Take off those pyjamas

Fifth In okay, repeat after me “limited overs cricket is not cricket. Again. “Limited overs cricket is not cricket”.

Cricket is a game of infinite subtleties, nuances and fluidity. When played at its best, the game is almost infinitely beautiful, composed of tiny, almost invisible elements, a cornucopia of tiny battles between batsman and bowler. Cricket is the sound of leather on willow, the scattering of stumps the slap of leather on hand.

And this soundtrack is played out over the most elastic of timeframes. In a full test match, taken to its most extended form, the game incorporates five luncheons (not lunches) and five tea breaks. A further 15 short breaks are taken for drinks.

This is the way sport should be played. Cricket is tactical and strategic, skilful and subtle, strong and courageous. Whether or not we like it or concede it, cricket, in common with so many team sports is a surrogate for warfare and all the better for that. Countries that compete with each other in team sports on the whole do not fight each other. That course of action is conducted on the cricket field.

Over the last several decades cricket has truncated somewhat. Increasingly we are offered “limited overs cricket”, a grotesque parody of the real game. The real game of cricket takes place over the course of 4 to 5 days at the professional level with two innings for each side. That said, my old school used to play an annual fixture at Lord’s against Harrow. Although only two days in duration, it nonetheless consisted of the magical two innings per school. It was therefore, by my definition, cricket. Also, if you were playing, it excused you from double geography.

Why?

Why was that cricket (not why were you excused double geography)? For two reasons. Firstly the game took place over two innings and, secondly, all three results (win, lose, or draw) were possible and all shades in between. It taught the players all sorts of realities about life. It taught players of the injustices (there was no Hawkeye, ball tracking or snicko in those days. If the umpire raised his finger, you were out, plain and simple. Your protest, of which there should be none, was, even when given by the most myopic umpire, limited to a brief raising of the eyebrow, lasting no more than a second before walking off. You did not offer your thoughts on the umpire’s parentage, eyesight, or intellect. Nor did you invite him to pistols at dawn, a ruckus in the car park or any one of a plethora of punishments. The truth is you were out for no greater reason than that you were given out.

At school we could not get our fill of cricket (which is more than can be said for geography). I listened on scratchy crackling radio to the test matches in Australia where, in those days overs of eight balls were the norm. Whatever happened to that?

Let me get to the point (and there is no need for that language). “Limited overs cricket” is not cricket. It is a travesty of cricket, like a cricket cartoon. The kind of cricket that might be played by the seven dwarfs. Comedy cricket without any competitive edge. Limited overs cricket is not, I repeat not, cricket the For a variety of reasons. Here are some.

CRICKET IS NOT PLAYED IN PYJAMAS. Even when I’m asleep and dreaming of cricket, it is in whites, or technically more accurately creams. Playing cricket in pyjamas was, I suspect, the creation of someone without any background in the game. A marketing man perhaps. I struggle to keep a straight face when I see otherwise respectable cricketing figures in pinks, fuchsias, oranges, and so on.

CRICKET IS NOT FOOTBALL AND THEREFORE DOES NOT REQUIRE NUMBERS. I can understand their usage in the hustle and bustle of a football match but the same does not apply in cricket, a much more largely static game. Does it really make it easier for commentators? Or is it just another way of milking the merch. I don’t have any problem with discrete numbers on a player’s cap, denoting his position in the list of former and present players. That seems a genteel nod of respect. By the same token, we do not need their names on the back of their shirts either.. Cricket calls for neither numbers, names or night attire. Cricket can trace its origins back as far as the 16th century with international cricket being recorded in the late 19th century. Nowhere does it say pyjamas are acceptable.

SHORTENING A GAME DOES NOT MAKE IT MORE EXCITING. This seems to have been a false premise from day one. 50 over cricket was conceived as a way of getting a meaningful match between two sides which could be completed in a day. In other words the game was fitted to the format rather than developing a format which suited the game. But the biggest problem and the most savage of indictments is the fact that it has stripped the game of that most valuable of commodities – patience. It was only a short step from there to even shorter forms.

THE HUNDRED AND T20 FORMS OF THE GAME HAVE SHIFTED THE EMPHASIS FROM QUALITY STROKEPLAY TO MERE SLOGGING, chasing wide deliveries and so on. In my opinion they are profoundly detrimental to the development of quality batsmen. Defensive strokes are practically unheard of. And in a T20 game, where the entire quota of wickets is rarely taken, the penalty for squandering one’s wicket is much less – somebody else can get the runs.

LIMITED OVERS CRICKET IS KILLING THE ART OF BOWLING. Whereas test match bowling is a weapon of infinite subtlety and variation, in the limited overs game the emphasis is solely on dot balls and defensive field settings. We are losing the art of attacking cricket. Slips are a rarity, attacking fields equally improbable. Were it not for the imposition of a minimum number of fielders within a short distance of the wicket, captains would simply pack the boundary. The fact that such rules as power plays were introduced reflected this natural imbalance.

One can, and many do, cite the success of the IPL. Yes, it is successful. Yes it allows cricketers to be paid handsome sums of money for their services and yes, it owes its success to the relative failure of test match cricket as a spectator sport in the subcontinent. Fireworks, loud pop music, dancing, microphones, illuminated bails. Who knows where it will end. It bears no relation to any version of the game I’ve ever played. Why 20 overs? Why not reduce it to 10. Then the whole match will take no longer than a football game. But iIs it really the future we want for the game?

By now you will have realised that I resent any incursion into the test match structure as anathema. Pink balls, floodlights, even day night games are a no-no as far as I’m concerned. They have no place in test match cricket. As Richie Benaud once famously said “limited overs cricket is an exhibition. Test match cricket is an examination”.

And long may it remain so. Throw away those pyjamas, shine up that red ball with spit and sweat fifth, and stare into the batsmen’s eyes. Because that’s cricket.

The end of the affair

For those tiny handful among you unaware of my passion for the game, I should probably give you some context. Since around 2008, on and off, I have had the pleasure of playing cricket for Bells Yew Green CC. This tiny village, invisible on most maps, somehow manages to field four competitive teams on a Saturday afternoon in the county league.

Having not played cricket since school (Marlborough, where cricket was in some form more or less mandatory), I initially chose to play the game on the flimsy pretext of being part of a “dads and lads” team, Ready to pass on the fruits of my wisdom to young Jacob. I don’t suppose I fooled anybody and, like many of the dads, we soon found that our own penchant for the game exceeded that of our offspring, despite the reverse being the case in terms of talent. My own scratchy efforts in the field, typically somewhere between slip and point, bore no comparison with my sons efforts with the ball, bowling beautiful late outswingers to the chagrin of senior batters throughout the league.

While he matured into a decent enough fast bowler, my own contributions to each game withered on the vine. Each season, my productivity, already marginal, diminished but never more so than this. I think I believed, following my recent neurosurgery, implanting electrodes deep into my brain, that I could turn back the clock and somehow be a productive member of the team. I was wrong.

Like ageing boxers, unable to accept the reality of events, and the slowing of their reactions, I thought I could make a contribution. I even went so far as to have a couple of net sessions. Vish gave me a bag of balls from the bowling machine. I should have taken note of the evidence but instead, optimistically asked Vish for his opinion. He was honest. And I thank and respect him for that. Whereas I ignored the evidence, when asked whether I would be able to bat properly, he told me that he was worried I would get hurt.

Needless to say, I felt otherwise. 2022 was going to be the season where I vindicated my own erroneous perception of my ability and rolled along on a wave of increasing scores, culminating in a 50 at the end of the season. Plain and simple.

But cricket has a way of finding you out, its own stark reality triumphing over your own delusions. Ultimately, there is nowhere to hide and the chances of the season panning out like that were negligible. This year, despite the long-suffering patience of my captain, Andy, and my teammates, cricket has (finally and correctly – let’s be honest) shown me the door. I am a liability in the field, stopping next to nothing and catching even less. My batting has reached a kind of nirvana, almost the sound of one hand clapping. I know I’ve said it before but this time really is for good. It’s time to go. The rest of my team can get on with the business of winning games instead of having to hide me somewhere in the field.

Cricket is difficult enough when played with 11. Playing with 10 is asking way too much. Cricket is a beautiful game and it will be all the more beautiful without my fumblings in the field.

Do I regret anything? Yes of course I do.. I regret every century I didn’t make, cut short achingly close on five. I regret every catch I dropped, every throw that trickled feebly to the wicket-keeper, every lumbering run in pursuit of the ball. But these are not cricket regrets so much as my ranting against my own health and the dying of the light.

In small mitigation, if I may, I offer this. I have had Parkinson’s for nearly 17 years, type II diabetes for five, a heart condition for three and neurosurgery to implant electrodes in my brain and battery packs in my chest. Now I can add cataracts to that list. None of it helps. I take more than 7000 tablets a year just to move. It’s mainly successful. I time my tablets to get the best benefits during the games. On a good day you would struggle to see my difficulties. But some days the drugs don’t work. And over the years, the number of bad days has begun to exceed the good. Perhaps you’ve noticed my foot dragging, return of my tremor or blank expressionless face. These are my bad days.

But Vish was right. The cataracts, minor in terms of day-to-day activities, have huge implication for cricket. I simply don’t see the ball quickly or early enough. I don’t see it leaving the bowlers hand or the batsmen’s bat. And if you see the ball late, your reaction will be late. More than once I have failed to see the ball until past me. If you can’t see it you can’t play it. Eyesight is everything and, although hesitating to draw parallels with the master blaster himself, even Vivian Richards struggled when his eyesight began to fail. And I’m sure as hell no Vivian Richards.

Cricket has always been a love affair for me. I’ve had the privilege of playing with pretty much everyone at this club. I’ve played with county level players, even on one occasion with internationals. I have memories and stories by the hatful. One day there will be a book. Who knows – maybe a TV series. Thank you all. It’s been a blast.

*For the record my last match was for BYG 4th XI against Isfield CC 2nd XI. They batted first and scored 239 for 9 off their 40 overs despite a spell of 4 for 26 off 6 by our skipper. Our reply faltered at 173 with only Andy (44) and Petrus (61) offering serious resistance. I scored 1, in doing so equalling my highest score of the season and taking my total to a whopping 2 at an average of 0.5.

Like I said, it’s time to go.

Ghosts of Montmartre

In the heart of Montmartre, it all came flooding back to me the moment I saw the restaurant. It hadn’t changed. Or perhaps, if it had, it was in no more than trivial detail. Le Relais de la Butte, a true staging point halfway up Rue Ravignan, where it opened out, since 1911 upon Place Émile Goudeau. Poulet a l’estragon, chicken breast,pan-fried with tarragon and served in its copper skillet. We ate as though the meal was our last. It was. Conversation was stilted. We thought it was love at the time. It wasn’t and because it wasn’t, I would never again recognise it’s like. In the tiny square, bounded on two of the sides by the restaurant and by the hotel in which we had stayed, love faltered.

The old man, coughing and spluttering periodically on his Gauloise, saw you twirl and my camera flash. Tres jolie he called out. You smiled, and although I could not see it in the dark, I know you blushed. The old man knew it. You looked a million dollars and if I remember nothing else of you any more, I shall never forget that image. Your silk dress, the colour of lobelia, hugging your body, achingly slim and pale. The old man knew it. And this young man, too stupid and gauche, let you slip through his fingers.

In these buildings, Le Bateau-Lavoir,a creaking artists garret, Picasso, Matisse, Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein had painted and written. A wooden clatter that echoed along the street, I threw back the shutters, letting in the moonlight. A dog barked. I can remember the sound of your dress as I stood behind you and loosened the clasp. It slid down in a crinoline cascade and I cupped your breasts in my hands as it fell away. You turned to me, shoulders curved into feline submission. Your pale body phosphorescent in the moonlight, shivering, each breath fast and shallow, nipples like thimbles.

Something passed between us that night. Or wrote, like a blunt red wax crayon, through our hopes. A fleeting moment I cannot forget.

Keys and keyed

It’s certainly been an interesting week. Interesting in the Confucian understanding of the word – you know, “May you live in interesting times” that is.

As many of you know I have recently indulged my penchant for big cats with the purchase of what I imagine to be my last Jaguar. And for the most part, pertinent since it is their inheritance that is being consumed, the kids have been supportive. Their reasoning, along the lines of a happy dad is a better dad, is sound.

In the light of my many recent vicissitudes with the DVLA, I am aware that my driving licence is no longer a given and, having stared into that licenceless abyss twice previously, I treasure it all the more. I will retain the Micra for more mundane driving and use the Jag for excursions. The Micra will go to Tesco, the Jag to the coast.

Like all my previous Jags (all two of them), the new one is not without its quirks. It drives beautifully but needs the airbag sensor, air conditioning, CD multi-changer and clock repairing. Nothing that affects the running of the car you understand, merely cosmetic matters. But that’s always been the way with Jags – if you want something that works all the time with ruthless German efficiency buy a Beemer, a marque of Teutonic engineering that never fails but, for me at least, feels rather like a combination of laptop and videogame. But Beemers fail in other areas. They do not become that throbbing, breathing embodiment of a living thing that is a Jaguar. William Lyons said the motorcar was as near as we can get to a living, breathing entity. He said “motorcar” but, as their principal designer, he meant Jaguars.

Driving a Jaguar is the building of a relationship, a love affair if you will. Whilst a BMW is a domestic robot, always obedient and well-behaved, a Jaguar is a wilful creature, untamed and passionate. And that passion never leaves you untouched. They constantly surprise, sometimes disappoint but never leave you untouched. The BMW is your wife/husband, the Jaguar is your lover.

And I have learned, as if I needed any further education, just how expensive Jaguar motoring can be. When I bought the car, it came with two keys. One did not work so I telephoned the local Jaguar dealership to ask about a replacement. Obviously these keys are slightly more complex than your average house key for instance, with separate blade and brain parts. So I was braced for what I thought might be perhaps £50. Maybe even £100? £200? Surely not? No, believe it or not, the final price for a key was, including the VAT (why do places quote the price and VAT separately when we all have to pay the VAT?) an eye watering £425. I just laughed and put the phone down. I thought it was a prank.

Stop and think about that for a moment. We are talking about a key for goodness sake. You could buy a car for that kind of money. Nor is the key made of gold and platinum, encrusted with precious stones and presented in a carrying case of Siberian ermine and Tuscan leather. It doesn’t play selections from Italian opera, offer lifestyle advice or fragrance the environment with sandalwood. No, it’s just a key.

So for the time being I will hope that my one key suffices. At the very least it will encourage me to remember where put the key rather than experience that almost routine feeling every morning trying to retrace my steps and where I might have put the keys the night before. That will have to wait until I have saved up the money and emptied my piggy bank. Yes, I know the key has to be programmed, personalised and paired to the specific car but that applies to many other cars. Frankly I think they are taking the piss. I shall look at alternatives.

If I was an unhappy Jaguar owner on Wednesday, I was doubly unhappy on Thursday when some vandal chose to exercise his creative talents and vandalise my car. That his chosen weapon was a car key seems particularly apt bearing in mind my rejection of the £425 key. I emerged from the local supermarket, having just briefly nipped out to get a four pack of yoghurt (peach as I remember but that’s not important), to see someone close to my car for no apparent reason. I had a bad feeling immediately and discreetly took down his registration number. As he drove off, I noticed the scrapes. A sinewave running more or less the length of the car with some parts deeper than others. Either way utterly gratuitous.

I am not going to waste time asking the usual “why do people do this?” Let’s not beat about the bush. The answer is simple enough. Because they are just nasty little petty minded a****holes, choking on their own envy and unable to channel that emotion into any action other than destruction.

Perhaps they had abusive parents. Maybe they had unsuccessful potty training. Or perhaps they had just been charged £425 for a blasted key and felt it necessary to express that disappointment.

I feel bad even mentioning it. There are so many other injustices in this currently timorous world. Children starve, crops fail, icecaps melt, forests burn. In the grand scheme of things, some scratches on the side of my car will not limit the amount of damage being vested on the planet by man and other high hominids. Mind you, these hominids would struggle to understand “no claims bonus”, “policy excess” and “limited liability”, all of which I shall find myself addressing in the next few weeks.

Okay, rant over. And breathe.

Jockey

As anyone who’s ever reflected upon my sporting achievements will testify, they are few and far between. No glittering half centuries, few catches, no bowling at all. In consequence my respect for those who have made substantial achievements is unbounded. The club – and I’m talking about Bells Yew Green Cricket Club of course – has been built, since 1947 upon the achievements of individuals. There have been glittering innings, spells of bowling and stunning catches seen over the years at this quirky little dome of a cricket pitch, forged through the physical efforts and financial commitments of many men.

I could pay tribute to many here. That’s the thing with achievement. It never stops. But I want to pay tribute to one individual. This is the story of a bowler. A bowler who was not six foot three tall, with terrifying pace and steepling bounce. A bowler who had none of those physical advantages. Short, and not blessed with a skidding action particularly. For many these would be insuperable disadvantages.

And let’s be honest, he has often been the subject of gentle teasing, making fun of his diminutive height. He has always been the first to laugh, often the first to joke.

But for him, these were less disadvantages than challenges. For many seasons now, he has demonstrated the value of sheer persistence coupled with a nagging line on off stump. A simple distillation of the “you miss, I hit” approach. He has played in every XI the club has put out, representing BYG at the highest levels.

And last week he became only the second player in the club’s history to take 1000 wickets. A massive achievement. Not achieved overnight, not without setbacks. But achieved by sheer dogged persistence, a nagging bowling line and an absolute and overwhelming commitment to the sport he loves. As for his ‘slower ball’, perhaps we can gloss over that.

Jockey, I raise a glass to you! Respect, my friend.

Clash of the Titans

With all this Jubilee malarkey going on, you could be forgiven for missing the most anticipated sporting event of the century. I’m talking of course about the mighty clash in the pool room of the Brecknock Arms between the reigning champ Richard “A Bridge Too” Farr (about 80) and the young pretender Jon “No Chance” Stamford (more than 60).

To say that these were two athletes at the very peak of their form is of course to undermine the concept of athlete and indeed form. Nevertheless, with a joint experience at the pool table of more than a century, expectations were high. This was a match awaited for more than 50 years.

As the time for the fixture drew close, the opponents stared into each other’s eyes, like gunfighters looking for signs of weakness – that fatal twitch or blink of an eye. Like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, the two gunfighters sized each other up. As Stamford nervously sipped his half of Coronation Ale, Farr, the champ gave nothing away. Slight shake perhaps as he lifted the dregs of his tomato juice to his lips. You could cut the tension with a butter knife.

In normal circumstances, a gigantic partisan crowd would assemble, with klaxons, rattles, smoke grenades and so on, all those symbols of partisanshipship. With the failure of BT sport and Sky to reach agreement on broadcast fees, the match was in the end fought out under closed conditions with occasional visits and advice from Monsieur Will, a local Michelin starred chef.

There was controversy from the first. Neither contestant had any coins. Despite the huge depth of talent and experience on offer, neither combatant had actually entertained the idea that they might have to actually pay for this. For one fleeting moment the fixture hung in the balance. Fortunately a sponsorship deal was quickly assembled when Will, after briefly rummaging around for loose change stumbled across some pound coins in a plastic bag. Relief all round, the fixture would go ahead.

Friendship would be cast aside in the war that was to follow. This was no longer a brief interlude between lunch and tea time. This was, in sporting terms, The Somme, Gettysburg, Agincourt and Waterloo all rolled into one. Two hours and an unbelievable three frames later, the warriors emerged, blinking into the light.

these were games that, in a very real sense, had redefined the way the game is played. So many foul strokes, open pockets, miscues and complete misses were registered that neither player came to the table with only a single shot on offer. Time after time, the competitors would set up a part with their first shot only to then throwaway the advantage with a baize ripping miscue.

The afternoon wore on. And on. And on. Whilst most of the spectators were praying for rain, the pool itself had collapsed into trench warfare, with long wearying gaps between legal shots. It was like the siege of Vicksburg all over again. Night began to fall. Or at least it felt like that. Eventually, a result was declared. The champion returned to the pub for a celebratory tomato juice. The challenger licked his wounds with a small Diet Coke.

“You took how long to play the frame?” said Lady Eleanor, the Aphrodite of the alehouse, making no effort to hide her incredulity. I prefer to think of it as a tactical war of attrition. I suspect I am in a minority here.

Of course such pinnacles of sporting achievement are never allowed to rest. As Mohammed Ali found out, there is always one more Thriller in Manila or Rumble in the Jungle.

But, in our case, it’s probably indigestion.

Caught at gully: or not caught at gully…

Those of you who know me well will know that it speaks volumes for me just to be able to say “I played cricket last Saturday”. But what a game! It had everything. Drama, flair and courage. This was my comeback game after maybe six years or something like that. And it was all made possible by the neurosurgery and implantation of electrodes deep in my brain in November. Not all of you follow my Parkinson’s ‘exploits’ but my Parky pals will know how much it meant to me.

Cricket is a metaphor for life. A metaphor for the twists and turns of life, its myriad subtleties and nuances. There is a rugged poetry about the game of cricket, its ebb and flow, it’s embodiment of courage, loneliness, concentration and panache. As any cricketer will gladly quote to you “cricket is a team game played by individuals”. Games are won and lost on that elusive combination of individual moments. That moment when a huge strike lands just over the boundary rope when it could, just as easily, have fallen into the waiting fielder’s hands, thereby annulling what went on to be a huge half-century. This is cricket.

But yesterday’s game however was different. Brooksy, the skipper, had let it be known, via the club’s Facebook page, that this was my ‘comeback’ game. That in itself was amazing and I was overwhelmed by the kind wishes from so many of the best cricketers I know. Some simply wished me the best of luck. Others reminisced about games we had played together in the past. We had legends visit us at Cousley Wood – Mick ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, lethal fast bowler from years gone by, Steve Dunkerley, my first captain all those years back and still one of the best cricketers I’ve met, Fudgie Maynard, mother of Charlie, whom I played alongside and saw develop into a very good whippy fast bowler. Charlie not Fudgie! And so on.

It was that kind of day. And if Heathfield Park cricket club had played its part correctly would have been an epic victory by a handful of runs. But fairytales rarely happen and the cold dark statistics tell the tale. We lost by one wicket. After several hours of ebb and flow, cut and thrust, something and something else, they won by one wicket.

To be honest that’s the way you want it, to go down to the wire with everything still to play for. The formula is simple nowadays – win or lose. No subtle draws, battled out over hours of grim self-denial. Only swashbuckling wins and desperate defeats.

Cricket is a game full of maybes. Maybe we could have got off to a better start. Maybe we could have held more catches. Maybe, just maybe. And when you come to talk about a game, it’s turning those maybes into realities that define the sport.

And I had my chance later on, as an individual, to win the game for my team. A sharp low chance diving to my right. Got a hand to it but couldn’t hold on. Maybe I could have seen the chance marginally sooner against the sunlight. Maybe I could have extended my fingers those few inches to take the catch. But I didn’t. And a few overs later, the game was lost.

If you had asked me before the game whether I would settle for one moment, one chance of glory, of course I would. And that’s what I got. That one chance. In the fairytale version, the way it was scripted, I would have held the catch, been a hero and had more beer bought for me than I could possibly drink. Another day.

Cricket is truly a metaphor for life. And you will never hear me complain. To be able to play club cricket, at however low a level, has been one of the great pleasures of my adult life. And the friends I have made along the way will, one day I hope, become the cornerstones of a cricketing novel.

Well, maybe.

My first Jaaaaaag!

When I was around three years old, perhaps four, we lived in flat in Denham. My father, my mother and me. My father was a doctor and my mother previously a nurse. Each morning we would finish our breakfast, my father would give my mother apeck on the cheek and head off to surgery. Mum and I would wave him goodbye. Once out of sight, my mother would start on her chores. I on the other hand, waited until I had seen Mr Potts, the bank manager leave for work. He would wave to me and I would, in return, wave back.

On one occasion, meeting in the street, Mr Potts had said to my mother how friendly and cheerful a boy she had. This made me laugh. I had no particular interest in Mr Potts as a human being. A rather dull man if truth be told, with a Bobby Charlton combover, tortoiseshell glasses and weedy moustache, lugging his briefcase into his car.

Not just any car though. Despite his Walter Mitty, digestive biscuit kind of persona, Mr Potts drove a Jag. No car has ever been less well matched to its owner. This was the 1960s. Jags were driven by villains. Ronnie and Reggie drove Mark 10 Jags. Buster Edwards drove a Mark 2. No self-respecting villain would drive anything else. I suppose you could argue that both Buster Edwards and Mr Potts were, in their own different ways, interested in the contents of banks. But these were not ideological similarities in any way.

Despite Mr Potts, Jaguars were and always have been aspirational cars. Ask any young boy of that age what car they most wanted and the answer was always a Jaguar. Not a BMW. Not a Mercedes even. No, every boy wanted a Jag. And if your dad had a Jag you were king of the playground at school. “My daddy’s car is a Jag-you-are.”

Those boys grew up, as little boys do, compromising with Fords, Vauxhalls, Seats, Volkswagens and so on. Cars that went from A to B. Functional cars. Practical cars. With drivers that bored with their talk of fuel economy, luggage space and cheap leatherette seats. Cars that, bit by bit, squeezed the life force out of their owners.

And then there were Jags. Driven, Mr Potts excepting, by the kind of people your parents told you not to talk to. The kind of people who wore sunglasses (this was the 1960s) with names like Ray Ban, Aviator and Lacoste. Sunglasses that spoke of the Monte Carlo and the Bay of Naples rather than Timothy White’s or Boots. Perhaps not gangsters, but definitely edgy. The kind of people who made me cling to my mother’s legs in their presence. Alpha males.

I was no different. I wanted a Jag for as long as I could remember. And I too compromised. What should have been transports of delight were little more than emblems of servitude. My first car was a Ford Fiesta. I’ve had Golfs, Sierras, Minis and so on. Some fun, some less. All falling short of my motoring ideal, my Nirvana. That never changed. As months became years, years became decades, I began to recognise that gnawing lack of motoring fulfilment for what it was. I needed a Jag. No matter how I thought the problem through, rationalised reasons against it, or examined my fragile finances, I had to have a Jag.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and, facing the very real possibility that my motoring days might end abruptly three years later, I decided it was Jag time. Others in the family concluded differently. I had intended to buy one upon retirement but since that was a good decade or more in the future, I had to agree that, even through my rose tinted spectacles, it was unlikely I would still be driving then.

Thought through, this had a very salutary effect of bringing the decision forward. If I was going to ever have a Jag it needed to be now. That is at least one of the more attractive aspects of Parkinson’s – it encourages swift and decisive decision-making. Others might call it impulsive. Probably.

Of course, a Jaguar is, to any true enthusiast,an old car. As James May of Top Gear famously asked of the newest, lengthened teardrop XJ design “but is it a Jaaaaag?” In these days of androgynous, angular design, Jaguars look like BMWs which in turn look like Mercedes. Such is the investment in Jaguar that it must now compete for the fleet market with 3, 5 and 7 series BMWs. Individuality has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. Now you can have your BMW, that middle management symbol of servitude with either a BMW or Jaguar badge, such is now the similarity between the models.

For me, Jaguar as a saloon car marque ceased to exist around 2010 when the XF and new body XJ were released. Wonderful cars themselves but ones that did not answer positively to James May’s question. These were new Jags for a new generation. In due course, I’m sure, owners will look back on these fondly.

But, in many ways the last true Jag was probably the most retrospective looking of all – the S type, with its many stylistic nods back to the old S type and Mark 2 cars. And when I finally got air-traffic control clearance so to speak and was able to buy one, it was this Jag I went for.

A marriage made in heaven? Hardly. Within six months of ownership it had some £5000 worth of repairs and replacements done. All I have to say covered by the warranty. Rattling catalysts, squeaky steering, and the almost inevitable gearbox problems that plague these cards. And before you see this as pathognomonic of the British car industry of that time let me just say that the gearbox is made in Germany. The only German part on the car I believe! And the same one used in many BMWs of that time. It wouldn’t be a Jaguar if it didn’t breakdown! If you want soulless 100% reliability, buy a BMW. A laptop on wheels.
If you want to feel part of a living thing, breathing, pulsing and throbbing, then you know where to go.

The Jaguar S type. Love at first sight.

Caught at gully

I’ve always been one of those nervy writers. As the saying goes “you’re only as good as your last piece (of writing)”. Something like that anyway. These kind of anxieties affect us all. Even the greats – Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain and that’s just the Americans. If your last piece happens to be “The Old Man and the Sea” you’re home and dry. Well when I say home and dry I suppose what I really mean is “soaked to the skin and reeking of decaying tuna fish. On the other hand I’m sure the Nobel prize for literature probably softened that minor personal inconvenience. I’d be happy to dig into the tuna mayo sarnies if I thought this act would be a surefire route to literature superstardom.

The basic truth however is that I am not wrestling with giants, not tangling with titans nor even scrapping with something beginning with S. I’ll get back to that. Or probably won’t. Who cares.

I like writing. So I, by inference, dislike those periods in which the words do not somehow percolate to the surface. And the better the piece, the longer the subsequent interval and the greater the likelihood of the resultant piece of writing being stymied by even so moderate a pause.

“I feel a bit like Rocky these days, climbing into the ring for one last hurrah. The tools, if I’m honest, are dwindling, any power of writing I possess gradually fading in intensity. I forget people’s names, I forget that I have forgotten people’s names even.

Let me give you an example. Being Saturday I went up to the cricket ground to watch a little sport and to catch up on my cricket friends and, once more, to subtly mingle my brief batting excursions with the more far-reaching batting travails of, well, pretty much anybody else. That’s the great thing about cricket and I’ll come back to it later – there are always stories.

I watched about half the match, mostly our team batting. Then, a brief coke in the pub and off to do my weekly shop. Then back to the pub around 7 to see how the other game (away) had gone. I asked one lad (we will call him T) how the other match had gone. He seemed bewildered. “I don’t know”. Then he alerted me that, not only was he not playing in the other game but that I had, but an hour or so earlier, witnessed his innings as opener. I think I made some attempt at humour along the lines of the November neurosurgery evidently had removed all but a thin veneer of grey matter and that the electrodes were failing in their duty.

To be honest it was embarrassing. For me and for T. And it’s happening more and more (the memory lapses that is, not the feeble cover-up jokes).

The column this month was meant to introduce what I am hoping will be a regular blog throughout the summer, detailing from the sidelines the exploits of our illustrious teams in their 75th anniversary season.

“What name will you use?” asked Jay. “My own” I said. “Why?” It took a moment or so to realise he was talking about the name for the column rather than the complex and needless pseudonym I might have been considering. Cyborgius Gruntfuttock perhaps. Or Yorick C. Manatee. A raised eyebrow from Jacob made it clear I had better stop.

After a few more brief excursions into combinations ofnames, it became apparent that he was talking about the name of the report.

I said to him, it needs to combine a notion of gossip and suchlike. I told him the name and such justification. I tried to explain to him – combination of cricket (actually catching a ball) and tittle tattle news.

“Yes dad, I get it”. Rolling exasperated eyes from Jacob.

“Caught at gully”. Did you see what I did there?

World Parkinson’s Day is different this year.

It’s that time of year once again when we, self christened Parkinson’s advocates, write a little something, toss off a bagatelle, to inspire and enthuse the readers. We pick our best brave face, drug ourselves up to the gunwales and pick up our banners and tins, ready to ‘raise awareness’. To this day I have not heard a convincing definition of what that is.

This year seems different. This year the world seems to have taken a darker turn. Fires burn in the Amazon, in the Rockies and in the Blue Mountains. Toxic smoke obscures the horizon. Polar bears swim desperately for land in the rising Arctic waters. From being a tender lover, gently lulling us to sleep in her arms, the weather is now angry, disdainful, tossing us like a wounded mouse between the cats paws. And everywhere there are evil people happy to exploit others, send overloaded boats across the channel in search of a new life in Britain only to drown within sight of land.

Elsewhere landscapes, sweeping vistas, or bucolic village scenes in the Ukraine are transformed into the charred backdrop of our nightmares. The acrid scent of burning human flesh among the unsanitary detritus of human misery. Ukrainian children needing chemotherapy that they will never receive in the hospital, now burnt to the ground, their deaths are certain as night follows day. What kind of person, what kind of bestiality allows these crimes to take place. Atrocity upon atrocity. Man debasing his own humanity.

On the radio, through the Internet, the television, jerky anxious pictures of annihilation. As though burnt into my retina,I can’t even close my eyes to make it go away. I wake in the night to the sound of screaming. My own screaming. Terrified and alone.

And against that how can I seriously be expected to talk about Parkinson’s?

Of course I can’t. And so I won’t.

My message to our great Parkinson’s family this year? Simple. Save all the money you would have given and give it to more worthy causes – and at the moment there are many. Give it for chemotherapy in displaced Ukrainian children. Give it to prevent Amazon deforestation. Adopt a polar bear. Anything. Anything worthy. Just do what you can to redress the balance. Apologise to Gaia. Pray to any gods you may have . But act. Above all act.