Closed For Refurbishment

 

 

January

Mid-January, and the cricket pitches of England lie fallow, as does this blog.  There have been one or two rum goings-on here recently (bits dropping off, for instance, rather like its author) and a short period of closure for repair and refurbishment seems in order.  I hope to be back soon.

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The Last Of Winter

Another instead-of-a-post post, I’m afraid.

This is the last week I shall (weather permitting) have no live cricket to write about.  Leicestershire are beginning their season with a very “soft launch” involving a 2-day friendly against Northamptonshire on Tuesday and I hope to be there.  This time next week I shall be having the novel (and not entirely welcome) experience of watching the first day of a Championship match on a Sunday.  Whether I will find the time or inclination to write about these I know not.  The prospects for Leicestershire, this blog and Yours Truly are uncertain at present and I don’t think I’ve ever approached a season (or a Spring) with lower expectations.

But perhaps that is for the best.  I am conscious of expecting far too much from cricket and if I do happen to be Surprised by Joy at any point during the season that will be more than the sane man could reasonably expect.

Meanwhile, as the clocks go forward, a last look back at Winter and another view across the Cemetery at a tea-time post-match sunset (this time after a 6-0 home defeat by AFC Rushden and Diamonds).  I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m not sure even Leicestershire will be able to top that one in the ignominy stakes.  But then they never fail to surprise me, one way or another.

 

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

 

“Tell Me If The Woodbines Blow” : Winter into Spring

No time for proper blogging today – alas! – but here is a snapshot of Winter passing into Spring (as I make other plans).  This is the view of Market Harborough cemetery from Northampton Road on my way back from the Rugby, last Saturday and this.  It will be Autumn before the sun is at this angle at that time again and the quality of the light will be quite different.

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

Northampton Road Cemetery March 2014

The inscription on the large headstone to the right of the picture is from Tennyson (Alfred, not Lionel) and reads

Then let wise Nature work her will,

And on my clay her darnels grow,

Come only when the days are still,

And at my head-stone whisper low,

And tell me if the woodbines blow.

I wonder how many passers-by have paused to read this over the years (and how many of them have been able to answer the question?).

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

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Kelmarsh Tunnel 5

Kelmarsh Tunnel 6

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.

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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).