Camping and Clapton, pt II

Phoned the Oval on Wednesday, to see if they had any tours of the ground running in the next couple of days. The nice lady apologised, and explained they didn’t have tours on match days.
“Oh? There’s a game on?”
Even better. After a morning’s camping and travelling in planes, trains and automobiles (and boats, come to think of it), I took the tube from Bethnal Green to Bank, onto the Northern Line, and down to the Oval. Had lunch at the Oval Lounge, and then wandered round to the ground and took in most of the afternoon session. The sky remained clear and blue, save for some hazy cloud. The same stands that reverberated to the sounds of England’s Ashes triumph a month ago were mostly silent. The metal framework which would have supported the giant Sky Sports screen was still there, but was now framing only a section of the housing directly behind it. Gone were the noisy fans, the singing and the Barmy Army. In their place were a couple of hundred spectators at varying stages of cricket-watching experience, enjoying a meaningless end-of-season fixture between Surrey and Glamorgan. Gone too were the dramatic batting collapses of the series in general, replaced by steady and fluent batting from the Welsh openers, resulting in a score of 271/0 at stumps in reply to Surrey’s 430. I left just after tea, when Cosgrove, who, as the gentleman behind me in the stand had kindly pointed out, was “two stone overweight”, completed his century. Wickets seemed hard to come by for Surrey, now languishing near the bottom of the County Championship despite Mark Ramprakash’s twinkle-toed batting heroics.
Headed back into the City, somewhat bravely I felt, as rush hour was fast approaching, via a short visit to the Imperial War Museum shop to pick up a few bits and pieces. I had been there two days ago, and had been tempted by a poster of Winston Churchill brandishing a tommy gun, in his trademark pinstripe suit and bowler hat, fat cigar protruding from the lips-that-launched-a-thousand-soundbites. After having visited many of the exhibitions that day, I felt somewhat chastened and, well, a bit melancholy, and not inclined to spend money on what seemed like such a light-hearted comment on war. Two days on, I felt fine about it. Took the tube from Elephant & Castle to Bank, where I bottled out of fighting my way onto Central, and surfaced for some much-needed air. Walked along Threadneedle Street past the Bank of England and RBS, along Bishopsgate past the Gherkin, and cut through Spitalfields Market to Rough Trade, and on to Coffee@Brick Lane. After some caffeinated respite, I donned the manbag once again and caught the 242 back to Clapton. That’s Lower, rather than Eric…

Spare some change

This morning saw me breakfasting with the Guardian at Urban Angel just off Broughton Street. The note above the tips jar read “Fear change? Leave it here…”
The seasons are a-changin’. Summer is drifting away, and in its place autumn, a long-neglected friend, is edging ever closer, extending its misty tendrils in an alluring embrace. At least for me. Others, I know, dread the arrival of the darker evenings and the cold mornings, but there’s nowt queerer than folk.
Summer in Edinburgh has been a severe disappointment, or “not too bad”, depending on whom you speak to. Some spells of very warm weather were appreciated between the all-too-frequent deluges. It was a good summer for cricket, with rain and sodden pitches effecting fewer call-offs than last season. My church team won all their matches. Holy Cross 2nd XI, who carry me in their middle order of a Saturday, struggled throughout the season, clumsily wresting East League Division 5 survival from the grasp of our relegation rivals in the final game at Falkland. Falkland, it is worth noting at this point, is quite simply a magnificent place to play cricket. The ground, surrounded by trees, plummets down at one end to a large wooded area at the base of Falkland Hill, which rises majestically upwards, keeping an eye on the cricketing proceedings from above, like a more pastoral version of Table Mountain, perhaps, at the Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town. The downhill descent to long off/long on is so pronounced that should fielders of normal stature be posted there, they are periodically asked to raise their hands in the air to identify their position for the benefit of the batsman.
Naturally, not being good enough play in the same league as Falkand 1st or 2nd XI, we were playing on another pitch entirely, with a dodgy artificial strip laid in the middle of an upturned bowl of a field which seemingly hadn’t been cut for weeks. Nonetheless, the view from the middle was quite possibly even better than from the main square, with the same imposing hill, and the added aesthetic bonus of a large stately home in the woods, poking several of its turrets out between the trees. A butler, say, standing looking out of a turret window, would have a decent view of the cricket, although watching Division 5 cricket may not be at the top of the domestic staff’s list of things to do on a Saturday afternoon in the summer.
However, should they have taken this option this particular Saturday, they would have witnessed an astonishing Holy Cross recovery from the somewhat precarious position of 15/5, chasing 139 to win. My part in this fightback involved grinding out an unbeaten 52, at a pace more commonly associated with coastal erosion, as I eschewed any attempt to breach the short boundaries in favour of nurdled ones and the occasional two. Taking so long to achieve victory had its problems, most notably in the form of the midges, who arrived approximately 30 overs into our innings. Taking a particular liking to the Stately Home End, they hovered in a cloud around the batsman’s head, making it even more difficult than usual to concentrate on watching the ball out of the bowler’s hand. And there they remained, face-bitingly defiant of our feeble wafted attempts to shoo them away, until my more attack-minded teammate edged one over the slip cordon to win the game.
So, the 2nd XI campaign ended on a relative high, despite the entire team picking up the award for the Most Disappointing Season (previously considered an individual award) at our glittering awards night, and personally-speaking, some hope remains that this previously-rarely-seen dogged batting attitude will be evident for more of the season next time, which would make a welcome change.
Changes have been afoot at work too, with Dave, our patient and gentle-hearted receptionist/admin assistant moving on to pastures new as a Church of Scotland minister. He retires from our office a happy man, having finally succeeded just this week in his multi-year quest to extract a smile from the girl-from-the-flower-shop as she walked past his window. To my knowledge, the Studio One girls remain obstinately resistant to his charms. He has one more week to melt their cold hearts. Being on holiday for the next week myself, yesterday was my last day working with him, and we headed to the movies last night to mark the occasion. Dorian Gray, after a spot of online research, was rejected in favour of District 9. We bumped into two of Dave’s young female friends in the ticket queue, and I was momentarily concerned that Dave would want to accompany them to their chick flick, but mercifully he kept the faith. District 9 is a great movie, with a lot more to say than might be apparent from reading a brief plot synopsis. Afterwards we hooked up with Dave’s friends for a drink. They being members of that ultimately elusive club, the Younger Generation, there was the occasional blank stare from their side of the table when musical tastes crept into the conversation, and some furious concentration from our side, trying to pick out their words with hearing resources slightly depleted by the ageing process. I may need to prescribe some of my own medicine soon.
The contrast in musical tastes between generations was further highlighted this morning, as I wandered round Tesco making some last-minute purchases before my trip to London today. As an insistent beeping sound emanated from a machine in the bakery, I viewed, with some bewilderment, a young boy nodding his head and dancing along. I had a vision of DC, shaking his head gravely and muttering softly.
Being a Times man, he would have been disappointed at my choice of dinner date last night as well, although I find The Guardian very well-behaved company for dinner as well as breakfast, and I took yesterday’s edition out for a pizza last night before the cinema. As I do from time to time in that particular establishment, I bumped into JB, Holy Cross’ marquee batsman and frequent winner of the Most Entertaining Run-maker award. JB is a good enough player to have played on the main square at Falkland. He is also a non-Guardian man, to my knowledge, but I pounced on an entertaining article on bowling machines by Harry Pearson, which I think distracted him. We shared some news on work and unclehood, before he collected his pizza and left me to mine.
And with that, I shall conclude my first blog post since I last visited London in May. At several times over the last few months I have considered writing a note to you all, bewailing my manifold sins of omission (at least in terms of writing, I wasn’t about to lumber you with more intimate confessions), explaining that it wasn’t you, it was me, and then sadly pressing the Terminate Blog button, wherever that may be. However, for reasons not entirely clear (to me, and quite probably you) I have decided to continue, and attempt to champion the art of proper writing (or my muddled attempts at it) in the face of the apparently relentless rise of Twitter. Twitter, to my mind, has its place, that place being for snappy amusing observations, but is still an inferior cousin of the blog.
Moreover, I may even post it from the train, as the National Express wi-fi provision is considerably more robust than the last time I attempted to use it. Wi-fi. Just one of the reasons why the train is better than the plane…