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”:


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.


In Search Of The Spirits of Cricket : A Short “Film” Of The 2014 Cricket Season

Parturient montes et exit … well, something a bit different anyway (though I suspect that this is one of those that means a great deal to me but will be found puzzling, at best, by others).

It is, as you will see if you click on the link below, a slideshow of a selection of photographs taken during the 2014 English cricket season, beginning in March and ending in late September.  Some of the images will be familiar to regular readers, others not. This is cricket from a spectator’s point of view, as opposed to the television viewer’s; there are no close-ups, no replays, no video analysis.  The players are only seen close-to when they are leaving the field or near the boundary and they sometimes seem to be there merely to provide some foreground to a landscape. There are trains and buses and flowers and rainbows.  It didn’t occur to me to make use of the photographs in this way until very late in the season, and I have resisted the temptation to do any artistic re-shaping of the material, so any themes and motifs (and I think there are some) have emerged, at most, semi-consciously.

The grounds that feature most often are (as you might expect) Grace Road, the County Ground Northampton, Fairfield Road (home of Market Harborough CC) and Little Bowden Recreation Ground.  There are also visits to Kibworth, Trent Bridge, Finedon Dolben, Leicester Ivanhoe, Bedford Modern School, Radlett Hove and Lubenham.

Some well-known players feature: M.S. Dhoni, Alastair Cook (in the form of a Waitrose advert), Marcus Trescothick.  There are some perhaps less well-known, except to readers of this blog: Graeme White (who begins and ends the season wandering in the outfield stroking his beard), Ned Eckersley, Nathan Buck, David Wainwright, Luke Fletcher, Stan of Barrow Town.  Bowler of the season Mark Footitt is featured in action; batsmen of the season Lyth’n’Lees appear on a scoreboard.  There are glimpses of some stars of the future (Sam Hain, Zac Chappell) and guest appearances from Dickie Bird, Peter Willey, a dog and a horse.  Then there are those players who are known only unto God and their nearest and dearest, and if they sometimes blend in indistinguishably with their better-known counterparts then – without wishing to labour the point – that is largely the point of this “film”.

I had originally intended to accompany the images with music, but have been defeated by a combination of the laws of copyright and technical ignorance, however those who persist until the last four minutes will be rewarded by a brief piece by Delius.  I realise this is likely to be a vain plea, but, rather like the season itself, the “film” does take a while to get into its stride: it becomes a lot more interesting after the first ten minutes and only really makes sense if watched in its entirety.  It also helps to view it in full-screen mode on a reasonably large screen.  Ideally, of course,  it would be seen at an I-Max cinema accompanied by a live orchestra, but that might have to wait for next season’s production.

(Don’t let this put you off, by the way, but your correspondent makes a cameo appearance in a glass case in the gents round the back of the pavilion at Trent Bridge at 22.08. Immortality, at last!)


Any comments most welcome, of course.


A Rum Do In Brixworth : Cricket At the Dallas Burston

I think I can say with some certainty that this has been the first flaming June that I would have preferred to have spent in Poland or Ukraine rather than in England.  Perhaps the weather has finally broken my spirit, though – as I explained in a recent post – the concentration of T20 in the fairest month of the year makes it a waste land for the non T20 fan, whatever the weather.  Or maybe, as I suggested in another recent post, I’ve simply overdosed on mediocre cricket.

Perhaps, though, all I need is a change of scene.  Much as I love Grace Road, there is a limit to the number of days anyone could spend there eating pie and chips in the rain without hankering after the glamour of Lviv or Donetsk.

So, I’ve arranged myself an itinerary for July that (weather permitting – which I don’t expect it to) should take me to Radlett, Edgbaston and Chesterfield (two grounds new to me and one old favourite).  But I thought I’d ease myself back into the world of cricket with a visit to a ground that I’ve often glimpsed from the bus to Northampton but never visited – Brixworth’s Dallas Burston Ground.

Brixworth is a large village that’s teetering uncertainly on the brink of becoming a small town (welcome to Northamptonshire – let yourself grow!) and there’s something about it that suggests it isn’t very happy in its skin, being very self-consciously A Village but looking increasingly to the outsider like suburbia.  There’s something obscurely odd about the cricket ground as well.

The first match at the Dallas Burston Ground was played in 2005.  Where they played before that I don’t know (I imagine it was a smaller, more rustic affair nearer the centre of the village).  The new ground is on the outskirts, overlooking  the Pitsford Reservoir (though you can only glimpse this from the ground) and was hewn out of farmland, which involved levelling a 20 foot slope.  You can still see the evidence of this at the ground (evidence, too, of why true Northamptonshire buildings have that characteristic reddish hue)

As at most new cricket grounds, the playing area at Brixworth is – to the naked eye – a perfect circle and perfectly flat.  I think this contributes to the sense of there not being something quite right about it.  Longer established grounds have generally accommodated themselves  to the existing landscape, respecting and making a virtue of its peculiarities of contour.  This feels artificial, imposed, almost Roman.

There is clearly some money around somewhere too.  There were posters everywhere for a visit by the Lashings XI.  In recent years they have attracted some publicity by signing Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm (who, I was informed by @LordBonkers when I met him on the bus back home, is now the President of the Club).  Malcolm did make an appearance at this game, watching from his vehicle parked at the top of the hill.

Dallas Burston himself (he is advertised around the ground) appears to be a former Northamptonshire GP who now runs some kind of healthcare and property development empire from the Old Rectory in Arthingworth.  He also seems to be  involved with polo.  This all sounds like what my Grandfather would have called a bit of rum do, but there you are.

The pavilion is a kind of barn conversion (very popular in this part of the world) –

divided down the middle by a wooden partition and with – possibly – a firm of chartered accountants tenanted in a kind of gallery.  It was quite grand, and I can imagine it being hired out very successfully for weddings and other exercises in corporate hospitality (if you want a corporate table for the Lashings game it will set you back £650.00) but it didn’t feel much like a cricket pavilion to me.

The real oddity of the ground, though, is the mock castle-cum-fort that overlooks the pitch.

All’s that left of this – or perhaps all there ever was – are the walls, with the interior being gradually reclaimed by scrubland.  I suppose this might have been erected to give the ground the feel of Galle in Sri Lanka, but I suspect it is evidence of some kind of failed crypto-Disneyland.  It offers some interesting views of the pitch

but also contributes to the feeling that this is a somehow a place of facades.

The game itself was between Brixworth and Finedon Dolben in the First (Premier?) Division of the Northamptonshire League. I ought to take more interest in this league.  My father played in it for Kettering in the ’50s and for Rushden in the ’70s and ’80s and  my mother’s father for Kettering when they were top dogs between the wars.  Even I once had a net at Rushden.

If you felt so inclined, you could attempt some kind of social history of the county by looking at the teams who have dominated Northamptonshire cricket – Kettering in the ’20s (when they were strong enough to beat a Northants XI containing most of their first XI),  British Timken in the ’50s (when Freddie Brown worked there as a ‘Welfare Officer’) and in recent years Finedon Dolben (who have won it in 10 out of the last 13 seasons).  I don’t think I’ve ever been to Finedon, but – like Brixworth – it is a large, quite affluent, village resisting being swallowed up by the expansion of its larger, less toney neighbour, Wellingborough.  I imagine a lot of its residents drive 4x4s.

It was a bit hard to see, on this showing, quite why they’ve been so successful, and I suspect the general standard of the league is lower than that of the Leicestershire ‘Everards’ League.  I certainly wouldn’t back Finedon against Loughborough, Harborough or Kibworth.

There didn’t seem to be much mingling between the two sets of supporters (and there were quite a few on both sides) – the Brixworth men sat in front of the pavilion, the Finedon contingent camped up on a grassy bank.  I suppose  this ornery suspicion of outsiders and near neighbours, at least, did give the occasion an authentic whiff of the old Northamptonshire.

If the ground made me feel uneasy, I seemed to have the same effect on it.  Seeing a scruffy looking man they didn’t recognise nosing round their pavilion and taking photographs, someone asked me – perfectly reasonably and politely – who I was and what I was doing there.  Presumably they suspected that I was a would-be burglar casing the joint.

Still, on to ‘fresh woods and pastures new’.  In Radlett, possibly (and possibly armed with a new camera, as this one seems to be suffering spots before the eyes).

Twilight Of The Bones

“All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’.” G. Orwell – England, Your England

Since the football club that I support moved to a ground that is inaccessible by public transport, I have been spending my Saturday afternoons watching a mixture of sides in the United Counties League – Harborough, Desborough, the Rothwell Corinthians, but mostly Rothwell Town (“the Bones”).

But, as the sign above illustrates, it looks like I shall have one less option for next season – or, at least, if the club survives, they won’t be playing at their long-time home at Cecil Street.

The club was founded (as “The Swifts”) in 1895, and have spent time in the Northamptonshire League, the Leicestershire League and the Kettering League, as well as the U.C.L.. Their highest point was achieved between 1997 and 2000, when they played in the Premier Division of the Southern League.

The financing of football clubs (like the naming of cats) is a mysterious business, and I’m not sure of the precise reasons for Rothwell’s decline.  There are suggestions of extravagence and over-ambition during the boom years – as the manager wrote in the programme notes recently –

“It’s well known we have been struggling of late, but all those players of the past who earned good money from £40-£150 a week at times at Rothwell FC in a high standard not one as said I will come and help you after all you did give me the chance to play Southern League football.  Apart from one – Mick Tolton.” 

More generally, the decision to allow Sky to broadcast live football has, as predicted, hit attendances at matches hard.  Not at the level of the Premier League, of course, but lower down the leagues.  (The ban on the televising of live matches now seems to belong to the era of Retail Price Maintenance and half-day early closing – and none the worse for that, in my view.)

Clubs at this level are very much clubs (in the sense of social clubs) with any revenue generated at the gate as a bonus, and have been hit by the same blights that have affected other Working Men’s Clubs (including the smoking ban). What’s done for the Bones is ultimately that Rothwell folk no longer want to spend their evenings in the Rowellian or the Top of the Town Ballroom, given the more exotic attractions elsewhere in the town, or the consolations of supermarket booze.

It’s not so much a club that’s going under, but a way of life.

Watching football at Cecil St. this season has been a bit like watching it in the aftermath of some natural disaster, as essential facilities are cut off and the ground disintegrates.  Thieves have stolen the copper cable from the floodlights, so all games have to begin at 2.30.  They’ve had the electricity cut off anyway, because they can’t afford to pay the bill (£1,800).

Are the local community rallying round?  Not all of them.  The bumper takings from the Bones Tea Bar from their Boxing Day derby (about £90.00) were stolen, and the last time I went there was no Bovril, because the thieves had stolen that as well.

As I imagine the ground will be well on its way to becoming a housing estate by the beginning of next season (though I hope the club will find another home), I thought I’d publish some kind of photographic record to preserve what it was like in its last days.

Or perhaps there’s a Corby bus driver out there who fancies reviving a local football club?

The club flag – which seems to have taken on a different significance this season

The Press Box and the Directors’ Box (from the days when they had such things)

A floodlight, minus its cable …

and overgrown with ivy …

the roof of the cowshed behind one goal …

an old turnstile, long locked and abandoned …

a stanchion, peeling to reveal several layers of paint

the ransacked tea bar

and – saddest of all – the Rowellian and the Talk of the Town, leaving behind only the ghostly clacking of stilleto heels, the faint scent of hairsprayed beehives and the distant sounds of Matt Monro 

and this – one of the oddest things I’ve seen at a football ground – a squirrel’s tail left on one of the seats in the stand.  Presumably one of the fans – goaded past breaking point by the unkindness of fate – had grabbed a passing squirrel and ripped its tail off.

I wonder if this is what it will be like at Ibrox soon?

On Seeing The First Cricket Of Spring

To Rothwell again yesterday to watch Rothwell Corinthians win a hard-fought tussle against Burton Park Wanderers.  The Corinthians’ ground (Sergeant’s Field) shares a boundary with the ground of Rothwell C.C., and all afternoon I was distracted and bewitched by the sound of a motor mower mowing the outfield and the scent of new-mown grass. 

“Come you back, you Leicestershire member” – it seemed to be saying – “come you back to Grace Road!”

On leaving the ground, I spotted the first game of impromptu cricket I’ve seen this year (fathers and sons, presumably).

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh … 

Paul Verlaine : Colloque Sentimental

To continue – obliquely – the current Wicksteed Park season, here is the poem by Paul Verlaine  that I alluded to the other day.

I think the reason I had it in my head all those years ago was that it played a part in a late night film I’d seen on the TV.  I’ve never been able to find out what that film was, though I’ve an idea that it was pre-war and American rather than French.

Colloque sentimental

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux formes ont tout à l’heure passé.

Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles,
Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles.

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

–Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne ?
–Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu’il m’en souvienne ?

–Ton coeur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom ?
Toujours vois tu mon âme en rêve? –Non.

–Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible
Où nous joignions nos bouches! –C’est possible.

Qu’il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l’espoir !
–L’espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,
Et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.


A rough literal translation might be –

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two forms had just passed by.

Their eyes were dead, their lips were soft/ Their words could hardly be heard.

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two spectres had recalled the past.

Do you remember our old ecstasy? / Why would you want me to remember it?

 Your heart stills beats at my name only? / Still see my soul in dreams? No.

Ah! Those fine days of unspeakable joy/ When we two joined our lips! Perhaps.

How blue the sky, how high our hopes! / Defeated, hope fled to the black sky.

So they walked on through the wild oats / The night alone could hear their words. 

The worlds of Paul Verlaine and Wicksteed Park aren’t quite as distant as you might think.  The later paintings of Thomas Cooper Gotch, the brother of the Gotch whose firm was responsible for the Park’s buildings, have been described as Symbolist (as was Verlaine’s poetry) and Verlaine lived for some time in Lincolnshire, in Boston and Stickney.

We have no evidence that he ever visited Kettering, but I like to think that he might have passed through on his way to Boston, and might have dropped into the George for a quick pint or two of absinthe.

Two Pints Of Absinthe And A Packet Of Crisps Please

This frozen park is not, in fact, Wicksteed’s itself, but the Waterworks Field, home to Desborough Town Football Club, where I happened to be yesterday afternoon to catch their unexpected 5-1 trouncing of Deeping Rangers.  I’m sure Verlaine would have found the scene inspiring.