The Union Jack

Like most of the country, perhaps most of the world, I watched much of the coverage of Elizabeth II’s obsequies. It has to be said that we do this kind of pageantry, pomp and ceremony awfully well in this country. The music was well chosen and magnificent. Pipes and drums by the hundred. I have to confess a weakness for the skirl of the bagpipes, despite having not one drop of Scottish blood in my make up.

One can talk, and Hugh Edwards the BBC anchorman, did at some length of the symbolism of every last detail of the ceremony, down to the very flowerbeds from which the flowers for the wreath were chosen – three palaces no less! Nothing of the quick trip to the local garden centre here.

Over the last few decades the Union Jack has, to my mind, taken on along with the cross of St George, a darker edge, being so often misappropriated by right-wing groups and by sporting hooligans. Perhaps I’m oversensitive but these co-opted uses and associations of the Union Jack have made me uncomfortable. The flag was seen often as an aggressive image, inviting confrontation. Over the last few decades, this has been a gradual erosion of the more noble associations of the flag.

I think that changed yesterday. I think the Union Jack once more became a symbol of unification. The images of skinheads, hooligans and the worst kind of football tribalism were, with one great arc of pageantry, swept aside. The Union Jack became once more a proud symbol of the unification of kingdoms. Nothing could demonstrate better to the thug element how unwelcome they were. The Union Jack, once again, is a symbol of the best of us, the better angels of our nature. It is, once more flag I would feel comfortable flying.

The Queen has been perhaps our country’s best export, our best ambassador. With simple manners and a notion of service that few brought up in post-millennial Britain would understand, she has put forward the best face possible of the UK.

Reading the above you would probably conclude that I was an out and out royalist, prepared to throw down my life for my country. You would be wrong. If anything, my views are marginally in the direction of republican inasmuch as I reflect on these matters at all. But symbols are important as yesterday showed in abundance. In the space of nine hours, the union Jack once more became the symbol of the best of our country and not the worst. We have taken the flag away from the hooligans and thugs. It represents us once more, not them. Thank you your Majesty, thank you.

A beloved monarch

It was clear by early afternoon that this was not a simple health scare. The gathering at Balmoral of her children was clear indication that this was the final act of her Majesty’s life. Details were sketchy, as perhaps they should be, but ‘medical supervision’ is a bleak euphemism for pain relief and dignified management once the outcome is clear.

The formal announcement later in the afternoon was sombre, measured and simple. Her Majesty was as dignified in death as she was in life.

I find it difficult to express my feelings clearly. Perhaps I am, like much of the nation, experiencing my own personal recapitulation of bereavement. Certainly, I find myself reflecting on the death of my own mother and father and my feelings around that. And, at the end of the day, the Royal family are still a family first and foremost. Stiff upper lip extends only just so far.

Much has been said of her longevity, dignity, honesty and perpetuation of what might now be considered old-fashioned values. There is little I can add to what will undoubtedly be a torrent of analysis over the coming days and weeks. Wherever one’s political leanings lie, whether left or right, red or blue, they are today irrelevant. Whether monarchist or republican, let’s seek unity not division .

The clocks have stopped on one of the most remarkable reigns in history. But they have also brought to an end the life of a much loved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

The family needs time to grieve. And grieving rarely follows a timetable.

Across the river and into the trees

I have been a lucky man. Life has, thus far, been kind. Those may seem absurd sentences for someone who has had Parkinson’s for 16 years, type II diabetes and even a heart condition thrown in for good measure. A year ago I had neurosurgery to implant electrodes that would control my shaking hands and restless feet. Hardly the medical history of a lucky man you might think.

You would be wrong.

I often feel a fraud. I know many with Parkinson’s, crippled by the vicious tarantella of dyskinesias and the agony of dystonia. I know many whose nights are full of terrors, stalked by demons, prey to wild beasts. Or riding that ragged edge between sleep and dreams toward the gates of delirium. I know diabetics, models of compliance, entering their later years as amputees, their digits, one by one plucked from them by neuropathies, vascular insufficiencies too numerous to mention, and the blackening of sores and gangrene.

Were these afflictions to afflict me, I would doubtless rail against the injustice, the savagery and relentless onslaught of the condition. But instead the Almighty, by whatever pronouns you know him/her, has seen fit to give me more time to reflect.

Before L-dopa, life expectancy with Parkinson’s was six years from diagnosis. That would take me to 2012. I would not have seen my eldest musician daughter graduate from university let alone my younger children. No paediatric intensive care nurse. No skilled paramedic. I would have missed all of it, serving only as food for worms. And even within a life expectancy of six years, they would have been pretty grim. A slow waltz into darkness.

Worst of all, I would have missed the last series of Game of Thrones.

Primo Levi, in “The Drowned and the Saved” touched upon it in the apparently arbitrary murders in the WW2 concentration camps. The suicide rates amongst survivors of the death camps reflected their inability to reconcile their own survival against the extermination of many other similar individuals. This paradox drove many (the author included in all likelihood) to take their own lives, unable to understand their salvation in the context of the greater drowning.

Yet others, better patients than I, can write with authority about the screaming agonies of dystonia, the tarantella dance of dyskinesia and the many invisible symptoms of this sordid syndrome. Not me. I may preach from the same pulpit but my words if not my authority are carried away on the breeze.

I am not alone. I know of others who whether vocally or sotto voce, feel equally uncomfortable. Often in the aftermath of successful DBS, our bodies react to this liberation by making us feel guilty about advocacy. I can (but won’t) name friends who feel equally uncomfortable. So how do you speak to the “drowning” from the comparative security of the lifeboat.

If one of the central pillars of advocacy is the acknowledgement of experience, then we are muted. Yet I would argue that it is that transition from drowned to saved that is, in itself, informative.

So brothers and sisters, perhaps you should be the judge of this. Is my voice no longer relevant or meaningful. Do we press on in the hope of regaining our authority or do we, like Stonewall Jackson recognised the need to collect our thoughts once more and “cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees”.

In God’s Country

The platform was longer than he remembered. And, some four decades on, he was no closer to understanding why the station name should be that of another village. One so small it hardly ever featured on maps. A hamlet really.

A scorching hot day, the track rippling with mirages. Even the songbirds and crickets were quiet. With a perfunctory tap of his cane he turned. At least they haven’t moved the pub he thought. From the outside it all looked familiar. The Broken Arms – beer garden, satellite and wifi. And the bar had moved. Jack thought “I have been away too long. Too much has changed”.

He clattered coins on the bar, turned and, with a little incontinent splash of ale on the carpet, sat down with a crumpled sigh.

Zara knew better than to ask. It was just one of his ‘moods’, one of the times at home when he seemed to withdraw to a different place. Maybe even with a different girl. She often wondered.

“It’s all different” he murmured. “It’s not how I remember it”. She placed her hand ever so gently on his. He looked up for a moment. “I wanted it to be the same”.

“It’s been forty years I’ve been away” he thought “that’s half a lifetime. More to some”.

Even the beer had changed. No longer the yeasty froth of yesteryear. “Bloody chemistry kit now” he said aloud.

“Come again” asked the barmaid, her jade green, almost orange, eyes, all buttons and bows, fancy ties.

“Nothing” said Jack “Nowt. Nowt of ‘owt”. Even the words sounded stupid and untrue in his voice. Pastiche. Phony Yorkshire.

He was a phony Yorkshireman. He knew it and it didn’t fool Zara for one minute.

Jack grew up in Yorkshire or at least he thought he did. His comical absentmindedness, and Zara’s gentle ribbing, had long since given way to dementia. He took tablets for it, when he could remember.

That tickled him. “When I can remember”. Without his noticing, she would count his tablets to be sure none were unaccounted for. It started as a kindness but the years had made it a necessity. Sometimes he muddled one tablet with another. Sometimes he forgot altogether. She could tell those days. He hardly recognised her, withdrawn to his private world.

Mostly she saw him on Thursdays. She did his washing, tidied the kitchen and read from the newspaper when he couldn’t find his glasses. “Down the side of the sofa?” she would ask, enjoying his childish look of surprise when there they were. They were always there. Along with biscuit crumbs, broken biros, postage stamps and torn scraps of paper with phone numbers.

“Penny for your thoughts” Zara would venture.

“They’ve gone up. They start at tuppence now. Inflation, you know” he sometimes replied. She rarely pressed him further. Sometimes he just talked gibberish. Once in awhile he mentioned names. She knew none of them.

Sometimes she would talk to Jack, remind him how they had met, replaying the narrative for him. Like Steinbeck’s Lenny, he never tired of hearing it. He was older than her but somehow, when she told the story, he was younger, stronger and braver. And, the bit he liked best, he was a Yorkshireman. One of the proud sons of God’s Country, as he never tired of calling Yorkshire .

“I come from tough northern stock” he would say, chest puffed with pride. Sometimes she would tease him, remembering the days when they traded one-liners, fast and furious, sharply sparring with each other. Those days were long since gone. He couldn’t think fast enough and she was too kind to hurt him.

He thought it was his idea but actually it was hers – to travel south, to visit the land of his exile one more time. He needed a change of scenery – she knew that. Something to close the gap between reality and his private distant world. Maybe she would find him again in Yorkshire, maybe the hidden places were real and she could share them. Maybe he was in “God’s country”.

Yorkshire belonged in those anguished dreams and false memories that overwhelmed reality as his mind crumbled. Outside of his demented reveries, he was a Kentish man, a man of apples and hops, his landscape punctuated by oast houses, fertile fields of fruit, of tractors and hay bales.

He hadn’t wanted to travel by train. Steam railways were in his blood, in the corners of his dissolving mind. He had no place for diesels. From the fragments of stories long lost in the eddies of time, generations of his family had built locomotives and carriages at the plant works in Doncaster. His grandfather had supped at the Black Bull, down by the marketplace. Supped too much, if truth were told. As his own memories of Kent faded, he replaced them with an imagined Yorkshire childhood.

But there were no more trains. So they travelled by car, ticking off the towns as they passed. They spoke little. Sometimes he slept, slumped forward against the seatbelt. Sometimes he seemed awake, but remote. Occasionally she would catch a tear. Sometimes she thought that the more he wandered, the more she loved him. “Isn’t that what love is” she thought.

He tried to show her some of the places he visited in his mind. The plots, overgrown with thistles and weeds, where his imagined grandparents lay. The bridge where he used to watch the great locomotives of the London North-Eastern Railway pass beneath on their way to Edinburgh. The houses where he had lived, the town fields and their rusting goalposts. They watched kestrels flutter above the motorway, past idle pit heads in Armthorpe and Askern. Where he conjured Rotherham, Barnsley and Sheffield from Ashford, Canterbury and Broadstairs, she could not follow.

Jack’s voice even changed. His accent drifted north with him. She hadn’t seen him smile in months as his decline had accelerated. But here, he positively beamed. At first. Gradually it became too much. His mind, filled with memories of a Yorkshire childhood, both real and imagined, confused him. Jack thought “I have been away too long. Too much has changed”.

Zara would take him each day to the Broken Arms where he would nurse a pint, maybe a sandwich to eat. The pub took him in, frail, distant and warm. Regulars listened to his incoherent ramblings about Yorkshire. Zara often left him snoozing in the sunlight. He talked about being “called home” as he put it.

It was a Tuesday when he died, quietly unnoticed by the fireside. No fuss or bother, his hand clenched around the price of his pint. Although in Kent, he was always now in Yorkshire.

Zara could hear him mouths the words – In. God’s. Country.

Take off those pyjamas

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 and 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 fifteen short breaks may be 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 therefore 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, in any case, 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, under my blankets, on a 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. Kerry Packer incarnate. Personally I struggle to keep a straight face when I see otherwise respectable cricketing figures in pinks, fuchsias, oranges, and so on.

2. 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 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 pantheon 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, lofting the ball to Cow Corner. 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 punitive – 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. Is this 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, 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.