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Afternoon in Naples - Cezanne“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Carl Jung

In the final part of my brief series on the subject of home-sickness posted in the run up to Christmas last year I concluded that the malaise to which I had briefly fallen prey that November had been caused in the main by feelings of a loss of significance – a lack of purpose – and of the concomitant confusion concerning my place in the world. I further opined that the topic of ‘significance’ was itself… er… significant and that I would needs return to it in some future disquisition.

Now seems as good a time as any so to do.

As noted in the aforementioned post my emigration to Canada was not the only important event with which I was occupied last summer. I had also reached the end a forty year career in education. I consider myself to have been massively fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in two of the UK’s leading public schools (public in the English sense here) and I felt toward the end that in my primary career in IT (primary in the sense that it was that for which I was most highly rewarded) I had gone about as far as I could go. I had acquired something of a reputation amongst those peers whose opinions I most respected and had little need to prove myself further.

The English public school is an ancient and complex beast – particularly those amongst their number that focus on boarding. These institutions have fashioned an uniquely self-contained and multi-layered culture which incorporates not only the academic, the sporting and the artistic, but also their own individual ethos and mythology. Some go so far as to insinuate into the English language their own vocabulary.

Those who work for these august bodies can choose to hold themselves aloof from such aeon-aged Weltanschauung – or they can cheerfully subscribe thereto. It will surprise no-one that I opted for the latter course, throwing myself into as much of School life as was feasible for one who lived several hours’ drive hence.

I was also for a decade a resident (being joined there in ‘mid-term’ by the Kickass Canada Girl) of a small village in South Buckinghamshire – the sort of rural idyll in which everyone knows everyone else’s business in rather too much detail. I by no means ranked amongst the luminaries (and there were a fair few of them!) but most of them knew who I was.

I served the village for a number of years as secretary to its cricket club. To those for whom the notion of ‘village cricket’ stirs thoughts of amiable amateurishness – or perhaps summons up images redolent of bucolic quaintness – I should point out that within the appellation itself the words ‘village’ and ‘cricket’ get equal billing. Whatever the standard of the play and the good nature and friendliness of the participants, membership of such a club does expose one to all of the pressures and pomposities attendant to rural politics and personalities.

This whole slightly convoluted explication is by way of an illustration as to how the structures that I had (mostly) sub-consciously adopted to support my life in the UK had successfully furnished me with a sense of belonging – a sense of purpose. I knew my place. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, of course… we all do pretty much the same. Reaching the end of a working life can, however, lead to a dislocation from this sense of place as, of course, does moving to a strange country. Doing both at the same time virtually guarantees it and having to start afresh to rediscover one’s sense of worth from scratch can be intimidating. In my case one of the side-effects was my brief bout of home-sickness.

As might be determined from those pre-Christmas posts my response to the malaise was to indulge – as is ever my wont – in a little navel-gazing. Interestingly the topics to which I have alluded above were not the ones that featured most strongly in the resultant retrospection.

Those that were – however – must wait for next time.

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidOne of the incidental side effects of adhering to Voltaire’s immortal dictum – as given voice by the eponymous Candide in his final utterance – is that the Kickass Canada Girl and I do indeed now have a garden to cultivate.

I make no bones about it – unlike my father and my grandmother I really am no gardener. I have in the more distant past taken a share of the responsibility for what was quite a large garden, but for much the last two decades the stately properties in parts of which the Girl and I have lived have had the advantage of splendid communal gardens – maintained by splendid communal gardeners.

We now find ourselves the fortunate owners of a very lovely and quite mature ‘yard’ – as Canadians have it (and I invite you to consider that “We must cultivate our yards!” really doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).

One good thing about taking on such a responsibility at this particular time of the year is that there is perhaps slightly less to be done than there would be in other seasons. This is handy as it gives us the opportunity to watch and see what happens rather having to pile in – all guns blazing.

Grass – on the other hand – waits for no man and thus it was that I found myself last week – having borrowed a mower from our dear friends (who, you may recall, have a landscape design business) – for the first time tending to our acres (actually just under half an acre).

Mowing a lawn is a splendidly manly occupation (man in control of powerful machine, working in harmony to bend nature to his will!) and I found myself enjoying the chore considerably. It quite took me back –  though not to my previous gardening days for it had then been quickly established that the steeply sloping lawns of that garden were beyond my meagre capabilities and a pro was engaged to carry out the task instead!

Rather I was put in mind of my cricket club days. I was for a period the honourable secretary at the sort of village club where there was no professional groundsman and everyone was invited to muck in to help out with the ground maintenance. As ever volunteers were few and far between and those of us who did throw our hats into the ring consequently spent considerable amounts of time tending to the greensward. I didn’t mind that much as I found following a mower up and down a cricket square to have quite a therapeutic value.

Some who follow this blog will – during the summer months – doubtless continue to be similarly engaged. I will now instead rather be spending my time cultivating what might one day merely make a decent enough croquet lawn.

What is it about the English and their lawns?

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Saturday last saw the final match of the season for the itinerant band of cricketing misfits for whom I still – on occasion – turn out. The fixture took place in a gloriously bosky setting in the Surrey hills, at a venue which – though I have long known of it – I have never previously visited.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe ground at Holmbury St. Mary is the highest in the south of England and is reached by means of an unmade and deeply rutted track that might feel more familiar to residents of the Canadian wilds than it does to the natives here.

The track up Holmbury Hill is – however – considered a great improvement from the early days of the club, when all concerned had to trek up a narrow path carrying all of the required gear and equipment – not to mention foodstuffs and water, of which there was at the time no supply on site. At the end of the day – of course – everything had also to be laboriously carried by the weary contestants back down the hill to the village.

It struck me – as I journeyed hence – that the occasion might actually represent for me rather more than just the end of another season. It is quite likely that I will not get to play any cricket at all next year, since I anticipate that the preparations for our move to Canada – not to mention the event itself – will occupy much of our time and efforts during the temperate months.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBy the time we are suitably established in BC I will be sixty two years old and somewhat long in the tooth for this sort of carry on. I have written previously concerning the cricketing scene in Victoria – the which would seem to be in good health – but I doubt that it will prove a broad enough church to provide a haven for a geriatric veteran of dubious ability such as myself.

If indeed that turns out to be the case then my cricketing days are over and I will have played my last match.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI came late to the game – having effectively given up on it (as a participant – not as an enthusiast!) subsequent to my notably undistinguished career at school. I took it up again in my mid 40s at a time when I was re-evaluating many things in my life and have played consistently since. Though never achieving my fondly held ambition of scoring a fifty I have nonetheless derived a great deal of pleasure from the game – not least from some of the characters that I have encountered and from the wonderful mise en scènes in which the sporting drama is frequently enacted.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPerhaps – now that so many more things in our lives are changing – it might indeed be time to call it a day. Who can tell?

If this does turn out to be the case then this particular game was sadly not (the sylvan setting aside) one which by which I would have hoped my egress would be marked. We had not played the opposing side before (themselves also a wandering side) and it turned out to be a dramatic mismatch.  Having humiliated us in short order – and presumably not feeling that they had had their money’s worth – they insisted that we stay on for a further 20/20 game… so that they could crush us all over again!

I – for one – did not stay on for the beers!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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unequal-147925_640“No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone.”

Henry George

A few years back – in the days when I still regularly turned out for my local village cricket team – I underwent the following experience the which might just stand as an allegory – albeit not a particularly elegant one. I will endeavor not to blind too much with cricketing jargon – though I feel sure that the gentle reader will in any case get the point.

The village team – being composed chiefly of a blend of those of advancing years and those still wet behind the ears – plays only friendly fixtures, with the earnest intention of avoiding the over-competitiveness of league cricket. On occasion the opposition will drop out at a fairly late stage for the usual reasons – can’t raise a team… had a better offer… etc, etc – and the squad finds itself at a loose end on some sunny Sunday. There exists – fortunately – a sort of ‘fixture exchange’ mechanism by which teams that find themselves in such a position can pick up an alternative game at even quite a late stage – with some other club that has been similarly let down.

This had indeed occured on the occasion that is the subject of this parable. We thus found ourselves travelling a considerable distance to a ground with which we were not familiar, to take on a Sunday social side that we did not know.

Following our arrival it became rapidly apparent that the opposing side – although broadly akin to our own – had been augmented for our benefit by a couple of first-team players from the club’s Saturday league side – eager for a bit of practice. These guys were definitely a cut above.

We were put in to bat first and slowly and untidily attempted to accumulate a score. The problem was that we also lost wickets at regular intervals and by the time we were all out after around 30 overs we had amassed (something of an exaggeration in this case!) the pitiful total of 118 runs.

This was clearly not going to be enough, but we took to the field determined that our ragged bowling attack should give as good an account of itself as possible.

In such situations in village cricket the team batting second has a choice. The preferred option is to try to make a game of it – and to keep everybody happy in the process. This is done by promoting some of the lesser players up the batting order, secure in the knowledge that not only will more of those who have turned out get a crack with the bat, but that the match will doubtless still be won comfortably in any case.

In this instance however – and to the obvious displeasure of the remainder of their colleagues – the two league players decided instead that they would open proceedings themselves. In the ensuing carnage they knocked off the 119 runs required to win within 6 overs! This is a rate of nearly 20 runs an over – such as would be considered extraordinary even in the modern professional 20/20 game which trades on just this sort of outrageous pugilism. We spent a highly unpleasant 45 minutes clambering over barbed wire fences, struggling through bramble thickets and braving the nettle beds to retrieve the ball from the adjacent fields whence it had yet again been propelled. All the while our tormentors leant on their bats and engaged in smug conversation.

Consider this…

At the culmination of this abbreviated fixture we drove away sulkily, swearing by all the cricketing gods that we would never again play this bunch of lowlifes, and cursing that we had travelled all this way just to have our day ruined. Nine of the opposition players doubtless huddled irritably in their bar, ruminating on the fact that not only had their day’s enjoyment been hijacked by two of their own, but that there was also now no-one to stand them a round of drinks after the game – as is the custom.

And what of the terrible two? Well – any smug satisfaction that they might have gained from demonstrating their superiority must surely have been tempered by the knowledge that, a) given the difference in ability they had only done what was inevitable anyway, and b) we had not provided a sufficient test to have given them useful practice. Comes to mind the memory of the chess-swot at school who – because no-one else would play him – took to offering me a queen and two rooks start, and then still beating me in five moves!

There is – of course – a moral to this tale. That – however – can wait for another post…

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidLast Sunday there was a break in what appears to have become in recent years the accustomed pattern of weather for the English month of May – chill, damp and unremittingly grey! The cricketing gods clearly smiled on me, however, for the day marked my first (and quite possibly only – though who can tell?) appearance in whites this season. The match was to be played on the downs above Guildford.

Long-time scholars of these humble scribblings might sense at this point that they can distinguish the sounding of some distant carillon – and they would be right so to do. Two years ago – almost to the day – I posted a screed entitled ‘Perfect Day’ in which – amongst other things – I extolled the simple pleasures obtained from the equivalent fixture then – the which was played on the self-same spot.

To quote myself (odious practice though that might be):

“The match was played in a suitably amiable spirit, I scored a few runs and the right side won. It was, all in all, a most satisfactory result and I rolled home close to 9pm tired but happy.”

I am delighted to report that I can repeat that sentiment word for word this year, even though – on this occasion – the spoils went to the opposition. The match had gone to the final over, was close and satisfying, and everyone was content.

The substance of my posting two years ago – however – concerned less the Arcadian charms of the occasion itself, but more the fact that such pleasures counted for little if one happened to be – as I was then – separated from one’s significant other. The Kickass Canada Girl was at the time but a few months into her sojourn in Victoria and I was missing her badly.

How different are things now! Not only was the Girl waiting to greet me when I stumbled back home after the match, but she had earlier driven over to Guildford to watch a little of the game – in spite of knowing that I would be in the field at the time and thus unable to speak to her beyond the odd snatched exchange. She strolled instead around the boundary – looking particularly windswept and gorgeous in the sunshine – and I found myself accruing serious kudos from my fellow flanneled fools for having snared what the tabloid press would most certainly term ‘a stunna!’ (defined by the Urban Dictionary as – “Someone who is always fly with gear, cars, jewelry.” – whatever that means!).

I am minded of a comment made by Oldest Friend (of whom I have written previously in these annals) concerning his wife. “A day not spent in her company” – he opined – “is a day wasted”.

He’s not wrong…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt says a good deal as to the frenetic pace at which we have been living of late that Sunday last saw only my second appearance of the season in the whites (as opposed to the garish ‘pyjamas’ of the short-form game) that are still in the main the mark of the village cricketer.

I posted regarding my first outing of the season here. This fixture was played under rather different circumstances, taking place not on some bucolic countryside cricket green but rather in a council run park in one of the suburbs of south London. Nowhere near as pretty and – as is often the way with council squares – the pitch was – shall we say – erratic… to put it mildly. In other words – some balls kept low whilst others would shoot abruptly up to chest or even chin height and very few came on nicely to the bat – making the timing of shots difficult in the extreme.

No matter. A good game was had by all and the opposition – another side new to us – were good sports. The match was thus played in an appropriately Corinthian spirit.

One of the great beauties of cricket is that the game came be played in a wide variety of formats, from the full five day ‘tests’ so beloved of the purists (of which I count myself one) down to the frantic dash of the Twenty20 format, which is done and dusted – razzamatazz and all – in around three hours. Even at village level subtle variations can be agreed upon to enhance the occasion. For this fixture – for example – we had agreed on two additional rules:

  • every member of each team would be required to bowl at least one over – including the wicket keepers…
  • once a batsman reached 30 runs he would be obliged to retire, though he could come out again if all of his team’s other wickets had fallen.

These ‘house’ rules were adopted to ensure that all concerned would be as involved in the match as possible, and so that no particularly gifted individuals could hog the limelight.

As a result I got to bowl a couple of overs for the first time in ages and – to my surprise – I actually took a couple of wickets… although the second such – a stumping – came from such a rank bad ball that I felt embarrassed to have my name associated with it. I also hung around for a while with the bat and accumulated what is – for me – a respectable score.

Once I was out – however – we lost several more quick wickets and soon found ourselves at 120 for 8, chasing a target of 183 and with only 7 overs or so left in which to get them. A win looked the least likely outcome at this point. Fortunately – by another of the sort of quirks that features only in this type of game – we had held back a couple of our better batsmen until well down the order, and some judicious hitting out by them saw us home with a few balls to spare in a most exciting finish.

Jolly good stuff all round – and everyone went home happy.

As the title of this post suggests, I have made no attempt herein to elucidate any of the arcana of the game for those with little or no extant knowledge thereof. To make up for this ommission I am very happy so to do – individually – for anyone who might be interested.

I don’t think I will hold my breath though!

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OK – so there are two possible explanations for the preceding and somewhat grouchy post on the subject of the current state of the British weather… The first is that my natural optimism had temporarily deserted me – prompted in no small part by the dogged insistence of our forecasters that the immediate future – in meteorological terms if no other – looked grim. The second is that I was actually practicing a subtle form of climatic voodoo – the intention being to goad the weather gods into an antithetical response. If this latter were indeed the case… well, it worked like a charm!

Contrary to all of the forecasts – including those on the day itself – the clouds cleared from the sky, the wind dropped to a balmy breeze and the temperature soared by a good five degrees. The ground – previously unknown to me – was pretty as a picture. Our opponents were good-natured and sportsmanlike – and we contrived not to lose. To be entirely fair we managed only what might be considered a losing draw – a concept almost certainly completely alien to anyone not conversant with the arcane nature of the game. I will happily explain should anyone so desire…

Today – naturally – it is once again grey and cold!

Anyway – here are a few snaps…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. 

Joseph Conrad

Just under a year ago this weekend I posted thus on the occasion of – amongst other delicious happenings – my first game of cricket of the season. I am – in theory – due to turn out for this year’s corresponding fixture this coming Sunday. As things stand I would say that the odds on the game taking place must be on the longish side – and that’s putting it mildly!

Now – I wouldn’t want to intercede in the argument between the global warmists and the climate change deniers – sorry, sceptics! – but from my entirely partial standpoint I think there can be no doubt that there is “summat oop wi’ t’weather”. (No idea why I came over all cod-northern there… Must be a hot flush or something – or a cold one, mayhap!)

At this juncture last year we had just experienced one of the dryest winters on record and dire warnings of droughts and hosepipe bans were still ringing in our ears. Had we but know it we stood on the cusp of one of the wettest summers in living memory, which intemperate season saw the cancellation of many of the great game’s fixtures at everything from national to village levels. As we now emerge, blinking, from one of the darkest winters of modern times – featuring as it did the coldest March for fifty years – we find ourselves waiting with some trepidation to see what the summer – should it ever arrive – will bring.

Thus far the omens are not propitious. With the exception of the odd – and unexpected – springlike day the temperature has struggled to creep into double figures. On the infrequent occasions that there has been some variation from the ominous grey that habitually covers the UK at this time of year the alternate fare on offer has tended to comprise bitter winds and stinging horizontal rain.

Who knows? Maybe the rain will hold off for long enough for twenty two ragged-arsed cricketers – clad between them in getting on for fifty sweaters – to brave the elements and attempt to remember why they play the game at all.

I’ll let you know…
rain

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“That’s the way I do things when I want to celebrate, I always plant a tree.”

Wangari Maathai

 

This last weekend saw the final cricket match of my season. It was a very relaxed, festive affair – taken in good heart by both sides and with much jolly banter and gentle joshing. I found myself batting for a while alongside a much younger chap whom I had not met before. This is not unusual as the nature of a wandering side such as ours is that players come and go over the years, playing a few fixtures here and there as and when they can, or when the mood takes them. You might gather that – given my advancing years and general inability to keep up with the keen youngsters who turn out for more ‘serious’ sides – this suits me rather well.

As it turned out this particular batsman had well and truly got his eye in and laid waste to bowling of all complexions, only finally succumbing shortly before our allotted overs were up for a score in the mid 60s. (Note for the uninitiated: I am not even going to try to explain cricket here. Maybe in a future post… or ten!) The chap concerned was delighted. He had been playing for 9 years, and this was the first time he had scored a ‘fifty’!

Whilst congratulating him unreservedly I couldn’t help feeling a small pang of envy. I came back to cricket in my mid 40s – having played in a desultory fashion at school – and I have thus only been playing semi-seriously for about a dozen years. Scoring a ‘fifty’ has been a major ambition of mine throughout this period and – though I have flirted a number of times with the 30s and once almost made 40 – I have never been able to go on to get the ‘big one’. Maybe there is yet time – maybe not. Though I am learning to “treat these two impostors” with equanimity I have to admit that this has been the cause of some small sadness.

 

No matter – this post is intended to be purely celebratory. I may not have scored a ‘fifty’ at my favourite game – but I have scored a ‘ton’ when it comes to blogging. Yes – in a little over 38 weeks since I took up blogging as a complete novice I am now posting my 100th entry. Hooray!!

Well – I’ll drink to that – and also to the gentle reader for sticking with it…

Cheers!

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As a counterpart to my previous post on cricket in Victoria

On Sunday I visited my old village cricket club in Buckinghamshire in the UK. It was the occasion of the annual President’s Match – always the highlight of the season. Perhaps for this week only the weather had turned glorious and the day was – as a result – really rather splendid.

Until he retired a couple of years ago when well into his 80s (to be replaced by his son in law!) the post of club President was held for many years by one of the scions of the Guinness family. A long-time resident of the village and a tireless worker for charities and local causes he is a great supporter of the club and can still be seen regularly at the ground on a Sunday, sipping a cold Guinness and enjoying the cricket.

The Guinnesses famously provided Vancouver with the Lion’s Gate bridge (as our ex President takes delight in reminding me). They did not, naturally, do so for altruistic reasons, but because they had purchased more than 4,000 acres in what is now West Vancouver and were busy developing it.

It has become a tradition over the last decade or so for the team fielded on behalf of the President to comprise, in the main, members of the extended Guinness family, with – on occasion – three generations represented in the same team. A number of them played cricket to a decent level at the sort of schools with which I am very familiar and in some cases well beyond. As a result it has also been a tradition of recent years for the President’s side to win the fixture – often handsomely. Two years ago saw the first ever tie between the two sides and then last year – for the first time in many years – the village finally came out on top.

This year – in a very close game – the the club finally scraped across the line with three balls to spare and with the final pair at the crease. Nail-biting stuff!

Here are some (remarkably) random images from the day.

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