Friday, 28 February 2014

Stripped of Credibility

Scotland's cricketers, proud in their successful qualification for next year's World Cup, have now been plunged into a torment of anxiety and disquiet.  Something awful may well happen to them;  something few, if any, of them will have the resilience to bear.  It could leave them shattered and demoralised long before the first ball is bowled.
Oh dear
For if Scotland's footballers can be ritually humiliated through being expected to don with equanimity the new away strip launched this week, what can protect Scotland's cricketers?  Fantasy Bob's readers, all 3 of them, may well suggest that Scotland's footballers are long used to humiliation and the latest affront will count as nothing to them.  FB is not persuaded.  Hopeless they may be but they deserve better.
FB found himself recoiling in horror from the pictures of the new strip, wondering how the world came to this.  Even allowing for the fact that the invention of away strips has long allowed shirt designers the world over to demonstrate the cruelty of their sense of humour, this effort takes the biscuit. It is a peculiar and sadistic melange of pastel pink and yellow.  It has rightly been compared to various lollipops and sweets.  Any suggestion that opposing teams will think that there is a serious sporting person wrapped in it is risible.

Scotland's cricketers must unite to fight off such a fate.

They may or may not find it easy.  For the justification of the football strip rests on the claim that the colours reflect the racing colours of Lord Rosebery, who was briefly Prime Minister of the UK in the 1890s and who is claimed as a patron of Scottish football - if so, he was an irregular attender for racing was his passion.  Rosebery is reported to have declared at an early age that he had 3 ambitions in life - to marry an heiress, to win the Derby and to be Prime Minister.  He got he full set.  There is no indication that he also yearned to inspire a nauseous football strip.  He may well be turning in his grave.
 as portrayed in Vanity Fair
At this point FB's readers may find a small bell of a memory faintly and easing their nausea.  Rosebery, they will think - where have we heard that name before? 

They will be calling to mind this post of FB's of some time ago which mentions Lord Dalmeny - Dalmeny was the son of of Lord Rosebery and duly succeeded to the title in 1929.  FB mentions him in his capacity as skipper of Surrey between 1905-07 for whom he was considered an aggressive hard-hitting batsman.   That was his career high for he subsequently found himself in positions of considerably less consquence - he became MP for Edinburghshire in 1906 and  briefly was Secretary of State for Scotland in 1945.  Like his Dad he was a man for the racing and won most of the classics as cricket faded into his past.

The Rosebery link may indicate peril to Scotland's cricketers - the Rosebery colours might be deemed appropriate for them to.  Emergency action is required.  FB suggests a team is put together to investigate 19th and 20th Century aristocrats who had contact with Scottish cricket in an effort to find one whose racing silks lie in the acceptable bluish range of the spectrum.

As a fall back, they may wish to honour Alex Ferguson.  Ferguson is of course neither an aristocrat nor a cricketer, but he is a man of the turf.  And FB understands is racing silks to be a fetching shade of white.

White shirts for cricket?  That would be a novelty!

Friday, 21 February 2014


Fantasy Bob has been enjoying the thrills and spills of the Winter Olympics.
But his attention has only been truly engaged by the the classical events of the Alpine skiing programme - and the slow burn of curling where Scottish players are showing the world a thing or two. (If I had a hammer...........)

He is not greatly excited by the endless list of made up events that seems to have grown up over night and pad the programme out.  He admires the skills of those who undertake these circus tricks - somersaults and flips, axles and salchows.  But it is pretty much axiomatic with Fantasy Bob that any activity that relies on judges' verdicts cannot really be considered a sport. It nears the axiomatic that any activity in which the contestants - male or female - wear spangly tops with cut outs and slashed sleeves cannot really be considered a sport.  And activities that require musical accompaniment?  He is not sure what the difference between these activities and Masterchef or the Great Sewing Bee is.  So he looks forward to their inclusion in the next Olympiad.

But perhaps FB is just being too stick in the mud.  Perhaps cricket should learn from these circus acts.  Style marks, degree of difficulty and artistic interpretation could all be used to evaluate FB's bowling action.  The degree of difficulty of a spell up the hill against the wind would be considerable.  But he would draw the line at wearing a spangly top and eye liner - the East of Scotland leagues are not ready for such developments.
Harlaut showing his skills
But it is clothing that has caused one of the highlights of the games. The Swedish circus style skier Henrik Harlaut, who sports trailing rastafarian curls behind his helmet, had a classical wardrobe malfunction during the final of his event when his fashionably low slung ski pants responded to gravitational forces and descended below his knees.  Flashing his undies at the judges did not gain him additional style points and he finished well down the field.

FB has never been such a slave to fashion that he would imperil his performance on the field of play in such a way.  Which is not to say that he has not in his day experienced his share of wardrobe malfunctions.  But compared to Harlaut they have been the relatively modest splitting of seams as he assumed his athletic posture in the slips only to feel a sudden draft where there had been no draft a moment before.

He has also had to guide some of his young charges through distressing incidents.  He recalls the trauma of a young bowler whose cricket whites had lovingly been purchased by his proud parents sensibly allowing for the expected growth of their blue eyed angel.  As a result the young man's bowling run up was more staccato than the coaching manuals recommend, as he stopped every three paces to hitch up the offending breeks.  He eventually worked out a novel action in which his non-bowling hand was clutched to his waist through his delivery.  Embarrassment was avoided.  Regrettably so were the stumps at the other end.  FB had to resort to feeding the young man additional empire biscuits in a vain attempt to bulk out the space between where he started and the trousers stopped.  While line and length returned,  FB may thus have unwittingly exacerbated Scotland's obesity crisis.

FB also recalls the pleasure of working with even younger charges.  Young charges who despite their piercing treble voices responded with enthusiasm to the requirement to wear a box.  What could be more adult?  A sure sign that they were growing up.  A rite of passage similar to those recorded in many bush tribes by social anthropologists.

FB would remind his charges the evening before their matches 'Make sure you wear the right pants.'  It was in vain, for there was always someone who forgot this important instruction and found the box so proudly inserted into his trousers only moments before slipping down one leg and lodging securely behind the knee roll of his pad.  A St Vitus dance of squirming and wriggling would restore it to its proper place, but it was precariously balanced and any attempt at movement would see it plunge down one trouser leg or another.  The young man would face the delivery with one hand grasping it to his groin and running became adventure beyond FB's powers to describe.

'Make sure you wear the right pants.'  One of FB's better coaching tips.  If only Harlaut had had FB on his team things could have been so different.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Orleans Cricket Club

Valentine's Day - and cricketers will have made sure that they have done their romantic duty. Otherwise they will be in trouble during the season. 'You think you can swan off all day every Saturday leaving me without anyone to take me to IKEA. What kind of man are you? ' 'But I sent you a Valentine card.' Crisis averted.
Soppy Romantic Poet

Cricketers will therefore know that historians of these matters consider that the earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife. Charles at the time was a prisoner in the Tower of London having been captured at Agincourt. Legend has it that he was found immobilised in his armour under a heap of corpses. Not unlike Fantasy Bob at the end of a match having bowled his full spell up the hill against the wind.

All cricketers know that Charles' poem begins

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée...

Cricketers may be less than fully familiar with mediaeval French so here is its conventional translation.

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives he who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,

Well might I have suspected,
Having such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.

There is no record of Madame Charles' reaction to this charming verse or whether she considered it adequate compensation for the 25 plus years that her hubbie was held in England. Nor is there any record of who drove her to IKEA in his absence.

Charles returned to France in 1440 and withdrew from public life being a bit of a literary maverick. Many others visited or corresponded with him. His son, who became King Louis XII, was born in 1462.

Now Charles was no cricketer. Nor was Louis XII or any of the others of the Valois and subsequently Bourbon dynasties. Some historians consider there is a connection between this lack of cricketing interest on the part of the French aristocracy and the French Revolution. FB is sure they are on to something.

Yet cricketers may feel that there is something familiar in the name Orleans. They would be right for in 1878 the Orleans Cricket Club played the Australians at the Orleans Cricket Ground in Twickenham. Playing for the Orleans club were the Grace brothers. Sadly neither the club nor the ground exist any more.

Readers are wondering why FB is telling them all this. Just wait there is a connection.
Orleans House today

The Orleans Cricket Ground was associated with Orleans House, originally built for James Johnston. , Secretary of State for Scotland under William III. From 1815-1817, it was occupied by Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans in exile from Napoleon. Loius returned to become King of France in 1830. 

While Louis Philippe gave his name to the house, it was his fifth son, Henri, Duc d’Aumale, who truly made it his home. Henri purchased Orleans House in 1852 and stayed there until 1871. By the early 20th century the house was derelict and in 1926 it was mostly demolished. However, parts of the property, including a baroque octagonal room were preserved and are now the Orleans House Gallery. There is no trace of WG Grace's presence in the vicinity.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Bridge

Fantasy Bob’s Saturday evenings will not be the same again. He will have to find something better to do following the final episode of The Bridge.

This distinctive series portrayed the relationship between 2 strong characters from neighbouring countries who find themselves having to work together to solve a series of horrific crimes. Could their different way of doing things get the results?
Inspector Flower was forensic in looking at every clue from every angle. He did everything by the book – but it had to be his book. Chief Investigator   Pietersen was intuitive and impulsive – he thought the rules were made to be broken.
How would they work together? Could they solve the mass murder of English batsmen in Jamaica. 
Running out of clues
For a while it looked good - the Jamaican slaughter was solved. A series of major Australian criminals were brought to justice. The pair lifted the ICC (International Crime Crackers) trophy. When they brought a team of slippery Indian wrong doers to book, they were number one in the ratings.

But it couldn’t last – the bodies began to build up – Strauss, Trott, Swann, Finn, Tremlett. Obvious clues were overlooked. The pair could not agree on their next step.  A mustachioed assassin could seem to strike with impunity.  They were on the back foot.  Or they front foot.  That was the problem - no one knew.   There seemed no end to the gloom. It began to look like one of those Scandic noir series.

The series ended with both detectives reassigned to lesser roles. The Bridge between them firmly closed. Fans of the series were outraged – they have called for an explanation, but the prospects of a further series seem gone forever.   Fans hope that they get something better than Midsomer Murders in its place.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Guinness is Good For You

FB and Mrs FB had cause to make a short visit to the Irish town of Athlone last week.

Sean's Bar in situ - open since 900AD
One of the - if not the - principal tourist attractions in the small town is Sean's Bar - certified in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest bar in Ireland. During renovations in 1970, the walls of the bar were found to be made of wattle and wicker dating back to the tenth century a sample of which remains on display. Reputedly the bar holds records of every owner since 900 A.D. although these were not available for inspection on FB and Mrs FB's visit, FB understands that among their number is Boy George who apparently owned it briefly in 1987.  Nor was it clear to FB how many of the regulars propping up the bar had themselves been in the bar since it first opened. 

FB and Mrs FB enjoyed the local brew.  It is after all Good For You.  FB is still unable to verify whether and why Guinness in Ireland tastes so much better than ostensibly the same product in Scotland or the rest of the UK. It must be that leprechaun magic. Anyway he commends Sean's Guinness to his handful of worldwide readers should they find themselves in the middle of Ireland and in need of a refreshment.

Other than the copious pages of the Guinness Book of Records taken up by cricketers' achievements, Guinness no longer has a strong relationship with cricket.  At one time things were different. The Guinness Cup which ran as an inter-regional tournament in Ireland between 1966 and 1995 is considered to have had an important impact in widening the spread of the game and raising standards, providing a base for the further development of the game in Ireland and its present success.

Otherwise Guinness has never had a major sponsorship in the game, but cricket did feature in its advertising campaigns. For example, in the magazine ads from the 1930s and 1940s which were drawn by the celebrated cartoonist HM Bateman. 
UMPIRE (with glass of Guinness) - Very refreshing
Another example on a similar theme.  Sales soared.

In another Bateman cartoon a timid batsman is taking his guard facing a huge red-faced bowler with bulging biceps surrounded by equally large and snarling fielders.  The umpire asks 'What do you want - middle or leg?'  The Batsman replies 'I think I'd better have a Guinness.'  Sales rocketed.  

Guinness advertising campaigns have been memorable and prominent for many years with many distinctive slogans including Guinness is Good For You and Guinness Makes You Strong. Dorothy L Sayers was a copy writer on the campaigns in the 1940s. The iconic status of their campaigns continues to the present.

Here is an example of TV/cinema advertisement from the 1960s that uses cricket.  Warning - cricketers of a certain age may find the world depicted here causes their eyes to water unduly in a nostalgic mist. O tempora o mores.

But a bit more up to date, perhaps FB's all time favourite ad is Guinness' 1995 offering Anticipation, featuring actor Joe McKinney dancing to Guaglione by Perez Prado while his pint settled.

Link to the full ad -
Test Match Quality
Cricketers should find the name of Perez Prado rings a bell for them. Besides Guaglione, the Cuban Bandleader, who is known as the King of the Mambo, originated Mambo#5 which was the basis of the Luis Bega hit that provided the theme music for Channel 4's late lamented Test Match coverage.  

Did Prado enjoy a Guinness?  Possibly.  After all Guinness is Good for You.  It was certainly good for Prado - as the popularity of the advert propelled Guaglione to the top of the charts.