Skiing and Communism

And just like that, it was February. 

Which means one thing, dear Reader, which is that we both survived January. Again. Punched it on the nose and landed it, looking slightly surprised, on its slightly frozen derrière. Much like a snowboarder, apart from the ‘looking surprised’ bit, as they seem to want to sit down on their frozen behind at every available opportunity.

And for myself, I survived January without my usual January Coping Mechanism which is to escape to the Alps for a week’s skiing. In fact, at the time of writing, I should be supping a hot chocolate in a mountain restaurant, preparing for the very final run of the week down to the village, or chalet, or bus stop. Or something.

But I’m not, I’m here on my sofa, looking out at leaden skies through bare windswept branches. However the skies are a brighter shade of lead than they would have been at this time on a January day. So let’s raise a glass to that.

Speaking of which, on Hogmanay morning, I got up early for a smart meter installation. It was snowing. I wandered along the promenade. There were people in the sea, swimming, and four guys were getting one of the beach volleyball courts ready, raking the frozen sand.

I picked up a newspaper, solely for the crossword, and headed back via Twelve Triangles, my local bakery and purveyor of not-underpriced sourdough loaves and excellent croissants. I’m glad they seem to be considered an essential shop.

I queued outside for about ten minutes. 

“Hi! How are you today?” asked the cheery girl when I finally arrived at the counter.

“I’m great!” I replied, “although queuing for bread, in the snow, makes me feel like I’m in Communist Russia.”

She said nothing to that. I fancy she may have been something of a Communist herself.

Am reading quite a lot of books these days that were set in the last days of the Weimar Republic in Germany, ie before the Nazis came to power. That, and a recent watching of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, have served to remind me that the Communist Party were a force in Western Europe, and even in Britain, not so very long ago.

It’s intriguing to me to think that it had such a toe-hold in the west in (relatively) recent times. Growing up, as I did, in the 80s and 90s, Communism was always a Russian/Eastern Bloc/Chinese thing. 

And has remained so, except when I confess to my sister that the newspaper I buy for crossword purposes is the Daily Telegraph, which sparks such a vigorous reaction that I wonder if Communism hasn’t in fact gained a toe-hold in my own family.

A few days ago, right at the beginning of my week of non-skiing, I made an emergency run to Sainsbury’s, on account of developing a sudden but quite definite hankering for a Croque Madame and an equally sudden realisation that I had no eggs with which to make this happen.

On recalling that I had picked up a croissant earlier from the aforementioned Essential Bakery, I did wonder if my subconscious might have been trying to make it up to me that I wasn’t actually in France.

Today I made my fourth lunch-time Croque Madame in five days. I think the subconscious has taken charge of things.

Here’s to being able to go skiing again. And to brighter days. Roll on Spring.

Turmeric and the General Election

Turmeric. It’s all the rage among the hipsters, you know. Lots of internet-proven* health benefits including anti-inflammatoriness, being a natural painkiller, and basically eliminating cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. Also, it provides a glow and lustre to the skin.

Having come down with a cold earlier in the week, I am now fighting fit again. I am confident that my daily intake of turmeric has helped me recover quickly. But it’s always hard to prove these things, and the turmeric may in fact have only made my hair more lustrous.

Meanwhile we’ve had a General Election here in the UK, with a seismic result. South of the border, England and Wales have returned the Conservatives to power with an overwhelming majority. Up here in Scotland, the SNP have further increased their domination.

Which has produced an even-more polarised Great Britain, with England and Wales almost entirely blue, and Scotland almost completely a turmeric shade of yellow. And the inevitable and obvious conclusion that the two countries are completely different, justifying the renewed call for another Scottish independence referendum.

I have three objections to this obvious conclusion.

Firstly, does a resounding win for the SNP on Thursday translate to reasonable justification for a second referendum?

The SNP are – very cleverly – both a party whose main reason for existing is to achieve Scottish independence, and a political party who have proved they can govern competently. I am confident that this second facet of the SNP has gained them more and more votes in both local and national elections in recent years. And so, despite their overwhelming support in Scotland of late, most recently on Thursday, it cannot be inferred that the same number of people are pro-independence.

Secondly, the fact that Scotland has, pretty much en bloc, voted differently to England and Wales, is not especially relevant. The SNP don’t field a whole lot of candidates in English constituencies, you will note, and so English voters don’t have the option of voting for them. Therefore it’s no real surprise that Scotland and England vote differently. If England had a nationalist party which was a credible political force, the map might look different.

Northern Ireland has been voting for Northern Irish parties for years, but it’s never been taken as a justification that the Province needs an independence referendum. Of course, none of those N Irish parties were campaigning for independence for N Ireland, in the manner of the SNP. But that brings us back to the first question – how many of the SNP’s recent votes were votes for independence? We don’t know.

Thirdly, this is a snapshot in time. In this late-2019-snapshot of the political mood of the nation, the Conservatives appear to be rampantly popular in England, and the SNP are equally popular in Scotland. Twas not always thus, and – one imagines – it won’t stay that way forever. Or even, perhaps, for all that long. Political parties have a knack for puncturing their own success, through various means including corruption, scandal, and general incompetence. Leaders change, and lose popularity. Moods change. People change. The electorate shifts.

I have lived in Edinburgh for 27 years. For most of this time, Edinburgh’s political landscape has been utterly dominated by Labour. Now, they hold only one seat. In fact, it’s their only seat in Scotland. This was a completely unimaginable scenario not so very long ago. But things change.

If the SNP, riding a wave of popularity that has been swelling for less than ten years, manage to inveigle the Scottish people to take a decision that will echo for centuries to come, I for one will be monstrously unhappy.

Brexit gets rolled out as another justification for Scotland to leave the UK. Scotland voted to Remain, goes the narrative, whereas the overall UK result was to Leave. That shows how different we are to England and Wales, it’s said. But the Brexit referendum was not based on regions, or constituencies, but on individuals. From the rhetoric, you might be tempted to think that 100% of Scottish voters opted to Remain. They didn’t. 62% did. The remaining 38%, when put together with the results from the rest of the UK, helped vote for the UK to leave the EU.

The majority of voters in Northern Ireland also voted to Remain. Again, no banging of the independence drum there. 

“Westminster doesn’t represent us” goes the cry. Here’s the thing. If Scotland was an independent country, Edinburgh wouldn’t represent the Highlands all that well either. There would be local biases, and parochial interests. Just on a smaller scale.

We’re a nation full of lots of very different people, with different views and priorities. We have a parliamentary system that affords representation to every area in the corridors of power at Westminster. It’s not perfect, it never will be, but let’s stay together Britain. Let’s stay together.

It’s part of being in a union. It’s like being in a family – you don’t always get your own way. Not getting your own way shouldn’t mean you leave.

I apologise for the political post! I promise to revert to whimsy before too long.

Curate’s Egg

It’s been quite a summer. As the curate of Punch’s 1895 cartoon said of the stale egg he had been served by the bishop, parts of it have been excellent.

During the last few weeks, there have been days which have been among the nicest I’ve ever known in Scotland. But when it hasn’t been excellent, the rain has been apocalyptic.

At the end of June I travelled down to London to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees. I was excited about this. It would be the first time Major League Baseball had played a proper game (ie not an exhibition game – one that mattered) in Europe. Two games were scheduled – on Saturday and Sunday.

I watched Saturday’s game on a giant screen in a sun-soaked beer garden in East London. The Yankees were in front most of the game, and despite an 8th inning rally from the Sox, New York prevailed.

Sunday, nephew Sebastian in tow, we made our way to the stadium – London Stadium, which had been converted to a baseball field for the occasion. The sun shone again. 

I disappeared to get a couple of Cokes for Sebastian and myself, and came back £9 lighter.

Our neighbours in Row 37 were Violet and Joe, and their son Eddie, all the way from Boston. Eddie had trained as a vet at Edinburgh University.

Sebastian, meanwhile, was hungry. I got him a burger, averting my eyes and handing over my debit card, wincing slightly.

We returned to the game. The Sox were winning. Sebastian was still hungry. He seemed to be treating London Stadium as a huge open-air restaurant with some baseball happening as in-meal entertainment. I fed him some of my chips.

The Yankees had a massive 7th inning, and from then on the Sox were always chasing the game.

Sebastian, meanwhile, was still hungry, so we got doughnuts. Six of them, just in case.

The Red Sox lost again, despite threatening with another 8th inning rally. The game over, I bid goodbye to my new Boston friends, and promised to say hi to Edinburgh for Eddie.

It’s been a curate’s egg of a summer for the Red Sox too. There have been flashes of last season’s excellence, but no consistency. Following the inaugural London Series their record against the Yankees reads won 1, lost 6.

It’s now late July. It’s another sodden Saturday in Edinburgh, and I’m back in the Hideout. Cricket has been rained off again (third Saturday in a row). Boris has just been made Prime Minister. The country is unsure of what lies ahead, as it always is, but probably more so now than ever.

Tuesday this week, it was swelteringly hot. SCORCHIO! As the red-tops used to scream on days like this. Perhaps they still do.

I spent the morning paddling in the shallows at the beach, before meeting a friend in town. We lunched in the sunshine on Victoria Terrace. The Terrace overlooks Victoria Street, which was reputedly the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. There is meagre evidence for this beyond Victoria St’s proximity to the Elephant House – the self-proclaimed ‘home of Harry Potter’ – but the tour parties come by, one by one, complete with excitable HP superfan tour guide.

It is, however, a pretty magical street, Victoria Street.

I had the Eggs Benedict, which was excellent. I managed to spill a quantity of hollandaise sauce down the front of my t-shirt, ensuring I (and everyone I met) had a visual reminder of the excellence of my lunch for the rest of the day, which was pleasing.

In the still-warm early evening, Ickle Bef and I sat on a rock in Holyrood Park, looking out over Holyrood Palace, the National Monument and a forest of giant cranes putting together the new St James Centre. We discussed our camping plans for Openskies, so that – this year – there wouldn’t be any unnecessary duplication of the important provisions. Not that Ickle actually brought any pine nuts last year, to my memory.

On Wednesday, apart from Boris becoming PM, the other main news was that the milk Ryan and Katie kindly bought for me to use while I was in Tennessee – in early May – went past its sell-by date. These dates are always conservative, as we know, so there’s a chance it may still be usable.

Thursday night the Red Sox finally got to play the Yankees again for the first time since London, and the first time at Fenway Park this season.

They thumped them 19-3. They thumped them again last night. The summer is looking up…

The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part I

It’s April, dear reader, Yesterday’s watery sunshine, luring us briefly into thoughts of balmier weather, has given way to today’s endearingly British rain-hail-sleet combo. Or “April showers” as we like to call them.

But before April came March, which witnessed a couple of important events. Firstly, Britain’s non-exit from the EU on 29 March. Having been guilty in the past of being carelessly ignorant of important goings-on in the nation, I have tried manfully to stay abreast of developments with Brexit. At least every now and then. I have periodically read articles and blog posts by political analysts, which appear to come forth daily. But I find they all follow the same format:

  1. Last night [this thing] happened.
  2. What does [this thing] mean? or occasionally What happens now?
  3. We don’t know

What I deduce from each article is that, really, nothing is happening.

Happily, March also finally witnessed my long-awaited ski trip to the Land of Bialetti, with 23 fellow adventurers. I christened our group the Dolomites Snow Angels, and no-one objected, or at least not too strongly, and so that was that.

On the first or second evening, I can’t quite remember which, Emily – the holiday rep – held court in our neighbouring chalet’s living room. Our chalet was the Traviata, theirs the Violetta. Both named after a Verdi opera. This pleased me.

Every chalet holiday I’ve been on has had one of these introductory chats from the rep. Never have I attended one before.  But this time I was numbered among the crowd that trooped over to the Violetta. And I found myself pondering what my sceptical non-attendance might have cost me all these years, as Emily engaged us in a whistle-stop tour of the area’s skiing highlights.. 

She waxed lyrical about La Longia – the 10.5km red run down into Oritsei, and went on to mention the legendary Saslong men’s World Cup downhill black run in Val Gardena, the La Crusc church in the furthest away corner of the map above the village of Badia, the lovely blue runs of the Alta Badia valley, and the Marmolada Glacier, with its spectacular views from upwards of 3000m, not to mention its WWI museum. 

Clearly all that plus the 1200km of general skiing available wasn’t going to keep us busy, so she was also offering limited places on a trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Hidden Valley on Day 5. Cortina promised yet more stunning and unique Dolomites scenery, a ladies’ World Cup downhill, and a ski run featured in For Your Eyes Only. Meanwhile the Hidden Valley ski run is regularly voted one of the world’s top 10, includes a pub with two resident Alpacas, and the opportunity to be towed the last flat 1km or so by a horse-drawn cart. Oh, and there were tunnels left over from WWI to explore at the top.

Having come to the Dolomites with the express purpose of completing the Sella Ronda, by the time she was done I found myself less invested in that, and much more interested in the variety and quality of the unique skiing experiences to be had here.

Of course, there was no reason why these attractions had to compete, and so on Day 4, ten of us did in fact complete the Sella Ronda, interrupting our clockwise journey at Corvara to head off on a monastic pilgrimage to La Crusc, before rejoining at Corvara and skiing hard all the way home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Day 1 was, as it always is, a day for re-acquainting oneself with one’s ski legs and remembering forgotten techniques. Having more or less found my way down the hill safely in the morning, I had decided to have an easy and fun afternoon skiing in the fun park, through ice tunnels and over pianos, but took the wrong lift up and instead found myself skiing black runs and moguls in Arabba with the some of the more adventurous Snow Angels.

But I survived, and on the way home found somewhere selling Baileys, with which we toasted St Paddy that evening.

On Day 2 we awoke to falling snow. It had been falling since the early hours, and so we abandoned any plans we might have had to ski hard and long that day. Truth be told, there probably wasn’t a plan for that day. Most days plans were formed late and on the hoof, which is not a bad way to approach a holiday, I reckon.

We headed away from the crowds of the Sella Ronda, up Val di Fassa, and took a gondola ride into a winter wonderland. Not that we could see all that much of it, initially.

Skiing in the falling snow, provided it’s not being propelled into your face by a Force Nine gale, is a wondrous thing. Sounds from across the mountain are muffled by the ever-deepening snowy blanket, and skiing must be done more by feel than by sight due to the reduced visibility. And everything is soft. Everything, that is, apart from my ski, which came off during a particularly inelegant wipeout at the bottom of a black run, and clattered into my face.

After some slope-side ministrations from the amazing Steve, who – Mary Poppins-style – conjured a host of medical supplies from his bottomless rucksack, I repaired to the nearest Rifugio, whereupon a host of friends patched me up with steri-strips, chocolate cake and espressos. I remained there for many hours, entertained by the inimitable Jamie and Kirsty, until I had recovered my courage sufficiently to ski a blue run a couple of times and then retreat back to the chalet.

January on the Wane

January is on the way out, dear reader, which can only be a good thing. The days are steadily getting longer, although not especially warmer, just yet.

Lying in wait is February, and in the blink of an eye it’ll be March, with a ski trip to the Dolomites. I am imagining much in the way of leisurely slope-side pizza-consumption in the early spring Italian sunshine. Followed by Tiramsu, and almost certainly an espresso. Then, with a sigh and probably a burp or two, strapping on the skis and hurtling down the hill towards Brexit Day.

The country feels in a state of some turmoil as Brexit approaches. Personally, I can’t help but think the whole thing was an extraordinarily bad idea.

While I accept that Mrs May possibly hasn’t done as sterling a job as she might in navigating these choppy waters, I do have some sympathy given that she wasn’t for leaving in the first place. And I find myself grieved by the overall air of grasping self-interest that seems to be prevalent in the country, not particularly unusual in Westminster at any time, it must be said, but seemingly magnified just now. It feels like the country’s in a bit of a pickle, and rather than everyone rallying round to try to find a solution, everyone is instead fighting their own corner all the more fiercely, with Ms Sturgeon eyeing an opening to sell independence to the Scots again.

Along with worries about the Irish border, the long-term loss of GDP for the UK economy, loss of jobs, port blockages and the like, of immediate and pressing concern is the state of the nation’s Empire Biscuits, and in particular, the depth of icing. Last Friday the icing was unacceptably thin. This week the Admin Supremo attempted an early EB acquisition on Thursday night at Tesco.

“Never seen such pale Empire biscuits” was the report Friday morning. 

Bring on a second referendum I say.

Meanwhile, January has seen a marked decline in the use of the washing machine at Only Here For The Cricket Towers. Over the festive period in particular, I was delighted by how long my clothes were lasting between washes. It belatedly occurred to me that, in employing the tried-and-trusted Sniff Test each morning to determine my clothes’ eligibility for another day’s use, I had neglected to take into account the cold that I’d been suffering from for weeks, and thereby unable to effectively smell anything.

I do apologise to all my friends, particularly the huggers.

January has also seen a marked upturn in my sleep quality. On becoming more and more aware of the shape and hardness of the springs in my mattress, I petitioned the landlord for a new one, and received the go-ahead a week or so ago. I was reminded of a previous flat tenancy, twenty years ago now, when I inherited a room in a flat on Magdala Crescent. Lovely flat, quiet street, perfect location.

After a month or two living there, I began to question the cuts that were appearing on my torso without any apparent cause, until one day I noticed that some of the springs in my mattress were actually poking through. Not an awful lot, but enough to draw blood periodically. Somewhat timid in nature at this point in my life, I never mentioned it to anyone, and instead found a narrow strip along the westward side of the mattress which was unmined, so to speak, and lay very still every night.

I note with some alarm that Facebook is about to integrate Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Quite what that means I’m not sure, but I’m alarmed mainly by the implication that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, a fact of which I was unaware. I was becoming quite fond of WhatsApp too. Ickle Bef uses it to send pictures of swans on the canal, which is charming. And Nicola, sporadically occupied in the Caring Profession between documentaries about the state of the Polynesian rainforests [subtitled], sends occasional informative updates to us all from drug dens in Leith.

If WhatsApp takes a Facebook approach to life and applies its cursed algorithmic approach based on one’s “liking” and “posting” activity… well, no-one will ever see anything I say, ever. 

I might have to start speaking to people in person from here on in. Eek.

The Invisible Election

So, Obama got re-elected last night. Cue spontaneous street celebrations (including fireworks) in my street, and much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth in other places. I arrived in America knowing that I would be here for the election (and the run-up to it) and was both anticipating and dreading what that would entail. The images of American elections and political rallies I absorbed while in the UK involved mass public displays of hysteria and hyperbole. And no doubt all that has been going on of late, but I have been utterly unaware of it. Had I been living in the UK for the past few months, I’m confident I would have been more aware of the circus than I have been right here in the heart of the USA.

There are a number of reasons for that, chief among which is that I haven’t really exposed myself to ‘news’ over here. I haven’t bought a newspaper, I have barely watched TV, neither of which I really did in the UK, but when I lived there I was regularly checking in to the BBC News website, and here I just haven’t. I guess I was expecting more in the way of billboards and things, but as I have been led to understand, Tennessee is “not really” a swing state. Makes sense.

What has been pretty refreshing is that the debates I have heard people getting into have been, for the most part, rational and balanced. I have heard my peers in the school express the full range of opinions on the election and the main political parties. And by peers I mean mostly twentysomethings, for as a single thirtysomething on a “year out” I have more in common with twentysomething singles than I do with married friends of my own age. Some have railed against the pressure they feel to vote, and to vote in a particular way. And I have heard and read many guilt trips that have been thrown onto people who have been considering not voting, or have been unsure of how to vote.

Now, is it important to exercise your democratic right to vote, which is a privilege many fought and died for? I believe it is. But is it also understandable to be unsure who to vote for, when neither main party or candidate fully represents your views on issues that matter? Or, put another way, when both of them support things that you really don’t want to support? I believe it is. And while many seem to think that voting for a particular party (and which party apparently depends on which part of the US you live in) is the God-honouring way to vote, I have never found it that simple. In the UK it appears to be less clear-cut how a Christian “should” vote, as both the main political parties support issues that Christians would traditionally vote against, such as abortion and gay marriage. While that adds confusion, it also to a certain degree releases the pressure that voting in a particular way is somehow betraying God.

The Republicans take views that a large percentage of Christians can get behind. But do they completely espouse Christian beliefs? Is Mitt Romney not a Mormon?

And here’s a question. Should the traditional strongholds of the Republican Party such as the Bible Belt become, over time, gradually less and less Christian, will the Republican Party continue to take a “Christian” view on the big issues? They might, in which case I can only envisage they would gradually slip into political obscurity, and another, more secular party would rise to prominence to challenge the Democrats. Or would they reflect the change in views of their electorate in order to survive? I reckon they would.

Last night my roommate tried to extract from me how I would have voted had I been able to vote here. I successfully bodyswerved the question. For the truth is, I really don’t know how I would have voted.

I write this as an outsider, fully aware of the limits of my understanding of American politics, and conscious of how I receive the opinions of outsiders on Northern Irish politics. I write it not as an observation on the American political landscape but as an opinion on how Christians seem to be press-ganged to vote in a certain way.

When God has moved in power in the past, has it been through godly government? I have not studied revivals enough to know the answer to that, and so it is a genuine question. But I know that whenever the church is persecuted, it thrives. Would God pour out blessing on America if it had a genuinely godly president? He might. Were any of the candidates for the presidency genuinely godly men? I don’t think so.

When I moved to the States, my Scottish friend Boyd, who has lived here for a few years, gave me two pieces of advice.

(1) Be very specific when asking for a haircut.

(2) Don’t discuss politics with anyone.

I’ve managed the first…

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…

The Day after the Election

It’s the day after the election, and if the media accurately reflect the mood of the country then it would seem that we’re being consumed by post-election fever.  However, one suspects that for most of the country it’s more like post-election indifference, and the media are frothing about the possibilities of coalitions here and minority governments there for their own amusement more than anything.  Having surprised myself by becoming moderately exercised about the election this time round, now that it’s over I would quite like someone in authority to just sort the whole mess out, form a government and get on with it.  But the whole thing seems destined to be played out on our TV screens for some time to come.  

The first cricket outing of the season was not spectacularly successful.  Having washed my hands in countless places where the Nanny State has placed large danger signs to warn you of the fact that the water is VERY hot, it almost came as an ironic pleasure to have my hands nigh-on scalded by the water from the cold tap in the changing rooms at Inverleith Park.  As regards the cricket, well… grinding out 16 runs before being trapped LBW was not in the script, particularly, but such is the lot of a batsman sometimes.  The following week, playing for the 2nd XI, I made some unknown single figure score before getting myself run out.  So far, so distinctly ordinary.  This weekend my only shot at redemption will be if I can persuade Maggie to bowl me some rank long hops so I can dispatch them into the children’s play area.  The family and I are spending the weekend in a North Yorkshire cottage to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday.  Mum and I left early this morning to drive down, and after a recent series of late nights I was mildly worried about my prospects of staying awake at the wheel.  However, sleep was never a threat with my mother’s minute-by-minute account of a recent wedding lasting until just before Alnwick.  Shortly after, I received a text from Nasty Jen, reminding me to vote today, or as she put it, “2day”.  Not entirely sure what happened there.

Somewhere near Morpeth, we stopped at a Little Chef for a coffee.  The young waiter seemed unable to speak anything other than Teenager, which, when combined with the local accent, made communication tricky.  However, we managed to secure a couple of coffees and made good our escape.

Neebs, sadly, and perhaps uniquely, there was no great crowning moment which sealed victory in the Scrabble tournament.  I did play a word which used all my letters (I can’t even remember what it was), however my thunder was somewhat stolen by DC who had already played a (better) seven letter word the round previous, and garnered considerably more points.  I nullified this to some extent by harvesting 40-odd points from JAGS on a triple-word score, and then Mrs G finished her letters almost immediately afterwards, denying DC his turn in that particular round, and sealing a single-digit win for me.  There may be no great crowning moment, but with a little bit of encouragement I’m quite happy to talk about it anyway, as you can see.  As for the Pronouns thing – as far as I understand this was an example of the media getting a story wildly wrong and propagating it enthusiastically.   A highly unusual occurrence, I’m sure you’ll agree.  I believe that Spears have launched a new *version* of Scrabble, which allows the use of Pronouns and the like.  The rules of “proper” Scrabble, as I understand it, remain unchanged.  

If it ain’t broke…

Cricket, Scrabble and the Election

The cricket season is almost here. Nasty Jen is pumped. A palpable sense of excitement hangs in the air, poised, expectant. Sort of like Morpheus in the Matrix as he hangs, suspended in mid-air, before slamming to the floor and putting his knee through the floorboards, somewhat carelessly. Perhaps they were able to claim on their buildings and contents insurance. Ah, the Matrix. It’s been with us for eleven years now. Almost as long as this Labour government. Now, this is not a political blog, goodness, it’s not even a blog about cricket. But the impending general election does provide some joy in this corner, as the nice people in the comedy department at Radio 4 produce a veritable glut of satire on the subject. And it’s even been possible to watch Gordon on television, shamelessly trying to imply that Labour have been doing a grand old job of running the country these last thirteen years, which is quite entertaining. And, unlike most people I speak to, I haven’t found the recent televised leaders’ debates a dreadful bore, in fact I have to confess that I’ve enjoyed them, what I’ve seen of them. I was prevented, sadly, from witnessing the early exchanges in Bristol, due to my involvement in a titanic Scrabble battle, where I was pitting my wits against a stellar line-up which included DC, Wiseman and Mrs G. I have pitted said wits against them on an almost annual basis since 2002, when Mrs G was still Miss C, and Wiseman may well have been DC’s flatmate. (That was a short-lived arrangement). Each time I have been found wanting, the spoils being shared over the years between Mrs G and, more commonly, DC, the latter’s word power being head and shoulders above ours. Much like his head and shoulders. So we were all more than a little taken aback when I emerged from the fray victorious, looking mildly shocked but unmistakably pleased with myself, almost Clegg-like in fact, to claim the prize (a rather fetching pewter tankard). You could have knocked me over with a small plastic tile.
I should warn you, dear reader, that due to a withdrawal of support for ftp publishing by Blogger, this blog may, around the beginning of May, disappear from the ether. Or into the ether. Disappear, anyway. But do not fret (of course if one or two of you did, momentarily, fret, I’m sure it would do no harm at all, and I would find it gently reassuring), as technical issues such as this are Wiseman’s speciality, and he assures me everything is in hand. At least, I think that’s what he said. I trust you will be able, accustomed as you are to this blog being updated with near-military regularity, to stick it out for a few days without a fresh post should everything go belly-up. You’re a hardy lot.
But back to the cricket. Tomorrow sees the start of the season proper, and an outing for the mighty Holy Cross 3rd XI. The weather is set fair and I may even have a new pair of batting gloves in time for the occasion. Brilliant.

Radio 2 and cricket

Heard a new song from Duke Special on Radio 2 this morning, as I was wending my way westwards towards the coast and another visit to Northern Ireland. The Admin Supremo expects me to derail the peace process while I’m there, having been thwarted by hitherto unknown goodwill and peaceful intentions on my previous visit, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I started receiving emails advertising Duke Special’s forthcoming gigs some years ago. Didn’t come across as spam, but had no idea who Duke Special was/were, and so I binned the emails and requested my name be taken off the mailing list. Which it was, so it can’t have been spam. Now, having heard the song on the radio, it sounds uncommonly like Peter Wilson, who I emailed via Friends Reunited some time ago after spotting his name in the inlay notes of a CD I was listening to. Which maybe explains how I ended up on his mailing list. Peter Wilson used to go to my school, Down High, which is why I was interested in the first place. So Mr Wilson joins Ash in the select group of people who have left my school and had a song played on the radio. Although, strictly speaking, I think Ash achieved that feat before leaving school, the upstarts. Perhaps Broon, another DHS ex-pupil, may yet make it a hat-trick. It would be a shame if her skills on the slide trombone were not exposed to a wider audience than just Bellevue Chapel.

Potentially even more exciting (I know, I know) is that I heard Jo Mango on Radio 2 last night. Apparently Stuart Maconie had highlighted a song of hers earlier in the week, and we heard another snippet of it last night. I heard her perform the same song live, in a barn somewhere between Perth and Dundee, a year or two ago. In fact, you could say I actually played on the same bill as Jo Mango, although it would be stretching the truth a little.

But enough of my brushes with A-list celebrities for the time being. Back to cricket. Two weeks ago, I noted with some relief that the Australian government had decided to bite the bullet and ban their cricketers from touring Zimbabwe, which they were due to do this year.

A note of explanation. The ICC, who mismanage cricket on a global scale, have a Future Tours programme, which all Test and ODI-playing countries are obliged to subscribe to. This commits them to playing against all the other major cricketing countries home and away within 6 years. Failure to fulfil this obligation would incur a heavy fine for the guilty cricket board, possibly along with a ban, which would bring even heavier financial losses. Accordingly, countries that have been contemplating a refusal to play in Zimbabwe on account of Robert Mugabe’s regime, e.g. England, have decided to tour anyway because they can’t afford to be banned from world cricket. The ICC have copped some flak for their stance, it being widely believed in some parts of the cricket world that they (the ICC) should suspend Zimbabwe from playing international cricket until the situation in the country improves. The ICC refuse to do this, claiming that they don’t get involved in politics, only cricket. The only way a country’s cricket board can legitimately not tour without incurring a fine is if the government actually BANS the cricket team from going.

Cue the Aussie government’s announcement. Compare this with the British government’s approach: when England were faced with the same quandary a few years ago, the government refused to have anything to do with it, saying it was a matter for the cricketers. The ECB, conscious of the financial implications, hummed and hawed for a bit, then prevaricated, chewed things over and weighed them up, before finally giving in and going ahead with the tour. Money is money, after all.

“I don’t think it’s fair to leave a foreign policy decision of this magnitude on the shoulders of young sportsmen,” the Australian PM John Howard was quoted as saying. “It’s much better, in the end, for the government to take the rap.” Must be good to live in a country where the politicians talk in straight lines. Unlike the UK, which moreover sanctimoniously outlaws Australia’s tourism advertising slogan “So where the bloody hell are you?” but has no issue with French Connection’s grubby marketing. One wonders idly if Australia taking money out of the UK economy, and French Connection putting it in, might have anything to do with it.

A prime minister that says it like it is, and loves cricket too. Now there’s a thing. Midway through his re-election campaign in 2004, Howard was asked how things were progressing. “It’s like having built a very solid Hayden-Langer partnership,” he replied. “We’ve made a good start.”

Brilliant. Perhaps Gordon Brown will someday describe a stinging reply in the House as a “Pietersen slap through midwicket.” Or a wide-of-the-mark question as a “Harmison”…

Well, it’s about time for me to return to the P&O Express car deck and drive off into the homeland. The smell of a ferry’s car deck evokes so many memories of childhood holidays to Scotland and beyond (England, occasionally). Not so much a whiff of nostalgia, as an intense petrol vapour-fuelled sensory experience. The whiff of nostalgia has come instead from an unexpected source. A girl has just started playing a recorder in the passenger lounge. A RECORDER. Three notes in, I am reminded of what an irritating noise they make. Don’t think she’s in line for a record deal.

Unless, of course, she goes to my old school…