Dreams of Leaving

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For a few years after they were married, our parents managed a butcher’s shop, the end building of a deformed 1930s’ crescent of ten shops, a series of white concrete cubes with elongated windows, unornamented, geometrical, exiguous. California had come to the outskirts of Northampton, futuristically prefiguring the society of consumption. The building was redolent of absent sunshine, leisure and romance ; although it was not long before the rain seeped through the flat roofs and in fungoid green stains on the inside walls, and subsidence cracks veined the already maculated concrete with black, and the parents separated and returned to the familiar red brick terraces from which they had unsuccessfully tried to anticipate their future release.” (Jeremy Seabrook : The Everlasting Feast)

I think I remember reading, some time ago, that W.H. Auden had once described his ideal as being to live “a Mediterranean life in a Northern climate”. I cannot remember where I read this (it might have been in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of the poet), and have not been able to verify it. I may have misremembered, or even invented it, but that is beside the point : it is not Auden I am concerned with here, but Mediterranean lives and Northern climates.

The phrase stuck in my mind because, at that time, (about thirty years ago), I sympathised with the sentiment, although I had never been anywhere near the Mediterranean, and my idea of what life was like there was exceptionally vague. I supposed, though, that it involved making a leisurely daily round from café to café, good food and drink in civilised quantities, with plenty of time for contemplation of beauty, both natural and man-made, and convivial conversation. (This is, I imagine, very unlike the daily life of – say – the average Greek fisherman, but – again – that is not the point : we are discussing day dreams and ideals here, not realities.)

I doubt that Auden and I are alone among the English in nurturing this fantasy, which finds one expression in certain types and features of English buildings. There is the patio, which (as I have pointed out before), was intended, in its Andalusian home, to offer protection from the sun, but, in England, itself requires protection from the cold by heaters. Expanding the scope of the fantasy a little, there is the verandah (purloined from Hindi), and the pavilion. There is the balcony and the window-grill. In Spain, these serve the practical purpose of allowing a ground floor window to be left open safely during a siesta, and, as a happy side-effect, facilitate picturesque flirtations :

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In England, where, I have noticed, newly built flats often sport vestigial balconies and waist-high grilles, they seem more designed to prevent children, sleep-walkers, and drunks toppling out of upper-floor windows.

Then there are white buildings, of any description. In hot climates the whiteness is, presumably, intended to reflect the sun’s rays and cool the interior. In a northern climate, they suggest, to me, a longing to be elsewhere, an aspiration to distance themselves from their homely, russet-coloured, indelibly local neighbours.

For a while (I think after an earlier visit to Southern Spain) I developed a fascination with these buildings and photographed them whenever I came across one : pavilions, stuccoed villas (“do you know that the stucco is peeling?”), a Sikh gurdwara, a working men’s club.

The last of these, a moderne house in Paradise Lane, Kettering, (which used to belong to my Uncle Ray), would be in its natural habitat in the South of France, an introduced species with a reasonable chance of survival on an English sea-front, but splendidly incongruous and redolent of hankering after “absent sunshine, leisure and romance” in its actual setting on the fringes of Wicksteed Park.

A danger, I find, in visiting the Mediterranean is that it stirs into life pipe-dreams of giving up the struggle against the damp and dreich, the winter warmers and beer jackets, and leaving to pursue that Mediterranean life in a Mediterranean climate. The day-dream objection to this, (as opposed to the insurmountable real world objections), is that it would mean I would no longer be able to watch much cricket.

But then it has often occurred to me that a day at the cricket (the proper kind that begins in the late morning and ends at dusk), with its white pavilions, its leisurely strolls around the boundary, its retreats into the shade, its prolonged periods of contemplation and breaks for refreshment, even its occasional siestas, is the closest the English ever come to attaining Auden’s ideal. Perhaps all the business with bats and balls is merely a pretext, and, perhaps, I would not miss it, or not too much.

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An Occasional, Seasonal, Dream

Trigger warning : if you are one of those who believes that other people’s dreams are always and inherently boring, then look away now …
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Every year, at about the same time, I notice that the daffodils that grow perennially in the flowerbeds that border my patio have begun to poke their tips through the topsoil. In fact, I can be more precise. In 2014, I first noticed them on the 2nd of November, in 2015 on 11th November, and this year, on my return from a short holiday in Spain, on 27th November. And, every year, I think that they have come too early.

It may be that I am over-sensitive to the probability of “climate change” (although I am not sure whether this “small data” supports that) : I think, though, my reluctance to see these green shoots too early has more to do with not feeling ready, with the last leaves still clinging bravely to the trees, to think about the Spring quite yet. These shoots, I feel, should be nudging hopefully against an eiderdown of snow, not snuggled under a blanket of fallen leaves.

I felt much the same way when, while in Spain, I was visited prematurely by a recurrent dream that usually saves its first appearance for the darkest nights of Winter, the dream of the forgotten cricket ground.

The most commonly reported dreams involving sport, I’m told, fall into two categories. One includes those where the dreamer finds themselves called upon to play, (often at a higher level than they are used to), and finds that they can perform either much better than they can in real life, or only embarrassingly badly. I have occasionally had dreams of this kind, in which I find that I am incapable of bowling, (the aspect of the game I used to have some slight talent for), in more than slow motion, or, alternatively, that I have been magically transformed into a high-class batsman (which, in real life, was far from the case). But these “performance anxiety” dreams are commonplace enough, easily explicable, and do not concern us here.

The second kind are those dreams involving well-known sporting personalities. These are, apparently, common too, but I seem largely immune to them, in the same way that I don’t think that I have never dreamed about meeting the Queen (or any other member of the Royal Family)*. The only memorable exception was one in which I watched James Taylor compete in a game of wheelchair football, using one of those little carts that amputees seemed to use in continental Europe between the wars (you sometimes see them in films by Luis Bunuel, for instance). I remember feeling in something of a quandary, at the time, as to whether I should expose him as able-bodied. But, vivid as this dream was, it can be explained rationally, in that I had recently watched wheelchair football (or rugby) on the television, and Taylor “warming up” by playing (non-wheelchair) football in the outfield. My subconscious had simply reassembled those elements, and added a dash of continental spice.

My recurrent dream falls into neither of those categories. What is striking about it, apart from the regularity of its occurrence, (at least once a year, as I have said, usually in January or February), is that it is always exactly the same in every particular, so that I can now relive it (or re-dream it) perfectly without even being asleep.

It always begins, on a Saturday afternoon, in the rain (not heavy rain, but steady drizzle), and I am standing outside the British Heart Foundation shop in Market Harborough (I accept this will mean little to you if you are not familiar with Market Harborough, but bear with me). I am feeling at a loose end, perhaps because the football season has ended. I then remember that the cricket season has started and it suddenly hits me that there might be a game on at the forgotten ground (I call it that because, in my dream, I appear to have forgotten its existence). I feel some sense of relief, but more of self-reproach (as well I might, given how often I seem to have forgotten it).

I then set off for the ground. One of the few verifiable aspects of this ground is its physical location, which is here :

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– a slightly sunken area of Welland Park which, in reality, contains a rose garden (there is no cricket pitch, and, as far as I know, never has been).

I approach the ground by a long passageway that leads between two tall hedges, (at this point followers of the good Dr. Freud may be adjusting their pince-nezs thoughtfully), and arrive at a narrow turnstile. I now remember that I have forgotten to renew my membership (more self-reproach) and will have to pay to get in. In the corner of the ground nearest the turnstile is a portakabin, which acts as a club shop and office. I think of renewing my membership there, but realise I don’t have enough money on me.

I am now standing on a terrace. This terrace is, in a way that would be impossible to construct physically, simultaneously an old-fashioned terrace and a roofed “scratching shed” of the type that you still find at the smaller football grounds. It is, though, as steeply raked as the seating in a Roman amphitheatre (the obvious trigger for this dream is that I had, that day, visited such a one in Malaga).

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The pitch itself is oblong, like a football pitch, (although they are clearly playing cricket on it), only sunk into the ground like an empty swimming pool. On the far right hand side there is a pavilion of sorts : on the other sides there are grassy banks, ringed with tall hedges. It continues to rain, and the light is poor, but the game continues. Everything is very indistinct, and I can remember nothing of the match. And that is it.

The ground certainly has elements in common with various grounds that I have visited. The long passageway has something in common with Rothwell Corinthians FC, and, perhaps, Tunbridge Wells. The portakabin is very like ones I have seen at Stamford and Belper. I have spent many an afternoon in many a scratching shed. There are still banked terraces at Scarborough (wood) and the smaller of the two grounds at Wardown Park in Luton (stone).

The curious thing, though, is that the dream-ground predates my visits to most of these, resulting in a faint, untraceable sense of deja vu, a sense of having been there before, when I do visit.

This dream, especially its persistence, frustrates me by its sheer banality. It is, at least, useful, in that it reminds me that the season is on its way, and that I need to remember to renew my membership, but I receive quite enough letters and e-mails reminding me to do that already. I would prefer it, on the whole, if the subconscious mind, which seems to offer others (or so I read) access to vast archetypal images and lurid psycho-sexual dramatics, did not settle, so bathetically, in my case, for behaving like a pop-up reminder of a meeting on Microsoft Office.

Thank you for bearing with me. Perhaps the simple act of writing about the dream-ground will somehow exorcise it. If not, I should welcome any suggestions as to :

a) Which actually existing ground I might be dreaming about (preferably one that was demolished in about 1942 – a hint of the supernatural would, I feel, add a touch of distinction)

or

b) Any symbolic interpretation, the more fanciful the better, but preferably of an encouraging nature.

Anyone who prefers to suggest that my dream means that I spend far too much of my time watching sport of only moderate quality in the East Midlands needn’t bother. I knows it.

 * With the possible exception of Camilla Parker-Bowles (but it was very dark in that dream, and there was an awful lot going on).

The Lost Ball

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but, whenever a poet goes for a walk, they seem to come across some everyday object – a field of daffodils, say, or a newly homeless fieldmouse – that prompts them to profound ruminations on the human condition.  This morning I was walking around a local cricket field

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as I often do on a Sunday morning, when I noticed this cricket ball, nestled in some twigs a little beyond the railings that separate the ground from the railway line.

Ball at Great Bowden

Lost balls are, of course, a feature of any Summer at a ground which is bordered by a hedge; the initial thrill of the stroke that sent it there succeeded by the sinking feeling as it disappears from sight into the thorny depths; first the tentative peering, parting and poking of the fieldsmen, then the call for a stump, then a replacement ball as some club stalwart (mindful of how much the things cost) continues to rummage, vet-like, elbow deep in the hawthorns, plucking out Cokes cans, tennis balls, a sleeping hedgehog, anything but that damn’d elusive crimson rambler.

In Winter, when the foliage dies away, the hedge gives up its secrets and the lost balls, in various stages of decomposition, reveal themselves.  As this one was (in management-speak) such low hanging fruit I couldn’t resist tickling it out, weighing it in my palm and running a finger along its still proud seam.  One of last year’s balls, clearly, and if not match-worthy, then, after a little reconditioning, still useable for net bowling, and I couldn’t quite decide what to do with it.

Taking it home would be stealing, but the pavilion was shut and I don’t suppose it would have fitted through the letter box.  If I left it on the ground some child might have picked it up, enquired of a doting grand-parent what it was for and been treated to a few arthritic leg-breaks, thus sparking a life-long interest in the game.  On the other hand the child might have picked the ball up and hurled it at their tiny playmate’s head, the grandparent might have (McGrath-style) turned their ankle, or a foolish dog might have broken their teeth on it.

In the end I left it, half concealed, at the foot of a tree.

Ball at Great Bowden

Perhaps the groundsman will come across it as he makes a pre-season sweep of his domain, pocket it, and after a quick polish, reunite it with its fellows in the ball box.  Or perhaps some passing poet will espy it and find it has provoked some thoughts that lie too deep for tears.  I hope so, because I’ve tried quite hard and – do you know – I can’t think of a damn’d thing.  Sorry about that.

(Back to the Veldt with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers soon, by the way.  I don’t intend to leave them stranded there.)

 

 

 

Transitory Things in Lamport

 

Lamport trees

Lamport is a small village on the road between Market Harborough and Northampton, which I have often passed through, but never made time to visit until last week, prompted mainly by reading “A Child Alone : the Memoirs of ‘BB’“.  ‘BB’ was the pen-name of D.J. Watkins-Pitchford, a naturalist, artist and author whose books I enjoyed as a child and have sometimes alluded to in writing this blog.

Watkins-Pitchford grew up in the Rectory at Lamport (now, inevitably ‘The Old Rectory’)*

Lamport Rectory

Lamport Rectory

which is next door to the church of which his father was the Rector.

All Saints, Lamport

All Saints, Lamport

and directly opposite Lamport Hall, the family seat (until recently) of the Isham family.

Lamport Hall

Lamport Hall

 

Lamport Hall

As young D.J. was an imaginative child and kept at home rather than sent to school, he would have had plenty of time to contemplate the motto of the Isham family, which is inscribed at least twice on the exterior of the Hall, and must have been visible from the windows of the Rectory.  That motto is

“In Transitory Things Resteth No Glory”.

As anyone who has read them will know, “BB” prefaced all his books with the following, which he claimed his father had copied from “a tombstone in a north-country churchyard” (I also borrowed it for a previous incarnation of this blog):

The wonder of the world

The beauty and the power

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades,

These I saw,

Look ye also while life lasts.

It occurred to me that this might have been intended as a riposte, or perhaps a complement, to the Ishams’ motto?

Anyway, here are a few glorious, transitory things in and around Lamport.

Farm at Lamport

A Bright Stream

A Bright Stream

 

And what does any of this have to do with cricket?  Only that if you cannot see the glory in transitory things, you won’t find much of it in cricket.

*This picture illustrates a feature of the house that figures vividly in ‘BB”s account of childhood;

“The other ‘familiar’ of this period, shared between my twin and myself, was a most uncanny and rather dreadful entity called ‘The Peak on the Balcony’.

I must explain that all around the top of the house there was a lead-lined balcony … this balcony was just outside our nursery at the top of the house.  It was possible to open the window and get out on it when the grown-ups were not around.  From it, one had a stupendous aerial view of the beautiful valley, falling away towards the north-west, with its trees and fishponds.  When we stood upright, the parapet came no higher than our waists.

Round this balcony, usually in winter dusks, the Peak on the Balcony patrolled.  It was intense black in colour, a pointed pyramid which glided past the windows – all a figment of our imaginations.  As I lay in bed on winter nights, I could visualise the Peak – hideously black – softly, soundlessly, gliding all round the house, peering in at the windows; a horrible apparition, much to be feared, quite different from Miss Skulls with whom one could converse without any qualms.”

A Hawk in the Rain : Larwood at Kirkby-in-Ashfield

Street cricket is a thing you don’t much see these days, but if you were to approach the centre of Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, taking the route you would be likely to take, and had, perhaps, taken a glass or two at lunchtime or your glasses were obscured by rain, you might, in a passageway between a boarded-up* library and a branch of Morrisons, fancy you had come across a rare example.

Larwood v Bradman

If you were to come nearer and wipe the rain from your glasses, you would see that you had stumbled across a tableau and, if you were to read the plaque nearest the figure of the bowler, you would realise that it was meant to represent Harold Larwood, whose home village of Nuncargate forms part of Kirby-in-Ashfield.

I think this is a fine statue, though I’m not sure it’s Larwood, or, rather, which Larwood it might be. It is not the chthonic Larwood of the imagination, bred in darkness, brutish and mercurial, or the Larwood of biography, the shy young Methodist or the kindly Victory Road sweetshop-owner; nor is it the kinetic Larwood of the newsreels, knuckles dusted red from brushing the earth at the beginning of his delivery arc, toecap frayed from ripping through the crease, knees buckling under the downward force of his own upper body-strength.

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The sculptor has captured, if anything, not  Larwood but a Platonic  ideal of the fast bowler, a frozen embodiment of pent-up energy, an Agincourt bowman on the verge of release, a hawk at the height of his stoop.

Approaching from the other direction, you would first come across a figure who is unmistakably, without the aid of his plaque, Donald Bradman, prematurely playing forward with a smug expression on his face, rather than, cunningly or otherwise, backing off in the direction of square-leg, as was his wont when confronted with Larwood.

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The Don is also confronted here, at sillyish mid-off, by this figure, rain dripping from the end of his nose and looking like a rugby full-back preparing to stop a speeding winger in his tracks.

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In his case, I don’t think I would have identified the sturdy, but diminutive figure as the 6’4″ Bill Voce (also a local) without the aid of this forthright quotation:

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Now the Larwood statue is, as I have said, very fine and Bradman and Voce seem to fit together well, but moving from one end to the other and considering the piece as a whole there is something odd about it.  For one thing, the Bradman statue is slightly less than life-size and Voce, as I have said, considerably less so, whereas Larwood (a short man in real life) is at least seven feet tall.  For another, Larwood is clearly, whichever no-ball rule you apply, about to delivery one which would nowadays arouse the suspicion of the authorities:

Larwood no-ball

An uninstructed viewer might well come away with the impression that the cause of the unpleasantness on the Bodlyine tour was that the Don was in the habit of blindly playing  forward to massive no-balls delivered from about 18 yards by a giant, which would indeed have led, inevitably, to injuries and ill-feeling.

A little sleuthing suggests a reason for the oddity of the composition : the statue of Larwood (intended to be more than life-sized) originally stood on its own in another location and was mounted on a plinth.  Only recently was it moved to its current site, where the other figures were added to create the current street cricket scenario.

(This is carping, by the way.  I was in Kirkby-in-Ashfield specifically to see the statue of Larwood and thought it well worth the visit.  I also liked the town and the surrounding countryside and have added it to Duffield and Buxton on my mental list of places I’d like to watch some cricket in the near future, if I’m spared.)

*Only temporarily so, I think.

Another Picture Quiz

 

At this time of year this blog traditionally degenerates into a series of fatuous picture quizzes, and this year is no different.  So, here is a quotation from one-time Leicestershire batsman and serial autobiographer Harold “Dickie” Bird:

“We planned to recommence the county game on the Monday morning. But when I woke up in my hotel room … and threw back the curtains I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

Most scholars now agree that this was the hotel Bird was staying in

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and that this was the view from his window (admittedly at night)

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To win the usual prize of a year’s free subscription to ‘the New Crimson Rambler’ simply answer the following questions:

a) In which town did these events take place?

b) What did “Dickie” see to put him off his cricket for the day?

 

A Winter Wonderland

I hope you’ll forgive me for being an Unseasonal Beast (particularly on such a beautiful Bank Holiday weekend), but I wonder whether you’ve thought about what you’re doing for Christmas this year?  If not, you might like to consider …

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“Leicestershire County Cricket Club would love to sprinkle magic on Christmas by hosting your party at Grace Road in 2015.  Whether you have a large office staff or just want to spend this special time of year with a few friends and family, we offer the personal touch to cater for your requirements.  We are transforming Grace Road into a winter wonderland and our special festive menus offer something for everybody.”

And, indeed, it does (including a vegetarian option of “Mushroom, Brie, Hazelnut and Cranberry Wellington” and half a bottle of white or red house wine) at a very reasonable price of £35.00 per person, £31.00 pp for emergency services, schools and colleges, cricket clubs and £28.00 pp for LCCC members.  There are four sittings on 5th, 12th, 18th and 19th December.

The Friends of Grace Road are also selling their traditional Christmas cards (£5.00 for 10), depicting the usual fox roaming the snow-covered outfield at an apparently deserted Grace Road.  This is how I like to imagine the scene in the close season – the gates locked, with a last wistful look back, by the old groundsman at the end of September to leave the ground pretty much the haunt of coot and hern (and fox) until they are flung open joyfully again with the first coming of the daffodils.

But this (to my mind) romantic conception is, I hope, far from the truth (and, if it’s not, then we’re in trouble).  The players, for one thing (in spite of their constant complaints about being over-worked) are now employed on twelve month contracts and spend the Winter months “training” (i.e. honing their physiques in the gym and exchanging insults on Twitter).  The administrative staff (a small band these days) presumably keep the offices manned and the coaching staff, perhaps, “coach” the players.

Beyond that, the absence of any distracting cricket in the close season offers the club the ideal opportunity to “maximise non-cricketing revenue” by hiring out its various premises.  The Meet has its detractors, but it offers a pleasant enough space with a fine view out over the foxes frolicking in the snow (suitable for conventions, trade fairs, exhibitions and meetings); the Charles Palmer Suite is, as the leaflet implies, the ideal venue for weddings, bar mitzvahs, Diwali shindigs and Christmas parties (particularly with the ever-cosy and well-stocked Fox Bar close at hand).

I suppose they could even turf the players out of the gym to do something useful (like go down a pit, if they can find one) and offer membership of the facilities to the general public at a premium rate. That might help pay for a strengthened middle order next season, as opposed to some abnormally strengthened stomach muscles among the existing staff.

But there is another aspect to this.  The club is, above all, a club, a voluntary association and its members’ relationship to it is one, precisely, of membership; we are not mere customers, consumers of a commodity.  For many (the much-despised County regulars) watching the cricket provides company, distraction and a sense of belonging in the Summer months and it would be good if that thread of fellowship could be maintained in the Winter.  I believe the Leicestershire Cricket Society holds its meetings at the ground in the close season, for instance, (though I’ve never managed to attend) and it would be cheering to picture one of those delicious Christmas dinners being attended largely, if not exclusively, by the Members and other supporters of the Club.

Further details of Christmas at Grace Road and other tempting deals are available at http://www.leicestershireccc.co.uk/Grace-Road-Events.html

and don’t forget, folks, Grace Road Christmas parties are …

Foxiest Parties