Stump Watch For January 2013 (with a contribution by D.G. Rossetti)

Belatedly, the Stump in January, looking a little like a Christmas pudding with sparklers stuck into it:

Stump Watch January 2013

and, as a bonus, the Stump in context.  It does have an awfully long way to go to regain its former glory, as you will see.

Stump Watch January 2013 2

These scenes may, perhaps, prompt a sigh of regret – “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”  Or perhaps not.  It is one of those phrases, like “whatever happened to the crispy bacon we used to have before the war?” or “I understand he speaks very highly of you” that I tend to slip into the conversation without really knowing what they mean or where they come from.

“Mais, où sont les neiges …” is actually the refrain of a poem by François Villon – Ballade des dames du temps jadis – that was popularised in England by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1870 translation as The ballad of dead ladies.  Rossetti couldn’t find an exact English equivalent for “antan“, so he invented his own word “yester-year”.  The neologism caught on and is now, of course, a great favourite of DJs on oldies radio stations.  Here is Rossetti’s poem:


Ballad of Dead Ladies

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere–
She whose beauty was more than human?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden–
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine–
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there–
Mother of God, where are they then?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword–
But where are the snows of yester-year?


On The Town : Late Entries In The Snow Scene Category

Just before it melts, a couple of late entries in the snow scene category.

This is Wilfred Dudeney’s ‘Three Printers’, transformed into three jolly matelots on shore leave and looking for fun.  I think Gene Kelly is the one on the left.

On the town

And this sad modern variant on the traditional lost dog notice.  Lost in snow – White iPod Touch.

Lost in snow

I bet the owner is regretting not having gone for the pink iPod option now.

Snow Scenes of Leicestershire : Grace Road And The Oxendon Tunnel

A quick roundup of how the snow is affecting our region.  First, the scene at Grace Road earlier in the day –

Grace Road in the snow

The sharp-eyed among you will have spotted that this is actually a painting (by Nick Turley) not a photograph and is taken from this year’s Christmas card sold in aid of the Friends of Grace Road.

We are lucky at Leicestershire in that foxes might realistically be seen in the outfield at Grace Road (we had problems with them digging it up a couple of years ago).  A prancing horse at Canterbury might be vaguely plausible, but a bear in the outfield at Edgbaston would be straining credulity and a wyvern at Taunton would, frankly, be straying into the realms of fantasy.

On a homelier level, this is the pavilion at South Harborough’s ground (what Whistler, had he been familiar with Little Bowden, might have described as a Symphony in White and Green).

South Harborough Pavilion in the snow

But then snowfall famously has the power to elevate the homeliest scene into the realms of fantasy.  I saw a sign this afternoon saying that the Kelmarsh Tunnel (along the disused railway line to Northampton now known as the Brampton Valley Way) was shut and the Oxendon Tunnel was dangerous because of icicles and sheet ice.  Inevitably, I had to have a look.

Without that information, where are we here? Narnia? Middle Earth?

Kelmarsh Tunnel 1


Kelmarsh Tunnel 5

Kelmarsh Tunnel 6

Asylum Seekers : Northants v Hampshire

Northamptonshire v Hampshire, County Championship, County Ground Northampton, 3rd & 5th May 2012

I must be mad.

I doubt whether there’s anyone who watches any amount of County Cricket who has not – at one time or another – had this thought.  Cricket does drive some people mad, but those are generally the players, especially those who feel a need to be in control.  This is not an illusion that would survive any extended period of trying to watch the game.

I had originally taken a day off work on the Wednesday of last week to watch the first day of Northants v Hampshire.  I then switched it to Thursday to avoid a train strike.  Play was possible on Wednesday, but there was heavy rain overnight and a sort of heavy mizzle on Thursday morning.  Any sensible – or perhaps sane – person would have admitted defeat and made other plans, but I decided to set off anyway.  The forecast was better for the afternoon, and the pitch might have dried out and anyway I had nothing else to do.

When I arrived at the ground, the gatemen warned me that the umpires had announced a pitch inspection at 2.00, which gave me three hours to wait.

I read the paper, browsed the books in the Supporters’ Club bookshop, bought a copy of Graham Yallop’s account of the 1978-9 Ashes series (a bravura exercise in whingeing) and ate some lunch.  Good as their word, the Umpires emerged at 2.00 to announce another inspection at 3.00.

To pass the time, I wandered over the road to the Abingdon Park Museum.  Between 1845-1892 this housed a private Lunatic Asylum run first by Thomas Octavius Prichard and then later his cousin.  Prichard had previously been in charge of the Northampton Asylum and was known for pioneering an enlightened  approach to the treatment of mental illness.  He believed that the patients would benefit from an environment where “all excitement is as much as possible avoided” and stressed the “general prevalence of order and quiet”.

The inmates were allowed out of the Asylum and encouraged to attend musical entertainments.  As the first match was played at the County Ground in 1886, I wonder if it’s possible that some of them were also allowed out to watch the cricket?  I feel it would have done them a lot of good, and been quite in keeping with Prichard’s principles.

When I returned at three the Umpires seemed to have reneged on their promise to have another inspection (in fact, I suspect they’d gone home) and, at this point, I called it a day.  There were still not a few people who’d spent the whole day sitting quietly in the Turner Suite who must have known as well as I did that the chances of play were minimal.  Most of them, I suspect, spend all day every day at the Ground during the season, seeking refuge from who knows what.

I’d pretty much written the match off, except that, when I woke on Saturday, the sky was blessedly clear, and a glance at the overnight scores suggested that a tight finish might be on the cards.  So I returned.

Northants batted on a little in the morning before declaring, leaving Hampshire 297 to win in 71 overs.  On paper, Hampshire look to have one of the stronger batting line ups in the division – three players (Carberry, Katich and Irvine) with Test experience plus the promising Vince – but on a lively pitch against some sharp bowling, and in freezing conditions they didn’t – in footballing parlance – seem to fancy it very much.

Northants opened the bowling with England Lions poster boy Jack Brooks and David Willey (son of Peter).  Willey is tall, muscular and currently unsubtle with a long run up and long blond hair.  Bowling in tandem with the equally heavy metal-locked but dark Brooks it looked as though the County were employing Cheap Trick as their opening attack.  Both wore hair bands, which might not have been true of – say – past Northants quicks such as Bert Nutter or John Dye.

Sean Terry brought back memories of his father Paul by sustaining a couple of nasty blows  and quickly departed along with his opening partner Liam Dawson.  Carberry looked relatively comfortable and might have made victory a possibility if he could have found anyone to stay with him.

Katich – who looked reluctant to emerge from the pavilion – made a dutiful 31, but didn’t seem too upset to be returned to the hutch, caught behind off the perpetually underestimated Lee Daggett.  Daggett, who looks like the kind of bloke you’d be relieved to see coming to mend one of your radiators, then removed Vince (for 0) and Irvine in quick succession, and when Carberry was trapped in front by the rampant Willey it looked as through only a snowstorm could save them.

There was a brief flurry during the tea interval, but not enough to interrupt play, and they folded shortly afterwards for 179, Willey taking 5-39.

There was a reasonable crowd to watch all this, though most of them watched it through the windows of the Turner Suite, where – though it is warm and chips are plentiful – the view is a little restricted.  One exception was the man whose shirt announces that he is the Steelbacks’ No. 1 Fan, who had, as usual, set up a little rats’ nest of plastic bags and lashed his home-made standard to the boundary fence.

This standard has a Tyrollean cowbell attached to it that tinkles like wind chimes when there is a breeze and which he rings furiously whenever a wicket falls.  Otherwise he shuffles slowly around the pitch offering obscure advice to the empty air and – when the opportunity presents itself – the players (here he is in conversation with Willey)

Ricardo is clearly someone who dances – or shuffles – to the beat of a different drum.  He spent a lot of the afternoon picking dandelions from the boundary edge and placing them neatly on all of the seats in the front row of the stands.  The logic of this is not obvious, but perhaps – as Northants won – he’d be a damn’ fool if he didn’t.

For the closing stages he and I were the only occupants of this stand.  But there is a difference between mild eccentricity and outright madness, you know.  Oh yes there is.

One Million Fairly Similar Words For Snow

Experts are claiming that this weekend’s snow event is already the best-documented since records began, with almost half a million tweets, fifty thousand blog posts and over a million photographs already available on the internet, not to mention innumerable Facebook updates.

A future historian of everyday life, writing from the year 2112, will have this to say –

“It’s quite hopeless, from my point of view.  As with every aspect of everyday life since the invention of social media, there is simply too much evidence and I don’t know where to start.  In future I’m going back to the seventeenth century, where every scrap of evidence is invaluable.”

And here’s my contribution to the white noise and light … this lunar, deep-sea object is a poppy in the backyard, Saturday night –    


(Stop it! You’re making it worse! – A Future Historian)

The Christmas Robin : Robert Graves



I was half hoping that we would have a little of the snow that we had this time last year, so that I could illustrate this February poem with a snap of a “murderous robin“.  But no – only drizzle – so I’ve illustrated it with a  Christmas postcard instead, from Grimsby, as it happens.  (Where did she get that hat?)  The poem is by Robert Graves.



The Christmas Robin


The snows of February had buried Christmas

Deep in the woods, where grew self-seeded

The fir-trees of a Christmas yet unknown,

Without a candle or a strand of tinsel.


Neverthless when, hand in hand, plodding

Between the frozen ruts, we lovers paused

And ‘Christmas trees!’ cried suddenly together,

Christmas was there again, as in December.


We velveted our love with fantasy

Down a long vista-row of Christmas trees,

Whose coloured candles slowly guttered down

As grandchildren came trooping round our knees.


But he knew better, did the Christmas robin –

The murderous robin with his breast aglow

And legs apart, in a spade-handle perched:

He prophesied more snow, and worse than snow.  


S. Vere Benson, incidentally, has this to say about the robin – “Nest : of grass, wool, moss and hair ; in a hole in a wall, tree or bank, or any other convenient niche.  Very often it is in an old kettle or pail, or even indoors on a bookshelf, or in a church”.

“A bookshelf?” – now there’s a thing I never saw.

It’s an Ill Wind …

The North Wind doth blow

And we shall have snow

And what shall poor Robin do then, poor thing?


One of my neighbours has an apple tree.  Every Autumn the apples fall and lie uncollected and I think what a shame it is not to make use of them.  Since the snow has fallen, though, I’ve begun to have second thoughts.  Every day positive flocks of birds – blackbirds, thrushes and assorted small songbirds congregate to eat the apples.  There are so many they’ve even attracted a small hawk of some description, leading to a few spectacular mid-air dogfights.  In time, the birds will digest the apples, excrete the pips and – where they fall – new trees will grow.  And so it starts again.

 I suppose this is actually – unless you take a severely anthropocentric view of things – what fruit is for.




Blackbird with Apple


Two Seasonal Martyrs : Stephen and Wenceslaus

Boxing Day.  Particularly now most of the traditional sporting calendar has been snowed off, the thoughts of the Christian world turn inevitably to martyrdom.  St Stephen (whose feast day this is) was the first martyr, stoned to death by a Jewish mob, incited by Saul of Tarsus (later, of course, to change his name and find greater fame in Rome).  I suppose this is an example of one of those things – not unknown at Christmas – that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but regrettable later.

Martyrdom of St Stephen

Anyone who has been having trouble with their family over Christmas (which I know can happen) might like to contemplate the case of another martyr – Good King Wenceslas, who famously looked out on the feast of Stephen.  In his historical guise as Duke Wenceslaus of Bohemia, he had to contend with a mother (Drahomira) who strangled his grandmother (Saint Ludmilla) and a brother (Boruslav) who had him murdered on his way to church.  Wenceslaus did, however, apparently have the ability to walk on ice in his bare feet and melt it as he went, which must have come in handy at this time of year, and, I hope, provided some compensation for his troublesome relations.

Saint Wenceslaus of the Hot Feet

Frozen Architecture : December, by Helen Hunt Jackson

I wonder what Helen Hunt Jackson has to say about this weather … Helen?



The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
Of water ‘neath the summer sunshine gleamed:
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile gently for their sakes
Who listened might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O’er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.

East Midlands Today : Fox Trapped in Snowdrift

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the snowbound East Midlands, a fox had to be rescued by the emergency services after becoming trapped up to its neck in a snowdrift –

A spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Alliance commented – “At this time of austerity this is a grotesque waste of hardworking taxpayers’ money.  Surely this fox could have been left where it was until the snow melted?  And if it had to be dug out, surely that could have been done by volunteers?  As it this fox will soon be back in the fields and copses making a nuisance of itself.  If you ask me it’s health and safety gone mad …”

Incensed Mum commented

Will no-one think of the chickens!