Saturday, 27 April 2013


Something must have got into the water.

Not only has Fantasy Bob done some fielding practice in advance of the new season, he has also reviewed his kit.

Good to bat in?
Mrs FB expressed concern that the funds set aside for jewellery purchase might take a hit following this extensive exercise.  But FB was able to inform her that a new pair of batting gloves were the only major investment required for the season ahead.  He assured her that they could be purchased for less than a 4 figure sum.  She noted the point but observed that FB had also purchased a new pair of skiing gloves this season.  She wondered whether this glove thing might be getting out of hand (as it were).  Returning to the subject a little later she inquired of FB whether he was sure that the could not wear the new skiing gloves for batting and thus protect the jewellery fund from further draw down.  FB thought this an interesting proposition - particularly given the sub-zero temperatures which have prevailed in recent weeks and seem destined to last for the first part of the season.  The additional protection against frostbite that they offer might be advantageous.  However in the end, his resolve held and a new pair of batting gloves were acquired.

Despite temptations all around,  FB resisted the lure of a new bat.  His present blade is after all only one season old.  It has plenty of runs still in it.  It must have, because it did not give up very many last season. Nevertheless, FB cleaned it assiduously.  Of course he took particular care not to remove the big red marks on the middle - all two of them.

But it was then that whatever has been put in the water had its effect and things went a bit wrong.  FB reviewed his cricket shoes.  Remarkably they looked good for another season of pounding up the hill against the wind.  But the spikes were another story.  Ground down to the base by the Doughty Groundsman's pristine hard surfaces, they needed replacement.  FB duly purchased a set of gleaming new spikes and set aside half an hour to screw them in.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Three hours later, he had managed to remove just over half of the old ones.  His hand was bleeding.  His shoulder ached more than it ever did when he bowled 25 overs on the bounce.  Sweat beaded his brow.  He was covered in WD40, bits of grass and sand.  Another 2 hours and 3 spikes still resisted his efforts.  Surely the spike key was an instrument of torture devised by the Spanish Inquisition?

He was on the point of phoning the Samaritans.

Mrs FB looked at his exhausted frame.  She sighed at this further evidence of the futility of male endeavour.  She tried to be helpful.  As she moved towards the door and a night out with her girlfriends, she quietly said

'I always thought you should have bought a new pair................................'

Nobody expects the cricket spike key..........

Monday, 22 April 2013

Scandal Rocks Edinburgh Council

It is not often that a lower league player such as Fantasy Bob gets invited to the splendour of the Edinburgh City Chambers.  Indeed it is not often that FB gets invited anywhere.
Edinburgh City Chambers

But this was different.  For the last few weeks FB's mantelpiece had proudly borne a card of a serious and official demeanour telling him that The Lord Provost and Council of the City of Edinburgh request the honour of his presence at a Reception on the City Chambers.  No less.

The far more significant honour of Mrs FB's presence was also requested.

To celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Carlton Cricket Club.

For not only is the go ahead club go ahead, it is venerable.  Not as venerable as the City Chambers perhaps, which started life in 1760 as the Royal Exchange, before the Council took it over in 1811 as the City Chambers.  1811 is also the year in which the lease on the original Lords Old Ground expired and the MCC found themselves following Doughty Groundsman Thomas Lord to his new Middle Ground for the next three years.   FB is uncertain whether there is a link between the two events.   

Faced with such a summons, Fantasy Bob could leave nothing to chance.  Even without significant prompting from Mrs FB, he found a tie. He had combed what remains of his hair.  He had ensured that his socks matched. He was as presentable in polite company as he is ever likely to be.

The glitterati of the Carlton community had all scrubbed up well and thronged the reception room to listen as earnest speeches of congratulations were made by Council dignitaries.  The applause rang out when attention was drawn to the sumptuous buffet.

It was then that FB was overcome.  He turned white.  He could not speak. Colleagues suspected he had been overcome with the majesty of the occasion.  Or perhaps it was that standing, chatting and sipping wine all at the same time was at least one task too many for his limited powers of concentration.

Doughty Groundsmen and former club officials turned to his assistance.  A seat was proffered.  FB waved it away.  Still unable to speak he pointed at the buffet, shaking his head. Slowly he managed to form the words to spell out the awful truth.

'Where..........................are.............................the ................................empire ..................................biscuits?'

A hush fell over the room.  Slowly it dawned on the company.  While the buffet table groaned with canapes and sandwiches, FB's staple foodstuff, which has become synonymous with the go ahead and venerable cricket club, was nowhere to be seen.  Of empire biscuits there were none.  Not even a photograph of them. It was only with some effort that the attendants quelled the incipient riot.

FB understands that a full inquiry will be launched by the Lord Provost's office into how such an oversight could have occurred.

His worldwide readership will be comforted to know that FB recovered quickly from his trauma.  However it is not certain whether he will ever be able to enter the City Chambers again without a sense of deep dark dread.  It will be like going out to bat knowing that there is a leg spinner bowling.

Conspicuous by their absence at the City Chambers

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Flying Dutchman

Fantasy Bob spent a stimulating evening recently in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre seeing Scottish Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. And very good it was too.

 This production had shifted the action of the opera to a location based on the Blue Toon - Peterhead. Peterhead is well known as a fishing port, and for its prison where many of Scotland's hardest criminals have spent their time at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and for its power station. But it is not reknowned for its cricketing heritage.

FB wondered whether this was the point the Director was trying to convey.  FB's worldwide readership will know the story of the Flying Dutchman – how the central character is cursed to sail the seas until he is redeemed by the unqualified love of a woman. Every seven years he is allowed to come to land in search of redemption. Driven into Peterhead by a storm, he might look  for such redemption in the form of a net, or for a game at the weekend in a lower XI, or even a spell on the boundary just watching a match. He would look in vain.  For there is no cricket in Peterhead.  FB wondered if this might explain some of the agonised outbursts by the characters on stage.

As FB mused on this possibility during the interval he encountered a fellow cricketer in the throng.  FB had not previously taken him for an opera goer and he could tell by the agitated manner in which he approached him that his fellow cricketer was deeply troubled.  There was no time for social pleasantries as FB's acquaintance immediately launched into a breathless diatribe.

'What on earth is all this about, FB?  Fishing boats and harbour sides?  I came here in good faith to hear about the Flying Dutchman, but what has all this wailing got to do with Dirk Nannes?’ 

FB saw immediately that serious counselling was required.  He suggested that his interlocutor took a seat and armed himself with a stiff drink while FB lead him gently towards the truth.

Dirk Nannes, the Australian left arm paceman might well be playing in the IPL for Chennai Super Kings - which would explain why he wasn't in Edinburgh tonight, interjected FB's colleague.  Nannes may well have been nicknamed the Flying Dutchman because of his Dutch origins, which led to him playing for the Netherlands in the 2009 T20 World Cup.  Nannes may well have been part of the team that brought off a surprise victory over England in that tournament. Nannes may well have been the leading wicket-taker at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean in May 2010, with 14 scalps at 13.07. Nannes may well also have had a career as a professional skier before succeeding at cricket and may well now run a ski travel and adventure company.  All these things are true, but they do not make Nannes the subject of an opera by Richard Wagner.

FB's colleague's eyes glazed over.  His breathing became shallow and rapid.  Beads of sweat appeared on his brow.  But still he was reluctant to acknowledge that he may have come in error.  

'There's still the second innings to come, FB.  I'm sure this will tell of how Nannes' only ODI appearance for Australia took place in Edinburgh.  Scotland played Australia in 2009.  Nannes bowled 7 overs and got 1 for 20.  And do you know who is that solitary victim in his ODI career?  None other than the ever popular captain of your go ahead Carlton club Fraggle Watts - bowled by Nannes for 24.  Now if that is not a fit subject for the operatic treatment, what is?'

FB had to agree.  Particularly since Watts invited his own undoing by smacking Nannes for a big 6 - the only 6 he conceded in his ODI career.  Real operatic drama.

For fans of Nannes or Wagner this link will give you the splendid overture to the opera.  It clearly depicts the castling of Watts at 8.23.  Test match Quality. 

Operatic or what?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Perchance to dream

To sleep, perchance to dream - aye there's the rub.......................

Fantasy Bob's handful of worldwide readers might have supposed that the stuff that FB's dreams are made on (to continue Shakespearisms) would be steepling sixers at Lords or trapping Hashim Amla with his world famous inswinger.  They would be wrong.

For the most part FB doesn't remember his dreams, as their vividness vanishes the moment he wakes and focusses on more quotidian tasks such as finding a matching - or nearly matching - pair of socks.  But there are some dreams that stick with him, if only because they seem to recur.

In FB's most frequently recurring dream he pressed for time for some event or activity.  He is in a strange location.  He is sure he knows the way to where he has to be.  But can he find it?  No way.  He goes through doors, climbs stairs, proceeds down corridors only to find himself nowhere.  The same doors, the same stairs, the same corridors reappear.  He can hear on the other side of the wall where he should be.  He can hear the expectant cries of his audience, his colleagues or even his family.  Can he find the way there?  No chance.  His search becomes more frantic. The same doors, the same stairs, the same corridors.  And so on.

This dream did once take on a cricketing turn.  FB was preparing to bat (usually the stuff of nightmares for the rest of the team) and on being told the wicket had fallen set off for the field only to find the unfamiliar pavilion a maze of..........doors, stairs and corridors.  But can he find the way to the middle?  FB always wakes at about this point, so he never knows whether he is timed out.

FB has read his way through Sigmund Freud's great work on the Interpretation of Dreams, but does not find it compelling in offering an understanding of his dream.  Freud is sadly silent on the symbolic meaning of cricketing situations in dreams.  (No doubt there is a Freudian explanation for this oversight).  More prosaic interpreters of dreams - and there are many - will tell FB that this form of dream is an anxiety dream.  It is related to fear of failure or the reluctance to face up to his own inadequacies.  FB wonders about this.  He is not naturally an anxious sort, but this interpretation makes him anxious.  And he faces up to his own inadequacies with every ball he faces.

David Steele
He therefore thinks there is a more down to earth interpretation.  The situation of FB's dream famously occurred to David Steele when he made his Test debut against Australia at Lord's in 1975.  Leaving the dressing room and the famous balcony for the middle, he went down one too many flights of stairs and found himself in the basement toilets with little idea of how to get out.   But by the skin of his teeth and the kindly help of a steward, he managed to make the field of play without becoming the first Test batsman to be timed out.  FB closely followed that series and Steele's experience.  For Steele was a hero that summer stoically standing up to the bullying Aussies Lillee and Thomson.   He scored 365 runs in the 3 tests he played at 60.83 and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. That he was so close to not getting on to the field at the very start has obviously wormed its way deep into FB's subconscious and from there into his dreams.  So when FB is plucked from obscurity into a Lords Test - as Steele was in 1975 - he will not make the same error.

It might only be a dream, but FB is taking no chances.  At away matches he can be seen unrolling a ball of string from the dressing room to the pavilion door to guide the way.  Sometimes he plays it safe and leads the string all the way to the middle, just in case he takes a wrong turning.  This season, taking note of the impact of his advancing years on his memory, he thinks he might err even more on the safe side and use the string trick at Carlton's home ground too.  Just in case some doors, stairs and corridors suddenly appear or as is more likely he completely forgets the way.

A ball of string, it is another thing to remember to pack.........which leads us on to FB's other cricketing dream......when he's all set to bat but suddenly discovers suddenly that his batting gloves are not there.............he sets off to look for them...........through doors, up stairs and along corridors............

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Season opener

Cricket resumes today at Grange Loan, HQ of go ahead Edinburgh club Carlton.  A large crowd is expected to throng the boundary for the club's pre-season friendly against visitors from Northumbria Benwill Hill CC.

Ever mindful of spectator comfort the club has issued guidance on recognising the symptoms of hypothermia.

The club's crack medical team have advised that low body temperature results in muscle mis-coordination and mental confusion.  Movements are slow and labored, accompanied by a stumbling pace and mild confusion, although the person may appear alert. The victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue. Members have expressed concern that this sounds like Fantasy Bob at most times.

Stewards have been told that if they see Fantasy Bob, or anyone looking remotely like him, they should immediately wrap him up in a blanket and feed him empire biscuits.  In no circumstances should they attempt to heat him up by setting fire to his feet.

Spectators coming to Grange Loan
are advised to dress appropriately for the conditions.
In a go ahead move the go ahead club has also decided to make soup available. 

This has not been an easy decision for the club's catering team and members of the menu advisory committee were divided on the appropriate soup to provide. However Fantasy Bob's request that Lobster Bisque could be served fell on deaf ears, which misheard it as Empire Bisque which they understood to be a soup made of FB's favourite biscuits.  In its wisdom the committee decided in favour of something more conventional.

The committee also promised to keep under review the possibility of making Gluhwein available if temperatures do not rise.

Carlton's pavilion in July

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A Team Called Rory

Fantasy Bob is walking more gingerly than usual following Carlton's first outdoor practice of the season. The calendar may well say April, but the thermometer is still stuck in January. Nevertheless the Doughty Groundsmen had ensured that any lingering snow had been cleared and the ground as always looked a picture, basking in something like sunshine.
FB demonstrates new hands on hips technique
to astonished team mates

This was most welcome to FB, since an important part of any practice session for FB is standing looking at the ground. Over the years FB likes to think he has reached a high level of proficiency at this standing-looking-at-the-ground part of the game, generally employing the classic two hands in the pockets stance. Younger players of course adopt a more modern approach based on the one hand holding an i-Phone to the ear technique. But that is for them and not for FB.  FB would happily have stood looking at the ground for a bit longer but he was required to demonstrate some other more elusive skills.

Practice sessions these days have lots of fielding drills.  FB is sure this is highly admirable and helps the release of youthful energy.  Jerome K Jerome author of that undying comic classic Three Men in a Boat wrote 'I love work; it fascinates me; I can sit and watch it for hours.'  That's how FB feels about fielding. It fascinates him and he can watch it for hours. 

Sadly for FB his efforts in the field increasingly end in disappointment, embarrassment or serious injury.  Fielding practice is an opportunity to perfect all three, sometimes simultaneously.  It is a walk on the dark side.

This was the club's first session with its new coach Matt Crowther. FB extends a hearty welcome to Matt and looks forward to working with him during the season.  He is sure Matt will rise to the challenge of improving FB's batting.  For his part FB is willing to reciprocate and any time Matt wishes advise on empire biscuit purchase, he will gladly organise a session.
Carlton's new coach Matt Crowther

Matt hails from Lincolnshire, so the top of Carlton's world famous outfield hill is the highest point above sea level that he has ever been.

From Lincolnshire to Edinburgh might not seem so far.  But as he went round with the skippers meeting the players, Matt found just how different somethings are:

Matt, this is Rory..........Hi Rory........

Matt, this is Ruari.......Hi Rory...No, not Rory, it's, right......

Matt, this is Ruardih......Hi Ruairi.........No, not Rory or Ruari,  it'sRuardih.....................

And so on but that was only a few of them.   Matt has yet to meet Ruaidhrigh, Ruaidrig,  Ruaidhri,  Rhuairidh, Ruaridh, Rhuaridh, RuarĂ­dh,or Ruairi................

The name is of course from the Gaelic meaning red headed king (who couldn't spell).

Welcome to Scotland Matt - you'll love it!

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Auld Alliance

In this bleak midwinter spring it is appropriate for Fantasy Bob to return to a subject that is not so weather affected as the attraction of outdoor nets in sub zero conditions.
Grenoble - no cricket facilities visible

FB and Mrs FB have just returned from a successful visit to Grenoble and Lyon in France.  Not hotbeds of cricketing fervour, which is a matter of some regret.  While this forced FB to take interest in a range of interesting attractions in the form of museums and galleries, he could not but notice how awash both cities are in patisseries and chocolateries.  Every second store front seems to offer an enticing display of goodies.

So much so that FB came to the conclusion that if this region took up cricket, while they might take some years to reach the high standards of the East of Scotland Leagues, they would immediately push for Test status in the provision of cricket teas.  Not, in FB's opinion, a matter lightly to be ignored.

These cities have ancient origins, and FB's historical interest was hugely stimulated by one particular discovery.

FB's handful of readers will be aware of his intense and academic interest in the empire biscuit, the highest achievement of Scottish patisserie.  They will recall the general historical understanding that the empire biscuit was based on a German confection which came to the shores of Caledonia sometime in the dark ages through some undefined route.  They may also remember how FB discovered in Austria what might be an early relation of the empire biscuit.
French Empire Biscuit
However this theory may now have to be reexamined.  For FB discovered in Grenoble another primitive variant of the empire biscuit known locally as the lunette roman.  It bears the main characteristics of the empire biscuit - two layers of shortbread separated by a jam filling.  It is dusted with icing sugar - the Scottish improvement of water icing not having been discovered by French makers.   Similar to the Austrian version reported in FB's previous researches, it contains two holes on the top.  In these primitive versions, neither French nor Austrian makers have come to appreciate the delight of the glace cherry, far less the jelly tot as a finishing touch found on the fully developed Scottish version.

Could the empire biscuit therefore be of French origin, not German?

Plaque in Regent Terrace Edinburgh
in which Gen de Gaulle
recalls the arrival of the empire biscuit
in 1295.
Historians have long speculated on the gains that Scotland derived from the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France which originated in 1295.  This alliance, which sought to unite the two kingdoms in their efforts against England, was celebrated by General de Gaulle in 1942 as the oldest alliance in the world.  While some of the value to Scotland in military and economic terms is open to disagreement, many cultural influence have been suggested to originate from the alliance.  But any doubt on the benefits of the Alliance will have to be revaluated.

For if the Auld Alliance was the vehicle through which the primitive empire biscuit came to Scotland, then it is of lasting and irredeemable value.

And the French still celebrate it in their national anthem

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
La lunette de gloire est arrivé!