A Stroll In The Park For Foxes At Grace Road

To Grace Road on Monday, where, once again, the crowd were in bank holiday mood.  I don’t mean crapulously drunk and complaining about tailbacks on the M6, I mean jolly and relaxed, and who wouldn’t be with a 40 over match against Scotland in prospect?  Not to mention a hog roast, a LOROS stall, several bouncy castles, a second hand bookseller with a complete set of Playfairs going back to the early ‘fifties, a raffle and all the general jollity that accompanies a visit from Sky Sports.  A Churl, that’s who.

The 40-over league seems to be an oddity for professional sport, in that no-one seems to take it very seriously.  The County Championship is obviously a serious matter, 20/20 matters (if only because of the amounts of money involved), Tests matter, but in these games the cricket seems to be a sideshow to the sunbathing, drinking and raffles.

When asked as to who was likely to win the competition in the Wisden Cricketer, Paul Farbrace of Kent said “It’s names out of a hat this one“, Chris Adams of Surrey “It’s a wild-card competition”.  So relax – give it a go, seems to be the thinking.

Leicestershire batted first, with an experimental line-up, and showed very little sense of urgency against Scotland’s honest, but limited attack.  Josh Cobb (opening) helped himself to sixty-odd, which will have done him good, but none of the long handle boys seemed much inclined to take advantage.

James Taylor came in first wicket down.  The man described in the same edition of the WC as “Lilliputian in stature but gargantuan in his appetite for runs” and by Rob Smyth inThe Guardian as“A tiny man with an appetite for big hundreds” had stuffed himself to bursting point during the week with the third double century of his career against Loughborough UCCE, and didn’t seem to have much appetite left, but still – as a well brought up young man – tucked in, as it would have been rude not to, given that Scotland had provided him with such a generous buffet.  He finished with 81*, and a final scoop shoot over his head for four (perhaps he was looking forward to a visit to the ice-cream van).

I had to leave between innings, as the players strolled off and the crowd milled.  Leicestershire’s relaxed attitude proved justified, as Scotland fell comfortably short of their modest 253.     

Taking the bus back to the station up Saffron Lane, we passed through the crowd of Leicester City fans flowing out from the Stadium of Crisps, which felt like being in a submarine breasting a shoal of exotic royal blue tropical fish.

While we’re on the subject of incursions on the pitch by the animal kingdom, my curiosity was piqued by this contraption –  

My first thought was that this was a run for rabbits or guinea pigs, and that, in these times of “austerity”, we are using them to mow the square, but I’m told that we, in fact, have a problem with foxes running wild at Grace Road, and this is a humane trap. 

I think this photograph illustrates the extent of the problem (far right) –  


Very much so : the World Cup begins with a brief look backwards to Geddington

As county cricket is taking its now traditional midsummer break, let us turn our attention to football.  The eyes of the world are on South Africa, and looking forward to the next three months or so 0f the World Cup.  So let us – in the usual manner of this blog – look backwards – to 1894, and a subject I’ve touched on briefly before (see here).

This lot are an outfit known as the Geddington Stars.  The boy in the front row holding the ball is my great-grandfather, the man with the beard in civvies at the far left of the back row is his father and the other chap in the Derby hat in the back row is one of his brothers.  My great-great grandfather was a Scotsman, and was, at this point, employed as the Head Gamekeeper at Boughton House  in Northamptonshire.  He was clearly a man of several parts.  Apart from his day (or – often night – job) as the Hammer of the Navvies, he played the mandolin (which we still have somewhere, though, sadly, it’s now unplayable) and – as we see here –

he was also Geddington’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson.

So what would he have thought of the current World Cup?  Obviously we can only speculate – and I’m slightly reluctant to use long-deceased relatives as sockpuppets for my own views – but I think we can guess that he would have been shocked not to see Scotland among the final 32, for one thing.  He might have found the melodious tone of the vuvuzela strangely reminiscent of the skirl of the pipes.  

But I imagine he would have been most pleased to see that the more cerebral short passing – or combination – game – pioneered by the Scotch Professors  (the professional players, usually Scottish, who had begun to dominate the game in the 1880s with sides such as Preston North End) has achieved world domination, as opposed to the more individualistic dribbling, kick and rush style of the Southern public school sides who had dominated in the early years of the Association code.  

I could, of course, continue with more of this incisive historico-technical analysis, but after tonight’s draw with the United States I’m afraid I feel too emotionally drained (are you sure you don’t mean “pissed”? – ed.)  to continue.  But, of course, there’s a long way to go yet in this tournament … and, when I have composed myself, I am sure I shall return to this subject.    

Burns night : such a parcel of rogues in a nation

One of the problems with this time of year (the period between Christmas and Easter) is the lack of festivals, high days and holy days to celebrate.  There is Candlemass, which is no longer widely celebrated and, a little later, I suppose,  Ash Wednesday which has its own austere beauty but does not lend itself well to theme nights in the local pub (though I’d be interested to see someone try).

The commercial world does its best.  According to Cadbury’s (R.I.P.) the creme egg season starts on January 1st and continues until Easter.  Valentine’s day is made much of and Shrove Tuesday is a boon to the supermarkets.

One possible opportunity for revelry, though, is Burns night (which is tonight) and I have noticed that – rather in the way that we English have latched on to St Patrick’s day – various pubs and restaurants have started to offer Burns night events which can’t really be aimed primarily at those of Scottish extraction.  One of my local pubs, for instance, is offering a Burns night menu at £25.00 for 5 courses.  I personally have about enough Scots blood to fill my left calf, but have never really felt entitled to break out the tatties and the neeps and get slaughtered on whisky.  But any excuse will do, I suppose, in these dark days.

Burns is a poet I always like when I read him, but I’ve never really got round to reading him properly.  I thought I’d offer this, though, in commemoration – it’s a song of  his – Such a parcel of rogues in a Nation, sung  by the electric folkies Steeleye Span.

The object of Burns’s wrath was the 1707 Treaty of Union (though he wrote it in 1791).  It’s hard not to think of P.G. Wodehouse’s observation that “it is never hard to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”.  It could, too, be seen as an early manifestation of that perennial Scots football-related complaint “We wuz robbed”.  As a sustained expression of contempt (something the Scots seem particularly good at), though, it’s exemplary and I can feel my left foot tapping resentfully as I listen to it.  I also find the phrase “Such a parcel of rogues in a nation” comes to mind quite frequently these days – particularly when watching the news.

Some authorities ( basically me), believe that Parcel of Rogues is a play on words relating to the popular eighteenth century collective noun Parcel of Hogs.  Another expression that could come in handy.

This can also stand as a tribute to Tim Hart – a multi-instrumentalist founder of Steeleye Span (and another son of the vicarage)  – who died recently.  The Spanners (as I’m sure no-one at all called them) could sometimes be twee, clodhopping or gimmicky, but they did also make some truly wonderful recordings of traditional music (usually when the instrumentation was reined in a bit) and I was interested to see the Fleet Foxes citing them as a primary influence, even though, as their singer says “British people think this band is dorky”.  Well, I don’t.