In Remembrance Of Me

(A footnote to the extended Festival of Remembrance that’s been taking place over the last week or so.)

I’ve recently been reading (or partly re-reading) “Vanished World“, the first part of the autobiography of the Northamptonshire author H.E. Bates (b. 1905).  I came across this:

“even a child couldn’t escape the eventual insufferable gloom of the holocaust that every morning was reflected in the long columns of the dead, wounded and missing that darkened every newspaper and still more intimately in the little mourning shrines set up in every street with their own lists of agonies and pitiful jam jars of flowers”

and a little later:

“the effect of those long, black, mortifying lists of killed, wounded and missing that filled column after column of every morning newspaper had made a searing impression on me that has never left me; nor can I ever forget the little improvised street shrines decorated, as one still often sees in little Italian cemeteries, with faded photographs of the dead and a few jam jars of fading flowers.”

He provides a sketch of one of these “street shrines”:

Shrine

We still see these “street shrines” today, of course, (with their “pitiful jam jars of flowers”) when someone – particularly a young person – has died unexpectedly or violently; I think I remember (at about the time of the death of Diana Spencer) a rash of newspaper articles condemning them as somehow cheaply sentimental and un-English.  I’ve never shared that sentiment, but would have guessed that they were a recent phenomenon, so I was surprised to find them cropping up in that least Latin of locations, Rushden, during the First World War.  I can’t remember, either, them being mentioned in other accounts of the War or pictured in drama, but it’s unlikely they were unique to Northamptonshire.

“Remembrance” is a high-flown word (the “anamnesis” of the Eucharist, Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust) and is appropriate to the commemoration of events that no-one living can now remember, but to understand, on a human level, what it was like to lose a child, a school friend, I think we need to imagine, not remember and look to those little “street shrines”.  “Remembrance” may look like a sea of ceramic poppies, but raw grief looked and looks like a pitiful jam jar of flowers, a bunch of garage shop roses.

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Stump Watch : The End

I’m afraid this really is The End, my friends.  A week ago the Stump was showing signs of ailing.  Dry rot had set in on one side.  Someone had hacked lumps off it and strewn them all over the Rec.

Stump Watch February 2013

The Stump had, however, survived one previous assassination attempt (in January a year ago) and I was hopeful that this latest setback would prove a mere interruption to its continuing story of resurrection and renascence in the face of adversity.  However, this was the scene that greeted me this morning:

Stump Watch - The End

Well and truly and radically extirpated, I’m afraid, and (as football commentators are prone to saying in less dramatic circumstances)  it’ll take a miracle to come back from this.

When I have gathered my thoughts I shall try to compose some suitable epitaph for the Stump.  For the moment, though, I suppose it’s a good job I didn’t identify with the Stump too closely.

Close Of Play In The Close Season

I very rarely re-post anything I’ve written (in fact I rarely reread anything I’ve written).  I see the last time I did it was also at the time of Epiphany, so in a way it’s reassuring that I can put my current low-spiritedness and lack of inspiration down to seasonal fluctuation.

This piece originally appeared in the first week of January 2011, which appears to confirm my theory.  Unfortunately, it has a certain gloomy topicality.

Apart from poor CMJ, a few more to add to add to the list would be Alan Ross (died 14th February), Ian Peebles (28th February) and Tony Pawson (12th October last year).

Some of the morbidity of the piece was probably due to the bottle of whiskey that makes an appearance late on.  I never normally touch the stuff and this one was a Christmas present.  I’ve taken my own advice and steered clear of it ever since.

****************************************************

The first faint intimations of this year’s cricket season have started to appear.  The Wisden Cricketer have sent me a calendar, featuring “some of the U.K.’s loveliest cricket grounds” (including a couple – Sidmouth and Bourneville – I’ve visited).

Leicestershire have sent me last year’s annual report and financial statements – “The club has had what can only be described as a disastrous financial year …” – and the agenda for the A.G.M..  The main item is to “increase the age limit of a director from 70 to 80”.

But it is these little signs of life that keep us trudging on hopefully through the winter gloom.

E.V. Lucas put it nicely in his 1909 essay “Winter Solace”:

“During the snowstorm in which I write these lines the unlikelihood of the sun ever shining again on my flannelled limbs is peculiarly emphatic.  It is a nightmare that pursues me through every autumn, winter, and early spring.  How can there be another season?  one asks one’s self; just as years ago, a fortnight before the holidays, one was convinced that the end of the world must intervene.  The difference between the child and the middle-aged man merely is that the child expects the end of the world – the man the end of himself.”

This is no exaggeration – the fear of dying in the close season is a well founded one.  At the beginning of every season at the county ground there is usually at least one familiar face missing, and, at the end, some of those who wish each other “winter well”  know that they will not live to see the Spring.

The same appears to be true of more celebrated lovers of the game.  The following all handed in their dinner pails in the dead of winter:

John Arlott – 4th December

Brian Johnston – 5th January

E.W. Swanton – 22nd January

Neville Cardus – 28th February

On a brighter note, E.H.D. Sewell dedicated his last book “Well hit! Sir”  (1946) to “Professor de Wesselow and all the doctors and … Sisters and Nursing Staff of St Thomas’ Hospital who had charge of my case, without whom …” and, in it, said “if I am destined to see Donnelly scoring almost at will for Middlesex in 1947 I shall drink in the savour with as keen a relish as anybody”.  He was not destined to see Donnelly, who did not play for Middlesex in 1947, but he did live to see the classic and glorious season of Compton and Edrich.  He expired – presumably a happy man – on the 20th of September, three days after seeing Middlesex, as Champion County, defeat a Rest XI by an innings, with a century from Edrich and a double from Compton.

On a much darker one, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow cut his throat in a snowstorm on the 4th of March (if only he could have held out for another month …).

And then there’s Alan Gibson.  Gibson died on the 10th of April 1997, the first day of that season (if you count University matches).  But it’s doubtful how much interest he was taking by that stage.

But he too had once found the thought of a new season an incentive to pull himself out of a deep Slough of Despond.  In 1985 he had, according his son Anthony* drunk himself into the Bristol Royal Infirmary (at the rate of at least a  bottle of whiskey a day) and from there to “a hospital at Ham Green, which specialised in treating alcoholics on their last legs, as Alan was presumed to be.”  He perked up enough to write a piece, unpublished at the time, which begins –

“Christmas in hospital (this was my fourth) is always a bit of a struggle … The most relaxed of my four Christmases was in a mental home: a case, I suppose, of sancta simplicitas.”  

but moves on to regret that he had not received a game of OWZTHAT in his Christmas stocking and ends –

“For I am confident of being at the Bristol ground next summer and probably even more at Taunton and an assortment of other places as well.  When I came into hospital, I was quite unable to walk, even to rise from a chair.  But you should have seen me, after a week or two, dashing down the ward on my trusty zimmer.  On Christmas Eve I graduated to a stick; muttering proudly to myself, OWZTHAT?”

The moral being, I suppose, don’t lose interest in cricket and go easy on the whiskey.

A bottle of Whiskey, this afternoon

* Quotations from “Of Didcot and the Demon”, a collection of Gibson’s writings with reminiscences from Anthony Gibson, published last year by Fairfield Books (available here).

“The First-Class Game Will Soon Have A Death On Its Hands” : Scenes From A Golden Age

The sad news of Mark Boucher’s injury-forced retirement prompted me to think about how rare it is these days (or so it seems to me) for a player to be seriously injured during a match.

I’ve had plenty of time this season to catch up with my reading and I’ve managed – at various county grounds – to pick up a selection of back copies of The Cricketer from – as it were – my formative years – the period when my interest in cricket was at its freshest and least jaundiced or jaded – which was the early ‘seventies.

I suppose many of us are inclined – if uncorrected – to think of the period when we first became interested in cricket as a Golden Age against which all subsequent cricket must be compared.  It’s always useful to be reminded of how things were at the time (or how they appeared to others, or were reported), as opposed to how we remember them.

One thing I’m inclined to rail against about the modern game is the way that the dice are loaded against the bowlers, and, in particular, the fast men.  Take away his helmet (I’m inclined to say when watching some of our more flamboyant galacticos) and his supercharged bat and his body armour and stick him up against Thommo or Holding on a dodgy track with unlimited bouncers allowed and we’d soon see what he was really made of …

But, reading through these Cricketers, it was salutary to be reminded of quite what a violent game it was in those days (for fieldsmen almost as much as batsmen) – and these are from a fairly random selection of issues.

In the 1971 Winter Annual, under the heading ‘A tragic accident’, A.R. Lewis writes –

‘A tragic accident happened on the field of play this week … I was crouched in the gully as Malcolm Nash bowled to Neil Abberley … Off the meat of the bat … the ball sped almost invisibly to crack Roger Davis a lightning blow above and behind the left ear … Violent grotesque convulsions and a sudden change of facial colouring warned us all that there was immediate need for professional medical attention … Two doctors ran on, one of whom thankfully revived Roger with mouth to mouth resuscitation, after his pulse had stopped.’

By January 1975, we’re on to England’s tour of Australia and some comments from John Woodcock –

‘The day began to some unedifying remarks by Lillee on television last night. The idea of the bouncer, as he uses it, is to hit the batsman ‘somewhere between the rib cage and the stomach.’  That is what he said, and he has written it previously in a book.  Thomson is already on record as saying that he enjoys felling a batsman with a bouncer.  This is the talk of the underworld, not of Test cricketers.’

By the Spring Annual of 1975 we’ve moved on to the aftermath of  the tour and the brief series against New Zealand.  Under the headline ‘A nightmare ending’ there is a description of Peter Lever almost killing Ewen Chatfield –

‘The first test at Auckland had a dramatic and unpalatable ending when Chatfield … collapsed at the wicket and his breathing stopped for a few moments after being struck by a ball from Lever.  It was ten minutes before Chatfield was carried from the field on a stretcher and during that time several England players thought that the blow … onto his temple had proved fatal.  Fortunately … the England physiotherapist was able to apply cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which undoubtedly saved Chatfield’s life … later a distressed Lever spoke to Chatfield as he recovered consciousness in hospital and his first comment to me afterwards was ‘I feel like retiring here and now’.’

By May 1975 under the heading ‘A martial, medical match’  Riaz Ahmed Mansuri reported on the second Test between Pakistan and West Indies in Karachi –

‘Sadiq Mohammad’s long air trip … was not in vain … he pulled Pakistan out of trouble … and this after a full-blooded hit from Julien struck him under the left ear as he fielded in close.  He was carried off … with Wasim Raja, with his injured right ankle in plaster and virtually out of the match, Pakistan’s plight was extremely serious … a total of 150 minutes’ play was lost, the running battle between police and crowd ending only under a cloud of teargas … When the ninth wicket fell the match was safe, Sadiq was in the nineties (seemingly recovered from his concussion), and the spectators rose to their feet cheering lustily as Wasim Raja, with a plastered foot, entered …’

On to June 1975, and ‘The Battle of Kingston’, as reported by Tony Cozier …

‘Bedi [the Indian captain] declared with only six wickets down ‘in disgust’ … Later Bedi denied that he had declared, saying that there was no-one fit enough to bat.  Vishwanath received a fracture on the middle finger of the right hand when struck by Holding;  Gaekwad was hit on the left ear, also by Holding, and was still groggy after spending two days in hospital.  Patel, who had three stitches inserted in a cut in his mouth caused by a ball from Holder, could possibly have batted, but … only if necessary.  This left only Bedi and Chandra and … both had painful hand injuries that made it impossible for them to hold the bat …’

Meanwhile, back in England, David Lloyd was being knocked unconscious by Bob Cottam of Northants, as reported by David Frith …

‘I listened to the shell-shocked recollections of those awful moments by members of the fielding side:  ‘His eyes rolled up, and all you could see was the whites.’ ‘Blood was coming from his nose.’  ‘After a while his legs started twitching.  It was terrible.’  ‘I couldn’t go over to him,’ said another player, who happened himself to be a batsman.  ‘It wasn’t my scene.’ [According to Cricket Archive, Lloyd was out ‘hit wicket b. Cottam 2’ and was absent hurt in the second innings.  I wonder which Northants batsman would have said ‘It’s not my scene’? Perhaps not Roy Virgin or David Steele.]

In July, in ‘News of the Month’ we find that ‘G. Boycott was put out of cricket for several weeks after sustaining a broken bone in his right hand at Old Trafford in mid-May‘, ‘A.P.E. Knott missed a fortnight’s cricket … owing to a chipped right index finger, the result of a rising ball from … W.W. Daniel’,  ‘A.J. Borrington, keeping wicket for Derbyshire, was taken to hospital after being struck on the head by one of Oxford University’s tail-end batsmen.’ and ‘B. Dudleston had his right thumb dislocated and fractured by a ball from S.J. Rouse … and was forced to miss a fortnight’s cricket.

In the same month’s issue John Woodcock reports from MCC v the West Indies …

‘It was horrible to watch.  Amiss was helped off, his shirt stained with blood … it was a reminder to the umpires that the first-class game … will soon have a death on its hands’ and (from the Daily Mail)  ‘Roope was ducking and weaving to escape physical punishment.  His cap was knocked off … and four leg-byes flew off the back of his shoulder …’

Just to finish the year off, in October’s News of the Month, David Frith notes

‘B. Hassan suffered a broken hand during Notts’ match against Essex at Trent Bridge … Asif Iqbal was hospitalised after being hit on the head during Kent’s match against Somerset at Taunton … J. Simmons, of Lancashire, had 16 stitches after being hit in the face by a ball from Somerset fast bowler H.R. Mosley.”

And this account, of course, only touches on the best-known instances of assault and battery of the era – Lillee and Thomson’s bowling against England on the ’74-’75 tour and the Holding’s  battering of Dad’s Army in 1976.  So here are a couple of reminders of what that was like –

Ouch.

So there’s the evidence.  Were those really the good old days?  Would I really want to go back to that?  Questions for another day…

Badger Encounters Society

A couple more snaps from my canalside ramble the other day. 

About a mile out from Harborough I came across this, on the towpath –

and then, a few hundred yards further along, this –

************

`Such a rumpus everywhere!’ continued the Otter. `All the world seems out on the river to-day. I came up this backwater to try and get a moment’s peace, and then stumble upon you fellows! 

   There was a rustle behind them, proceeding from a hedge wherein last year’s leaves still clung thick, and a stripy head, with high shoulders behind it, peered forth on them.

   `Come on, old Badger!’ shouted the Rat.

   The Badger trotted forward a pace or two; then grunted, `H’m! Company,’ and turned his back and disappeared from view.

   `That’s just the sort of fellow he is!’ observed the disappointed Rat. `Simply hates Society! Now we shan’t see any more of him to-day” *

************

Badgers have stopped digging up human bones in a graveyard – after a mystery phone caller told the vicar the problem had been solved by the “Big Society”.

As the Leicester Mercury reported in October, the badgers were believed to be responsible for disturbing at least four graves at St Remigius’ Church in Long Clawson, near Melton.

The badgers had dug up and taken skulls, leg and arm bones, which were found in a ditch on the edge of the churchyard. One child even took a human leg bone home, thinking it was a stick.

However, environmental advisory group Natural England blocked a bid to solve the problem which involved putting up a gate to stop the animals returning to their sett in the graveyard. Since then, village vicar the Rev Simon Shouler has received a mysterious call to say the problem had been “solved by the Big Society”.

There has been no sign of the badgers since.

Mr Shouler said: “I got a call late one night from someone saying we wouldn’t have any further problems from the badgers. He said the problem had been solved by the ‘Big Society’.

“Since I received the call there has been no sign of any badgers. It’s probable that the law has been broken, but someone has decided enough is enough.”**

************

 I see you don’t understand, and I must explain it to you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city — a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever.’

   `But what has become of them all?’ asked the Mole.

   `Who can tell?’ said the Badger.  ‘People come — they stay for a while, they flourish, they build — and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.’

   `Well, and when they went at last, those people?’ said the Mole.

   `When they went,’ continued the Badger, `the strong winds and persistent rains took the matter in hand, patiently, ceaselessly, year after year. Perhaps we badgers too, in our small way, helped a little — who knows? It was all down, down, down, gradually — ruin and levelling and disappearance. Then it was all up, up, up, gradually, as seeds grew to saplings, and saplings to forest trees, and bramble and fern came creeping in to help. Leaf-mould rose and obliterated, streams in their winter freshets brought sand and soil to clog and to cover, and in course of time our home was ready for us again, and we moved in.”***

* Wind in the Willows, Chapter 1

** Leicester Mercury, January 2011

*** Wind in the Willows, Chapter 4

De Mortuis …

Reading through The Observer’s miscellaneous list of Britain’s 300 “leading public intellectuals” on Sunday (an improvement, I suppose, on the wretched, if instructive, Rich List), I was pleased and surprised to see the name of Brigid Brophy.

Surprised, because I had a suspicion that her idiosyncratic, Firbankian novels were largely forgotten (they’re certainly out of print), and that she was now remembered, if at all, for her campaigning work to establish the Public Lending Right for authors.  Pleased because I thought she was dead.

Unfortunately – looking into it a little further – I find that she did, indeed, die of multiple sclerosis in 1995.  (Here is an obituary as proof).

I suppose this supports the general thesis implied by the title of the article – “Why don’t we love our intellectuals?”.  We don’t even love them enough to notice that they’ve been dead for sixteen years.

The Isle of the Dead, by Arnold Böcklin

Continuing with this cheery seasonal theme, here is the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead.  This painting was originally commissioned by a young widow who “wanted something to dream by“.  It enjoyed an enormous vogue in reproduction, becoming, I suppose, the late nineteenth-century German equivalent of Tretchikoff’s Green Girl or Athena’s Tennis Girl.  The playwright Max Halbe commented “Between 1885 and 1900 no good middle-class household could be without reproductions of Bocklin’s paintings” and later the phenomenon was also noted by characters in novels by Nabokov set in Germany between the wars.

The painting attracted celebrity admirers too (from all shades of the political spectrum)  – both Freud and Lenin had reproductions on their walls and the original of this version (the third of five) was purloined by Adolf Hitler for his personal contemplation.

Isle of the Dead : Arnold Boklin

 

Whatever you think of this painting, I do find that, once seen, it does somehow worm its way into one’s head in the way that a song (however irritating) or a poem sometimes does. I begin to imagine a resemblance to it in the most unlikely places, for instance, the disused lavatories at Grace Road –

Grace Road lavatories

or even the approach to this house at the end of my street –