Wednesday, May 27, 2009


If I have anything approaching a Regular Reader, they will be aware of my love of Test Cricket, simply the best game the world has ever invented. The players are utterly fascinating in their almost infinitely varied approach to the game. And the fact that it is played across the world, with England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Sri Lanka being the major countries constantly involved, brings the differences between nations and even continents into play in a way most other games lack.

The World Series in Baseball ? – do me a favour!

However you look at it, there are always certain players who, when you realise they are playing, make you get out of bed earlier then you’d planned just to watch them.

It is a simple fact of life that there are not too many English names in such a list at the moment. Pietersen is the only batsman who gets anywhere near a place on my “Pick a World Eleven” to play a visiting First Eleven from Mars, and I’m not even totally sure that he’d get my final vote. South Africans Graham Smith, AB De Villiers and JP Duminy, India’s Virender Sehwag (on a good day the best there is) and Gambhir, New Zealand’s Jesse Ryder (a real hooligan, but he hit a stunning 201 against the Indians a couple of months ago) and possibly Brendan McCullum, the new boy from Australia Philip Hughes (I suspect England are in for a hell of a shock with him batting against them this summer), as well as Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara from Sri Lanka – well that’s a decent lot to get on with. You can see why Pietersen may not even get a look in.

But there’s one guy who never seems to get a mention in these lists and I really don’t understand why – a guys who bats in a totally unique and distinctive way, Shivnarine Chanderpaul from the West Indies. He seems to be an intensely private man, who never gets anywhere the limelight. And yet, to pick a couple of cricketing numbers from his last two years, over 6 Test Series against Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka (arguably the 5 best teams on the planet) he AVERAGED 105 runs over the 14 matches. The Best of the Rest of the world average around 50. That stat alone is pretty unbelievable. Only Bradman, back in the 1930s can touch such a feat.

As a cricketer, you’d throw him back into the river if you were picking a player on the way he looks. He’s small (5ft 7in), wiry, introspective and almost diffident on the field, and he looks as if he couldn’t hit the ball off the square let alone get it to the boundary. He bats as if he’s never seen a coaching manual, with a hysterically open stance which looks as if he’s expecting the Square Leg Umpire to bowl the ball to him. But he shuffles his way across the wicket, watches the ball unerringly and plays the ball VERY late, and with very soft hands. It looks really odd until you see where he is when the bat makes contact with the ball. Then it all makes sense.

But it’s his mental approach which lifts him high above the others. His approach is almost Zen like, in a trance on occasions. Absolute Concentration, like no other batsman I know today.

With the West Indians today not being a particularly reliable batting line-up, the number of times Chanderpaul is left there to marshall a rearguard action, and nurture his fellow batsmen through an innings must get him down dreadfully. But, he always seems to find the grit and guts to stay there, with each ball being played severely on its merits. But when the bad ball comes, Pow. He’s got a beautiful little flick that can send the ball miles. It simply doesn’t seem possible that a guy of his stature can hit a ball that far. But he can.

People complain that he is a selfish batsman, which I’m sure irritates and angers him. Yes, the number of times he’s Not Out is very high, but he would counter, that by saying that, if all his team-mates did what he’d just done, they’d have scored around 1,000 runs in an innings, rather than the typical 237 All Out (Chanderpaul 118) that seems to happen all too depressingly often. Why he doesn’t brain the rest of them with his bat at times like this, I can’t imagine.

Two more stats. Who hold the World Record for staying at the crease without being out for longer than anyone else? Yup. Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He batted for 1,512 minutes (25 hours!!) against India before giving his wicket away. Of the only six times a batsman has stayed at the crease for longer than 1,000 minutes in the history of Test Cricket, four of those were Our Man.

And yet, that sounds like someone whose batting looks akin to watching paint dry. Nothing could be further from the truth. When he wants to go for it, you’d better watch out. The fourth fastest Hundred ever in Test cricket was his – 69 balls. And if you want to see someone in a 50 over One day International performing the impossible, just watch this YouTube Clip. West Indies need 10 off the last two balls of the match. Impossible. Step forward Our Gallant Hero.

One Four off the penultimate ball, and a deft flick to Mid Wicket off the last which flew over the ropes for Six. You’d have got odds of a million to One against two balls before, but Shiv played two shots of genius under tremendous pressure.

I just love to watch him bat. He frustrates the bowlers, but then blasts them around the ground when their frustration gets the better of them. His total determination is an utterly admirable trait, particularly in someone from the Carribean, where that commodity is not in plentiful supply.

And he’s just passed the great Sir Vivien Richards to become the second highest West Indian run maker ever. Two more different ways of batting you’d struggle to come up with, but, if I needed to select any batsman in the world today to make a Hundred for me if my life depended on the outcome, I’d pick this man.

I’ve got a ticket to the 20-20 World Cup finals in a couple of weeks, and guess who I’m going to see.


If you have any interests in politics, and the way our country is run, you will realise that Parliamentarily speaking, the UK is currently in the throes of some pretty hefty seismic goings on. I do not intend here to hammer the same nail into the same wall as the newspapers have been doing about The Speaker, MPs' expenses, Sleaze, corruption, lack of moral integrity etc. I just read rather dejectedly about it, and wonder whether the 650 MPs collectively realise just how much damage is being done to the fragile but crucial trust we need to have in those who are in Parliament.

So No Comment on this issue, if only to avoid pushing my Blood Pressure into the stratosphere by getting wound up about Gorbals Mick or the cost of a Ministerial Bathplug or a Parliamentary tin of dogfood, or MPs who can only see the error of their ways AFTER THEY ARE FOUND OUT, and even then sometimes not. And, by the way we should also hear it for all those zealous Newspaper hacks who have let this issue pass them by on the other side of the road for decades without poking it hard enough and long enough with their stick. Where were the British versions of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when we needed them?

Now look at my blood pressure!!

As a bit of an antidote, firstly, if you want to see the other side of this horror story, have a check on the people whose names have NOT appeared in the Telegraph’s Name and Shame tirade over the last couple of weeks.

Secondly, and on a much more pleasurable subject
, we’re doing some building work in our East Anglian Bolt Hole, and driving around recently to pick up the odds and ends you need to finish the job off, I couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty of the countryside and villages. And the utter timelessness of some of the surroundings.

A village a few miles from where we live over here rejoices under the name of Little Snoring. Now tell me you don’t get a feeling of pleasure when you read that name. It’s a sleepy little place, although, in a quirky and pleasant Norfolk way, it’s somewhat bigger that the next village along the road – Great Snoring.

Yes, I know it’s illogical, but that’s part of its charm. The “Great” apparently refers to its age, not its size, and the “Snoring” is a corruption of Snaer, a man’s name who was the leader of some of the early settlers around here.

Each village around here has its own lovingly hand painted sign, usually made from wood and mounted on the Green in the centre of the village. This one is Little Snoring’s –


60 years ago, this place was not the sleepy backwater it is now. In the middle of the Second World War, this county, because of its flatness and proximity to the European Coast, was home to around 160 RAF wartime Airfields. The days and nights were drowned out by the sound of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Wellingtons, Mosquitos and Lancasters blasting off to take on the Germans. Little Snoring was one of these airfields and it is this which is celebrated by the three bladed propeller in the centre of the sign.

The runways have been ploughed up now, apart from a small remnant which is still there and used as a private Flying Club today. Hence the Windsock –


A field or two away is the local church. Norfolk churches are things of beauty. Many are far larger and more ornate than you’d expect them to be, with unusual design features. We have thatched ones, Brick and Flint ones, Beamed ones, and here in Little Snoring, the church has a separate tower which is round.


You get a strange feel walking around the churchyard on your own on a windy morning, reading the inscriptions on the gravestones – almost as if you’ve travelled back half a century in time.

I found one gravestone commemorating a lady with the same rather unusual surname as mine.

And another to the wife of the camp commander in the mid 1940s. If you do the maths, he can’t have been more than 25 or 26 years old when he was the head honcho.

It was so different then.

Inside the church are the very poignant memorials to the many pilots and airmen, who took off one day from this tranquil and beautifully understated Norfolk countryside, and never came back.

You can almost feel the contrast between the Parliamentary goings on today, and the ways of 1942-3 - rather depressing.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

These were Churchill’s perfect words about “The Few” in the mid 1940s. Transpose the “few” and the “many” in the sentence, and you get a simple soundbite which sums up the way too many of our MPs are behaving today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


My mind must have been on other things, because the last post in this (very) occasional series was almost two years ago. Ye Gods.

Anyway, I was struck by the one here, the other day. It's a really simple picture of the sun, with the Space Shuttle passing across a section of the disc. But Wow, what a terrific image.

Now the picture is not one any of us could take. A millionth of a second at F8 will not work on my humble Nikon. It needs some special equipment, but that doesn't stop it being a great picture. The credits on the picture go to Thierry Lagaut, and NASA.

Given the subject, it still comes across as a humbling picture, one which puts the machinations of the odious UK Parliament Speaker, and our MP's expenses into perspective.

And I just LOVED the title that the Newspaper editor chose.

Great image.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


You’ve eaten your way through a couple of biscuits in a packet. Then, a few minutes later, you have another two or so, and then another, and a little while later, another. You look at the packet and you’ve done some serious damage to it. Not many left.

So you have another one, and something clicks in your mind. Sod it, there’s only three or so left. What’s the point of leaving three biscuits in a packet?

Soon there are no biscuits, a feeling of slight self loathing, and a crumpled up packet in the waste bin.

It’s the same occasionally with the tub of Ice Cream, especially the Chocolate Fudge Brownie one, not the crappy Yoghurty one, but the full fat calorie laden one. The one that tastes like Ice Cream. The only problem I have with the Ice cream version of this is that the pivotal point where the decision to finish it all off starts when there’s a bit more left – usually a tiny bit after halfway.

I don’t know what the word for it all is – the exact point where you tip over the edge from “That’s enough”, and put the packet back for another day, to “Oh, sod it”. Douglas Adams probably had a little village or town listed n “The Meaning of Liff” which defined it exactly, but my copy is at home, so I can’t check. So I’ll call it a “Morston”, after a village a few miles from where I’m writing this.

Morston - Noun – the precise moment when the desire to leave something for another day is overwhelmed by an immediate, uncontrolled desire to finish it all off.

I used to get the feeling on holidays, when around day 10 of a two weeker, the clouds of the final day started to gather almost imperceptibly on the horizon, and the unalloyed pleasure in the last few days started to fade. You’d spent about a week and a half in blissful animation, and suddenly the return to work, the daily toil and the lists of things to do started to nip and corrode at your mind. It’s raining in my heart, and all that.

In my more introspective (I do have them!) moments, I’ve even thought this happens with life. You spend 50 years or so thinking it’s all immortal, that the summers are never going to end, and then something happens. You start to count the cycles of the earth. Each spring the thought goes through your mind that that’s one less I will see. I still enjoy them immensely, as I am doing in 2009. But now, you count. It’s finite, and the clock never stops.

I know that sounds really rather pretentious, but unfortunately it’s true.

Why am I thinking like that now? It’s just gone midnight. I’m on my own in our little house on the Norfolk coast, and I’ve just watched two episodes of the best TV series it has been my privilege to see. Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent 58 hours glued to my TV watching all but the last couple of episodes of “The Wire”. And I am in full and complete withdrawal mode. One evening left, two if I ration myself to an episode a night. But I know that I won’t. So really it’s one evening left. Not tomorrow, because I’m travelling home, but maybe I’ll start out early so I can get home and watch them before bed. This from a grown man. Pathetic really, but there you are.


It’s almost impossible to force someone else to watch something you like on TV, or to read a book or listen to a CD, or watch a film that’s captivated and entranced you. You want to give people something that you’ve had, hoping it affects them the way it’s affected you. But we’re all different, so why should they like what you like?

But this series has really got to me. The epic scale of the events, the long, lingering character development, the subtle balance of right and wrong, the utter reality of the storylines, the grown up nature of the treatment, the stunning acting, the incredible photography, the brilliant cutting, and the utter magnetic hold that a series of plastic DVD disc has managed to entwine me with, does not happen often.

The occasional book, the infrequent film, a few TV series, half a dozen CDs and Long Players in the whole of my life have done it, and here, out of the blue, is another one. I suppose it’s a good sign that, at the age of 63, I can still find myself utterly enthralled by something like this. So maybe there’s hope here.

But I still have this disappointment nibbling at me that in a couple of days, it will be all over, and I’ll never be able to experience the anticipation of watching the next instalment of what, to me, is a great, great piece of drama which stands comparison with any film or book I’ve ever experienced.

Things like this don’t come along every day of the week. I just wonder what, and when, the next one will be. Let it roll.