Sun, sea and socks

A month or so ago, I wandered through to the back of the flat. There was an odd noise coming from outside. I didn’t recognise it.

Two days later (my membership of Neighbourhood Watch has been rescinded) the noise was still happening. I peered out the window, and realised that one of my neighbours was running a sprinkler in their back garden. A sprinkler, I say. Attached to a hosepipe. Watering the garden. For days. I have only read about such things.

This is a Scottish summer of unprecedented heat, certainly the best summer since I was in short trousers. And I’m back in them again. I have been wearing shorts for weeks, which has turned my legs from a shade of translucent blue into a dull pink. I have been to the beach multiple times, and even paddled in the sea. The grass in Holyrood Park is brown. I have, on several occasions, left home without an emergency jacket and pair of trousers in the car boot. And I have completed several loads of washing without washing a single sock. Well, almost.

Although several of my acquaintances consider cricket to be a game which requires one only to stand around in a field, wearing white, the unpopular truth is that one does have to break into a gentle trot now and again. And breaking into a trot while wearing flip flops is positively dangerous. Ergo, cricket socks have been worn and washed.

Only last Saturday I was standing around in a field wearing white, and wearing socks, and looked over to see the opposition players huddled underneath a couple of umbrellas on the boundary. This is not an entirely unprecedented sight in Scottish cricket, except that it wasn’t raining. And the players under the umbrellas were, to a man, of Asian extraction, sheltering from the fierce Scottish sun.

A few days back, I walked up a brownish hillside in Holyrood Park, and found a clearing to sit down in. There were discarded bottles in the nearby bushes. Water bottles, not alcopops. Even da yoof are concerned about dehydration it seems.

Meanwhile, all the way from Russia, the World Cup has been captivating most people, especially south of the border. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs coming home‚ÄĚ has been the hashtag of choice.¬†

Again. 

I feel confused. What is coming home, exactly? I thought football came home in 96. Did it go away again? Is it coming back? 

Except that the tournament has been in Russia. Do they mean the World Cup’s coming home? In which case, England isn’t its home. It was made in Italy (I checked) and Germany would surely have the best claim on it being at home there.

All very confusing.

The Glamour Girls and myself watched the England semi-final at IndigoYard last night. England took an early lead from a free-kick. There was a somewhat muted response… a couple of shouts, suppressed quickly, the shouters suddenly conscious of their Englishness in a Scottish bar. But they needn’t have worried. Most of the place didn’t seem all that interested in the game, and there were no celebrations when Croatia equalised. Not even from me, although that may have been because a large man in a blue sweater walked in front of the screen at the moment in question.

Croatia went on to get stronger and stronger, and eventually scored the winner in extra time. I was saddened, although not distraught. England exiting a major tournament always brings a certain amount of relief. Although if they won something again at least it would mean we presumably wouldn’t hear quite so much about 1966. Maybe.

Now I guess football isn’t going to get a chance to come home for a while… Croatia and France aren’t such bad places to hang out for a few years mind…

Have yourself a merry little Christmas….

“Let your heart be light… Next year all your troubles will be out of s-i-i-ight…”

Every frickin year Jane McDonald promises me that all my troubles will be out of sight. Next year. Every year.

Clearly Jane McDonald has not invested any time and money in watching England play cricket, or she wouldn’t be making such rash predictions.

A shade under one month ago I sat down in front of my laptop, all excited that I had managed to secure a way of watching the Ashes online from Australia. My happiness was only enhanced by the time difference, which meant that the day’s play in Oz didn’t start at midnight (as it does in the UK), but at 6pm. Perfect tea-time viewing.

My American room-mates observed my nightly rituals with mild amusement, and gradually absorbed that each day’s play was not a match in itself, but a continuation of a single match stretching over five days.

And aside from the occasional question along the lines of “Wait, what now? They’re taking lunch?” we all got along just fine, until I lost the appetite for watching (usually around Day 3), and by extension the desire to explain what was going on.

“This isn’t going so well, is it?” would be met by a defiant explanation of how, if England’s batters were to perform to an acceptable international standard, England could still be in the game here.. and then within a few hours the same question would be met with a shake of my head, and a resigned grimace.

Within a couple of weeks my joy at being able to watch the Ashes had been severely dampened by actually watching said Ashes.

Well done Mitchell Johnson. I didn’t think you had it in you to perform consistently for more than one match in every five. Apparently you now do. If you had discovered the secret to bowling that well earlier, I suspect the results in the 2009, 2010/11 and 2013 series would have been different.

Anyway, on to cheerier subjects. Like my car, which has been in for repair three times since I bought it in September, and quite separately from those issues, fails to start some mornings. All these failings I could live with, if the horn didn’t sound like a toy bugle, thus rendering me utterly incapable of expressing my displeasure of others’ driving habits in any meaningful way.

Last week, we had a significant snowfall in Nashville. It fell late on Monday night/early Tuesday morning. Probably a whole inch. Immediately the schools closed. The program at Grace Center that I help out with cancelled the morning’s activities. What else was I to do but head to the Jam? The Jam is my favourite coffee shop in Nashville. It’s run by a lady and her three daughters who moved here from California a few years ago. They serve great coffee, and what’s more they’re so close to my house that I can actually walk there when I come over all European, or (more commonly) when my car doesn’t start. Walking there provokes great astonishment in the Jam Girls, roughly equivalent to the dismay they experience when the sun momentarily disappears behind a cloud, or the temperature drops below 75F.

The place has become a regular hangout for me and several friends. Much along the lines of the Central Perk in Friends, I am informed by younger friends who are more in touch with popular culture. They started making a flat white for me at my request, and have even added it to their menu. Apart from that they regularly heap abuse on me for spending so much time in there.

So, imagine my disappointment when around 8.30am I pulled into the parking lot to find the Jam closed. Clearly Momma Jam and the Jam girls were so dismayed by the snow and the cold that they had not ventured beyond their comforters that morning. Sometimes I don’t wish they all could be California Girls… ūüėČ

Curry, cricket and Charleston

 

Found myself at an Indian restaurant the other night. Nothing unusual in that, except that Indian restaurants aren’t that common in Nashville. And this was a vegetarian curry house, which I’m reasonably confident I haven’t had the dubious pleasure of experiencing before.

It turns out Mushroom Masala is very similar to Chicken Tikka Masala, but without the chicken, and with more mushrooms. Who knew? It was extremely tasty. And since poppadums, mango chutney and peshwari naans have no meat content, not too much of my regular Indian restaurant experience was disturbed.

A bunch of us from the school were meeting to mark 3 weeks since we graduated. Three weeks is not especially significant, I think we were all just missing each other.

As the meal was winding down, I asked the waiter if he liked cricket. I always do this in Indian restaurants over here. The last time the guy was Nepali and liked football. Very disappointing. This guy was more rewarding. We dived straight into a conversation on corruption in the IPL and spot-fixing in general. I felt like I was getting reacquainted with proper sports chat, after many months of double plays, RBIs, and rosters. It’s going to be wonderful to again watch a game that’s allowed to finish with the scores level.

And then, just as my internal sporting equilibrium was returning, news filtered through that the Holy Cross 2nd XI had won a game. What gives?

Since school got out I have done a bit of travelling around.. toured the Jack Daniels distillery, which I discovered is located in a dry county. Alanis, that’s ironic. Spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina and then a weekend in Memphis. Charleston was beautiful, unusually walkable-around for a US city, and very relaxing. Memphis was sketchy, run-down, full of deserted buildings, and jammed with music history and history in general. Loved them both. Tomorrow morning Ryan, Katie and I hit the road south again, for New Orleans this time. Katie is nervous about spending yet more extended periods of time in the car with Ryan and I, on account of us both being extremely talkative. We have both promised to tone it down and try hard to maintain periods of silence now and then.

New Orleans is one of the few places in the world I have specifically wanted to visit for a long time. For the cajun, and the music. Not going to lie, am kind of hoping to see a funeral while I’m there. Not an easy thing to arrange, but you never know…

Unexpected sporting connections

 

I’ve found a sport that the Brits and the Americans both love. Skiing. And we even have the same name for it. Naturally there are some differences in nomenclature. Here, as I understand it, my pants are held up by suspenders.

We’re two days into a 3-day ski trip to West Virginia, and tired muscles are recovering in our overheated condo. This is my first experience of skiing in N America and not Europe, and the Showshoe resort seems great. Speaking to a stranger does not require a preliminary assessment of what their first language might be, and resort staff (and slope users in general!) are considerably more courteous than those in France. It sits at a lower altitude than any resort I’ve been to in the Alps, but there have been shedloads of snow, and all the runs are covered right down to the bottom. Also, despite the lower altitude, it has somehow has been much colder than anything I’ve experienced in the Alps. Two days before we arrived the temperature here was minus 4. Fahrenheit. Today was a comparatively Amazonian 10F. It would appear that this is cold enough to cause beer bottles, left out to chill on the balcony, to explode. This has never happened before to me on previous ski trips. Although that was usually Kronenberg 1664 and this was Corona. Perhaps French beer is more suited to low temperatures than Mexican beer. Hmmm, makes sense.

Anyhow, the result of 5 exploded bottles of Corona (Corona Light, in fact – never shop for beer in a hurry) was a considerable amount of yellow snow. Possibly the only time yellow snow has been worth eating.

I’ve been back in the US for exactly 3 weeks now. My journey and re-entry to the States was pleasantly hassle-free.¬†On the NYC-Nashville leg of my journey I found myself sitting across from a dude with a guitar. This is not an unusual occurrence on a flight to Nashville. He struck up a conversation with me, thus:

“Excuse me sir, are those in-ear-monitors?”

“Yes they are, absolutely.”

“Did you get them in Nashville? I need to get a pair.”

“Oh no, sorry, I actually got them in Edinburgh, Scotland!”

“Oh, wow, ok, that’s a long way.”

“Yes.”

(Then after a moment)

“I played rugby in Edinburgh once. When I was 12.”

But of course you did.

“I was at school in England, and we were on tour. It was very cold.”

Yes, that’s the one.

On another trip to the States, a few years back, I was taking a cab with my colleague from the airport into downtown Washington, DC. The cab driver was an enormous black dude. The conversation turned to where we had flown in from.

“Edinburgh, Scotland.”

“Oh.” (Then, after a moment)

“I played cricket in Edinburgh once. In a tournament.”

But of course you did.

“It was pretty cold.”

Yes, yes, that’s the one..¬†

Public Transport and T.B.

Still a decent amount of snow in Edinburgh’s suburbs, with a corresponding lack of car parking available in Balerno, where I go to church, and so I took the bus out this morning. Felt quite virtuous, and texted Wiseman accordingly. In due course, after he’d woken up, he replied and we agreed to meet for lunch in town.¬†
“No idea when I’ll be there, like, what with this transport for the common people”
“Any bus journey you make without contracting T.B. is a total success in my book” he replied.
Inveterate snobs, both of us, although he at least speaks from experience (of buses, that is), being a frequent user of public transport, with a couple of Driving Lesson vouchers still lying unused on his increasingly crowded Unwanted-Christmas-Presents-From-Andrew-Shelf. I’m not remotely bitter about this.

Anyhow, the contraction of T.B. will remain unconfirmed until the next visit to my GP, likely date sometime in 2013, when I’ve amassed a number of complaints, none of which, on their own, would justify troubling him with, but put together, I feel, generate a composite condition worthy of investigation. I usually consider three complaints to be the minimum number for a GP visit, but suspect that T.B. might be worth at least two minor complaints, possibly more.

Passed NJ’s flat the other day on my icy walk/slide home from work. Her immediate neighbour appears to be outdoing her on the ostentatious Christmas decorations front, and I pointed this out. Perhaps she could stand in the window with Christmas tree lights wrapped around her and perform the Sprinkler of an evening. I think it would brighten up the journeys of many a passerby.

Last night I met up with a number of Holy Cross teammates for a drink in the St Vincent. Our most recently-acquired resident Aussie, Pat, had been drinking since 3pm, possibly in an attempt to numb the pain of being 1-0 down to the Poms in the Ashes.¬† I’m not sure it helped.¬† He repeatedly stated that on paper, the Aussie team is better than England’s.¬† Cue raised eyebrows all round, and several discussions on mental strength vs talent, and how much easier it is to be mentally strong when playing in an outrageously talented team.¬† Highlight of the evening may well have been an arm-wrestling bout between Smudger and Shifty (see above), the prize being the captaincy of the first XI in 2012.¬† Not entirely sure whether the winner or loser got the prize…

Bus journeys appear to provide good blogging time, must take them more often. Disease contraction-permitting, of course.¬† I think I feel a cough coming on…

Surreal

It’s been a surreal week. ¬†The snow in Edinburgh has been deeper than anyone can remember. ¬†The Forth Road Bridge was closed, and avalanche warnings were issued for the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat, of all places. ¬†It feels like the only difference between Edinburgh and an Alpine ski resort right now is the lack of big mountains nearby. ¬†And perhaps the fact that ski resorts don’t always have this much snow.

Even more surreal has been England’s dominance in the Ashes down under. ¬†Bob Willis, possibly the grumpiest man in cricket, tonight described England’s performance in the Second Test as “absolutely first-rate”.

I don’t know whether it was the bat-dominated last two days of the First Test, and the promise of more to follow at Adelaide, but I didn’t bother to stay up to watch any of the first day’s play live. ¬†And so it was only natural that it would be “the most exciting start to an Ashes Test in history (D Gower)” with three wickets falling in the first three overs.

Perhaps my lack of Ashes-watching stamina was just down to the Tests being back-to-back, and not having recovered fully from the late nights watching the First Test. ¬†This staying up into the early hours lark is proving tricky. ¬†The BBC very helpfully posted an¬†article on how to stay up through the night, including such advisory gems as “One way to stay awake is to drink coffee intermittently.” ¬†Thanks for that one, Auntie. ¬†And for the important safety message. “Anybody going without sleep and then trying to go to work should not do anything like driving or other tasks where an accident could be dangerous.” ¬†Presumably falling asleep in front of a client won’t lose me my job, then. ¬†Excellent news.

So accustomed to touring England teams being in disarray, it’s frankly confusing to witness Australia in trouble during a home series. ¬†It appears to be a commonly-held view that this Ashes series is pitting two mediocre teams against each other, lest we should get carried away. ¬†I’m not about to get carried away, but I think England are better than that. ¬†Anderson has always been rated as a high-class bowler, but has been dogged by the damning caveat “when he fires”, or “when the ball swings”. ¬†He now bowls brilliantly, regularly, on all manner of pitches. ¬†Strauss is a class player at the top of the order, although he’s done his best to hide this in two out of his three innings so far. ¬†Trott is a solid number 3, KP now has runs under his belt (and a wicket!) and the strut has accordingly returned, and Bell, critically, now no longer needs to put on a show of confident body language, as the confidence is already there from some high-quality knocks in pressure situations. ¬†Swann is world-class and can bat, Broad is ever-improving, although now sadly lost to this series through injury, and Finn is the real deal. ¬†What cannot be coincidental to all of this individual success is that the core of the team has been together for a decent time, they are clearly well-managed, and they play as a unit.

Australia, by contrast, have some very good players, but are desperately short of confidence, unity and direction. ¬†And no wonder, with their trigger-happy selectors. ¬†I couldn’t help but feel sorry for players like Marcus North – trudging off after another low score knowing that their international career might well be over. ¬†Granted, North has had his chance, but Xavier Doherty? ¬†It’s been hard not to feel sympathy for him, preferred as Australia’s spinner to Hauritz by the selectors, apparently only to buy Pietersen’s wicket. ¬†Which he did in the Second Test, but not until KP had racked up a double-ton. ¬†Doherty will now surely be dropped for Perth. ¬†He has experienced the kind of morale-shattering selectorial caprice that so undermined England in the nineties.

England now go to Perth knowing they can effectively wrap up the series with a win there.  Just like Australia did in 2006

Just like Christmas Eve

It was the 24th, it was freezing, there was a palpable sense of excitement building as midnight approached… it must be the Ashes.

Four years ago I sat on Robbo’s sofa, full of apprehension, waiting, as it turned out, for Sky to duff up their coverage of the most anticipated toss in recent history (they missed it completely), and then watching Harmy bowl the most anticipated first ball in recent history (he missed the cut strip completely). ¬†Poor old Harmy. ¬†There he was last Sunday, sat uncomfortably in the Sky studio, appearing on a guest panel for the Ashes preview, not, presumably, for his insightful comments, and what did they do but show THAT delivery. ¬†Eight times in all. ¬†Poor old Harmy – briefly the best bowler in the world; bounced out the West Indies in their own backyard; but now immortalised in the phrase “doing a Harmy”, which means bowling the ball direct to second slip.

With the First Test beginning in the early hours of Thursday morning, Wednesday evening’s preparations were crucial. ¬†A visit to my newly refurbished local gym was probably not ideal in terms of energy retention, but a ski holiday is looming just beyond the Fifth Test, and some fitness must be regained before then. The sign on the gym wall made me smile – “Please restrict yourself to 15 minutes on the CV machines at peak times”. Frankly, an unnecessary instruction for the likes of me, who would fall off any machine after more than 15 minutes of use.

A quick pizza to restore some of the calories carelessly burned off in the gym, and then a visit to my friend Slid, where we blew up his coffee machine in a quite entertaining fashion, but nevertheless managed to generate some liquid caffeine to aid the Ashes-watching effort.

Back home, settled down with some biscuits and a (glass) bottle of Coke, the hype finally ended, the cricket began.  And three balls later the familiar watching-England-in-Australia pose was adopted Рslumped forward, head in hands, disbelieving.  England captain Strauss cut straight to Hussey in the gully, England 0/1.

Woke up early, out of necessity, to catch a flight to London. England four down but Bell and Cook sounding in control.  Mum was driving me to the airport, so headed the few hundred yards down the road to her house.  By the time I had sat down in her car, England were seven wickets down, and Siddle had an Ashes hat-trick (Australian Daily Telegraph headline: Pom Disposal Expert).  Cue a certain, familiar despondent feeling.

Still, all not lost just yet. Bookended the flight with an espresso in each airport, keeping me awake through a course on social networking, and now in London, staying with the family. ¬†Sebastian, not yet two years old, was left under my care for part of the morning today. ¬†A touch of recklessness on my sister’s part, I thought, but we got on rather well, and never more so than when catching up on the second day’s play at the Gabba. ¬†Sebastian, unaware of his obligations to support the Poms, sportingly applauded all the boundaries and wickets with equal vigour. ¬†In a post-highlights-watching discussion, he agreed with me that Graeme Swann was guilty of dropping it a little short at times, and noted that Michael Hussey was particularly adept at rocking on to the back foot and pulling through midwicket. ¬†I explained that his Uncle Andrew is very like Hussey in many ways, perhaps especially in the art of smearing suncream on one’s face.

In other news, Nasty Jen can now add The Sprinkler to Reversing the Bus, Lightbulbs and Shopping Trolley on her list of classic dance moves. ¬†Check it out on Graeme Swann’s Ashes video diary at the ECB website here. ¬†Starts about 7 mins 30 seconds in – although the whole thing very entertaining and worth a watch in my objective not-remotely-cricket-obsessed opinion.

Must have a nap – third day’s play starts in 8 hours. ¬†First session crucial, England must make inroads with the new ball, Sebastian reckons. ¬†I reckon he’s right.

September on the wane

There’s a nip in the air now, even in the South of England it would seem, as even there the cricket season has drawn to close. ¬†Nasty Jen and F… have looked a little wistful of late, and are wondering how they are going to get through the winter evenings without the gentle cadences of Aggers’ voice describing the floodlit scene at The Rose Bowl, or Lord’s, as England complete another successful run chase.

Now there’s a thing. ¬†England successfully completing a run chase in an ODI. Again. ¬†Two or three years ago, who’d have thought we could say that.

But NJ and F… need not fear. ¬†One of the joys of being a cricket supporter is that the season never really ends, it just has a short break. ¬†And then Test Match Special returns, only at different times of the day, sometimes in the middle of the night. ¬†The forthcoming Ashes series will return me to a series of familiar experiences… waking up to the radio… shaking off the early morning torpor… feverishly wishing CMJ would hurry up and give a score update… realising that Ponting is at the crease… clocking that Australia are 290-1… groaning, slumping under the duvet, welcoming the torpor back with open arms…

It’s not all good news though. ¬†Frijj chocolate milkshakes, so good they should really be illegal, are no longer 2-for-1 at Tesco. ¬†Bah.

Life’s Rich Tapestry

It’s a Saturday in September, and the cricket season is over. ¬†Saturdays feel a little empty without cricket at this stage, and I didn’t fancy taking part in International Burn a Koran Day, so I headed down to Arboretum Road to help put the cricket square to bed for the winter. ¬†A football match was in full swing, however, and so the remedial work was postponed for an hour. ¬†I took the opportunity for a coffee down at Ocean Terminal. ¬†Stopping off at the news stand on the ground floor, I interrupted the proprietor, a middle-aged lady, having a chinwag with the cleaner.

“That’s me going to be a grandma again”, she says. ¬†“For the fourth time.”

“I’ve got five”, says he. ¬†“You’d better get a move on.”

Distinctly put out that she was lagging behind in the grandchildren count, she paused for a moment before declaring

“Had my first at 36.”

I too paused for a moment, to consider this. ¬†I am now 36, and haven’t managed to have a child yet, never mind a grandchild. ¬†I paid for my newspaper and moved on.

It’s remarkable what you overhear in conversations, without deliberately eavesdropping. ¬†Only a week ago, a bunch of us were in Princes Street Gardens, watching the Festival Fireworks close-up. ¬†Just to the left of our picnic blanket was a group of middle-aged people with, if it’s possible, an even more middle-class picnic selection than we had. ¬†I was quite impressed with our effort, comprising as it did olives, white wine, pat√© and a cheese board, but they were in a different league. ¬†Behind us, slightly further up the slope, were a couple of girls, getting gradually more and more hammered, and discussing recent visits to the hospital.

“Looks like it did during the Lang Siege in 1578,” declared a gentleman’s voice to our left, as some fireworks landed on the Castle Rock and continued to burn for a while.

“So, I wis thinkin’, right, is ma gall bladder f**ked?” came a voice from behind.

All part of the rich tapestry of life…

First Success for Coalition

Well, the England-South Africa Cricketing Coalition won a major international tournament on Sunday, ending “35 years of hurt” (the BBC news website there, perhaps slightly over-egging the sense of national disappointment at not having won an ICC tournament). ¬†I must say it’s been a bit of a shock, witnessing England play confident, aggressive limited-overs cricket. ¬†I don’t suppose the presence of Kieswetter, Pietersen et al can rightfully be considered part of a coalition since, unlike the Lib Dem activists in Birmingham this week, the exiles’ South African compatriots are, er, not overwhelmingly approving of their presence in the England side. ¬†Their actions are perhaps more analogous with the MPs who have defected from the Lib Dems to the Labour party, except of course that the cricketers have, it turns out, joined a winning team. ¬†At least in the shortest form of the game, at least for now…

However welcome or unwelcome they might be, and realistically England have always had a fair few ‘foreigners’ in their ranks, it’s hard not to credit them, and perhaps the Zimbabwean coach Andy Flower, with the change in attitude of the England team as a whole. ¬†South Africans (and Australians, for that matter) always seem to possess so much more of a winning mentality than Brits.

So the presence of Lumb, Kieswetter and Pietersen at the top of the batting order, and the attitude they bring to their game, quite apart from their heavy contribution in the runs department, must have had a massive effect on the confidence of the overall team.  That said, how much the bowling unit needed an injection of confidence is open to question, given that Broad, Swann and Sidebottom are not known for their diffidence.

Last weekend, in Yorkshire, I didn’t manage to get a bat as Maggie seemed unwilling to hand it over. ¬†What’s more, she despatched my third delivery through square leg for four. ¬†I decided it was time to go back to the swings.

Perhaps my weekend off contributed to some rustiness this weekend, but Holy Cross’ return to Falkland produced a dismal defeat, with my own brief stay at the crease consisting of a lot of flapping and scratching around, before being predictably trapped LBW and departing for an ignominious duck.

However, onwards and upwards. ¬†Wednesday night sees the mighty Bellevue team swing into action for the first time this summer. ¬†And the sun, apparently, is going to shine…