminations, which run from the beginning of September to the end of October.

The highest lights – which I was lucky enough to view – are the Venetian Nights.  These apparently originated to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (she had visited as a young girl and had written how much she had enjoyed seeing the twinkling lights of Matlock Bath) and consist of a procession of small boats decorated with electric lights (accompanied, when I saw them, by Land of Hope and Glory played over the Tannoy).

Entries this year included a Formula 1 Racing Car, the Space Shuttle, Super Mario, a Mississippi Riverboat and Bob the Builder.  My favourites, however, were Mr Toad –

and a horse-drawn Victorian hearse (rather alarmingly the entry by the St John’s Ambulance Brigade) –

I don’t think a fellow can really say that he’s lived until he’s seen a ghostly Mr. Toad being pursued up and down a river by a flaming hearse to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory.

“Something To Wear Against The Heart”

November’s poem is brought to you by R.S. Thomas, the austere Welsh priest.


A Day in Autumn


It will not always be like this,

The air windless, a few last

Leaves adding their decoration

To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs

Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening


In the lawn’s mirror.  Having looked up 

From the day’s chores, pause a minute.

Let the mind take its photograph

Of the bright scene, something to wear

Against the heart in the long cold.


In case your mind has failed to take its photograph of the bright scene, here are a few I took last Sunday along the Brampton Valley Way.  Looks a little like a catalogue for the William Morris Wallpaper Company. 

Freak Autumn : a Poem for October by Anna Akhmatova


A poem for October, which seems appropriate in the light of the unseasonable weather.  It’s by Anna Akhamotova, from her collection Anno Domini MCMXXI (originally published in 1922), in a translation by Richard McKane.


The freak Autumn built a high vault in the sky,

the clouds were ordered not to darken the vault.

The people marvelled: September is passing

and where are the chill, damp days?

The murky canal waters turned emerald,

the nettles smelled like roses, only stronger.

The air was sultry with sunsets, unbearable, devilish, crimson,

we will all remember them till the end of our days.

The sun was like a rebel forcing the capital,

and the spring-like autumn caressed it so thirstily

that it seemed the transparent snowdrop would blossom white …

That was when you, cool and calm, came to my door.


The precise meaning of this is unclear.  She might have been remembering the October Revolution of 1917 that brought the Bolsheviks to power, or, if it set in 1921, the Kronstadt rebellion of that year – a leftist revolt against the Bolsheviks.  

If it is the latter, the shadowy figure in the last line might be an official coming to inform her that her ex-husband Nikolai Gumilyov had been executed by the Cheka, having been implicated in the aftermath of the rebellion.  Or he might have been one of her numerous lovers.

It was probably a time when a certain ambiguity was a wise precaution. 




Stump Watch for September 2011

As the number of posts in between the monthly Stump Watches seems to be dwindling a little, I sometimes have the suspicion that the Stump is turning into some kind of terrible Triffid-like thing that is determined to occupy and colonise the blog completely.

One day I shall log on and find that the title has been replaced with Stump Watch Blog, and the Stump is making daily appearances. 

You can’t see it from this angle, but a few more twigs have been snapped off the Stump since it last appeared.  I put this down to the belief – very common in Little Bowden – that branches from horse chestnut trees offer protection against spiders.

Out Of A Misty Dream Our Path Emerges For A While …


So, I suppose we have to admit that the cricket season is over and the football season has begun.

A little known fact – at least I’ve never heard Alan Hansen allude to it on Match of the Day – is that the earliest use of the word “soccer” recorded in the O.E.D. is in a letter from the ‘nineties poet Ernest Dowson, dated 1889:

“I absolutely decline to see socca’ matches” 

The O.E.D. is tantalisingly bare of context – was he, perhaps, more of a rugga’ man? – but it does not appear that (unlike his fellow decadent Francis Thompson) he was very fond of cricket.  The only reference I can find to the game in his letters is the following, written from Bognor –

“I have I fear to be another ten days in this inexpressibly horrid plage – full of English Mlls and Varsity men who play cricket with them on the sands.”   

So not, apparently, an enthusiast. 

Ernest Dowson : Not a Socca' Man

But – once we have sent our little books out into the world – we have no say in how they are used.  So, to me, this – his most famous poem – is about the cricket season.

Fairfield Road in Spring


Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam


They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.


They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.


Fairfield Road in Autumn

Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio!

 Leicestershire v Middlesex, Grace Road, County Championship, 14-15 September 2011 

It’s an indication of how quickly the darkness of Autumn seems to descend that although this, the last match of the county season, only took place a week ago it seems to belong to another season altogether. 

My expectation when I booked the time off was that I would be watching Northants joyfully crowning their season with promotion on one day and on the other bidding a fond but melancholy farewell to Grace Road at the end of what has been a less than successful season.

In the event, I didn’t make it to Wantage Road.  Northants, who’d gone to the top of the Division at about the same time (early May) as Leicestershire had taken up residence at the bottom, had faltered, and were left needing a victory with maximum points in their last match against Gloucestershire and a miracle – or, to put it another way, a Leicestershire victory against Middlesex – at Grace Road.

Northants had won by lunchtime on the third day, but had failed to gain maximum bonus points.  All Middlesex needed to do was draw.

I imagine that – contrary to my expectation – the air of melancholy was at Wantage Road and the joy – of a sort – at Grace Road.  A number of pink shirted, expectant  and well refreshed Middlesex supporters had made the journey and kept us entertained with their amusing chants, such as “Middle, Middle, Middle – Sex, Sex, Sex!” and “Who Are You?”.

The Leicestershire players, too, seemed  in good spirits.  The regulars, most of them rested for the game, were looking forward to their trip to India and the younger players were glad to be playing in their place.  Ned Eckersley – who had begun the season as the man with no squad number (but a sackful of nicknames) made a century in the first innings and a fifty in the second.  Greg Smith, who has had a wretched season since coming down from Loughborough, made a century too.

At lunchtime on the last day there was a slightly presumptuous announcement that Middlesex would be presented with the Championship trophy at the end of the match by Giles Clarke.  At 90-5, chasing 124, there was some hope in the East Midlands that Mr. Clarke and the trophy might have to be packed in a taxi and sent over to Northampton, but some late middle order thrashing hauled the Middles over the line and into a shower of champagne and group hugs.

A sub plot – of little interest to the jigging horde of Middlesexers, but of great interest to this blog – was what seemed to be generally assumed – but could not openly be acknowledged – to be James Taylor’s last innings at Grace Road.  He’d made 80 in the second innings – with a defensible total in sight – when he was given out caught behind off Crook.  He stood, turned painfully slowly, looked to the heavens (or at least the Gower Suite) and lingered on his way back the pavilion, thrashing the ground and air with his bat as he went.

It was a particular pity, in the circumstances, that he left the pitch for the last time to a chorus of “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” from the Middlesex fans who’d occupied the dugouts – left over from the T20 – in front of the pavilion.

Going ...


Going ...


Going ...

Crop Triangle in Lubenham

Another in the series The Curiosities of Leicestershire in Photographs.

A perfect triangle of wheat in a field near Lubenham.

Local historians, folklorists and UFO spotters have offered various explanations for this phenomenon.  Prosaically, there is a drain concealed at the base of the triangle, and I suspect the combine couldn’t quite get around it.

Enough for a couple of loaves, I’d say, if the crows haven’t got there first.

Summer Pleasures They Are Gone …

A little later than usual, a poem for September. 

This rather chose itself.  When I was at the Chesterfield Festival the other week, fielding in front of me on the boundary was Jon Clare, the promising Burnley-born Derbyshire all-rounder.  In September’s issue of The Cricketer, which I happened to be reading at the time, there was an article about Frank Foster, based on the recently published biography by Robert Brooke, entitled The Fields Were Sudden Bare (a line from Remembrances, by John Clare).

Foster captained Warwickshire to their first Championship victory in 1911, but later succumbed to mental illness and died in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, where, in its previous guise as the County General Lunatic Asylum, Clare had also spent his last years.

This is the first verse of the poem (which is mainly concerned with mourning the consequences of the enclosure of common land, and nothing to do with cricket at all).



Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one
And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and for ever far away
Dear heart and can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at ‘clink and bandy’ ‘chock’ and ‘taw’ and
ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone.


As an illustration of summer pleasures going and almost gone like to visions, here are two snaps of the closing stages of last Sunday’s County Cup final at Grace Road, between Market Harborough and Loughborough (the match of the season, really) …

The first shows Harborough’s Nick O’Donnell facing the last ball from Leicestershire Academy man Tom Wells (as the shadows lengthen), needing 2 to tie the scores and win on the basis of one fewer wicket lost …


and, shortly afterwards, two leg byes having been scrambled, the presentation ceremony …