Monday, 17 July 2017

What A Carton!

For this week’s Sermon on the Mount, I had been intending to discuss either the complex and challenging emotional journey that attending Felling versus Tynemouth in the NEPL would have involved, where my childhood demons faced off against my middle aged contentment, or the mental anguish of my Gimblett meets Trescothick preparations for Stobswood 2nds against Monkseaton 3rds. Instead, I had a lost weekend; heavy overnight rain put paid to lengthy introspective musings on the midweek anxiety I’d endured while on-line shopping for whites (XXXXXXXL size, natch) that gave way to Friday evening insomnia and Kafkaesque night terrors.  The Felling v Tynemouth game looked an unlikely prospect when I had to make my Saturday sporting choice, so I cycled to Blyth AFC v Benfield, while the Croons stormed to a stirring 7-wicket win after starting at 2.45, then caught a smidgeon of Monkseaton 2nds narrow 226 run loss to Whitley Bay 2nds in the natural amphitheatre on Hillheads Road, before several great pints in the Left Luggage Room and The Lodge, predictably enough.

I was glad of the trip out to Blyth; good to get the sun on your face and wind on your back. So far this season, I’ve seen 2 Benfield friendlies and learned nothing from them, other than Joe Hailes, the lad we signed from Chester, looks more than decent. First up, it should have been Blyth Spartans on 4th July; unfortunately the usual summer downpour meant the pitch was a lake and so the game didn’t go ahead, which was a shame. Instead, we kicked off against Esh Winning on the 4G at the school in 30 degree heat on Saturday 8th, where the main source of excitement was their jumpy jack ex referee manager Jackie Traynor; considering he used to wield a whistle, he doesn’t have a lot of time for officials. We beat them 3-2; up 2-0 early on, changed the whole team at the break, pegged back to 2-2, then Dylan McEvoy curled a delicious free kick for the winner. Still Jackie chuntered on about our first being offside, berating poor old Tony Cash from pillar to post for not raising his flag. There was another kickabout against Forest Hall on the Thursday, which we won 6-1; I didn’t bother with this one, but apparently it was played on a school grass pitch as several of our lot had pet lips on about carpet burns from the astro turf. Soft as shite the lot of them.

No such problems at South Newsham on Saturday; plenty of grass on the pitch, which actually looked like it could do with a trim in all honesty. Apparently the Northern League Division 2 side using this facility are now known as Blyth AFC, not to be confused with Blyth Town (who also play at South Newsham and used to be Blyth Town Reserves) or Blyth FC (who play at Cowpen) from the Alliance second division. Further attempts at elucidation as to the state of relations between these competing entities were unsuccessful; it’s a great squad they’ve got and a great facility too, but is it only a team rather than a club? Time will tell. Anyway, the game itself was your typical pre-season farce; ended 4-4 with a trio of soft penalties, two for them and one for us. It went 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 4-3 and finally 4-4. The last goal was a lovely finish by Ollie Leedham; nice to see him returning to fitness. Next up we’ve got Killingworth YPC from the Alliance, at Amberley Park, before a trip to Durham City on Saturday 22nd. Hopefully that game will allow me to tick off a couple of nearby NEPL Division 1 grounds, with Willington hosting Mainsforth and Brandon facing Sacriston.

Luckily, I did get to see some Tynemouth cricket on Sunday. I arrived at Preston Avenue to find the Academy carrying on the brave and noble Croons tradition of horrific batting collapses; they were 2/4 and then 9/5, before a promising young fella by the name of Hallam Major made it a contest by contributing 35 not out from a total of 84. When Washington were 42/5 in reply, it looked incredibly well balanced, but they managed to dig in and win without further mishap. Interesting game and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but not enough there for a full article, alas. Though, as Saturday’s first team run-out hero Martin Pollard pointed out, while attempting to contain his exuberant toddler offspring and explaining the minutiae of the ideological chasm that separates Eppleton’s Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks from Hetton Lyons, I was bound to think of something and, surprisingly, I have….

Ladies and Gentleman; the winter it has passed and the summer’s come at last, which means the football season is back! Whoop! Whoop! Alleluia! Sing hosannas to the glorious silver jubilee of the Premier League. Give footballers Phillip Hammond’s wages. Sort Rafa out with a 3XL Slazenger polo and set him to work on the tills in the new SD where Boyers used to be on Sráid Tuaisceart Iarla; he can have every penny he earns from his shift for new players. Yes folks, the big news is not that Newcastle United have so far only completed the permanent transfers of former loanee Christian Atsu and the acquisition of Florian Lejeune, with Jacob Murphy apparently imminent, or that the squad has been bolstered by the return of the prodigals De Jong, Riviere, Saivet and the charlatan Krul, but that 100 lucky punters with Willie Wonka style wristbands get to see the manager and the players for some gladhanding merch launch at Ashley’s kip on Da Nort Soide. Who knows, if it goes well enough, we won’t just be able to get some more bodies over the line, but we might raise the €60m needed to buy Carton House, where straight the team have repaired, as it’s there we’ll find tidings of our dears. Mind, experience lets me know that Kildare supporters’ hearts are full of woe after the Jackeens took their strides down in the Leinster final. We’ll return to the GAA and League of Ireland later in the summer, despite the fact there won’t be a state visit this year, leaving me stuck on 31 of 32 counties and 17 of 20 grounds…

However, I know you’re actually yearning to read about my take on Newcastle United, so here goes. As ever, the situation is a complex and multifaceted one that seems to elude the grasp of many of the support whose default position, regardless of circumstance, is self-righteous fury. Transfer dealings are a major bugbear; rather typically it isn’t just a case of complaining we’ve not signed enough, but the immoderate response to those we are linked with, on whatever tenuous pretext, or the potential sales of certain squad members. Frankly, if everyone just took a deep breath and stepped back from their smartphones and tablets, they’d see just how silly they all look, endlessly pontificating about the state of Newcastle United.

For many of the Twitterati, and I’m not just talking about the self-selected south Tyneside uberfan Brains’ Trust here by any means, it is almost as if the travails of the club are of greater magnitude than any other event. The unstoppable rise of Corbyn’s Labour Party, the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the situation regarding Trump and Russia: none of these things matter. If it isn’t specifically related to Newcastle United, or how the deficiencies of local public transport negatively impacts on their day, they aren’t interested. Some of this lot were more concerned with the outcome of the Fans’ Forum composition than the General election; it really is nuts.

The situation is this; if we accept the Jacob Murphy deal will be completed soon, then Newcastle United will still have 3 players out on loan, in the shape of Matz Sels at Anderlecht, Alex Gilliead at Bradford and Tom Heardman who’s with Bury. Yoan Gouffran is out of contract and appears ready to turn down the offer of another year on reduced terms, which is a shame as he did well in The Championship; Turkey is his apparent destination. Best of luck to the lad; him and Vurnon Anita were steady, sensible footballers who endured endless tirades of intemperate abuse by those with without faith who didn’t accept the truth. Of those still on Tyneside, Mbemba has some Visa problem, Adam Armstrong is still in Milburn reception with his suitcase and a packed lunch, waiting to go out on loan, the returning, worthless loanees Riviere and Krul appear to be finished at NUFC, while Achraf Lazaar, whose debut against Wolves in the League Cup last season was as awful as Fumaca’s legendary sub appearance against West Ham on January 2nd 2000, is hopefully on his way too. Goodness knows where though…

There are 27 players training at Carton House, including the apparently expendable Darlow, Hanley and Daryl Murphy, so if we add Mbemba to those still required at SJP and count no chickens about the latest potential Norfolk turkey, we have 25 players realistically in with a shout of the first team: Rob Elliot, Freddie Woodman, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett, Jesus Gamez, Massadio Haidara, Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejeune, Jamie Sterry, DeAndre Yedlin, Rolando Aarons, Christian Atsu, Jack Colback, Mo Diame, Victor Fernandez, Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie, Henri Saivet, Jonjo Shelvey, Callum Roberts, Siem De Jong, Dwight Gayle, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez and Chancel Mbemba.  Being brutally honest Gamez and Haidara don’t look like they’re that bothered about playing football, while Sterry, Roberts and Fernandez are presumably there for experience. So, we’re down to 20 players now; obviously as it’s a squad game, we need 18 for a team and the full bench, which could look something like this -:

Elliott – solid & dependable
Yedlin – fast, exciting & keen to improve
Clark – assured & classy
Lejeune – great pedigree
Dummett – there is no-one more reliable at the club
Hayden – potentially a great player
Shelvey – the main creative force
Ritchie – passionate & creative
Atsu – grew in confidence as the last season went on
Perez – the most instinctive player at the club; capable of moments of sheer quality
Gayle – his goals record speaks for itself


Woodman – a World Cup winner
Lascelles – huge heart
Mbemba – steady performer
Aarons – unpredictable, but talented
Mitrovic – Serbian Whitehurst

There are still 2 bench places to fill, presumably in the midfield, with 4 potential candidates. The front runners may be assumed to be those in possession of Championship medals, namely Colback and Diame, though the former was woeful last season and the latter, seen as a Championship specialist, didn’t exactly set the heather blazing either.

However, this is precisely where Rafa and his apparently impressive coaching skills should come into play; what about De Jong and Saivet?  I realise they weren’t Benitez buys, though neither were 4 of the first eleven or any of the other benchwarmers. Surely Rafa has the guile, experience and nous to coax something from the two of them; De Jong, rather than Diame, is the only realistic option to Perez for a number 10 and Saivet could hardly be less effective than Wearside Jack. Could he? Newcastle’s first friendly was away up in Gorgie at Tynecastle Park last Friday night; it wasn’t on the Saturday as the Leith San Siro was holding the capital’s bigger game of the weekend when Hibs trounced Montrose in a Scottish League cup group game. That said, Newcastle played quite well, with the outstanding performer, even outstripping Gayle’s brace in a 2-1 win, was Siem De Jong. I know it’s not the Champions League, but his rehabilitation has to start somewhere. I’d warrant Benitez ought to spend the week in Kildare trying to get the best out of De Jong and Saivet, as they could make the cliché real and be like two new signings.

Yes I’ll freely admit there are gaps in the squad; a reliable full back if Gamez and Haidara (as well as Lazaar) aren’t up to the task, someone creative in midfield and a lethal striker would be nice. However, as appears to be the case, either Ashley’s obstinate intransigence or Charnley’s pettifogging parsimony are acting as spokes in the wheel of progress, Benitez needs to show his strength of character. This doesn’t mean flouncing out the club, nor does it necessarily mean doing a double shift in the Shirebrook warehouse to curry favour with the owner. It means getting on with the job, grafting and getting the best out of players who, if they have any dignity, will want to show what they are capable of.

With the squad out of the country this week, I’m expecting no deals other than Murphy to be concluded before the Preston game and possibly not before Bradford on 26th July. Such apparent inaction will probably require the Twitterati to be placed in induced comas for their own safety. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that 31st August is when we should look at the squad, as we’ll be 3 games into the season by then, but the Verona friendly on 6th August is looming pretty large in terms of signposting I feel, as one week before the season starts, you’d expect to see the first choice eleven in position. Here’s hoping eh?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Big Meetings & Sad Partings

I don’t recall how old I was when I first attended the Durham Miners’ Gala, which we always referred to as The Big Meeting in our family. I’d imagine I was probably about 5 or 6, which would make it around 1970 or 1971. That point in time makes sense to me for a couple of reasons; firstly my dad, who though he was never a miner, served his time as a sparky down Heworth Colliery, took a job with Durham Council street lighting department at Framwellgate Moor depot in early 1971 and therefore had a reason to be in the area, as well as a bright yellow work transit he could park anywhere he wanted in the county. Secondly, my sister (we’ve been estranged for more than a decade now) was born in March 1970, so probably I’d have been carted down there in the back of the old fella’s van for a day out, well away from her incessant screaming. My dad always said that if she’d been born first, she’d have been an only child. In contrast, my entire somnolent life has seen me fall into a state of complete unconsciousness the moment my head hits the pillow.

The Big Meeting always takes place on the second Saturday in July, which often coincided with the start of the school holidays in those days and also the meteorologically important St. Swithin’s Day. As my mother believed it didn’t rain on my birthday of August 11th from 1964 to 1996, I have to conclude Big Meeting day was always dry in the early 1970s.

My grandpa Harry Cusack (he’d been christened Patrick Henry, but the family never used their real first names for some reason I never quite got to the bottom of; witness the fact my dad was actually James Edward Cusack, though everyone called him Eddy) had spent a large period of his working life in England underground, digging coal. He had retired perhaps 5 years before I was born, because of a “shortness of breath” that was diagnosed as pneumoconiosis; a curse on as many as a third of all pitmen. The pension and compensation subsequently awarded to him were a tribute to the tireless work done by NUM officials in looking after members suffering with ill-health.  Interestingly, my ex-wife’s paternal grandfather who worked at Kiveton Park Colliery in South Yorkshire, claimed those miners he worked with who smoked a pipe were far less likely to succumb to this debilitating lung disease, presumably because of all the coughing and spitting they did to clear out their tubes, while non-smokers suffered terribly with what was known in those parts as “Chapel Lads’ Cough.” It was so named as refraining from tobacco and Methodist abstentionism almost always went hand in hand.

Rather like the South Yorkshire chapel lads, my grandpa was a teetotaller; a lifelong Pioneer, though he did smoke. It seems rather strange to think of a member of the Cusack family as a non-drinker, considering my Uncle Harry ran pubs and social clubs for many years, my dad loved a pint and my Uncle George, who followed his father into a career under the ground, latterly at Westoe Pit, was a tremendous boozer, who almost singlehandedly kept Wardley club open. Instead of drinking, my grandpa spent much of his leisure time playing the cornet with the Heworth Colliery Brass Band. When the pit shut in 1963, it was renamed the Felling Silver Band and when his breathing difficulties made it impossible to play an instrument any longer, he used to march at the head of the band. He did that every year at The Big Meeting until 1975. Later that same year he was diagnosed with dementia, though back then it was called “hardening of the arteries,” which resulted in him being moved to Stannington Mental Hospital, near Morpeth in Northumberland, where he died in February 1978. The decision to have him “put away,” as was the terminology of the day, caused a fissure in the family that never properly healed; the 6 surviving Cusack children were never all on speaking terms again, even at their mother’s funeral in May 1993. Now only 2 are left.

The picture at the top shows them all at The Big Meeting; from left to right we have Grandpa with the tuba, Maureen (now Hird) in the white coat, George, Grandma, Marion (now Cusack), Harry, Mollie, Kath (my mother), Brian (almost obscured), two people I don’t know and then Eddy. Quite why he’s carrying a tuba I’ve no idea as he never played a musical instrument in his life, though he had a great voice for Irish folk songs. I’d hazard a guess the photo is from the late 1950s, possibly 1959. Obviously it’s before 1963 as the banner behind is still for Heworth Pit, showing Keir Hardie, Peter Lee and one other, but not the Felling Silver Band. Also, Brian and Marion were the youngest on there by several years, and I presume they’d only recently started walking out together. Also, Maureen’s husband to be, John G Hird, is not on here; as he was born in October 1937, he was presumably doing his National Service at this time. I’m unsure who took the photo; a possible answer could be Bob who was married to Mollie. The only people still alive who are on this photo are Brian and Marion, Maureen and Kath, though her dementia is so severe as to render her continued existence a curse rather than a blessing.

It is interesting to reflect on my feelings towards those present. I’ve never been a particularly family orientated person, mainly because I grew up in such a dysfunctional and violent family unit. As a victim of childhood physical abuse, I’ve always viewed families as dangerous rather than nurturing places.  For the most part, I felt a distance from my grandparents; there was no dislike or fear, it was just that my mother’s mother, who I thoroughly disliked because of her permanently miserable worldview, lived in the next street to us and was always around. I really don’t know why Eddy put up with her. As regards the Cusack family, I do recall that I was scared of Maureen, who was almost always in a state of nervous hysteria and of Mollie, who was forever annoyed with me. George I never really knew, while Harry I liked enormously as he was absolutely superb craic and never patronised me; even when I threw up Pernod and black all over the kitchen lino at a family get together when I was 16.  Brian and Marion used to remind me of Bob and Thelma from The Likely Lads, partly because they lived in Whickham. Once I met them again properly in around 2007, I found them to be intelligent and interesting people, though as you can see, I have never used the words Aunt or Uncle in this piece as an honorific for any of these relatives. This is because of need to keep my distance from those I’m related to. Indeed, the only reason I used Grandpa was to distinguish between the two Harrys. I have great affection for Harry’s two kids, my cousins Grahame and Karen, who I rarely see I must admit. Also, I’ve recently became quite well acquainted with Bob and Mollie’s son, my cousin Bob, on account of the fact his daughter lives near me and we often run into each other and stop to chat. I do have other cousins; some I know to say hello to, some I don’t and some who I regard, as well as my sister, as being implacable enemies. It would not bother me one scintilla if I never speak to any of them again. I’ve already decided not to attend my mother’s funeral to avoid any potential unpleasantness.

And what of The Big Meeting? I suppose I stopped going when Grandpa’s condition deteriorated. Certainly, I don’t recall being there once I’d started secondary school. It just dropped off my radar and out of my consciousness. Even when I became a teenage Marxist, we didn’t go. It took me until almost 21, in 1985 to go again. During the 1984/1985 NUM strike, The Big Meeting had been cancelled because of the need to protect assets, both human and financial, at such a crucial time. After the strike was lost, I went in 1985 with Felling Labour Party. We had a bus pick us up outside Harry’s old bar, The Swan, at Heworth. Arriving there on the rainswept Saturday morning, I was staggered to see cops with riot shields and armoured vans waiting to meet us. It was that kind of a day; lousy weather, an ugly mood of triumphalism meets despair. I didn’t even hang around for the speeches; got the bus to Low Fell and skulked up Kells Lane towards home in a fug of despair.

However, 2013 was a very different matter; it was the first one after Thatcher’s death, so you had to be there to celebrate the fact. I proudly carried my union banner (UCU Northern Region) from the Market Square to the Racecourse, where we heard inspirational words from Owen Jones, Davy Hopper and Bob Crow (the latter 2 have gone now of course), before having a right good drink in the sun.  It was a reinvigorating occasion, in the same way the horror of the 2015 general election caused the biggest spike in Labour membership in decades, not to mention the small fact of the subsequent organic campaign that elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Here we are, with 200k plus at Glastonbury and at Durham, acclaiming Corbyn as the person to lead the Labour Party to power and to put right the wrongs of the last however many years of austerity. Make no mistake, this is not a cult of the personality; this is the voice of the people saying we want change. Just look at the performance of Laura Pidcock, the newly elected MP for North West Durham; a leader in the making I shouldn’t wonder. You know, I taught her A Level English Literature a dozen years ago; now here she is, fighting for Socialism in parliament. I was proud to see her at Durham.

Of course, I wasn’t at this year’s Big Meeting because of other commitments; Tynemouth CC losing to Durham Academy by 2 wickets with Benfield 3 Esh Winning 2 in the opening friendly of the season as the football filling in a sporting sandwich. Thankfully, the baton for the class struggle has been passed down a generation. My Ben, who turned 22 the week before, was there. He marched, took photos, including the one above, listened to the speeches, had a proper drink in The Head of Steam and came away revitalised and reinvigorated. He’s a Labour Party member and a Socialist; he understands how Capitalism has failed. Thankfully he has youth (and a dislike of cricket) on his side; his generation may not be the stormy petrels of the revolution, but they’ll do more than pacific loons like me.

And that brings me to the loss of my dear friend Niall, who passed last week. His humanist ceremony of farewell has a dress code of either loud, tasteless shirts (his speciality) or red; partly because he was a Liverpool fan and partly because he was a Socialist and hated the bloody Tories. I hope his send-off does him proud. He was a great bloke and I’ll miss him acutely, but I'm eternally privileged to have known him.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

This blog is dedicated to my dear friend Niall Mercer, who passed away on July 4th. He wasn’t a cricket fan, but he did live on Osborne Avenue and a couple of times over the years, he wandered down for a few sunny Sunday afternoon beers when Northumberland were playing. I miss you my friend.

Many, many years ago, long before I didn’t become a novelist, I used to want a career in the theatre. Seriously, I did. Fired with enthusiasm by the engagé politics embraced and espoused by the likes of 7:84 and the agitprop dramaturgy of Barrie Keeffe, I entertained a short lived ambition to be a radical playwright, actor and director in a committed theatrical troupe that would function as the artistic scion of the imminent class war, scheduled for summer 1981. I got as far as directing a few Samuel Beckett short pieces at College with other pretentious A Level sorts to underwhelming audience reaction, which I put down to the impenetrable text rather than any flaws in the performance. I wrote a play, presciently titled I Have No Experience Of Life, which nobody who read it liked or understood, so I promptly abandoned my dream after accepting I had zero talent for writing convincing dialogue, almost filled my strides every time I stood on stage and lacked the wit or imagination to present plays in an interesting or challenging way. Well, useful to get that learnt, as Larkin said.

However, I did retain a deep and abiding love for modern plays, and not just the kitchen sink realist stuff either. This was possibly on account of the fact that my 2 English teachers for A Level were implacable sworn enemies and refused to talk to each other in any circumstances, resulting in the farcical situation where we studied neither poetry nor novels, but instead immersed ourselves in 8 set plays (Paper 1; Jacobean Tragedy. Paper 2; Post World War II Drama). My favourite was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, which was memorably summarised as a piece where “nothing happens, twice.” Basically two tramps Vladimir and Estragon mooch around, talking bollocks to fill their time in until the enigmatic Godot arrives to tell them something. Twice he is due and twice he sends a servant to say that he isn’t coming today but will certainly do so on the morrow. The implication, of course, is that he is never going to show up.

Waiting For Godot acts as a mirror held up to the unremittingly bleak, dissatisfactory and pointless nature of the human condition. As Beckett was a left-arm seam bowler for Dublin University, who played two first-class games against Northamptonshire, making him the only Nobel Laureate to feature in Wisden, the play is also a suitable metaphor for my late-blooming cricket career for Monkseaton 3rds. Having ended my previous cricket blog by stating I’d quite fancy the odd recreational game, things moved to a whole new level of intensity on Sunday 18th June.

Ordinarily, I would have been en route to South North for the opening day of a MCCA Championship game where Northumberland would lose by 10 wickets to Cumberland, but I chose not to. Indeed, I’m not sure if I’ll be back watching Northumberland again this year. Rather strangely, the brand new Northumberland CCC twitter account (@NlandCricket) chose me as the third person to follow, after JDT and Oli McGee of course. After exchanging pleasant tweets during away games, I went to check on the side for the Cumberland fixture, only to find that I had been blocked from following that account. I emailed to ask why and got no reply; I’m not sure if it’s an accident or what, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve done nothing other than attempt to publicise Northumberland CCC and be visible in my support. Hell, I even went to Wormsley for the one day final the other year; one of about 30 souls to do so from England’s border county. If anyone knows why this is the case, please inform me as I’m at a loss to understand it.

Instead, I found myself watching Kirkley amass 262/6 at Churchill Playing fields from their 40 overs and Monkseaton 3rds compile 47 all out in reply (G Oliver contributing a stylish 0 not out), where I learned the news I’d been registered for the hosts, but on the proviso I’d only turn out when absolutely necessary, bat 11, not bowl and field somewhere the ball had little chance of finding me. Almost certainly, this would be on a Saturday at an away game, as this would mean Monkseaton needed to turn out 33 players, with 2 teams being away. On the weekends when two teams are at home, the 3rds play Sunday, with numbers bulked out with hired hands from the other two sides. However, despite my nervous availability, the game away to Blyth 2nds on Saturday 24th June was conceded as only 7 willing participants could be found, which at least stopped me facing the potential humiliation of being dismissed and/or killed by one of my current students who bowls at quick a lick for the putative opponents. A week later I remained extraneous to requirements for the trip to Warkworth on Saturday 1st. The inclement weather during the previous week meant the 2nds were without a game, so they mingled with the 3rds, helping them to a gallant 5 wicket loss which, in terms of the season Monkseaton 3rds are having, is like winning the Ashes from 2-0 down and following on in the third test.

So, what cricket have I seen since we last spoke? Other than the aforementioned Monkseaton v Kirkley contest, I’ve seen 12 games on 8 different grounds. Not bad considering I missed the first Saturday in June up in the Lothians for my annual trip to the Scotch Juniors and the second Saturday was an utter washout. The month started wet; Friday 2nd saw a morning downpour, but a dry and breezy afternoon allowed the third of Tynemouth’s 20/20 group games, at home to Burnopfield, to go ahead. We batted first and posted 123/6, which is around the same as we’d got against Durham Academy the week before. Unlike that game, where the youthful and talented opposition made the runs with ease, the rules of the competition rather than the ability of the opposition conspired against Tynemouth after a between innings cloudburst. For the game to be regarded as complete, there must be a minimum of 10 overs bowled, with an over lost for every 3 minutes 45 that play is suspended. Typically, an abandonment was averted by seconds and play was again possible with 10 overs to be bowled. With no Duckworth Lewis Method applying in the NEPL 20/20s, Burnopfield were only required to score 62 to win, which they did off the last ball at a loss of 5 wickets, eliminating Tynemouth with 2 group games to go. It was a deeply disappointing result on a night when there was a substantial crowd at Preston Avenue, though admittedly a large proportion were coastal females making hay while the rain poured, guzzling their way through boating lakes of complimentary Prosecco on what had been styled as Ladies’ Night. Cheers anyway…

The rain had dispersed by Sunday, so having missed a game the day before when in Scotland, while Tynemouth held on for a losing draw at Eppleton by their fingertips (164/9 in reply to 223/5) and Newcastle compiled the highest ever NEPL score of 371/4, with JDT’s contribution a modest 119 from 47 balls, to beat Stockton by 223 runs, I fancied a bit of an adventure, which is perhaps not how everyone would describe a trip to Sacriston by bus on a Sunday. Actually, on reflection, it was an absolute ordeal. Luckily, the one person I know from Sacriston, Tom Keith, came to my rescue and collected me from Plawsworth after I bailed on the glacially slow X21. Cheers mate; appreciated, especially as it meant I was delivered to the door of the cricket club. Unlike football grounds, the lack of floodlights means visual hints as to the location are not always available (witness my previous pitiful efforts to find both Eppleton and Tudhoe). Sacriston has to be the equivalent of the fancy dress shop in Mr Benn as it is accessed by a set of double doors from the main street, next door to a Tesco Express, which takes you into the bar of a social club.  However, it’s not a bad set-up, with a vaguely rural feel to it as two sides look out onto open countryside and another to a care home. Mind the bucolic charm is ruined if you sit the other way as you fix your gaze on the delivery area of a small supermarket.  That day, the peace and tranquillity of the game acted as an antidote to the chaotic scenes of devastation at Borough Market the night before; cricket is only a game, but it’s the best one.

If there is one side that has endured the worst possible luck in league competition recently, it has to be Sacriston. On the final day of last season, a campaign in which they went unbeaten, they were set fair to beat Felling in a winner takes all encounter, until the umpires called them off for bad light. As a result, they suffered a losing draw and Felling went up in their stead. As someone dragged up in NE10, it’s great to see the first place I ever saw a game of cricket hosting top flight games, but Sacriston were understandably devastated. The change in playing conditions to insist games in September start 30 minutes earlier is welcome, but cold comfort to Sacriston. At least this year, it seems justice will prevail as the first team are again unbeaten and about 60 points clear at the top. It wasn’t the first team I was here to see though, but the 2nds who were hosting Mainsforth in a Banks Bowl tie that had been held over from the Whit Bank holiday, as Sacriston firsts were still in the national village knock out and had played that weekend.

Mainsforth are in their second season in the league, having replaced South Hetton following a play-off in 2015, necessitated by the black-balling of Esh Winning. Ironically I’ve played Over 40s football at both Mainsforth and Esh Winning, but never seen cricket there. As Mainsforth are locked in a battle with Seaham Harbour to see who’ll be relegated at the end of this campaign, I’m not in a hurry to get there either.  Their second team did their best, upholding the Corinthian approach, by playing the game in the right way, but like any small club putting out a second team Sunday cup side, they comprised the young and slight cheek by heavy jowls with the aged and portly. Sacriston took them to the cleaners, totalling 338/4 from 45 overs and then skittling Mainsforth for 138 to win by the pleasingly exact total of 200 runs, which was about the number of bus stops I went past on my journey home. Leg 3 from Monument to Tynemouth was easy enough, as was Leg 2 from Stanley to Eldon Square, but Leg 1 took me to places I’ve never even heard of before, much less visited. South Moor, Craghead and Edmondsley; nice to see you, but wouldn’t want to live in you.

In the week that followed, the country went to the polls, which resulted in the rescheduling of the imminent class war that was postponed in 1981, so I returned to Tynemouth for a dead rubber 20/20 tie against, of all teams, Sacriston. Talk around the pavilion benches was more of the lousy forecast for Saturday than post-election inquests, or the decision to relieve Matty Brown of wicket keeping duties to allow him to concentrate on his batting, with Chris Fairley taking over behind the stumps. Sacriston batted first and made 116/9 and Tynemouth won by 6 wickets, but only from the last ball as the visitors kept it tight on an absorbing night. Sadly, the only thing absorbing on Saturday was the ground taking in water. Still, how else would we have got 5 points from Chester Le Street eh?  

Sunday 11th was dry and very breezy; the storms of the day before long gone. As a result, I undertook another adventure by public transport, this time to Washington for the 2nd XI 20/20 group competition, where a late start on account of a moist outfield resulted in it being curtailed to a 15/15 format. Common sense had prevailed in game order, with the hosts facing Hetton Lyons first up and winning by 10 runs. Consequently, the tiresome Tynemouth – Monument, Eldon Square – Birtley, Birtley –Harraton journey was undertaken with a little less urgency. Alighting amidst radicalised Christian extremists at the Gethsemane New Life Bible Centre, I arrived to see the principle of loser stops on was being adhered to with Hetton Lyons about to bat. I was nicely settled in time to see Sam Robson take a caught and bowled from the first ball of the innings, then a second wicket at the end of the over, leaving them 1/2. Washington is a big ground; the outfield is probably as extensive as Gateshead Fell, so you’d probably fit 3 Jesmonds into it. However, there isn’t much to it in terms of atmosphere, intriguing architecture or eccentric nooks and crannies. Semis and bungalows down one side, a path at the other and a functional bar and changing room block by the car park. There’s also a big hedge and when one of their lot hit a 6 into it, we had a 10 minute delay before getting the ball back. In the end though, the Lyons went out like lambs, posting a mere 78. We got there for the loss of 5 wickets with 3 overs to spare. The Hetton lads didn’t bother changing for the most part, grabbing a bit tea then clearing off home.

Unfortunately, that win was as good as it got for us; a stuttering, error-strewn 87/7 in the decider, with byes top scoring, was never going to be enough and Washington contemptuously knocked them off for the loss of one wicket with 4 overs spare. On the positive side, James Carr gave me a free tube of toothpaste and Richie Hay gave me a lift home, so it wasn’t all bad. But that’s one of the fantastic things about Tynemouth Cricket Club; the inclusivity and sense of appreciation that you go and watch. It’s why Preston Avenue feels more and more like home every week, and why I went away twice the following week to watch them, courtesy of Vince the Chauffeur.

Friday night was the deadest of dead rubber 20/20 group games away to Seaham Harbour. On the same day Willington conceded against Benwell Hill, showing the lack of appetite for nothing games. As far as I was concerned, it was another ground ticked off the list, though there was a nasty surprise for Vince, who was pressganged into playing the Byronic Hero for the night as we’d only got 10. Due to one of those series of unfortunate circumstances, that happens every so often, the number of players unavailable because of life, work and families interfering, was substantial. Seaham as a place is massively improved; perhaps gentrified is the wrong word, but it’s certainly as quaint as Amble, if not Warkworth just yet. The cricket ground, accessed by a bafflingly circuitous one way system, was decent enough; the train line beyond the far boundary, with a scoreboard that seemed modelled on Trumpton Fire Station, the ubiquitous new builds at the top end and open fields at the bottom, where a dog obedience class was taking place. They went in first and an absolute bear of an opener started clubbing Tynemouth to all corners, until he holed out to young Henry Malton. An impressive couple of catches, and a pair of wickets for him this evening; no doubt he’ll reflect on that when making a double century at the WACA in a few years. Anyway, they got 110/8 and we won by 5 wickets with Tahir contributing an aggressive 42 and one of their lads bowling an 11 ball over, meaning Vince didn’t need to bat and I was in the Lodge for 9.30.

Fourteen hours later, Vince collected me from the same spot and we headed for Hetton Lyons. I don’t know much about the place, other than it’s the home of bizarre right-wing folk group The Weasels who, in one of the epicentres of the former coalmining belt, are proud to be scabs. I doubt the Durham NUM is aware of this, as they are apparently regulars at the Big Meeting.  As regards the cricket club, I’d been before, believing it to be Eppleton, so I’d not seen a game, but learned that it’s a canny shank through the long, thin town from Easington Lane to Church Road. In some ways, I wish I’d been at Eppleton instead that day, which was the hottest of the year. The quasi Moorish architecture of the pavilion, with its Spanish style white concrete stucco walls perfectly fitted a day that was always above 30 degrees, while the less than thoroughbred, haphazardly tethered horses in an adjoining field languidly flicked away flies with a snap of their unkempt tails. Lovely surroundings to watch them compile 240/8 declared. It could have been worse as we got the benefit of a couple of contentious LBW shouts; one perhaps too high and another where the lad definitely hit it. I did feel sorry for their young Aussie; out for 5, with his mum who’d flown over from Sydney, arriving just in time to see him face that one decisive ball from David Hymers. A tough total, but not an impossible one.

My admiration for Tahir grew exponentially that day, when I discovered his observance of Ramadan meant he wouldn’t even take a sip of water; his faith preventing him from indulging in even that minor respite when the drinks came on. Indeed, I missed his single ball innings when stirring my coffee in the snack bar cum book depository that does a magnificent bacon sandwich. Magnificent was not the word you’d use for Tynemouth’s batting; 1-1 (Nick caught in the slips), 1-2 (Ben caught off a leading edge), 1-3 (Tahir; missed it), 3-4 (Hallas caught when the ball stopped on him), 3-5 (Sam bowled, playing back), 12-6 (Lineas gloved it to the keeper) and 19-7 (Smithy, caught). You get the picture? The 33 against Newcastle was looking a formidable total at that point, but the next wicket fell at 35, before Niall Piper and David Hyners doubled that as we eventually folded for 72. The final indignity was Hetton asking for the extra half hour before tea.

Defeat confirmed, we skulked back through the tunnel to watch the 2nds show how it should be done, chasing down 226 in the reverse fixture, with the kind of dogged obduracy that had been noticeably absent in the first team, where blind panic of the kind most often seen in stampeding crowd scenes in a B-list disaster movie had been the order of the day. Still after a few beers, things didn’t seem quite so bad.

The following Friday, I thought about heading to Burnopfield for their 20/20 quarter final, but the weather didn’t look promising and I thought it better to spend time with my son, celebrating his IIi in history from Leeds; well done Ben. Shame you don’t like cricket.

Saturday saw the final fixtures in the first half of the season, with the Manchester City of the NEPL, South North, coming to Tynemouth. Marcus North started ominously for them with a four and a six, but then fell to an awful short from the bowling of the returning Finn Lonnberg. It was a dismissal almost as delicious as the chocolate éclair Ken the photographer presented me with; man of the match for him for sure. In fact, Tynemouth bowled very well to restrict them to 213. Sadly, the batting remained fragile, if improved from the week before and we were dismissed for 118. Only Matty and Tahir looked secure and both fell to unbelievable catches that show why South North are destined to be champions yet again, while Tynemouth dropped to third bottom of the table and had to digest the seriously depressing news of Felling’s thumping home win over Newcastle.

Sunday was another day of course and it’s not often you get chauffeured to the game by the opening bowlers, but that’s what happened. Finn, together with Sean Longstaff, fetched me to Stockton where the seconds were facing Stockton in a Banks Bowl quarter final. It all got off to a special start when Sean bowled their opener first ball; it’s what you’d call a bad leave.  Minutes later Sean’s dad David turns up and I have the happy task of breaking the news to him. Stockton don’t look much cop, but our fielding is abysmal; their opener makes 93 but is dropped 8 times, with nearly every one being a horrific error. However, their tail is a pronounced one and they subside from 182/3 to 224 all out.

During the break, David and I head off in search of petrol and a sandwich. There do not appear to be any garages between the A19 and the impressive if slightly ageing Grangefield ground, though we find a Tesco Express in the middle of swinging Norton, where the bars are heaving with Sunday afternoon revellers. The importance of healthy eating for an athlete is underlined as he gets a large bag of Monster Munch for sustenance.  We arrive back in time for the first ball of the innings, from by the lad who got 93. He gets 3 wickets as well, bowls his 9 overs through and then leaves; job done? Not quite. It does look a bit doubtful at 140/5 when Sean joins Matty McDine at the crease, but thankfully Stockton’s bowling is possibly the weakest I’ve ever seen. Sean whacks a few into the car park, including leaving a substantial orange-tinged dint in Sam Robson’s roof and we’re home and dry. I take a lift back to the club to collect my bike and find Halla, Vince and Fanta home and wet, in a state of severe inebriation as I give them a quick match report, before leaving them to another keg of medicinal San Miguel.

The next week, when the first ever round of day/ night county championship games are supposed to be played, is ruined by 4 consecutive days of torrential rain. Leaving work on Friday teatime I can’t see any possibility of play on the Saturday. However, an immediate 16 dry hour spell and a titanic job by Jacka the groundsman, who tears himself away from Social Media for once, results in the home game against Benwell Hill starting on time. We’re batting first, so the cynic’s question is, what will we all do after 4.30? In the event, loins are girded and we make 176 all out from the whole 58. Ben, Sam Dinning and Tahir contribute useful runs, though the latter is run out by Chris Fairley who’d been on the gargle until well after 5. At least he made it to the game, unlike the sheepish looking club chairman who cried off sick with Peroni poisoning and didn’t get out of bed until mid-afternoon. In his place, visiting 17 year old South African Rhys Unsworth makes 12 and looks like he has a superb technique; fair play to the lad. And fair play to all our bowlers, especially Sean and Tahir who win the game with 4 wickets each, even though we’d all felt sure the total was 30 runs short of what we ought to have made. It’s after 8 when Kyle Coetzer runs out of partners and the cheering is pretty loud, borne out of relief as much as anything when the last wicket falls. The news Felling have lost to the Academy, giving us a 45 point cushion on them, is warmly received. And then we all got completely bladdered. God knows how I got home with the bike, even though I was only pushing it.

Sunday morning, a fragile Vince gives a fragile me a lift to Eppleton for the Banks quarter final for the first team. It’s the yin to the splendours of Hetton Lyons’ yang. A rough, no nonsense place, but they love their cricket. Having lost Ben early, I’m convinced Matty edged one behind immediately after, though later he claimed he hadn’t touched it and I’d believe his instinct. They are incandescent when the umpire turns it down and their captain loses it for the rest of the game. I know a few umpires read my words, so I’ll state unequivocally that I am full of admiration for what they do; blokes often beyond retirement age giving up 8 hours on a Saturday to stand in all (dry) weathers. The level of concentration needed is substantial and if a fella in his 60s, whose vision and hearing may not be as razor sharp as the 20 somethings making those appeals or being given out, then that’s part and parcel of the game. No umpire makes a deliberately bad call and players need to remember that; mind they’re all choirboys compared to footballers, but that’s not saying much is it?

Matty makes 35, then the middle order collapse (poor young Rhys out first ball and Smithy caught behind when his bat was 8 inches away from the ball), leaving us 97/7. Thankfully the bearded wonders Fairley and Hymers get us up to 159 all out and it looks tight, their spinner taking 5. During the break, I have a good long chat with the dad of Leicestershire’s Ben Raine about local football and cricket, while David opts for a mild curry pot noodle from the snack bar as part of his healthy eating campaign. Paul Lonnberg is still thirsty and so fires half a gallon of alcoholic Ribena into him.

Eppleton  look to be on course at 96/3, until Sean runs their skipper out, who displays a volcanic display of petulance walking off. The bit is between our teeth and Sean, Tahir and Polly, the latter with an eye catching 3/17, dismiss them for 125, meaning we’ll host Benwell Hill in the semis. The day has a sour tinge when their captain sends his pal over to confront Tahir in the field, claiming without any evidence, Tahir had racially abused him. It’s pathetic and it spoils things, watching a little angry man channelling his frustrations at losing a game by making specious allegations. Game won, we get in our cars and leave. Another perfect weekend courtesy of Tynemouth Cricket Club.

July looks promising as well; Tynemouth home to the Academy, away to Felling and then South Shields on Saturdays, interspersed by a chance to get to both Brandon and Willington when Benfield play a pre-season friendly against Durham City. On Sundays we’ve got the delayed Banks QF between Newcastle and Sunderland as well as the 1st XI 20/20 finals day at South North this weekend, with the two semi-finals for Tynemouth; the firsts home to Benwell Hill and the seconds away to South North. There are 4 occasions when all 3 Monkseaton teams play on the same day in the rest of this season; ominously, two of them are in July…

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

2016/2017 Fanzine CV

Well, for any budding Boswells out there, here's what I got into print during the season just ended -:

28 Newcastle Benfield programmes
2 Tyneside Amateur League Cup final programmes
1 Tynemouth v Newcastle NEPL programme:
View From The Allotment End #1: Allotment Guilt
The Popular Side #13: The Fulwell End
The Football Pink #13: The Times They Are A-Changin’
View From The Allotment End #2: The Quiet Men
Hopeless Football Romantic #6: The Quiet Men (augmented)
Stand #20: Closing Time
The Popular Side #14: Popular Front, 13 Wasted Years & Christmas Comes Early
View From The Allotment End #3: Abuse In The System
The Football Pink #14: Rewriting History
View From The Allotment End #4: Cross Words
The Football Pink #16: The Concept
Stand #21: Pied Beauty

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Sounds of Summer


When last I wrote about culture, I was compelled to dedicate the piece to my friend Alex Neilson, drummer, polymath and wandering troubadour, who had suffered the tragic loss of his younger brother Alastair. My sympathies are still for the grieving Neilson family, but I would still beg indulgence to write a few words on Alex’s solo debut, Vermillion, released under the name Alex Rex.

This is not the time for false modesty. Vermillion is a work of genius. It is perhaps the best solo album to be released since the Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde trilogy. Like those three magnum opi, there is a seam of eclectic genius running through the project that Alex and his collaborators (the usual helpers; Alasdair, Lavinia and Mike) mine imaginatively and zealously, but not exhaustively. The subterranean pit of Neilson’s artistry has many shafts of magnificence as yet undiscovered.  With typical insouciance, it begins with Screaming Cathedral; a duet with Lavinia Blackwall that is more Bosch and Dante than Peters and Lee; “it’s horror heaped on horror,” they endlessly chirp like Sonny and Cher jamming with The Third Ear Band on the walls of Bamburgh Castle.  Postcard from a Dream has vocals similar to Visions of Johanna, pushed along by a jolly electric organ and an optimistic spring in its step. Just lovely.

The Perpetually Replenished Cup must be the only song in 2017 that borrows from Wilhelmus van Nassau, the national anthem of the Netherlands (a fact admitted to in a tweet by Alex himself) and turns it into an endearingly shambolic Klezmer pub crawl of a song. Best of all Song for Dora begins with an unaccompanied doo wop surreal poem in the style of Ginsberg, before a tight and dirty Magic Band style romp, with the most effective three note fuzztone guitar figure you’ll hear all year. Then all of a sudden, it’s Song for Athene at last orders in a social club Karaoke. You can’t want more than that. It is the finest album of 2017 so far and only likely to be bettered when Trembling Bells release Dungeness late this year.

The last time I saw Alex was when he was drumming for Shirley Collins at the Sage in March.  Another Glasgow based artist who sought to work with a grande dame of the folk tradition is Aidan Moffat, the engaging , bearded Arab Strap singer and sometime Bill Wells collaborator. Seeking to rewrite traditional Scottish folk songs for the modern world, he contacted the legendary travelling balladeer Sheila Stewart. Their artistic relationship was sometimes spiky, often frosty and bedevilled by distrust; on her part at least. Perhaps her songs were so personal to her and almost living fossils of an extinct age; she was reluctant to let them go. Thankfully, Moffat was not dissuaded.

The documentary and live album Where You’re Meant To Be chronicles the project from the inauspicious start to the triumphant climax at a packed Barrowlands. Sadly Sheila died just before the project was released, but Moffat talks (and writes in the sleevesnotes) of her with enormous fondness. While numbers such as The Ball of Kirriemuir, both in traditional and modern forms, will never be anything more than rugby club singalongs, the achingly poignant beauty in both words and music of the title track and the musical deoch an doris that is The Parting Song could never be beaten. At Barrowlands, Sheila barged on stage to deliver her version of The Parting Song, which can be seen on the documentary, as she emphatically dropped the microphone on Moffat. Sadly, sound quality issues meant the Sheila-less performance at Drumnadroichit makes up the CD and it is great, like all of Moffat’s stuff. Nobody else could deliver the line “another wee ned with another burst nose” and make it sound like poetry.

As a companion and a comparison, I also bought a Sheila Stewart sampler; Songs from the Heart of the Tradition. Now I don’t know if it’s my instinctive bias towards the Irish over the Scots and the English when it comes to the folk tradition, but like Shirley Collins, I find that a small amount of Sheila works well enough; obviously The Parting Song, but also Ewan McColl’s Moving On Song, the standard Blackwaterside and the compelling  Oxford Tragedy are worth the entrance fee alone. However, the rest of it can seem a little too much like Lulu with Jimmy Shand at the White Heather Club to these untrained ears.

2016 was the year of 4 Wedding Present gigs; in comparison 2017 has been a Gedgeless desert. Having made the schoolboy error of assuming there would be Stockton tickets left at the gig itself, I missed out on the March tour. Thankfully, there was the 30th Anniversary George Best farewell tour to look forward to, especially as Newcastle didn’t get a visit on the 20th anniversary tour for some reason (not that we’ve been short of Weddoes gigs recently).  The only that that put me off was the fact it was at the Academy, on whose sticky carpets I’d last trodden in March 2016 for TWP supporting The Wonder Stuff.  Considering recent Weddoes Newcastle gigs have been at Think Tank, The Cluny and Riverside, this showed that they were again on an upward trajectory in terms of audience figures; though that was as much to do with a deeply ingrained sense of nostalgia than anything else I’ll admit.

As is oft the case on these occasions, we had a few other numbers to warm us up. It was a slightly arcane set list, with the instrumentals Scotland and England bookending this section. As I’ve said previously, I adore the instrumentals on Going Going and The Home Internationals, seeing a whole new potential Gedge oeuvre nascently flowering, though I’m not sure the well-behaved crowd really got what this bit was all about. Perhaps that’s why Ben and I could slowly creep forward through a static crowd to the point the Academy’s notoriously muddy PA could be counteracted by the sound of the back line. Meanwhile Broken Bow and Deer Caught in the Headlights were both received deliriously by those who knew them and politely by those who didn’t. The stand-out songs, as opposed to instrumentals, from the opening bit were a truly down and dirty Love Slave and a stunning Click Click which is sounding better now than at any time since Watusi.

And so to George Best; it’s a classic isn’t it? The album that defined the received, though incorrect, popular opinion of TWP as the C86 band it’s acceptable to like. Obviously it’s not their greatest album; Seamonsters, Watusi and possibly Going Going vie for that accolade. It does contain great songs, as well as the bona fide drop dead classics My Favourite Dress, A Million Miles and Give My Love to Kevin, with very little filler. You have to say though, The Wedding Present of 2017 are not the band of 1987 or even of 2007, when that era’s incarnation “reimagined” George Best in Albini’s studio. The CD of that recording (raw, elemental and unpolished) was available exclusively on this tour. Needless to say I got a copy.  The live version of the album on the night was enormous fun; joyous and nostalgic. I’m amazed that Gedge can still play Shatner at his age; the bloke’s still got the kind of dexterity in his wrists similar to David Gower in his pomp. So many of the crowd knew every word; it was a good evening, topped off by an absolutely barnstorming Kennedy. We left for a late one in The Head of Steam with a smile and our ears ringing.

A couple of days later, I listened to the 20th anniversary recording and it’s pretty good. They play them quick, they recorded them live and it hasn’t been produced to death; this is Steve Albini we’re talking about. However, it’s not as good as the original, because the 1987 George Best original was a product of a time, a place, an idea and a vision that subsequently changed. The band changed, they evolved and developed from Bizarro onwards. It seems incredible to think the bloke who wrote Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft could even countenance the thoughts behind the words of Love Slave or Skin Diving, never mind writing the music for them. I mean I’m glad I bought this relic, this memento mori as it tells me Charles Layton is the finest drummer TWP have ever had and that Terri De Castro is the best bassist ever to have worked with Mr Gedge. However, given the choice, I’d rather have the youthful optimism of the 1987 album or the slightly beery bonhomie of the 2017 performance, if you don’t mind.


Andrew Waterman was my personal tutor when I was an undergraduate at Ulster University between 1983 and1986. At the time he was an erudite and conscientious lecturer whose courses on Fiction 1880-1914, Modernism and British Poetry after World War II were meticulously planned, insightful and stimulating. Away from the classroom, he was a deeply unhappy drunk whose third marriage had just disintegrated, with his wife leaving County Derry for rural Lincolnshire, taking their son Rory with her. Andrew was also a poet of some repute, whose deceptively simple personal narratives were very much in the tradition of The Movement, like a less sardonic and less gifted Larkin. After graduation I kept in touch with Andy for a few years, until his drinking got so bad in the early 90s he entered rehab, successfully.

I met him once more, in November 2005, in the company of Rory in the slightly surreal surrounding of Mark Toney’s on Clayton Street on a late Sunday afternoon. By this time Andy was happily retired, remarried and living in Norwich, while Rory was doing an MA in Modern Literature at Durham. Rory went from that to a PhD to a lecturing job at Nottingham Trent, as well as being a published poet. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree does it? Rory’s first collection Tonight the Summer’s Over came out in 2015 and I liked it immensely.  It was published by Carcanet, who had previously issued his father’s work. However these days, as perhaps befits the diminishing profile and talent of the father, Andy’s work is published by the disarmingly modest Shoestring Press in Norwich.

While Rory is 36 and seeks to address philosophical and temporal questions of great import, Andrew’s horizons are shrinking at he turns 77; his previous collection By the River Wensum was a consideration of life and ageing in the quietude of Norfolk. Recently, he has issued Bitter Sweet; a cycle of poems meditating on the death of his partner’s mother. This is done with care and compassion, avoiding all histrionics, but one wonders if the highly personal nature of such verse would be better kept private, especially as with his desire to provide support for his wife, Andrew has effectively removed himself from the narrative and reduced his role to chronicling rather than interpreting events.

Perhaps Andrew’s pamphlet could have been better analysed by the wonderful cricket writer David Foot. I’d not come across his work until earlier this year when I chanced upon a dog-eared copy of his biography of Harold Gimblett, Tormented Genius of Cricket. Having sympathetically and compassionately addressed the tatty ruins of the life and legacy of Somerset’s greatest batsman, it seemed natural for Foot to consider the case of neighbouring Gloucestershire’s enigmatic legend, Wally Hammond. Not only was Hammond a prolific run scorer and stylish batsman, he was an insatiable womaniser, despite being almost devoid of any fellow feelings or even personality to any large extent.

Foot’s euphemistic, prim prose deals with indelicate facts with delicacy and disdain. Hammond came from a loveless background in a shotgun armed services marriage. As well as excelling in cricket, football (two years with Bristol Rovers) and drinking (always pints and never appearing to be drunk), he was apparently very good in bed.  This provided little problems when his conquests were showgirls and rural socialites in the West Country, but was a life defining issue when it came to ladies of the night in the Caribbean on the 1928 MCC tour.

Wally returned from the Windies with a dose of gonorrhea; in those pre penicillin days (ironically, his other major health issue was repeated tonsilitis), the established treatment was to administer mercury. Unfortunately, if the dose is wrong, it can cause severe neurological problems. Foot’s contention is the fraught journey back from Jamaica while suffering from the effects of what was called a venereal disease, as well as the treatment with mercury and recuperation from this, in isolation in a nursing home, meant that 1928 shaped Hammond’s personality forever. It’s a compelling argument, sensitively put and a fitting explanation for the demons that affected Hammond’s life that was only a fraction less miserable than Gimblett’s post cricket privations.