Monday, April 28, 2008

Dog's Dinner

I was listening to Jeremy Vine on the wireless today talking about rescue dogs. There were some interesting views expressed by his fellow contributors but most tended to go with the "rewarding" aspect of rescue dog ownership. It is not always the case. Sharon is very definitely a dog person. Obviously she's neither overly furry nor does she tend to roll in dead things when we go out for walks, she just likes dogs and has hardly ever been without one. I, on the other hand, have an ambivalent attitude towards them, rather like a grandparent views their grandchildren; perfectly OK while they're around but it's great that they go home and I have never been owned by a dog. I have nothing against them at all, they can be fine pets and I know for a fact that at least one of my readers is of the canine persuasion. There may well be more, not all of you publish genuine photographs.

Early last year, while she and I were first estranged, Sharon decided she wanted another dog. She already had one, Poppy, a Lakeland/Jack Russell/potato cross that was getting on for nine years old so she supposed a younger mutt would keep the grande dame youthful in her dotage. Poppy is to say the least, excitable, as one would expect given her parentage. She also definitely lacks a certain degree of intelligence (again, one looks toward her lineage, this time the tuberiferous part), for instance despite seeing him virtually every day at the same time for the last 7 years, the postman still presents a very real threat to the safety of the pack, one that can only be thwarted by barking insanely at the door. This obviously works as he never breaks in and nobody has yet been killed. She is also wont to go from deep sleep to yelping idiot in the space of 0.01 seconds if she hears any noise the clump of misfiring synapses that passes for a brain interprets as coming from the door, even if it was merely a slipper falling from a carelessly raised foot. It was thought that company in the form of a more intelligent and restrained colleague would calm her.

When Sharon mentioned to me that she was getting another dog I cautioned her against it. Was she sure she could cope, being that she has reduced mobility? Yes, it would be be fine, she assured me. Anyway, I no longer lived there so I didn't really have a say in the matter. It didn't matter as she'd already seen a lovely dog at the dogs' home in Stoke, very cute and friendly. 60 quid later and Zara, a terrier of indeterminate parentage was the newest member of the family.

It soon became clear that Zara was a forceful character and not without a streak of jealousy. Whatever Poppy wanted to do, Zara would try and better. If Poppy barked, Zara would bark, only louder. If Poppy careered down the stairs, Zara would overtake her and woe betide anyone in her path. If Poppy jumped on the sofa with you then Zara would jump on Poppy. If Poppy was eating, it wouldn't be for long. Neither was Zara house-trained.

In April I returned to the fold and tried to get to know her. She was an unusual looking thing, not at all pretty. I likened her to the outcome of the improbable liaison between Spit the Dog out of Tiswas and a hyena. I wasn't alone in thinking that either as several people commented to me that they thought she'd look more at home cruising the veldt for a wounded dikdik. It was more likely that there was a bit of Scottie and some Irish terrier in her (which reminds me of the thing Phil Lynott used to say to ladies in the front row at Thin Lizzy gigs: "Have you got any Irish in you? Would you like some?") and we called her a Celtic terrier. She certainly hated Cairns and always wanted to have a pop if one came nearby. Irish terriers like to be the centre of attention and prefer to be the only dog, so maybe there was some truth in that guess. She was a very strong dog for her size and had energy to burn, far too much for Sharon to deal with without knackering herself so I started to take her for long walks along the Shroppie Union canal. I couldn't burn her out at all but she did like to learn. Sharon had taught her a few obedience tasks and I got her to sit and stay over long distances and to seek. I wouldn't say I was becoming particularly attached but we were certainly developing a relationship.

Which was more than Sharon and I were doing and we parted once again in July, as has been mentioned several times on these pages. After I'd moved out Zara became increasingly fractious. She turned bully and would scrap with Poppy for little reason and often drew blood. Poppy loathed being in the same room as her. There was a really unpleasant streak in her and eventually Sharon had enough and took her back to the dogs' home as a lost cause. One of the final straws was when Sharon got up to go to the loo and Zara jumped on the bed and promptly pissed all over it. Not at all endearing, especially when Sharon's medical condition demands almost clean room conditions.

Despite her short and difficult sojourn, she has left us with some abiding memories. There was the time on the canal when she took an interest in a family of swans, rather too much interest for daddy swan who surprised Zara by hissing at her and doing that standing on water thing that swans do. Zara shot backwards at a rate of knots, ending up in the hedge the other side of the towpath and provoking a gale of LOLs from your host. Not the least of these memories though were the ones resulting from her compulsive thievery. Whereas you could put your dinner plate down in front of Poppy, walk away, go to the loo or play a round of golf all the while safe in the knowledge that your food would still be there on your return, Zara viewed any kind of food - dog or human - as fair game. Turn away for a split second and she'd be at your plate; put a handbag on the floor and she'd be in it, looking for anything remotely edible. In fact, anything on the floor had nourishment potential in Zara's eyes. And I mean anything.

One evening, Sharon's youngest daughter came back with a friend. Her friend put her bag on the floor and both of them nipped out across to the garage for something. Zara was into the bag immediately and by the time the girls got back she'd already polished off a packet of chewing gum and 20 Marlboro Lights. They were only the entree and dessert though, earlier in the day the disreputable animal had had the hors d'oeuvres. Said daughter had been "entertaining" her then beau in her boudoir, doing what all adventurous teenagers do. Zara was also in the room, minding her own business. Until, that is, the "activities" passed their inevitable zenith. Being responsible, the gentleman concerned had taken precautions. On collapse of the scrum, the "precaution" was removed and temporarily deposited on the floor, as one sometimes does. I say temporarily as Zara, scenting free protein, enjoyed a once in a lifetime latex-wrapped take-away.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who's next?

Humphrey Lyttelton


A memorial game of Mornington Crescent has been inaugurated by a Mrs Trellis of North Wales

Friday, April 18, 2008

On a Death

It wasn't my intention to blog again so soon after yesterday's marathon but sometimes you can't avoid it. In a way, this is a kind of follow-on from yesterday in that it's mourning not just the loss of a person but somebody who believed in a set of values that are increasingly being ignored in our cheapened society.

Crewe and Nantwich awoke this morning to the news that Gwyneth Dunwoody, our MP of 34 years had passed away yesterday evening aged 77. It was known she'd been ill for the past week and had undergone heart surgery but she was one of those redoubtable souls that one always assumes will be around forever.

Gordon Brown made the necessary noises of sympathy and regret, as did the rest of the cabinet but much of it sounded like weasel words. They must have been secretly jumping up and down with glee because Gwyneth Dunwoody was a perennial thorn in the side of New Labour; she wasn't exactly one for towing the party line and was a constant reminder of what social democracy should have been about. She said she started out on the right wing of the party and was now on the left of it even though her views hadn't changed. The party had spun round her. She was talented enough for a portfolio but wouldn't put her name to the policies of this bowdlerised version of the party if she didn't believe in them or had no sympathy for. It's called conviction. The current crop of talentless idiots should take note.

Gwyneth Dunwoody

MP for Exeter 1966-70
Crewe 1974-1983
Crewe and Nantwich 1983-2008


Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the Death of County Cricket

Canterbury's other cathedral

It is that time of year therefore I'm going to lecture you at some considerable length about religion cricket, so you, you and you at the back can stay, the rest can go and have an early lunch. Please don't run on the grass or tease the caretaker's dog.

The final day of this game was the first live cricket match I watched. I was 11 years old and went with my friend Andrew and from that day I was hooked. I already knew a little bit about the game although until then I'd only ever played it in the garden. It had always appealed to me because I liked hitting things. And catching, too - largely because the ability to catch cricket balls is the only natural talent I possess. There are very few bowling and batting achievements from my playing career I can remember vividly but some of the catches are lodged permanently: the leg trap Ralf the Mouf and I set up at Sparrow's Den against Addington when the batsman couldn't believe I'd caught him, for instance, or the 40 yard sprint round the boundary, full stretch dive and one-handed take at Crockenhill. I got another skier at midwicket in that game, one I misjudged completely so had to stretch my left hand back over my head (I'm right handed) in order to catch it. I got stick for that.

I was lucky in that I grew up in Kent, where there's still a strong love of the game and I saw lots of my cricket at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury. By common consent it is the most beautiful of all county cricket grounds, although to my mind the Crabble Ground at Dover, withdrawn from service in the 70s after a certain DL Underwood proved to be rather too efficient there for some counties, was even more so as it was a natural amphitheatre snuggled in the valleys of the North Downs above Dover. Mote Park at Maidstone's not too bad, either. Although I was a member and therefore allowed to sit in the pavillion, nothing could beat sitting on the grass just outside the boundary rope. You'd get to field the ball occasionally and be able to hurl it back to your heroes (although that would have been excessive for me as my own hero was - and still is - APE Knott and he would have been a good 70 yards away). At lunch and tea, while the adults strolled out to look at the state of the wicket, we'd all race onto the outfield with bats and tennis balls and set up our own impromptu games, many of us secretly hoping that a county official would see our abundant talent and draft us immediately into the second XI.

Now I go all Boycotty and Truemany; you don't see that any more. Kids aren't allowed onto the outfield because they'll muck the sponsor's logo up and anyway, you'll probably have had your bat and ball confiscated on the way in as offensive weapons. Being able to mingle with our heroes and tread on the same ground was part of the big game's charm. Now there isn't even a proper Canterbury Week with seven days of cricket to watch. Cricket, especially county cricket, is being administered, sponsored and corporately facilitated to death.

My Kent team featured legends. Apart from that most potent of wicket taking pairings in Knott and Underwood, a Kent XI could possibly also include at the same time, Brian Luckhurst, Asif Iqbal, John Shepherd, Bob Woolmer, Bernard Julien, Mike Denness, the best fielder never to play for England Alan Ealham and if you were lucky, Colin Cowdrey who was at the twilight of a brilliant career (I was fortunate enough to see his 151 n.o. when Kent beat the Australians in 1975). That is some team sheet. If they were playing today, they'd all be on central contracts and not allowed to play for the county unless given dispensation, just in case they got injured. That probably goes for the overseas players as well.

Central contracts? Don't make me laugh. It's meant to be a guarantee of quality for the national side by guaranteeing them an income and protecting them from being over-exploited. In effect a central contract guarantees a player doesn't get to practise against opposition fired up by playing against a big name and there's little incentive for spectators to watch without the thrill of a top star playing.There's one player who has been scoring a huge amount of runs almost at will for the last few seasons. He's already scored a championship century this year in the first game of the season, his 98th first class one. He's still hungry and delighting in embarrassing the game's so called heirarchy yet most know him for winning a dancing competition on the telly. Mark Ramprakash couldn't quite cut it ten years ago but he has an outrageous talent that is being criminally ignored, even though he's only just the right side of 40. The irony is, the advent of central contracts means that English first class cricket won't see the like of Mark Ramprakash again. Never again will anyone ever get within a mile of scoring 40,000 runs or taking 2000 wickets because they just won't be playing the game enough. Show early promise and you'll be whisked away into the central contract padded cell where you'll be lucky to play 200 first class games and maybe take 500 wickets or score 10,000 runs. There will be shooting stars but no suns. Andrew Flintoff is a rare talent in the English game; genuinely fast and with the delicious thrill of expectation that potentially explosive batsmen always have yet only the privileged - those able to afford the best part of £100 for a test match or ODI ticket - get to see him play. His occasional forays into county cricket are usually under doctor's orders not to stretch himself lest he crock himself again. It's all very well creating stars at test match level - they might well make a living from it but the trickle down of interest as well as money to the grass roots won't happen if the stars aren't allowed to get closer to their people.

Now there's the prospect of 20/20 taking over the game and players forsaking the county championship in favour of riches from the subcontinent. There's even talk of a similar all-star league taking place in the middle of the English domestic season as well as the home 20/20 championship (of which Kent are the current holders. I was so happy). This is pure greed, it's not done in the furtherance of cricket's interest one bit. Don't let anyone kid you that 20/20 is cricket because it's not. It's to cricket what draughts is to chess and it's become popular simply because it's brutal and over in a couple of hours, like an evening of wrestling. Instead of trying to attract a new generation of fans from the legions of the X-Box shoot-em-up brain dead by shortening the game and increasing its violence to their tastes, get the fans to appreciate its nuances instead. You might even find that society benefits as patience and craft is relearned There's a complete lack of subtlety in 20/20; innings are built on chance and wickets taken through the batsman's recklessness, not guile. I despair at the likes of Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen defending the IPL on the grounds of opportunity - cricket's never had a popularity problem in India, it's over here that it needs to bolstered and that can't be done if the big stars of the game aren't here.

Why are counties sourcing players under the Kolpak ruling? Half of them are unknown so it's not on the grounds of them being crowd-pullers - it's because there's a dearth of talent over here. Of course here I should say that one of the main reasons for the lack of promising players is due to schools not having the facilities anymore after the bitch who ought to be enduring a painful living death by now forced schools to flog off their playing fields so they could buy exercise books. I was dismayed to see the other week that there is a warehouse springing up on one of my old school fields.

Am I stuck in the past? No. I don't think I am. You change the look of games at your peril. The only changes I can remember to the way football has been played over the last 50 years have been goalkeepers' "steps" and a very subtle change to the offside law. Attempts to make the game more interesting to people with short attention spans and the lack of brain power to appreciate "the bigger picture" (Americans) by eliminating the draw have foundered due to common sense. Can you imagine the outcry if baseball games were shortened or something done to American football to turn it into a proper sport? Cricket has changed much over 200 years and bears little resemblance even to the game that Thomas Lord was familiar with. It's already been tinkered with far too much and the elements - not just the physical ones - that have already made it a popular game are now in danger of being eroded for ever. What cricket has lost in this country has been an appreciation of the culture surrounding the game and the county game has suffered most through this. One shouldn't go to a county championship game expecting a spectacle, it's a day out in the open air. Take binoculars and watch the sub-plots evolve between players. Watch them having a net and appreciate their skill at close quarters. Watching a pace bowler slinging down a few looseners at a brisk medium is quite frightening and most club players would be surprised at the speed of a spin bowler. Seeing that at close quarters can increase your appreciation no end. Short games sacrifice that skill, it's easier to flail and hope you connect enough to get the ball over the inner ring of fielders instead of judging each ball. Yes I'll readily agree it can appear boring at times but that's also part of the game. It's also why cricket grounds have bars and museums and why men have a natural interest in statistics.

Back to that picture of the St Lawrence Ground at the top. The go-ahead was given last year for hotels and associated crap to be built overlooking the playing area, financed by selling off other open areas around the ground. This is called diversification and is believed by the club to be the only way they can make serious money. Anyone who has ever experienced the marquees and beer tents of a traditional Canterbury festival start trading on your memories because that's all you'll have. Canterbury isn't the only ground to be redeveloped so committees ought to be asking themselves why they need to make money. Because the crowds aren't there. Building hotels or bigger stands won't bring them in and keep them coming back and they'll soon tire of a diet of kwik-fix cricket. Championship cricket is unique in that it's the only major sport to be played during office hours so it expects low attendances, especially when there are so many other draws on our time but that's no reason to further reduce its appeal by shipping the stars out.

That is all.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I once left two newly dry-cleaned suits (Sketchley Gold Service as well. Harrrumph.) on a train. I leaped into my car and caught up with the train three stops down the line, but they were already on their way to a new home in Dartford. They weren't cheap, One of them cost me £145 according to my 100% of utter truth insurance claim (it was the early 90s, that was a lot of money for me). This bloke hasn't got a hope in hell.

Good job it wasn't a new one.

Boom boom.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I've put my back out. It's very painful. Thankfully it's just a pulled muscle and not spinal and I'll get over it in a couple of days.

How did I do this? Have I been flinging paving slabs around? Was I splitting railway sleepers with my bare hands in order to make an innovative garden feature? Perhaps I was giving some distressed lady motorist with a broken jack some assistance by lifting her car while she changed a wheel, even? Maybe a little over-exertion while blasting away 7 hapless opposition batsmen for 28 runs in the opening match of the season? Of course not. As any man knows, pulling a muscle in one's back is never the result of any impressively macho pursuit. The male musculature delights in picking its moment to go tits up in order to provide maximum embarrassment. So far I have frozen up while carrying a small box of commemorative medals out of a store-room, requiring my managing director to pour me into his car while laughing heartily. Then there was the time a muscle tore one minute before setting off for work while I was hopping around on one leg doing my shoelace up, leaving me completely unable to move and looking like a crippled Ian Anderson.

And today? Tesco, large sack of potatoes small packet of orange jelly, head height shelf. Twang!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Little Pluckers

I have never been a hairy person. I have grown long hair, past my shoulders at one time, but I was young and impetuous. I have worn a beard, as my avatar attests, but I was older, had gone away for a few days and left my razor at home so I just let it grow. Then again, my beard didn't really start growing until I was about 20 so it had always been an ambition to have one. It was fun while it lasted and as I was also terribly overweight, I could do a great Brian Blessed. The beard lasted 19 months. Head one, rest of body nil. OK not quite nil but I'd get a 66% discount for a sack, crack and back.

The rest of my body is taking years to catch up. There are a few new arrivals across my chest but these are only visible when I've just come out of the shower. Lower legs and arms have a light dusting of blond frondage but my back and rear end remain resolutely baby-bare and what covering there is grows stunningly slowly. Except that is, for the hair in my nostrils. For the last decade or so, every couple of weeks I've had to pluck, cut or pull several hairs of unbelievable length and thickness from each one. Otherwise they lurk, picking the most embarrassing moment conceivable to uncoil from their lair. I'll be totally unaware that they're dangling there, like great lengths of anchor chain swinging above my upper lip, until I visit the lavatory and look in the mirror. It's bad enough that for the last ten years they've been the same colour as the hair on my head. Different now though; nobody told me the bastards would go white.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I am in a low-rent daytime telly stupor. I am watching Jeremy Kyle "DNA Test Special". I'm not sure why, call it a social experiment: how much can I endure before my brain turns to sponge. After a long period of consideration (about 3.5 seconds) I have formed the opinion that the world would be a far less unpleasant place if everyone who spoke with a Liverpool or Tyne-Tees accent were herded together and shepherded over a cliff, just in case. At the very least, Kyle's researchers will have to look a bit harder for their subject matter. I cannot for the life of me understand the attraction of trawling the underclasses to laugh at their lack of life skills purely for entertainment. The audiences for these programmes are surely the modern equivalent of those who would pay for the pleasure of visiting Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Later, while visiting Sharon in hospital, the whole ward is royally entertained by Joyce, a very sweet old lady with a terminal condition and prone to slipping into periods of dementia, angrily berating a fellow visitor for upsetting her son. A son only she can see. We all laugh and I feel ashamed. Joyce falls asleep.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Something has been really bothering me about this record for a couple of weeks now. Undeniably catchy and another one of those, popular of late, that sound older than they are. Then it came to me. Have a listen:

Now have a listen to this old classic: