Friday, 24 April 2015

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom at Grange Loan - April 2015
Fantasy Bob's practice session was going well. As he paused at the end of his run up, a visitor leisurely perambulating the Grange Loan home of the go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton remarked to his companion.
'It is always one of the most inspiring sights of this time of year.'
FB puffed out his chest. He had heard his run up the wicket described in many ways. Shambling, faltering, comical? Frequently. But inspiring? Not so often. In fact, never.
Had this observant visitor finally seen the lithe athleticism to which others had been blind? Surely FB was at last gaining the reward for his many gym sessions over the winter?
The response from the eloquent visitor's companion brought him down to earth with a crash.

'Yes, those cherry trees are beautiful.'

FB overcame his disappointment with a rasping inswinger that gave the 11 year old at the other end of the net something to think about. Having thought, he blasted the ball back over FB's head.

As FB trudged in pursuit of the ball he had time to reflect on the visitors' conversation - for the splendour of the early season cherry blossom is indeed one of the delights of Grange Loan.( Not, admittedly, if the bowler's arm is coming directly out of it....but in all other circumstances, definitely),

FB reflected on whether there was any reason why his beloved cricket ground should be so beautified by these blossoms.
For while, to the prosaic Westerner the meaning of Cherry Blossom may not get beyond the leading brand of boot polish (or shoe care products as they are now known), to the Easterner, the Japanese in particular, the cherry blossom is deeply symbolic. 
The blossom, which appears and then all too quickly sadly disappears, is an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life and is closely associated with the mono no aware cultural tradition. This term translates literally as "the pathos of things", and used to refer to the awareness of impermanence and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.
During and prior to World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people and there were many military associations - for example Japanese pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes or even take branches of the trees with them before embarking on a suicide mission, on their missions. The first kamikaze unit had a subunit called Yamazakura or wild cherry blossom

Cherry blossom symbolizing the intensity and ephemerality of life?
'Surely', thought FB to himself, 'this is going over the top as far as symbolism goes.'
When he strides out to bat, FB needs no further reminders of impermanence.  
All he has to do is look at the 10 year old spin bowler at the other end.  The glint in his eye, the way his fingers wrap themselves round the ball.  It is all the mono no aware FB needs.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Force Awakens

Fantasy Bob woke to find the headline The Force Awakens across all newspapers.  He was flattered - his did not think his preparations for the imminent cricket season had come to the media's attention.

FB read on only discover the report was about a new Star Wars movie in preparation.  It was maybe just as well that the press had chosen to focus on Harrison Ford's efforts in preference to his own.  For the truth is that FB's preparations for the imminent cricket season have not being going well.

There has been a trace of ambivalence in Mrs FB's encouragement.

'You're not really thinking of playing another season are you?' she commented the boldened letters cutting the air as she quietly, but purposefully, searched the internet for advice on Life Insurance Packages.

Meanwhile, FB returned his full attention to the extended search for his kit.  He finally unearthed it near the bottom of the pile of stuff Mrs FB had assembled over the winter for the Scouts' Jumble Sale.

'Oh,' she said in response to FB's arched eyebrow of inquiry, 'I didn't think you'd be needing that old rubbish again.'

She watched as FB's  trembling hands lovingly caressed his rediscovered bat. 'Those pink bits on the edges are nice,' she observed. 'Why aren't there any in the middle?'

Undaunted FB strode off to practice, a spring of sorts in his step.

After all his close season had been productive. He had spent the long hours of winter evenings with protractor and dividers in hand. He had consulted Euclid's Geometry (in translation). He had applied the principles of quantum mechanics to the problem. At last he was confident that he had found the answer to leg spin.

 Detail from Raphael's The School of Athens
Euclid using a compass
 to coach how to play leg spin.
No longer would the juniors giggle at his efforts as his front foot went one way, his back foot another, his bat a third and the ball a mystifying fourth direction apparently not on the compass.

This year it would be different.  He would calmly wait watching the ball, he would see the rotations, he would effortlessly gauge the pitch and silkily move his front foot to the exact spot, his bat would come through an elegant arc covering the spin and the ball would zip to the distant boundary. There would be no doubt. He had established this from first principles and even had a diagram drawn to scale.  Just to be safe he carried the diagram with him.  What could go wrong?

FB's long suffering readers need not guess what happened next.

As FB turned to reassemble the stumps shattered by the latest of the long line of 11 year old leg spinners who had gone straight through him, he took the diagram out of his pocket.  What had he done wrong?  The youngster himself looked on, flipping the ball from one hand to the other, a kindly, but determined look on his face.

'Yoh FB, like, you know what's, like, going wrong?'

FB turned his gaze to his young tormentor.

'You see this diagram, I'm like, seeing it's, like, in, like, feet and inches.'

'Yes, as Euclid himself advises.'

 'Well, like, I'm, like, bowling in metric now.  Doh.'

Some times FB fears that there is too much in modern cricket that is just passing him by.  Like most spin bowling.

He is forced to acknowledge that the Force, such as it is, has yet to awaken.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Morning Everybody...........

Fantasy Bob has little to add to worldwide sadness and affection at the death of the great Richie Benaud.  The voice of summer.

FB has long been aware of Richie's wise observation that captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill.  Other than in its reference to 10% skill, Richie could have had FB in mind when he first spoke it.

But FB has taken Richie's wisdom even further.  Richie completed his quote with the suggestion that you shouldn't attempt captaincy without that 10% skill.  FB has done not only that, but has also dispensed with the 90% luck.

Exactly what his captaincy consists in is a mystery.  It is certainly a mystery to his long suffering team mates in the Carlton All Star 4th XI.  Maybe Richie could have made sense of it - but only he.

Gone but not forgotten

Friday, 27 March 2015

Senior Moments

Fantasy Bob has been sitting at his keyboard for some time intending to share with his dwindling handful of readers an amusing anecdote revealing the impacts of the accumulating years on his mental faculties.  But he has totally forgotten what the incident was.

So this one will just have to do instead.

FB punched his PIN into the ATM - itself an heroic act of memory - pressed the buttons asking for cash and waited. The machine bleeped.  FB took his card, slipped it into his wallet and turned to continue up the road.

It was 5 minutes later that he had a vague feeling of unease.  He looked in his wallet. Empty. Not a freshly acquired bank note in sight.  The excitement of remembering his PIN had simply been too much for him and he had failed to take his money from machine.

He retraced his steps to the bank and shamefacedly explained his lacuna to the teller.  She was sympathetic.  She suggested he sit down.  The manager was called.  Did they fear a medical emergency? Forms were filled in and duly signed.

Within a day FB had received confirmation that the transaction had been cancelled. 

The transaction may have been cancelled but FB's memory of his senior moment has not.  Indeed it has haunted him ever since.

Happening as it did just as the start of the cricket season is appearing above the horizon, this senior moment has filled FB with all kinds of apprehension.  Is the new season going to be dominated by such incidents?

Will FB one fine Saturday suddenly find himself in the middle of an expanse of grass with a piece of wood in his hand and say to himself, 'I know I came here for some purpose - but what on earth was it?'

At least on that scenario FB will have remembered to take his bat with him - he recalls an incident a season or so ago in which an opposing senior player arrived at the crease with pads, gloves and helmet all in approximately the correct place, only to find that his attempt to take guard was hampered by the absence of a bat.  As the batsman returned to the distant pavilion to retrieve his blade, FB faced the dilemma of whether to invoke the timed out law and claim the wicket.  Good sportsmanship prevailed. But it was time wasted, for the unfortunate batsman might as well have gone on without his bat since it was little use to him as he was spectacularly bowled first ball - his bat in hand no nearer the ball than it was in the pavilion.

Similarly, a lung bursting run to the boundary could leave FB with a slightly troubled look on his face as he asks an adjacent spectator - 'Why did I come down here?'

Even at the best of times FB's journeys to the boundary are filled with uncertainty of purpose and outcome.  In the unlikely event that he reaches the ball before it crosses the rope, he is faced with the challenge of how to return it without doing serious damage to his shoulder or, even worse, making a laughing stock of himself to the junior members all of whom without effort can throw the ball from one end of the ground to another.

And then, FB may look around the dressing room at his fresh faced colleagues and think, 'These people all seem familiar, but I have no idea who they are.'

Setting out his batting order with an insecure grasp of his team's names is no pleasure and scorers recoil from an order composed of 1. Small boy with glasses 2 . Older chap with gormless look 3. I-Pod addicted teenager................. and so on to 11..................

Indoor nets?  Bootcamp physical training?  Maybe, but FB needs an intense few weeks of mental gymnastics to get him through the season

Friday, 20 March 2015

Mrs FB's Dream

Fantasy Bob has long trained himself to accept that detailed examination of Mrs FB’s unique psychology is a risky business. On a par with facing leg spin bowling. The potential for FB to find himself playing down the wrong line is just too high.
Mrs FB's dreamscape - or is it?

He therefore likes to keep things simple.  He sticks to the basics. He can generally intuit whether Mrs FB's jewellery deficit index is reaching a critical level and take appropriate and timeous corrective action. And for the most part that is enough.

Sometimes he fails, of course, and has to face an extended spell of hostile pace bowling. But, by and large, he has survived with his wicket intact.

Mrs FB has therefore rarely indulged FB with reports of her dream world. She obviously regards it as none of his business.  

But if Fantasy Bob had to guess the predominant themes that fill her head during sleep, he would plump for extended visions of our heroine sitting astride a chestnut mare, scanning the wide open ranges of Montana, a new Hermes scarf around her neck by way of a bandanna and specially commissioned gem-encrusted spurs from Stephen Webster glinting on her Ferragamo cowboy boots. 

However his confidence in his understanding of his life partner's psyche was subject to a rapid reassessment the other morning. 

He was quietly spooning porridge into his mouth when Mrs FB strode into view and advised him:

‘I’ve just had the weirdest dream.’

This came as a surprise to FB.

‘…….. and it’s your fault.’

This came as no surprise. She expanded:

‘I dreamt I spent the whole day putting your cricket bat into the washing machine. When it came out it was all soft and bent like a Salvador Dali clock.  I must have put it in at the wrong setting.’

What is the right setting for a cricket bat?
FB took a moment to compose himself.  He had to acknowledge that her suggestion that he was at fault may have some merit. Obviously, Mrs FB has been apprehensive about FB’s lackadaisical preparations for the coming season.  Her unconscious took the view that it might be time gee him up a bit.  It had decided to take control and, in the way of the unconscious throughout the ages, had got things radically wrong.

FB thought this might be a good opportunity to advise his loved one of the proper procedures for the pre-season care of cricket bats. Just in case her unconscious got hold of her in a waking state and she was tempted to put her dream into action.

And so for the next 15 minutes or so he waxed eloquent about linseed oil, about new grips and about using sandpaper and razor blades to remove marks and scars on the blade to leave a pristine surface ready for the first ball of the season.

Mrs FB awoke from the trance like state into which this eulogy had put her.  She got firmly to the pitch of the ball.  

'Weeeeelllll......... I haven’t noticed you doing any of that.'

FB had to explain that these traditional actions were rendered unnecessary in his case by the fact that Gray Nicolls had kindly provided a plastic skin over his bat. 

Mrs FB appeared unconvinced.  She swung through the line of the ball.

'Well that bat's all dirty – it looks like it could do with a good wash.'

FB didn’t feel he had made much progress in this discussion.  Indeed he feared the jewellery deficit index was approaching the danger zone.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

News from the Art World

Ars longa, vita brevis
Fantasy Bob has returned from the Austrian ski slopes with all limbs intact to discover yet more compelling news from the art world. 

A big slab of granite on which is written each defeat suffered by the English football team between 1874 and 1998 has sold at auction for £425,000, a sum which could justy about keep FB in empire biscuits for the coming cricket season.

Many Scottish football supporters have commented that they don't know much about art but they know what they like. They feel the warm glow of schadenfreude at the extended record of the misfortunes of their neighbours.  They note the repeated references to defeats by Scotland  - indeed the sequence starts with the 2-1 defeat in 1874 (which was played at Hamilton Crescent, home to West of Scotland CC). Surely this is on a par with the greatest scultputes of Michelangelo or Donatello.  £425,000 is a price well worth paying for such a masterpiece, which should take its place in Scotland's National Gallery.

FB is not so sure, for greater work may be in prospect of more interest to the cricketer.

The work was created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.  FB understands that Cattelan has  inspired by the Cricket World Cup and is working on a companion piece which will record all of the defeats of the English cricket team in ODIs. 

Cattelan has expressed concern at immensity of the the artistic challenge facing him in planning this work,  'There may not be a piece of granite big enough.'

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Come on Scotland

Fantasy Bob's understanding of England's epic struggle with New Zealand in the CWC was undermined by endless advertisement breaks and the total lack of intelligent observation from the commentary team.

However extensive research has enabled him to piece together a definitive scorecard of how the powerful England batting line up put paid to the hapless New Zealand attack:

  1. M Bigbeard .................... 0
  2. I Bellybutton....................0
  3. G AnyonebutKP.............. 0
  4. J Nextkingofyorkshire .....1
  5. E Seamus Bejasus............0
  6. J Smallbutperfectlyout.....0
  7. J Slogger...........................0
  8. C Halftracker....................0
  9. S Poutandsulk...................0
  10. S Hucklebowlerfinn..........0
  11. J Sledgerson......................0
FB is disappointed to discover that the New Zealand innings failed to register on his state of the art electronic monitoring station which is not calibrated in nano-seconds.  He is therefore uncertain of the outcome of the match.

However FB notes the comments of Mr John Inverdale that this outing gives further strength to the belief that England remain on track to win the Rugby World Cup.

Scotland play England on Monday with everything to play for.  Come on Scotland.