Saturday, 20 May 2017

Stress

Fantasy Bob recently participated in a series of conversations with a group of people from various walks of life.  Hopes and fears for the future were closely considered as were the challenges of doing anything to make the fears less likely.  At one point in the conversations, the subject turned to the stresses members of the group encountered in their everyday life.

There was a member of the police service who described how as a trained hostage negotiator she was regularly deployed to speak to distressed individuals in difficult situations.  She recalled how on one occasion she found herself on the top of a tall building trying to persuade the young man who had threatened to jump to return to safety.  It was dark, freezing, windy; the rain was horizontal.  The slates flickered with the reflected streetlights. The shivering young man was ill-attired in a thin tee shirt. English was not his first language.  The street was a long way below. The discussion seemed to be moving to a positive outcome when, as he moved towards her, his foot slipped on the wet slates. He grabbed at a TV aerial but it couldn't hold him, and he slipped over the edge.

The group was silent, imagining the range of feelings that must have gone through their colleague's mind.  Feelings that would only have been partially relieved by the knowledge that, amazingly, the young man survived the fall.

Then a former army officer told how one night, with 3 colleagues, he was on patrol in an armoured vehicle in Helmand province.  As they moved down the road, there was an almighty explosion - the vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.  It cartwheeled, turning over a couple of times before coming to rest on its side.  Our officer was concussed and seriously injured.  He came to to find he had been dragged from the vehicle which was now on fire.   The heat was causing the ammunition in the vehicle to go off.  There was also the sound of small arms fire.

FB felt humbled.  He realised, not for the first time, that in his long and undistinguished professional life he has had it shamefully easy. There are heroes who continually and repeatedly put themselves in danger on behalf of their fellows.  FB has nothing but admiration and gratitude for them.  By comparison, the most difficult circumstance FB has to encounter is going into a meeting in which someone might disagree with him.  Or the coffee has not arrived.

The group now turned expectantly to FB.  They wanted to hear from him about his heart-stopping moment - when time stood still and danger was all around.  FB racked his brains.  How could he match these shattering experiences?

The room fell quiet.  Then it came to him!  He felt his blood run cold at the memory.  In a faltering voice he began, 'I had just started my innings.....I had dealt with the first few balls......there was a bowling change.......... I looked up........ the new bowler was an 11 year old leg spinner...........'

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Windsor

Fantasy Bob spent much of this week at St George's House which is within the curtilege of Windsor Castle.  
A modest family home close by the Thames

As he approached the august castle gates he noted that the Royal Standard was fluttering excitedly in the breeze.  Her Majesty was in residence.  'At last,' he thought.  In the course of FB's long and undistinguished official career, many of the Royal Family have had the privilege of shaking him by the hand at various events he has graced. Sadly for Her, in all the many years of Her reign, Her Majesty herself has never had that opportunity.  To the outward world She seems to have borne this misfortune with commendable fortitude.

But this week might be different.    The message would surely get through to Her that FB was close at hand.  Perhaps She would sneak down for a quick word.  It was time to put the disappointments of the past behind Her.  For there is a tragic reason behind Her Majesty's reluctance to come into FB's presence.  After all these years it is time that the truth be told.

Many years ago, he was playing cricket for a lower XI of Aberdeen Grammar School FP.  A match against Crathie CC was played in the grounds of Balmoral Castle.  As FB athletically prowled the boundary, he saw a head-scarfed figure wearing a tartan skirt followed by a couple of corgis in tow. FB prepared for the introduction and the modest shrug he would have to give as his sovereign commended his prowess in the field.   So intent was his focus on the etiquette of the impending occasion that he completely failed to notice the skier coming in his direction until the crude shouts of his teammates reached his ears.  He was about to chide them for the use of such indecorous language in the Royal presence, when the ball thudded into his chest and on to grass beside him.  Her Majesty, and the corgis, walked on. The bowler, having first questioned FB's parentage, let loose a tirade of anti-monarchist sentiments and from that moment on was a confirmed republican.

FB's cricketing career stalled and he never made progress up the ranks of AGSFPCC.

This unfortunate event evidently lived long with Her Maj.  She clearly carried heavily the guilt of distracting FB at this crucial point in his cricketing career. It has deterred Her from coming into FB's presence - she would be embarrassed and tongue tied. What could she say by way of apology?  It would be beyond even Her powers of graciousness.

Sadly, Her feelings must still be raw, for She did not seek FB out this week.  She did not stretch out to him her much-shaken hand in a gesture of contrition.

FB would like to convey to Her that he is prepared to put the past behind him.  He has long got over the trauma of that long gone incident.  She has no need to worry about coming into his presence.  

It was disappointing that She could make use of his visit to Windsor, but if she consults the fixture list of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton She will see where FB is on A Saturday for the next 3 months. She would be most welcome to walk Her corgis around the boundary.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Wind

Cricketers have found that hasty decisions to cast their clouts have had to be revised. The start of the season has been accompanied by the briskest and coldest winds.  It is the Heineken wind, for its gets to the parts of the cricketer that other winds leave untouched.  Emergency supplies of balaclavas have had to be ordered.
Boreas - making things difficult
for Ancient Greek cricketers

As a native Aberdonian, Fantasy Bob grew up unfamiliar with winds other than balmy summer breezes faintly drifting off the sun-dappled North Sea. However decades of struggling along the streets of Edinburgh in the teeth of the daily gale have steeled him. For Edinburgh is surely the windiest city in the universe, and possibly beyond. The clouds high above may be hanging motionless, but at ground level in Edinburgh conditions will be approaching hurricane force.  Beaufort will be going off his scale.

Edinburgh's winds are cruelly anonymous.   And in these secular times they are godless.  But the ancients ordered things differently. Cricketers in Ancient Greece, considering how many layers to stuff in their kit bag would mutter - 'Boreas cruel north wind bringer of winter is still blowing better put in another golden fleece.'  Even Spartan players, well known for rashly playing in short sleeves early in the season would invoke divine intervention - 'Oh Zephyr, Zephyr,' god of the gentle warm west wind, come to our aid,' they would text, 'We want to cast our clouts, but it's still blowing a hoolie - can you fix it.'

Today's cricketers have no such recourse.  The Gods have abandoned them to their fate.  And even more cruelly, Edinburgh's cricket grounds have been strategically placed where the winds blow strongest and coldest.   For example, the prestigious Peffermill displays the unique metereological phenomenon of a howling gale coming from every direction at once.  Even the Greeks had no name for such a wind.  It is truly godless. It reduces FB to shivering confusion.  For he is long used to bowling arduous spells up the hill against the wind.  There he has to bowl against the wind and with the wind at the same time.  He is even more ineffective than usual.

But Edinburgh's cricketers bravely battle on in bracing conditions.  Unlike the cricketers of Cape Town, where wind stopped all play across the city earlier this year. If Edinburgh followed this example, there would be no cricket at all.

It will shortly be the 450th birthday of Claudio Monteverdi - not known to be cricketer of any distinction, but one who surely captured the sentiment of all cricketers who (clouts firmly uncast) emerge into the bracing air at this time of the season wishing for the return of the warm west wind:

Return O Zephyr, and with gentle motion
Make pleasant the air and scatter the grasses in waves
And murmuring among the green branches
Make the flowers in the field dance to your sweet sound;

Find it on this link into a fantastic rendition by Nuria Real and Philippe Jaroussky - Rock and Roll.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The First Day of the Season

How Fantasy Bob has marked the special day of the start of his season through the years.


HAVE A FINE SEASON ONE AND ALL









Hope Springs Eternal

Alexander Pope - looking at last season's averages
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

So wrote Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man in 1734. Apposite words for the start of another cricket season.
Remarkably, however, cricket was far from Pope's mind when he dashed this ditty off.  He had a more mundane purpose. As Fantasy Bob understands it, Pope's intent was to explain God's ways to men. Basically he was of the opinion that since God has not revealed his full purpose (rather like the skipper who opts to bat on a soft green wicket), there is no good players standing around moaning about things.

Obviously, this tells us only that Pope had never met a lower league cricketer on his return to the pavilion having been triggered by a team mate for a ball that pitched outside leg, took an inside edge and hit him six inches above the knee roll. Had he done so he might not have been so ready with his optimism - and the course of European poetry and philosophy might have been different. 
 
Cricket would however have remained the same - and cricketers too at this time of year find their breasts swelling uncontrollably as the hope springs up. Last season's averages are no guide to future performance. Even FB, who has been playing since about 1734, and who should by now realise that there is a straight one out there that is going to undo him yet again. He is never blessed. Confined from home, he will sit silently beside his teammates and expatiate on that innings still to come when he will play down the right line. Ay right ,as the saying goes.

But there again Pope seems to have had the measure of FB for he also wrote:

Blessed be the man that expects nothing for he shall not be disappointed.

FB wishes the best of seasons to all cricketers in whose breasts hope springs eternal today - may 2017 bring them no disappointment.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Pre-Season

It is the time of year when the cricketer's pulse quickens.  As the days lengthen, as the temperature soars to near 5 degrees, he or she knows that the day is coming near when that old weakness against the straight one will once again be cruelly exposed.  But for the moment, it is the phoney war of the pre-season. A time ripe with hope and anticipation. Pre-season.  When dreams of hattricks and
hundreds crowd the cricketer's mind.

It is also the time when respectable media outlets lose sight of their year long policy of wholly ignoring club cricket and desperately look for human interest stories to stimulate interest in the coming season.

Ever seeking the celebrity angle, a journalist took it on himself to phone Fantasy Bob at home earlier this week. His timing was ill chosen, for Fantasy Bob was fully occupied in practising his improved batting stance in front of the wardrobe mirror.  It has taken him all winter and he was on the point of perfecting it.  He had given strict instructions not to be disturbed for the next 3 hours.

The call is therefore answered by Mrs FB.  Her clear soprano rings through the house:

'You want to speak to Fantasy Bob, the celebrity cricketer?' (There was a cruel trace of mocking laughter in her tone). 'I am sorry he can't come to the phone - he is upstairs having a temporary bout of insanity.  It could last until August.  Maybe I can help you?

'You want to know how his pre-season preparations are going......'

The short silence should be a warning to the inquirer.

'....Uh.  Huh.......'

The alarm bells should be ringing louder.

'.......Well, let me tell you.......'

There was now no escape.

'.....Don't give me pre-season.  It's longer than the wretched season itself.  The day after the final game last year he starts.  I've had months of him moaning on about whether he can manage another season. Is his back up to it, he groans.  I suggest he could give his back a bit of a test by painting the bathroom but he says that would risk unbalancing his bowling action.  Pathetic.  Two months ago he has to get his kit out of the various cupboards he squashed it in last August.  Of course the only place he can leave it all is exactly where I am bound to trip over it.  I've measured my length three times today already.  Then he's sitting in front of Line of Duty with his pads on - just to get them flexible for his big innings he says.  How flexible do they have to be for your usual duck? I ask.  He doesn't talk to me for 3 days. Then the linseed oil - the stink is everywhere - I think he's drinking it.  I look out to the garden and make a hint that the grass is beginning to grow.  Does he take the hint - does he hell? He'll never do a hands turn in the garden, but the minute that Doughty Groundsman phones, you won't see him for dust and he'll be there cutting the outfield like a man possessed with a glaikit look on his face.  It's pathetic.

'Pre-season - don't give me pre-season - just get the season started and I can get him AND HIS KIT OUT OF THE HOUSE.'

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sounds of the 60s


Fantasy Bob was sorry to hear of the passing of Brian Matthew last week.  Brain Matthew was the long serving host of Sounds of the 60s - the programme which has accompanied FB's Saturday breakfasting for many years.

Indeed in these days of the introduction of listener phone-ins on Radio 3 and the endless Faragification of the wider air waves, Sounds of the 60s has been just about he only radio programme FB has been able to enjoy without feeling the constant need to shout back at the set.

It was Mrs FB who suggested that for the good of his health he should desist from such vigorous responses - for if he didn't stop his caterwauling she would come downstairs and put him in hospital herself.

There was no need for such responses when Matthew took to the air.  His smooth voice was familiar and comforting.  His knowledge of the music at hand effortlessly compendious.   He conveyed the impression that he knew all the musicians personally.  Test match quality.

This was a voice FB recognised from his childhood.  For FB recalls earlier Matthews programmes - The Saturday Club and Easybeat back in the day.  He has a distinct memory of hearing the Saturday Club as he sat in the local barber waiting for his short back and sides leafing through a well thumbed copy of Reveille.  The pubescent FB found this a somewhat racy publication  although this did not make up fully for its disappointingly limited interest in cricket.  For some reason the song that comes to mind, as he sits there leafing, is Frank Iffield's I Remember You.

Just around the corner from the barber shop was a small sports shop - the type of outlet that no longer exists.  No moulded soles or screw in studs - FB recalls the box of  leather football boot studs which had to be hammered into the traditional boot, their sharp nails obtruding.  FB cannot remember buying anything in the shop except dubbin and laces for his football boots, but it was the place you went to get your leather football blown up or the grip on your cricket bat changed.  Services which Sports Direct lamentably fail to offer.

But FB digresses.

Brian Matthew was cruelly removed from the show earlier this year, very much against his will. There was a petition to reinstate him.  Sadly however the grim reaper pays such popular will no respect.

The show lives on.  It is now introduced by Tony Blackburn.  While FB can remember listening to Blackburn in the early days of Radio 1, he did so with little pleasure.  His habit of talking over the start and end of records and the inane jokes make it a trying listening experience.  He was soon a refugee to Radio 3.

But with the advent of Blackburn accompanying his Saturday breakfast, FB has found he has started shouting at the radio again.   Vigorously.

Mrs FB is suggesting that this can't be good for his health.