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Posts Tagged ‘cricket’

This is the sign that barred my way on a favourite walk last week:

Not one I’d encountered anywhere before.  Fair enough, I guess.  It’s a nice thought, runs being scored, centuries even, in the years to come, from wood from the trees I’ve often walked by and seen spring into fresh leaf since The Parks Trust opened up the path skirting the Stony Stratford Nature Reserve in the Ouse Valley Park in January this year.  Test ground or village green, the contemplation of the well executed straight, on or off drive is a beautiful thought, the few I ever managed rare glimpses of personally attained perfection.  The path has been a real boon, finally making sense of the Nature Reserve which previously could only been seen from afar from the riverside, giving the option of a circular walk where none existed before, and the birds have been worth taking the binoculars along for – nesting crested grebes, cormorants, lapwings, the usual suspects.

Book group book this month was one of my all time favourites, a book I love dearly.  The first time I read Andreï Makine‘s novella A life’s music (2001. English translation, 2002) I just went back to page one and started straight over again; it’s lost none of its power for me since on this re-reading.  Or its vividness.  For a mere 106 pages its sense of the sweep of Russian history from the 1930s and the purges to the mid-70s is immense – like a big fat Russian novel in that respect.  It’s an epic poem that sings of life’s glories, stolen little moments of the universal joys that are still – unexpectedly, suddenly – to be had in the face of a ordinary hardships, never mind a grinding totalitarianism and its hypocrisies.  A life’s music speaks of compassionately of “the disconcerting simplicity with which broken lives are lived”  but also of “the provocative heedlessness of clouds, birds, sun …”   It’s no anti-communist tract, though Zinoviev’s notion of Homo sovieticus, of wasted lives that will put up with and accept so much, is consciously addressed:

this human stagnation, down to its tiniest sigh, down to the clink of a bottle against the edge of a glass, down to the pages of Pravda under the scrawny body of the old man in his worn overcoat, pages filled with stories of targets achieved and perfect bliss.

But its the glimpses of human contact, of being alive, that can never be erased, that are celebrated here.  Reading it again I was more struck by the book’s relish in contingency … if those soldiers had not cruelly taunted that squirrel is one such.  A group of people are holed up, huddled together, in a railway station on the edge of Siberia waiting for a delayed train.  The writing puts you in there with them.  The narrator is woken by strains of music from a piano.  He finds its source and as the long journey to Moscow gets underway it’s the pianist’s story that takes over, a tale of stolen identity to escape political persecution, a hazardous escape, in fact, into the war; wounded, he finds himself with a cushy post-war position driving a top general with a delightful daughter, which all comes to a dramatic end at a party.  Again, a piano is involved.  There’s an emotional coda wherein the subsequent 20 years are telescoped leading to an emotional – talk about sadness and joy – ending, a special kind of private triumph.  “This,” said one of the women in our book group, bowled away by a book she’s never have dreamed of picking up, “is why I joined a book group.”

There are a couple of pages elsewhere on Lillabullero devoted to Andreï Makine and his works that you can get at from this link or from the Pages menu over on the right of your screen.

A few more cryptic crossword clues from the Guardian or Observer newspapers that have tickled my fancy of late.  With some its the classic simplicity that I like rather than any great intellectual effort being involved – though one is really neat – or the tang of a language that can mean two things at once.  With others the response can only be a groan.  Plus a couple of neat anagrams.  It’s the setter’s nom de croix first.  Answers at the bottom, under the photograph that you can reflect on… 

  • from setter Everyman: Fruit brought into Northants Town? Good heavens! (3,6)
  • from Paul: Titanic’s destiny to be notorious? (2,4,2,7)
  • from Rufus: Try out striker in international game (4,5)
  • from Rufus: Certainly less than 50% (3,4,)
  • from Puck: Environmentalists such as Ethel Merman and Thomas Hardy? (4-7)
  • from Orlando: Sailors from Cowes may be audacious (8)
  • from Araucaria: Don’t declare – stick (5)
  • from Orlando: A lot of porridge or just a bowl of cherries (4)
  • from Gordius: Rhetoric of a socialist or otherwise … (7)
  • from Gordius: Basic facts of loads beneath supporters (5,5)
  • from Picaroon: They keep drinks cool, with loud requests to swallow litre (3,6)
  • from Everyman: I’m Toby, cranky and eccentric (3,2,2,4,4)
  • from Paul: Cash rarely jazzy – his genre soul (3,7)

  • from setter Everyman: Fruit brought into Northants Town? Good heavens! (3,6)  Cor blimey
  • from Paul: Titanic’s destiny to be notorious? (2,4,2,7) Go down in history [sorry]
  • from Rufus: Try out striker in international game (4,5) Test match
  • from Rufus: Certainly less than 50% (3,4,)  Not half
  • from Puck: Environmentalists such as Ethel Merman and Thomas Hardy? (4-7) Tree-huggers (sorry Geoff – not strictly Ximenean I’ll grant you, but sweet)
  • from Orlando: Sailors from Cowes may be audacious (8) Insolent (Cowes, Isle of Wight: In Solent)
  • from Araucaria: Don’t declare – stick (5) Baton (Bat on)
  • from Orlando: A lot of porridge or just a bowl of cherries (4) Life
  • from Gordius: Rhetoric of a socialist or otherwise … (7) Oratory
  • from Gordius: Basic facts of loads beneath supporters (5,5) Brass tacks
  • from Picaroon: They keep drinks cool, with loud requests to swallow litre (3,6) Hip flasks
  • from Everyman: I’m Toby, cranky and eccentric (3,2,2,4,4)  Not in my back yard (anagram)
  • from Paul: Cash rarely jazzy – his genre soul (3,7)  Ray Charles (anagram)

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Who that cares

A long time ago I made a resolution not to bother finishing books I was getting nothing from. Mostly I’ve kept to it.  I’m glad I forced myself to get beyond an opening sentence like:

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa …

What?  Awful on so many levels; but so starts the Prelude to George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch‘, no less, that I raved about in the post before this one.

Despite its passages of considerable power, on the whole I wish I’d kept my resolve to abandon the well reviewed ‘Half of the human race‘ by Anthony Quinn (Cape, 2010).  Or looked at the closing page to see that it did indeed end as I’d feared, for we are, for all the forced feeding of hunger strikers and the First world War trenches, basically in saga territory here.  It promised much: a couple of county cricketers, a suffragette, an older artist/lecher of the Camden Town School.  (Oh, and the Battle of the Somme; frankly I think the time has come for some sort of fictional moratorium on that mire – nothing is added here.)

I like to be able to say of a writer, not a wasted word. There’s a lot of superfluity in this novel.  And annoying period tics like putting an apostrophe in front of the word bus most of the time, the much cited notion of rakishness and the batsmen playing for ‘M___shire‘. Not much humour either, beyond calling the declining cricketing legend ‘The Great Tam’, short for the tragic Andrew Endall Tamburlain.  Along with the artist Denton Brigstock, he was my favourite character.  I’m afraid Will and Connie, the two leading protagonists in what is basically a long drawn out love story, didn’t really do it for me and I wasn’t convinced by the actual cricket played either, no real camaraderie.

At one stage he says, “It’s very queer meeting up again like this isn’t it?”  Will is by this stage a Somme casualty, Connie’s a nurse.  “I was just thinking that,” she replies.  I feel like I’m being invaded by the spirit of Charlie Brooker – it’s because you’re in a novel, dumb ass. And how about this.  Connie has just wished him all the best with his new engagement (he broke it off with her when she went to prison for coordinated suffragette window breaking):

Will was stunned by her words, and by the unaffected way in which she had spoken. He wanted time to parse them and pursue their implications, but already she was backing away from him, joining the general footfall heading into the station.

He wanted to what?  Never mind that footfall.  Here they are making up again:

It was not the past that concerned him, but her future. Connie seemed to respond to his closeness, for as his hip bone jutted accidentally against her she felt a muted but powerful current flare within, tingling her nerve ends, and by small degrees she pressed herself to him ..

The subject shifts, does it not?  She seems to him then suddenly she is all in the same sentence.  Never mind the jutting bone.  That, by the way, for all the wooing is the closest we get to mention of sex in the book, apart from the artist, off-stage.

Enough.  I probably need to say at this juncture that Quinn has had two well received novels published and I haven’t so much as written a short story.  And there are, as I said,  some episodes of great power.  Connie on the run in Paris and, corny as it is, Connie operating on Will to save his life; the artist Brigstock’s painting of Connie, Will’s drunken reaction in the gallery to Brigstock’s Great War painting; pretty much all of  The Great Tam; and blinded brother Fred’s fulfilling marriage is very simply and effectively done.

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Victorian cricket

Some sort of perverted interpretation of the spirit of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society‘s

“Preserving the old ways from being abused,
protecting the new ways for me and for you”

was necessary on Sunday when the sun shone on a 20-20 cricket match, at the Stony Stratford CC ground, albeit one played under ‘Victorian’ rules.  So – underarm bowling under specific rules of length & number of bounces (one); a skill not to be taken for granted it would now appear.  (Pedantry demands mention that Victoria succeeded to the throne in 1837, two years after the roundarm method of delivery – arm at shoulder height – was legitimized, and 27 years before the overarm style that is the staple of the modern game, became legal in 1864; interesting, that, I thought.)

For what it’s worth the gentlemen of Stony beat the gentlemen of Wolverton and there was has been nary a hat, cap or waistcoat to be found in the local charity shops for some time of late.  Good fun, with a tannoyed running Test Match Special styled commentary of some wit – who would have imagined how many cricketing puns there were to be pulled from dentistry (when a local dentist was at the crease) or indeed electioneering (when it was a town councillor’s turn).  And there’s a particularly splendid weeping willow beyond the boundary to the north end of the ground..

Not a lot of sport being played in Kate Atkinson‘s ‘Behind the scenes at the museum‘ (1995) though there are a few maidens being bowled over as the lives of four generations of the Lennox family are played out in and around York, though their passage on the page is not exactly not exactly chronological.  This was the novel that spectacularly launched Ms Atkinson, but great admirer that I am of her later work, I’ve only just got around to this one.

There’s a nod to ‘Tristram Shandy‘ right at the beginning, where we start with the act of conception of Ruby Lennox at the time of the Festival of Britain, but glorious as it is, this is no shaggy dog story.  Ruby tells the tale, her chapters alternating with ‘Footnotes’ – basically flashbacks to previous generations, though confusingly not in any particular order.  I could have done with a family tree – apparently there was one on the web but it disappeared with the demise of GeoCities.  I might even do one myself, because, in the end this is a book to love.

Kate Atkinson has a lovely touch – I’d like to suggest it is magic realism without the fantasy.  There is magic in the tangents and juxtapositions she adopts as we encounter tragedy, scorn, compassion, morality kept and unkempt, and lives endured along with bids for freedom.  Family life, and the influence of previous generations, the parallels, are written about here both dispassionately and heartbreakingly.  There is wit and low farce, with some great comic timing, the author choosing, to the second, the right moment for someone to, for example, vomit.  There is an unspoken recognition too, that this , my generation, is the first for a century when young men did not to have to go to war.   It’s not all as bleak as I  may have made it sound; while the sadness and gladness are not exactly in balance there’s enough happiness snatched to keep us going.  It’s a book I look forward to reading again.

How delicious, for example, is Ruby’s Lost Property Cupboard theory of life, or indeed in this passage, the afterlife, even without the narrative resonances:

“- when we die we are taken to a great Lost Property Cupboard where all the things we have ever lost have been kept for us – every hairgrip, every button and pencil, every tooth, every earring and key […]  All the library books, all the cats that never came back, all the coins, all the watches […] And perhaps, too, the other less tangible things – tempers and patience (perhaps Patricia’s virginity will be there), religion (Kathleen has lost hers), meaning, innocence (mine) and oceans of time – Mr Belling and Bunty will find a lot of time in their cupboard.  Mr Belling is always sitting at the wheel of the Rover parked in the driveway, looking at his watch and fuming, ‘Do you know how much time we’ve lost waiting for you, Ruby?’ “

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Netherland

The attraction of Joseph O’Neill’s ‘Netherland’ (2008) was instant.  You’re in Gatsby territory from the off, but a Gatsby of multi-ethnic post 911 New York,  Chuck Ramkissoon is a dodgy, charming and live-wire Trinidadian of Indian extraction, an entrepreneur with more than a touch of gangster about him but with a vision and a plan to build a cricket empireand take it to a wider USA.  The narrator, Hans van den Broek, is Dutch, a cog of some significance in the financial markets, married with a young son to an English woman; he’s back  in London after a stint working in NY that nearly finished his marriage.  There, in his depressed and desolate hour of need, he was befriended and used by Chuck.  It is news of Chuck’s death, now that Hans is back and reconciled in London, that kicks off a rambling and meditative narrative which takes in a childhood in Holland, courtship in London, and life in the financial districts and new ethnic communities of NY.  And the game of cricket as it has touched their lives:

“I’ve heard that social scientists like to explain such a scene – a patch of America sprinkled with the foreign-born strangely at play – in terms of the immigrant’s quest for sub-communities.  How true this is: we’re all far away from Tipperary, and clubbing together mitigates this unfair fact.  But surely everyone can testify to another, less reckonable kind of homesickness, one having to do with unsettlements that cannot be located in spaces of geography or history; and accordingly it’s my belief that the communal, contractual phenomenon of New York cricket is underwritten, there where the print is finest, by the same agglomeration of unspeakable individual longings that underwrites cricket played anywhere – longings concerned with horizons and potentials sighted or hallucinated and in any event lost long ago, tantalisms that touch on the undoing of losses too private and reprehensible to be acknowledged to oneself, let alone to others.  I cannot be the first to wonder if what we see, when we see men in white take to a cricket field, is men imagining an environment of justice.”

O’Neill is a hell of a writer.  He keeps all these balls in the air and then some.  His prose sings and glows, it never loses momentum even in desolation.  Here is an elegy for charisma, a kind of realism and detachment, a celebration for a marriage that survives.

“The English summer is actually a Russian doll of summers, the largest of which is the summer of unambiguous disaster in Iraq, which immediately contains the summer of the destruction of Lebanon, which itself holds a series of ever smaller summers that lead to the summer of Monty Panesar and, smallest of all perhaps, the summer of Wayne Rooney’s foot.  But on this evening at the end of July, it feels like summer simpliciter, and it’s with no real thought of anything that I detach myself from the mass whose fate is Waterloo Station and go down the steps to the riverbank.  It’s a scene of good cheer on the esplanade, where the wanderers are in receipt of that peculiar happiness a summer river bestows, a donation of space, of light and, somehow, of time: there is something regretful in Big Ben’s seven gongs.”

I meant to say what emerged as the surprise car cassette-player singalong hit of the week in the Lakes.  On one side a selection from Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band‘s under-rated and much derided “sell out” albums of 1974.  I speak of  ‘Unconditionally guaranteed‘ – Beefheart as soul singer up there with the best of them – and ‘Bluejeans & moonbeams‘ – the crystalline beauty of ‘Observatory Crest’ and the lingering ruefulness of the title song; sometimes you don’t need a low yo-yo.  And on the other side of the cassette (it’s not a new car …) John Cale‘s majestic and mysterious thing of elegaic wonder, ‘Paris 1919‘.

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