Posts Tagged ‘Cricket’
When we clean out the hens under dark skies and in driving rain it is not unusual for at least one of the codgers to talk of being depressed. The odds are that they are merely fed-up, and will quickly cheer up when the sun returns. If they were clinically depressed they would scarcely be able to function, let alone turn up to do battle with an army of squabbling chickens.
Over the past four decades we have all come to realise that depression as a general term is meaningless, for the dark night of the soul comes in various guises and as a result of various trigger-points. Chemical imbalance in the brain is the real nightmare, the only resolution can be found in drugs developed to counter the imbalance and were we Brits as enlightened as, for example, the Americans blameless victims would feel less inhibited about openly discussing their affliction or seeking medical help. Mind you the fact that our mental health services are amongst the worst in the western world doesn’t help.
But in the vast majority of cases the frantic pace of modern life is the villain. I have never subscribed to the theory that fear is a significant factor. During the second World War the nation at large faced fear on a daily basis yet reported cases of mental health problems were the lowest ever both in the past and future. The bombs rained down, but the many emergency hospitals set up in anticipation of breakdowns stood empty. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that fear and stress shared is fear and stress halved.
Life in 2013 is a very different experience. Pressure to ‘succeed’ begins at a very young age and for the ambitious continues for all of their working lives. Jimmy Reid once famously remarked that the rat race is for rats, but we are not rats. Sadly in the ethos born of Thatcher many people fight relentlessly to prove that they can outpace every potential rival. Business gurus churn out an endless flow of ideas for increased productivity, we contemplate spending a Queen’s ransom ion high speed trains to enable us to cram in even more work, and dozens of TV shows revolve around the concept of sorting success from failure based on performances timed against the clock.
Today there are of course other victims. Income of working class families have been driven down whilst the cost of living rockets. It is often the case that they simply cannot cope yet the media leads a constant attack on what it calls scroungers. For them despair triggers what harassed family doctors label depression.
But, we contend, for the vast majority it is nervous exhaustion that takes its toll. Even the most equable and fit eventually crumble if they work day after long day and never pause for rest and diversion. Over the past week or so we have read of bankers, junior doctors and even vicars who have stood down because of “mental health problems”. The reality is that they believed themselves immune from breakdowns, and simply ploughed on at the endless breakneck speed imposed on them by either their employers or ambition.
All of which takes us to the case of England batsman Jonathan Trott. In our view he deserves a medal for honesty, realism and a brave willingness to act as an example for others. Some writers have this morning suggested that cricket has a bad track record in the depression stakes. Not true. The reported percentage is five, a number that matches precisely the worldwide statistic.
But international cricket is a classic example of over-exposure to stress. The traditional Ashes have always been subject to intense media and public pressure. But the series was once merely an exciting event for the players who spent weeks on a liner and played no one day games at all. Today they play a home series of five games each comprising five days, then play eight one day and Twenty20 matches before flying down under to start the whole process again.
For someone with a tendency to perfectionism like Trott it is a recipe for disaster. A batsman stands 22 yards away from a bowler, armed with a 4in-wide piece of wood and tries to hit a 5oz piece of cork and leather travelling at 90 miles per hour. Again and again. No two balls are the same. Your livelihood rests on the outcome. Sometimes you might have to wait hours even to bat. And every time you make a mistake you can expect dozens of reporters to splash it big time.
In cricket just one mistake can undo you. And by way of a bonus you can rely on some idiot such as Australia’s Warner to send an email to the world suggesting that you are scared. Trott wasn’t scared, he was burned-out, a victim of relentless pressure. In any spare time he had he will have trained. But only in physical fitness, no one considers psychological nous as worthy of attention.
There are of course exceptions to the rule. Phil Tufnell was a leading cricket star but was blessed with a happy-go-lucky personality. It was no coincidence that perfectionists such as Mike Atherton viewed Tuffers’ as insufficiently dedicated. In reality he was blessed with a sense of perspective that so many of us lack.
So thank you Trotty for your openness. Even we codgers would do well to learn from what has happened to you. We no longer work every hour that God made, but we still work ourselves into a lather over things we cannot change. So this morning we resolved not to read articles headed “Big Six energy profits rocket again – up 75% in a year!”
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” The longest sentence you can form with two words is ‘I do” ! “….H L Mencken
Two of my allotment pals went to the Oval yesterday, having booked their expensive tickets way before last Christmas. They have been counting down the days to an exciting taste of Ashes cricket peppered with wickets and boundaries galore. This morning they were somewhat disappointed, they claim to have spent more exciting times watching paint dry. England batted at the slowest rate recorded since the fifties and apparently devoted more effort to time-wasting. Perhaps someone should remind the super-stars that cricket is supposedly a form of entertainment.
The fact that this morning’s papers have devoted maximum column inches to Michael Clarke having told Kevin Pieterson that no one likes him, and our South African replied in like terms, says it all. So even ‘sledging’ has lost its cutting edge. On the radio Phil Tufnell recalled arriving at the wicket to be asked if he would donate his brain since Merv Hughes was building an idiot. At least that was capable of raising a laugh!
And we codgers need our regular dosage of laughter, for once you are in your eighties the grim reaper is always hanging around in the background. But to be brutally honest people of our advancing years give little thought to the man with the scythe, the real recurring nightmare is the possibility of dementia. Thanks to tremendous advances in medicine we are all living longer, but as yet few advances have been made in the treatment of problems between our ever-growing ears.
This came to mind this morning when we read about the latest wheeze from Jeremy Hunt, the Blue Peter presenter turned head of the NHS. He has launched a campaign to force employers to allow those they employ to choose their own hours to enable them to cope more easily with what he calls a “looming dementia time bomb”. He tells us that by 2020 the number of people caring for someone with dementia will reach the million mark, and by 2030 that number will double.
Not surprisingly employers have been quick to point out that some businesses do not lend themselves to haphazard attendance. Industry already operates flexible hours, but even so more than two million have been obliged to leave work altogether since it often becomes the case that caring for someone with dementia is a full-time occupation in itself.
But even Hunt can’t be wrong all the time and he is right to press for maximum practical help from companies that can both operate flexible hours and profitable business. But if he imagines that this measure alone will defuse his bomb he is deluded. His talk of loving relatives is somewhat over-romantic in an age where families are often scattered to all corners of the globe. Not everyone is as loving as Mr Hunt’s former nursemaid, not everyone can survive financially without income from employment. And not every sufferer likes the feeling that others are sacrificing everything on their behalf. To all that add the fact that many people have no training in even the basics of coping with complex care needs.
The unpopular truth is that the state is going to be obliged to fund far more care in the community if our hospitals are not to end up packed to the corridors with elderly people who cannot survive without constant nursing care. At the moment we are heading in the opposite direction. The number of district nurse has been halved, the funding of employed carers has been reduced to near extinction, and those that still exist are working to zero-hours contracts guaranteed to deter young people from considering such emotionally-draining employment.
Politicians of all colours are simply burying their hands in the sand. The only way to deal with time bombs is to defuse them, and that means upping the ante on funding both to increase services and to compensate family carers who have the right to a bearable life. Here, we contend, is another potential nail in the coffin of projects such as High Speed Rail. Experts are now putting the cost at over £70 billion. Yesterday Lord Ashcroft and Alistair Darling joined the list of opponents whilst a Downing Street spokesman said that connecting up Manchester and London would transform the economy. In reality they are already connected, all that is needed is improved rail infrastructure even if it does mean that journeys take slightly longer.
As we watch all this nonsense unfold we sometimes feel that we would prefer to be on Mars. And here comes the good news. The organisers of the Mars One mission have been surprised to receive 165,000 applications to become intrepid pioneers for a permanent space colony on the Red Planet. And here comes the bad news. There are only four seats available for the first flight and there is no return ticket. Each applicant has so far paid a deposit of £17 but the prospects of coughing up the rest of the fare are clearly not too good. In fact unless you are of child-producing age the prospects are zero.
The successful applicants must, say the organisers, be healthy, smart enough to learn new skills and have a mind-set that can function in a small team. I guess that rules us codgers out but never mind, we would struggle to live without Tesco, B & Q, the Dog and Ferret Arms, and cricket – although after yesterday we could cope without the latter.
So it seems that we are stuck here on Earth. Perhaps our best hope is that some Martians might consider a job-swap. Great idea, a little green man might well be a better option than Jeremy Hunt!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I phoned my local cab firm and said ‘Can you please send me a big fat bastard with a personal hygiene problem some time before I have my menopause?”….Jo Brand
Today is forecast to be the hottest so far, somethng easy to believe as we codgers tended to the hens this morning. Global warming? No idea, but we love it. However, we do have to remember to don caps given that most of us are somewhat deficient in the hair department. But it was the deeds of more famous cap-wearers that dominated our conversation as we sweated in the sun.
For as long as most of us remember cricket has been a byword for honesty. It is hard to imagine just how many times we have, over the years, used the term ‘that isn’t cricket’. Queue-jumpers, plagarists, dodgy card-players, over-zealous traffic wardens, and many others would be reminded that their behaviour was not to the moral code that once was cricket. In our local cricket leagues woe betide anyone who failed to walk from the wicket after nicking a ball subsequently caught by an opposing player.
Yesterday that is precisely what Stuart Broad did in the Ashes Test Match. In fact he more than nicked the ball, he hit it face on. The ball landed in the hands of Michael Clarke and the Aussies embarked on a dance of glee. But umpire Dar, who is overdue a visit to Specsavers, gave not out, doubtless influenced by the Oscar-winning pose of innocence adopted by the England batsman. It will probably prove to be a turning point in the match.
Commentator Michael Holding suggested that a suspension is called for given that Broad had not observed the ‘spirit of the game’, a charge recently levied against other cheats. But his voice was drowned out by a zillion excuses. The Aussies also cheat, umpires sometimes give people out who are not, this is too important a match to cede advantage, leave it to the umpire….the list of rationalisations rolled on and on. All were irrelevant. Broad knew that he was out and he chose to cheat.
Sadly that is the way of things in today’s world. We are not a bunch of Holy Joes, we simply choose to believe that someone somewhere needs to take a stand for honesty and cricket is a good place to recover lost ground. Who knows, if our cricketing stars were to return to the old morality code even our star footballers might change their ways and stop feigning trips in penalty areas!
But a glance at the morning papers tells us that cheating is not confined to sport in this new age. Today we learn that rising numbers of schools are entering pupils for a series of different tests in English and Maths, but only registering the best score to improve their position in the league table. We learn that immigration backlog figures have been ‘massaged’ by the Home Office and that, despite being relieved by Theresa May of much of his Border Agency empire, Rob Whiteman is still enjoying an annual reward of £175,000 a year.
Other pages expose the real reason for the government’s abandonment of plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum pricing for booze. It seems that influential people close to our dear leader have been pulling strings.
In west London yesterday Ayse Akgun was given an 18 month suspended prison sentence after trying to claim a £900,000 tax exemption on her late husband’s estate. In fact she was still married to her first husband, Ozan Mustafa. It is perhaps unfair to single this lady out for similar examples of cheating are before the courts every day and, undoubtedly, hordes of others pass unspotted.
So Mr Broad is far from alone in spurning honesty as a virtue. But we are disappointed that the one example of integrity that for so long shone a beacon in the gloom of deceit has relinquished its role. Instead it was grasped by a young girl who has everything to fear as a result of telling the truth and nothing but the truth.
Malala Yousazai, who was shot by Taliban thugs just a year ago, gave a speech to the United Nations assembly. She dared to tell the truth without fear or favour. She exposed fanatics for what they are at a time when weak-kneed politicians talk of negotiating with them. She said that an honest girl with a pen and book can achieve peace and justice.
Wonderful, but it is a sad refection on the rest of us that the banner of honesty has to be bourn solely by a young girl standing alone.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Malala Yousafzai is the most courageous girl in the world”…Gordon Brown, on the day when her attack on the Taliban was blacked out by all but two of Pakistan’s many news channels.
When the dozen or so codgers assemble on the allotments it is always interesting to note which news items immediately emerge. This morning there were two. Several of my pals were in shock at the news from Chelmsford where Lancashire bowled Essex out for 20 runs, the lowest total recorded in the County Championship for thirty years. The others were banging on about the Queen’s Birthday Honours, a recognition unlikely to be given any time soon to any Essex player, unless they make a series of personal donations and gifts to Cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
Millionaire Michael Hintze has done just that and has walked away with a knighthood. Robert Collington – whose company Thames Water stands accused of ripping off customers, avoiding tax and enforcing a farcical hospipe ban during some of the wettest weather seen in England – lands an OBE for “services to consumers”. Former Met deputy commissioner Sue Akers receives a CBE for “services to policing”, despite having been in charge of the district where tragic Victoria Climbie was horrifically abused and murdered. Also on the bandwagon is former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber who was acused of hypocrisy when he scooped a golden goodbye of more than £100,000 on retirement.
I won’t go on, suffice to say the whole charade is a reminder that corruption rules OK. Even the news that Tony Robinson is to become Sir Baldrick of Turnipshire doesn’t change that, particularly since Captain Blackadder had to settle for a less prestigeous gong.
One increasingly feels a deep sense of disillusion at the antics of the Westminster brigade who seem blissfully unaware of just how divided our society is becoming. The tragedy is that there are some there who, given the opportunity, could have made such a difference. The small band includes intelligent politicians who have walked the walk before talking the talk, who understand what life at the bottom really feels like and realise that, necessary though it is, austerity must be seen to be fair.
One such is former Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson. He has just published a book called “This Boy”. Unlike any other work by a politician it devotes not a word to praising or hammering other politicians, in fact it makes no mention whatsoever of politics. “This Boy” is the story of Johnson’s childhood. The contrast with such as Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Miliband could hardly be more striking.
Johnson was the son of Lily a small, bright, Liverpudlian, plagued by ill health and overwork and Steve, a musically gifted, drunk and violent father. They live in North Kensington, a part of London now infested by millionaires, but then – Johnson was born in 1950 – peopled by the poorest of the poor. Many of the houses, including the Johnsons’, had been condemned in the 1930s.
Cooking took place on a shared landing and a single outside lavatory served several families. Heating came from coal scavenged from delivery carts. Gas provided the lighting but, when there was no shilling for the meter, candles served. For the Johnsons, debt was ever present. So were second-hand clothes, fly-filled rooms and hunger. The staple diet was bread and dripping and, when the money ran out, it was stale bread floating in an infusion of Oxo in water.
At the age of 10 Alan owned only three books, which he read and re-read: Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and a Boy’s Own annual. In 1963, at the age of 13, he had been in a car only twice. Johnson, however, is not the hero of this book. The stars are, first, his mother Lily and then, shining even more brightly, his sister Linda. Beaten and berated by her husband, Lily struggles to bring up the children. Lily dies at the age of 42.
And so the children are alone. Alan is 13 and Linda 16, old beyond her years. She takes charge, organising the funeral, and repelling the authorities who want to send her to Dr Barnardo’s and Alan to live with foster parents. She even succeeds in procuring a council flat. Crime and violence are a daily fact of life but the pair battle it out.
Not everything or person was odious. There are moving stories about kindly neighbours and local grocers who lend a helping hand. And there is detail of Alan’s greatest thrill when a charity for slum children included him on a holiday in Denmark.
Clearly Alan was shy and sensitive but had the temperament to survive. He had no self-pity or, it seems , no fierce ambition. Reading, football and music allowed him to escape his immediate circumstances. He must have had inner strengths that he is too modest to reveal. For we know that he survived and flourished after his first job as a postman. He became a Labour politician and rose to cabinet office.
This is a wonderful book. It leaves many unanswered questions. We know that Johnson bore none of the chips carried on many socialist’s shoulders, and he was respected and admired by political friends and foe alike.
I have to declare an interest. When I, together with local MP Lindsay Hoyle, led a successful opposition to the Labour government’s attempt to privatise our local outpatients service, Alan Johnson recorded my name in Hanzard with the promise of a free cup of tea. It summed him up perfectly. He has a sense of humour, bears no grudges and instinctively understands why people do what they do.
This boy would have made a prime minister of all the people!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “ Johnson had a childhood quite unlike most politicians’, and he describes it with a simplicity and power that make it easy to see why he be came to be the potential Labour leader most feared by many Conservatives”…..Book review by John Grimond
Pleasant morning such as this serve to remind our bunch of sports-mad codgers that the cricket season is underway, and that another Ashes series looms. But we are all too aware that our beloved summer sport has developed a darker side, and we are not referring to the clouds that perpetually hover over Old Trafford. We cannot claim to be surprised that a potential scandal is building around the Bangladash T20 tournament, where money sloshes about in a part of the world where match-fixing abounds. More than 20 county cricketers and two Engish umpires are being interviewed by anti-corruption detectives. There is no suggestion that they were involved in anythng untoward, but one hopes that the dangers of leaping into every get-rich-quick opening may now occur to them!
Frankly we have about as much faith in the integrity of such tournaments as we have in the EU. We still from time to time meet folk who believe that membership in the Brussels club is justified, but even they are likley to be shaken by the news that the UK is being taken to court for failing to obey orders in the matter of benefit payments. The Brussels bureaucrats have given Nigel Farage a boost by spelling out clearly that our elected parliament has no power to pass legislation that is contrary to EU law.
The row has come about because Britain operates a “right to reside” test – which dictates the eligibility of EU migrants to claim benefits. Since Britons and Irish citizens automatically pass this is seen by the EU as discriminatory. The UK government will argue that the British welfare system is designed differently to that of most other EU countries which are based on qualification based on contributions.
But the devil here lies not in the detail but the principle. Iain Duncan Smith has accused the Commission of trying to”water down” measures intended to protect the British taxpayer. He has pledged “I will not cave in”. But the European Court has absolute jurisdiction on matters of EU treaty law and the UK will have no option but to accept its ruling – or else pay a massive fine, or leave the EU altogether.
Under EU law we cannot restrict the number of people deciding to take up residency here, now we learn that we cannot so much as question their eligibility for benefits upon arrival. The opposition shares the Conservative view of this which means that we have the first ‘red-line’ that David Cameron must renegotiate. He has no chance.
The UK is not alone in polls showing a majority against membership of the EU. At the heart of all such thinking lies the growing concern at the loss of sovereignty to an unaccountable bureaucracy. Even Angela Merkel, the previously fiercest advocate of political integration, is showing signs of doubt about the whole concept. There will never be a better time to say enough is enough.
If we no longer have power to control our own expenditure and to make our own laws to that end we have reached the point where the status of Westminster is diminished to almost a terminal level. People such as the head of policy at Freinds of the Earth UK, Craig Bennett, believe that membership of the EU is essential because the Commission’s approach to policy making is “good whereas ours is “bad”. It is a very dangerous argument.
Last week we had the hilarious ruling abut the presentation of olive oil in our restaurants. We dismissed this as a law we must obey but one not worth ending up in court for. The ruling about the control of our benefits system is rather more significant. When Iain Duncan Smith calls it a “land grab” – meaning a takeover of major UK law-making – he is right.
With the honourable exception of Ukip our leading political parties continue to evade the issue of a referendum. Their moment of truth is fast approaching!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” The new EU ruling on olive oil containers will lead to unnecessary waste and place added burdens on UK business but we will work with the catering industry to help them adapt to these changes”….Environment Ministry
It was yet another dark wet morning when we cleaned out the hens. But the conditions matched our collective demeanour for we codgers were in no mood for jollity. We were remembering so many happy days on the allotments as we listened to our much-loved Test Match Special. Over so many years the programme has attracted a huge following, and not merely from cricket lovers. The great John Arlott and Brian Johnston were its pioneers and their style of knowledgable cricket commentary interspersed with stories of cakes, buses and the world at large created what became an addiction for millions. Every member had a nickname, one of those was the Major.
That was the title bestowed on Christopher Martin-Jenkins. It was a crib from ‘Fawlty Towers’ in which Major Gowan became a byword for lovable, chaotic behaviour. So it was with CM-J. He was renowned for eccentricity, forgetfulness and being late. Today we mourn his passing, today he is the late.
The Major was respected throughout cricket, not for his own modest playing record but for his deep-rooted love of the game and his detailed knowledge of its every twist and turn. In 2007 he became the only career journalist and broadcaster to deliver the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Colin Cowdrey Lecture, an honour that ranked him alongside the likes of Desmond Tutu, Imran Khan and Richie Benaud. In 2009 he was awarded an MBE and in 2010 and 2011 he served as president of the MCC.
CM-J stepped down from Test Match Special last year when cancer struck, but he continued to watch the game and to write about it for the Times. In his final piece, reflecting on the death from a heart attack of fellow cancer-sufferer and former England captain Tony Greig, he wrote that: “It was probably for him a merciful release because the late stage of any cancer is often hell on earth”.
Regular readers may recall the response I had to an article criticising the Barmy Army, whose antics so often spoil the enjoyment of spectators. My critic suggested that I join the “Christopher Martin-Jenkins appreciation society”. He intended it as an insult, I received it as a compliment. In my view CM-J represented all that is good in cricket. He was fair, honest and courteous. He was entertaining.
CM-J was only 67 years old. He has gone too soon, yet another victim of mankind’s greatest scourge. I do believe in a God, but I so often find myself asking why man cannot live out his allotted years without an agonising ending. It is just not cricket. It is appalling that man’s efforts to uncover its terrible secret has to rely on charity.
Without doubt the radio will be at full volume this summer as we work on the allotments. The drama of the Ashes will, as always, beguile us. But we will miss the “Now I hand over to the Major”. That very special voice is bowled out, silenced for ever.
It was off to B&Q this morning for gravel galore. Most of the hen-runs are inches deep in mud and, being doubtful of the chucks willngness to use stilts, we are about to deposit the unpteenth load. Yesterday we watched the T20 finals on the box. Cardiff was bathed in sunshine for the occason, here to venture out of the ‘hut’ was to guarantee another change of trousers. Perhaps the old ode about oh to be in England should be reworded?
Fond though we are of our Columbian Black Tails we do begrudge the constant cost of weather-protection. Austerity has hit most of us in one way or another and, for most, times are hard. What really rankles is the behaviour of the polticians who work to a code of do what we say, not what we do. Whitehall has always been something of a gravy-train, but we had naively imagined that the furore about moat houses and the rest had brought it to the buffers. It seems that we were wrong.
Despite a much-lauded public pay freeze we now learn that more than 100 senior servants are still pocketing large bonuses, with £10,000 the absolute minimum. Some of the pay-outs seem beyond the bounds of irony; the Government Debt Management Office, for example, paid bonuses for last year to all its directors, with Jim Juffs, the chief officer, receivng an additional £15,000. Sue Gray, the Cabinet office’s head of propriety and ethics, was given £20,000.
Furthermore, the new rule that no non-executive director should be paid more than £15,000 has been ignored. The Department for Transport decided to treble that in recognition of “reputation and experience”.
Presumably MPs are outraged at the failure to set an example? Not on your life. They have been busy blowing a staggering £230,000 of taxpayers’ cash on artworks. Over the past twelve months – as the rest of us went in the direction of the wall – dozens of paintings, busts and sketches have been snapped up to decorate plush offices. A bust of William Gladstone cost £23,000, closely followed by a host of others. A portrait of Margaret Beckett cost £12,000 and Prince Philip’s bust £7000.
Of course you can’t hang pictures of such worthies as Margaret Beckett in less than sparkling surroundings and £120,000 was paid out for new offices and the tarting-up of existing ones.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance is less than impressed. It’s chief, Matt Sinclair, said; “Politicians keep telling us there is no alternative to new taxes and cuts – then go and squander so much on art for their offices”. He drew a defence from the coalition which amounted to the claim that Labour did much the same when in office. So that’s all right then!
We ‘ordinary folk’, as our dear leader likes to refer to us, may not be lions but we are certainly led by donkeys!
NO CHEERS FOR THE BANKERS!
No great surprise that bankers have slipped somewhat in the league table of public esteem. It seems that even estate agents and journalists are now better regarded by the great British public. If this fall from grace continues the bankers may even consider reducing their bonuses, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Meantime the scandal of the ‘fiddling’ of the Libor rate grows. At first it appeared that this was entirely down to the millionnaires at Barclays, now there is evidence that RBS were also implicated.
Tan Chi Min, a former RBS trader, is suing RBS for wrongful dismissal and claims he told RBS that a colleague ‘fixed’ Libor in 2008. He says that “anyone” was allowed to fix the rates.
Since RBS is now owned by the taxpayer, MP John Mann has urged George Osborne to tell all. Again we shouldn’t hold our breath for the bankers have friends in high places. No names, no Osbornes!
ARE YOU OUT THERE?
One of the joys of blogging is making new friends and making contact with some lost many years ago. Over the past few months these folk have mentioned that they log on from time to time. So if you are out there just leave a message saying I’m here! Sue. Malcolm, Paul, Gavin, Nigel, Clare, Roger, Colin, Geoff, Eric, John, Kinga…thats enough for now!
Bright sunshine this morning, life is full of surprises. But given just a hint of spring and codger’s minds turn to cricket. Unlike football, cricket has a long break and, come February, images of green fields and men in white coats and even whiter flannels flood our consciousness. But sadly this season threatens to be rather different. England have just redeemed themselves against Pakistan and we should be champing at the bit, but for the first time in our lives we find ourselves wondering if what we are planning to watch will have been planned in advance!
Last week the former Essex fast bowler Mervyn Westfield was sentenced at the Old Bailey to four months behind bars in a fixing racket the judge said was orchestrated by his team-mate, Danish Kaneira, the Pakistan leg-spinner. Even more devastating was the revelation that Kaneira’s approaches to players offering bungs from bookmakers were an open secret at Chelmsford. Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that no one reported Kaneira, and accused the Essex players of deliberately “turning a blind eye”.
The scandal centred on two one-day games in the late summer of 2009, which were televised worldwide. Typical of what happened was that Westfield, 21, took £6,000 to concede at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham. Kaneira was to receive £4,000 the court heard. Nine days later after a night out with team-mate Tony Palladino, Westfield showed him bundles of £50 notes and said it was from fixing. Palladino mentioned it to other players but it was only in the spring of 2010 that the police were informed.
Yesterday Don Topley, the former Essex player, alleged that two county matches in 1991 were fixed. It is, he said, another sad day for cricket and for Essex. He went on to criticise the short prison sentence but his comments about earlier seasons left the impression that this was far from an isolated instance.
There are of course a number of previous cases involving other countries. Most people will recall the Cronje affair and, more recently, the conviction of Pakistan test players who bowled no-balls to order and were exposed by the News of the World. But we have tended to adopt a superior tone by assuring ourselves that this couldn’t happen in the English game. Cricket, after all, has for a century been a byword for fairness and honesty.
But now we know that it has been going on, and one would have to be a one-eyed optimist to believe that it only happened at Essex, although that county has a lot of explaining to do. The problem is that fixing doesn’t have to centre on the result of a game, it can involve betting on any aspect. And, cricket being the complex game that it is, there are many.
It is inevitable that once the new season starts every no-ball, dropped catch, poor over etc will be the subject of speculation. If this cancer is not dealt with now, and in dynamic style, the whole game will become suspect. With professional wrestling we know that the contest is pre-fixed, if people come to believe that cricket is the same there could be the biggest fall in attendances of all time.
Michael Vaughan has been quick to demand that any player found guilty of corruption – and that is what it is – must be banned for life irrespective of any sentences handed out by the courts. The cricket authorities are renowned for fudging issues, they fudge this one at their peril.
The perceived wisdom always was that cricket is a game played by gentlemen. It seems not. There is therefore only one remedy. Umpires and match officials must be charged with reporting any incident that strikes them as unusual, and each report must be analysed by the anti-corruption body. If suspicions are shown to be well-founded the Vaughan solution must be followed, no ifs or buts. And similar punishment must apply to officials and managers who fail to constantly check out what is happening in their dressing room.
Yes, it means that from now on every honest player or official must live under the same cloud as the cheats. But that is better than what will happen if the cricketing public abandons the game!
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT SMOKING; ” Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it thousands of times”…..Mark Twain “I wsa so horrified when I read about the effects of smoking that I gave up reading”……Henny Youngman “I’ve given up smoking before. Worst eight hours of my life”…….Lily Savage “I’d quity smoking if I didn’t think I’d become one of those non-smokers”……Bill Hicks “Here’s a sure tip to stop smoking; douse yourself in petrol every day”…..Bill Bailey “It is now proved beyond doubt that smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics”…..Fetcher Knebel “The room smelt of not having been smoked in”…..Ronald Knox “Cigarette sales would drop overnight if the warning said ‘Contains fat’ “….Dave Barry
There is not a cloud to be seen, the sun gleams from a blue canopy. But the beautiful scene is best viewed through the double-glazing, this is brass monkey weather. Our not so tiny hands were truly frozen as we thawed out the hen’s water this morning and we appreciated Albert’s brew, even if it was hard to work out what it was. The thought did cross my mind that it might be similar to the concoction produced by Baldrick in ‘Blackadder goes to War’. But it was hot.
There was a good deal to chatter about as we drank it. John Terry has lost his armband, Chris Huhne his cabinet office. England have embarrassed their critics by skittling Pakistan out for less than a ton. Under another Kenneth Clarke move the length of time that a record of criminality is retained on personal records have been slashed, in the case of burglars to just one year. So thirteen months from now keep an eye on your meter reader!
A lot of news to digest, but one obscure snippet dispelled our upbeat mood. It merited only a small paragraph in two of the dailies but it leapt from the pages for us. Here was the first taste of things to come under the Lansley NHS reforms. Axa PPP, the second biggest medical insurance company in the UK , providing ocver for more than 2 million people, has changed its stance on the drug abiraterone, thus enabling late-stage prostate cancer sufferers to benefit from it. Policies from Bupa, the market leader, and WPA already cover the treatment that means so much to many. The drug costs £3,000 per month per patient.
Abiraterone was developed by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden hospital, which is amongst the leading NHS cancer centres. Scientists found that some prostate cancers can produce their own testosterone. The drug works in a new way by blocking the production of male hormones in all tissues, not just the testes. The drug manufacturers are Janssen, who report that 3,300 men would currently benefit, rising to 5,500 by 2013.
For patients in dire distress the drug represents relief and hope. Maybe not hope of recovery, but certainly hope of a much higher quality of life in the short to medium term. So this is excellent news is it not?
The answer depends on whether the patient can afford private health insurance, or in the case of the wealthy, can pay out £3,000 each month. If he cannot, he will be refused access to the drug. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the NHS drugs watchdog, has announced that the cost of abiraterone is not deemed a cost-effective use of NHS resources. In other words, the massive cuts imposed on the NHS mean that many expensive drugs are beyond its pocket irrespective of patient’s needs.
Cancer Research Uk was quick to comment that the decision, which is still open to consultation, makes “no sense”. But in a perverse way it does. This is a classic example of what the reforms are aimed at, the creation of a two-tier system in which money talks.
There will be a steady flow of examples of ‘two-tierism’, none of them will pass the morality test. The medical professional bodies are all locked in combat with the government, the rest of us are outraged. Lansley’s minions, such as Simon Burns, claim that the changes are supported by the majority of NHS clinical staff. A lie. The outcome of a YouGov poll has just been revealed, 80% believe that the bill should be withdrawn entirely.
Even if that were not the case, this example should send a shiver down every spine. Except of course those who, like so many members of the cabinet, have riches sufficient to buy good health!
THINGS PEOPLE SAY! ” I’d hate to be a teetotaller . Imagine getting up in the morning and knowing that’s as good as you’re going to feel all day”….Dean Martin “Health is what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down”……Phyllis Diller “If it was the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed”….Mary Montague “If God had meant us to walk around naked, he would never have invented the wicker chair”……Erma Bombeck “We looked at each other with the clear innocent eyes of a couple of used-car salesmen”…..Raymond Chandler “What do you think has been the effect of the French Revolution? It is too soon to tell”…..Chairman Mao in 1970 “The only advantage I have found to being Jewish is that I can be openly anti-Semetic”…..Kirk Douglas “When men cease to believe in God, they will not believe in nothing, they will believe in anything”….G K Chesterton “I don’t believe in fairies, even if they exist”….Breandan Behan “A Scotsman is a man who, before sending his pyjamas to the laundry, stuffs a sock in each pocket”….Ambrose Bierce “India; done thje elephants, done the poverty”….Phil Tufnell “I would like to live in Manchester. The transition between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable”….Mark Twain “We are not retreating , we are advancing in another direction”……General Douglas MacArthur
The question has to be faced. To a group of blokes for whom cricket has been a big feature of their lives, it is an unthinkable question. But it has to be faced, and quickly!
When Mr Justice Cooke was passing sentence on the Pakistan players found guilty of cheating in the Lords Test, he remarked that the very name of cricket used to be associated with fair dealing both on and off the field. ‘It’s not cricket’ became an adage used by vast numbers of people, many of whom had no interest in the game. When I was a youngster, and a very poor player, cricket was an example for life. In those days you walked from the wicket the moment you felt the slightest nick as the ball travelled in the air to keeper or slips. It was a matter of honour. And if you fielded near to the boundary and knew that the ball had touched it before you grabbed it, you signalled a boundary to the umpire.
It all sounds old fashioned and goody-goody now doesn’t it? But that is how it was . I once shared a dressing room with someone known to be light-fingered, but even he dare not risk the contempt of his peers by cheating at cricket. Someone once described the game as religion in action, it was apt.
Over the years those standards have dropped. Even England’s leading batsmen wait for the umpire’s finger even though they know that they are out. Even England’s fielders claim catches that they know have touched the turf. But, as far as we know, our national team is guilty of nothing worse than lower standards of sportsmanship.
The fixing practiced by Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammaid Asif was appalling, and represents a huge threat to the future of a complicated game that is clearly vulnerable to so many ways of cheating. In this specific case, the aim was not so much to cheat their opponents but the bookmakers, for whom cricket is a massive industry in Asia. Their agent, Mazhar Majeed, took huge sums of cash in exchange for providing details of three balls which would be bowled as no-balls (front foot over the line). His promise was kept.
Unfortunately for him the person he gave the cash to was a reporter for the News of the World. Once the promised no-balls appeared as promised it didn’t require Sherlock Holmes to prepare a prosecution. But, as the Judge inferred, one would have to be very naive to imagine that this was other than the tip of an ugly iceberg.
The most worrying aspect of this affair is that it took a tabloid investigator to expose it. The anti-corrution squad of the International Ctricket Council (ICC) was nowhere to be seen. If only half of the boasts made on film by the crooked agent are true the practice of fixing specifics bits of action in top matches is prevalent. The game is, it seems, riddled with the cancer of corruption.
Already cricket lovers are casting their minds back to possibly suspicious actions. The top batsman who made a poor defensive stroke, the three batsmen out to a ‘hat-trick’, the fumble in the field, the crazy run-out, the no-balls..the list of possibilities is a long one. Of course, even international stars make mistakes, but suddenly we ask ourselves if they were mistakes. And remember that the result of the game might not be the fixing target, it could be incidental.
In his column of this morning, former England captain Michael Vaughan looks back and wonders if all the matches he played in were quite what they seemed. He recalls the Test against Pakistan in Karachi in December 2000. Pakistan had the match in the palm of their hands but suddenly collapsed from a strong position to leave England with a tiny target. Vaughan recalls what seemed ” a very surreal atmosphere, a feeling that there was something odd “. Or was it down to a “dodgy wicket”? This sort of speculation will pour forth over the coming months, not least in the New Year when England meet Pakistan again.
Vaughan agonises about the seemingly magnificent 169 scored by Stuart Broad in the now tainted Lords Test. At the time we hailed a new Freddie Flintoff, now we wonder if the bowling was sub-standard as individuals concentrated on what they had to do to fix a whole series of no-balls. One thing is for sure, the mounted trophy will have been moved from the centre of Stuart’s sideboard.
The ICC now faces a massive challenge. I for one have no wish to pay good money to watch international matches that may well be as dishonest as professional wrestling. Already the sense of longing for next season has been replaced by a doubt as to whether what we see will be real or faked. Already we are hearing stories of players from across the world being threatened with appalling retribution should they decide to tell all.
Most first class umpires and referees are former top players and they have to be the first line of defence. Not all matches are televised and their notes must cover all ‘unusual’ happenings. But that is far from enough. The ICC must come up with a watertight method of match reviews. Personal checks of bank balances and the like will not help, if a player can cheat on the field he is hardly likely to have a conventional Barclays account.
Most of that is my guesswork, I simply don’t know how the game can be brought back under control. All I know is that every cricket fan in the world is right now asking his or herself if there is any longer any point in watching or supporting cricket.
This is of course far from the first instance of cheating. But there can be no more whitewash enquiries, this has to be the last scandal, or the game so many love will crumble before our eyes, and quickly.
OOOOO JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ OOOOO
No tears were shed for Muammar Gaddafi when we assembled for hen-cleaning this morning. However, it has to be said that most of us were uneasy about the manner of his death having seen footage of a gloating mob kicking and beating him, not to mention stealing souvenirs from his still-alive body. There can be little doubt that he was then summarily executed, all of which tells us something about those who served in the so-called rebel army. Call us old-fashioned if you will but we believe in a rather more formal form of justice.
But the fact remains that the ghastly dictator has gone and Libya is ‘free’. Now comes the tricky part, for the temptation will be for new-age military heroes such as David Cameron to place troops on the ground the moment it becomes apparent that the Islamist fighters, who comprised the bulk of the revolutionary army, begin to exert their new found authority. Most of them were previously in the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Fighting Group and have made little secret of their desire to see Libya embrace Sharia law as the cornerstone of its new system. There will in due course be a battle royal between them and the secular liberals who long for western-style democracy. Whether the battle becomes one of words or deeds remains to be seen.
Either way, national cohesion will prove problematic; Libya is an enormous country, four times the size of Iraq, and difficulties in communication serve to entrench local sympathies and attitudes. Its people are deeply tribal and several tribes – among them the Warfalla, one of the largest – remain loyal to Gaddafi. Add to all this the fact that many of Libya’s cities are now awash with weapons as a result of arming the citizenry in its fight against the old regime and the further fact that the new government’s divided security apparatus will struggle to exert control over factions which have already made clear that they do not accept the composition of the interim government. Ominously the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, the successor to Bin Laden, yesterday promised to champion the “Libyan jihad”.
I found myself nodding when listening to Rees-Mogg on last night’s ‘Question Time”. He welcomed the downfall of Gaddafi but expressed total opposition to further involvement in this or any other war. He made the point that there is no longer a British empire, and we have to end our pretentions of still being a major player on the world stage. He clearly recoiled from suggestions from the audience that we should now move in on Syria and other equally appalling regimes. We haven’t the resources, we haven’t the right.
If Mr Rees-Mogg has read the new book published by Jeremy Paxman he will have realised that he is not alone in his thinking. Paxman’s ‘Empire’ examines what once ruling the world has done to the British. Our imperial history, Paxman claims, is no more than the smell of mothballs in a long-unopened wardrobe. Britain is now in irresistable decline yet we still wear plumed hats, award ourselves Orders of the ‘British Empire’, and have monarchs who drive in golden carriages. Noithing wrong with any of that provided we are not caught up in delusions of grandeur.
Incidentally, ‘Empire’ contains many horrific examples of the way our ancestors behaved during those long-gone glory days. The accounts of our handling and treatment of slaves quickly disperse any notion that at least we were once great in the truest sense of the word. Of course we are far from the only nation with a chequered history, but we do seem to be the only one that imagines deep down that we can still rule the world with a gunboat, always assuming that we still have one.
We were right to help the Libyan people but we would be well advised to step back now. If we escalate our involvement we will almost certainly be drawn into yet another conflict with no end. Do we really want another Iraq or Afghanistan? Is it our responsibility? Instead of focussing on foreign shores, and decidedly dubious, partners David Cameron should perhaps give attention to the horrendous mess into which we have plunged.
It is not of course just our distant shame of Empire that we should prefer to forget. It is a relatively short time since Blair literally embraced Gaddafi and followed that up with a further six visits. Small wonder that, however unfairly, some leading Americans argue that the role we play is a cynical one. As is theirs of course.
So farewell Gaddafi and, if we have any sense, farewell and good wishes to Libya!
CRICKET; WE AREN’T AS GOOD AS WE IMAGINE!
Next to hens, cricket occupies pride of place in many a codger’s heart, and we were delighted by the performance of our one-day international team during the latter part of the summer. I confess that we tended to regard the Indians as a busted flush, a victim of the new Cook-led all conquering England stars.
Now we are suffering a rude awakening. Yesterday India won the third match in the five match series being played in India, and although the England performance was an improvement over the first two thrashings we still had no answer to Dhoni and the rest.
Hindsight is of course a great gift but some of us did question the inclusion as wicket-keeper of Kieswetter, the exclusion of Anderson, and we were unhappy about the growing tendency toward so-called sledging.
There is still every reason for optimism but hopefully our feet are back on the ground. Whilst there we should concentrate on beating our opponents rather than abusing them!
You don’t need to be a psychologist to realise that the weather affects our moods. A week of downpours, dark skies and enough mud to stage an erotic wrestling contest, have brought out the grumpiness in the allotment gang. Everything seems dismal, despair is never far away, yet a few days of warm sunshine would perk us up no end, suddenly even Nick Clegg would gain promotion from figure of hate to mere subject of humour.
It is difficult at times like this, when the weather coincides with cuts and decidedly dodgy national leadership, to accept that in fact things have much improved in so many respects. I was reminded of this by the furore that surrounded the remark by John Cleese that, upon returning to it after many years of absence, he hardly recognises the country of his birth. Inevitably the ghastly politically-correct brigade immediately described the remarks as racist which is exactly the daft reaction one would expect from a truly daft lot. I suspect that, in fact, he was describing an experience of which we tend to remain unaware.
We need distance to appreciate change. As with the ageing of those around you, you don’t notice things that have changed when you see them all the time. Gradualism eliminates awareness of change, particularly the kind that doesn’t annoy. The result is that we fogies tend to bang on about how much better things once were. Not in every respect by any means!
As a boy I was dragged to the chapel three times per Sunday and I must hold some sort of record for attending sermons. I say attending since I can only remember having listened to one. It was given by someone called the Reverend Hamblin Parsons. Since he would by now be 140 years old, it is inevitable that he has long since joined the Parsons in the sky, but I am sure he would be pleased that his talk on ‘Living Above the Existence Line’ still resonates in one heart.
His point was that, in a society such as ours, we constantly redefine the line above which we live rather than manage to exist. Fast forward to today and the list of things we now regard as essential, things without which we merely exist, includes many features that simply didn’t exist in those so-called golden days.
This afternoon, weather permitting, I shall sit in my armchair to watch live cricket. I shall glance at my Sky Plus box and its ‘Live Pause’, ‘series link’ and ‘Anytime’ and wonder how I ever managed without it. She-who-must-be-obeyed will be talking by visual link to her sister in Africa, the boys will be keying messages and pictures to their pals. The washing machine will be humming a gentle reminder of the days when washing-day was one of hard toil and mangling. The car will be standing outside with its SatNav ready to guide us rather easier that did the maps of a thousand folds. And if we fancy a meal out the array of eating places is, compared with yesteryear, extremely comprehensive.
The fact that we are here at all is perhaps the greatest change. When my Gran died at the age of 70 everyone remarked that she had had a “good innings”. We are a long way past that milestone and still chase hens around. The advances in medical treatment and understanding have been astounding.
Of course there are also many negative aspects to the new age but I suspect that they are outweighed by the good. There are many people in the world for whom the existence line has barely changed in all those years but, despite all our woes, we are not amongst them. Advances in technology have led the way in raising the bar of our existence line. For all but the rich, things are slipping now but even when the recession finally grinds to a halt we will still be light years on from where we were in so many respects.
It has become the fashion in Twenty20 cricket to play ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ when a batsman trudges back to the pavilion. Perhaps we old codgers should try singing it more often!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A VERY SPECIAL WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Another golden, sunny morning. Someone up there must know that the roof of our new allotment building is still incomplete and the race is on to complete the job before the monsoons reach us. Even the hens seems unsettled by the chaos, egg production has plummeted faster than George Osborne’s economic recovery graph.
As often reported, we have a significant number of crciket buffs in our midst. And the mood at the end of the Test series against India is subdued. Yes, we are deighted that at last England is rated at the top of the world’s Test league, but we are worried that the whole future of Test cricket is in serious jeopardy. Frankly, the Indian matches were a farce. Yes, it was good to watch Ian Bell’s fluent batting performance, but it was hard to escape the conclusion that the Indian bowling attack would provide little challenge to any good club line-up. Worse still, with the honourable exception of Rahul Dravid, the vistors looked weary and totally disinterested. Like Sri Lanka before them, they posed no serious threat to a much improved England team and Test cricket is meant to be a, er, test.
With the exception of England and Australia, most of the Test-playing countries have become obsessed with the shorter form of the game, especially the Twenty20 version. India is a nation besotted by cricket but its massive following has fallen in love with the one-day game to the extent that Test matches are now a mere add-on. The players likewise, there are serious fortunes to be made in the Indian IPL quick-fire tournament and it has become for many spectators and players alike, the number one attraction.
Test matches in the West Indies now attract miniscule attendances, Pakistan can only play away from home, New Zealand attendances have plummeted and in Australia the unusual spectacle of a team incapable of beating a Co-Op egg has disenchanted thousands so used to watching conquering heroes. Even in South Africa there are clear signs of a drift away from five-day cricket.
Here in England there is still a passion for Test cricket but, given that every other side has declined so much, one cannot help wondering for how long people will pay good money to watch the sort of one-sided rubbish witnessed over the past few months.
One would like to believe that the international cricket authorities are giving all this a good deal of thought. But one doesn’t, because even there the powerful influence of the new age of quick bashes is taking on a stranglehold. We have already reached the point where Test series are being fitted in around one-dayers and twenty over games. We have already reached the point where players are jaded as a result of two much cricket. We have already reached the point where in an age of shortened attention spans the fans are voting with their feet.
Like most cricket fans I enjoy the Twenty20 matches and will certainly be glued to my seat come Saturday when the UK tournament reaches its climax at Edgbaston. But I constnatly remind myself that the stars would not be stars given no Test matches or County Championship games. If those go we will be into an age of sloggers and defensive bowlers and will have lost for ever the sheer beauty of beautiful strokes and brilliantly aggressive fast and spin bowling.
At its best Test cricket is an enthralling experience but already we are reduced to fleeting glances. Watching Anderson and Swann battling it out with Tendulkar on the final day of the fourth Test was pure theatre, with every ball and every nuance looming large. Sadly that was the exception rather than the rule in what was billed as the clash of the giants.
Interest in Test cricket can only be revived by top class teams and given that playing for ones country has now become a second priority for many international players that means less one-day cricket and more time spent on honing skills. Frankly I doubt if the will for that exists in an age when the quick buck is God.
But the demise of the longer form of the game is in no ones interest. Have we really forgotten so quickly those memorable Ashes, those heated battles with teams from the sub-continent? I fear so for asked to name the Test stars of today most fans would struggle for more than a dozen names having listed the entire England team.
Unless the International Cricket Council recognises that without the firm foundation of Test cricket the odds are that the game itself would wither and die, the future for the greatest sport of all looks very grim indeed!
TODAY’S GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ..TEST YOURSELF! 1. Where is fibrin found in your body? 2. What is the vegetable common to the Indian dishes of Aloo Gobi and Aloo Palak? 3. Which group had hits including “Homely Girl” and “Kingston Town”? 4. The word “ketchup” comes from which language? 5. Who presented “The secret life of the Manic Depressive”? 6. Who first took the much-covered song “Light my Fire” to No. 1? 7. With 7 goals, Lua-Lua was top scorer for which Premiership side? 8. Woburn Abbey is the home of which family? 9. What is a durian? 10. Which film starred John Cleese as an under-pressure headmaster?
We will remember yesterday for some time to come. We constantly hear ministers banging on about all being in it together, about this country or that being in an even more parlous state than us. And of course we know that there is no ‘us’, ours has become a deeply divided society, split into segments by enormous differences in wealth – or lack of it -and by race. Yesterday we suddenly experienced a total ‘usness’. It appeared at Lords.
The scenes at the home of cricket were almost unique. I say almost, having in mind similar scenes some years ago at Old Trafford when the last day of a Test match against the Aussies drew a similar response. At Lords the authorities for once deserve a pat on the back for setting low prices (plus free entry for kids), and opening those hallowed gates to all prepared to turn up. In the event 25,227 did, some queuing through the night.
There were no elitist corporate groups, no mob of obscene singers, no activities other than watching an enthralling day’s play. Here was living proof of two things. Those who say that Test cricket is dying are totally wrong, those who say that ‘ordinary’ folk have fallen out of love with the great game even more so. The packed house represented a total cross-section of society and, although loyalties were divided (but despite that everyone wanted to see Tendulkar), it responded to all that happened as one. Just for a day the old days in which sport brought together people from all walks of life and race returned. And by way of a bonus England performed magnificently. At the end the crowd as one saluted both teams.
Sadly it was a mere oasis in a desert of division which grows by the day. Today we learn that the Osborne plan for growth isn’t working, today we hear more exhortations to pull in our belts. Benchmark GDP statistics which compare us with other economies say nothing useful about ‘us’ because ‘we’ are not all in this together. In fact some are swelling like pumpkins, others shrivel, especially the ever growing number of young unemployed. Last week’s 2010 ONS figures show that the City paid £14 billion in bonuses. Bob Diamond of Barclays received £6.5 million, Stuart Gulliver of HSBC took £9 million. In fact, wherever you look, the richest became even richer last year.
A well timed report from the Resolution Foundation yesterday laid bare the raw figures. Of every £100 rise in national income since 1977, the half of the population on average or below average income received just £12. For much of the past 30 years the bottom half did see their income rise slightly, so they didn’t notice they were falling badly behind the rest. Now the cuts are leading to near-crisis financial conditions for many families, and the signs are that the now apparent inequality is creating a politically unsustainable situation. Our social elastic is heading for breaking point.
More and more ‘ordinary’ people are becoming aware of the huge differences in reward, in fact many are already in punishment mode. Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has underlined where we are; “The top 1% has taken a hugely disproportionate share of growth while the middle and below have stagnated or fallen”.
Osborne’s purloining of “We’re all in this together”seems to recognise the political embarrassment of a future where half the population falls further behind while the top tenth vanishes into a realm unrecognisable to the 90% of basic-rate taxpayers. Yet he simply doesn’t seem to grasp where he is leading us. In fact he is now talking of the abolition of the 50% tax rate, only paid by the already very rich.
If he makes that move at a time when food, gas, electricity and petrol prices are rising, pay frozen, cuts in benefits, high inflation, he may well find that for the first time in decades half of the population will cry enough is enough. At the very least that one act will make people more aware than they have ever been of the fact that ‘us’ has become ‘them and us’. And even in a pragmatic society like ours it may prove the final straw. Ever the opportunist, Ed Milband is talking of the ‘squeezed middle’. He is right although why he fails to mention those at the bottom is hard to fathom.
To an extent we have always been a divided society but it is only now, as the cuts begin to bite hard, that people bother about it. Lying awake worrying about mortgages, jobs , bills greater than income and a sharp fall in living standards whilst knowing that the rich are getting richer by the day does funny things to people!
But it was good to recapture the feeling of oneness, if only for a day!
TODAY’S SPECIAL QUIZ ON THE SUBJECT OF FESTIVALS; 1. What type of festival has become associated with Reading? 2. In which country is an Eisteddfod celebrated? 3. What is the season leading up to Christmas known as? 4. Which Scottish city hosts what is claimed to be the world’s largest arts festival? 5. Yom Kippur is the Day of what? 6. Which Hall is the centre for the BBC Proms? 7. Which religion celebrates the festival of Passover? 8. Since the 1940s, Cannes has hosted what type of Festival? 9. The Buddhist festival of Parinirvana is also kmown as which Day? 10. The celebrated Spalding Flower Festival takes place in which county?
Yesterday was a day of miracles! The London trains were on time, it didn’t rain and our star South African batsman scored a double century. It would be nice to report that it is good to be back, but it isn’t. In my absence a couple of my hens escaped and others kicked off another bout of hen-pecking. Albert is now hanging from the apple tree, I hasten to add metaphorically lest Inspector Knacker arrives. Mind you he is probably assisting his mates at the Met, whose chance of solving the great hacking mystery is akin to my being appointed Telegraph cricker expert having told all and sundry that Pieterson should be dropped!
In fact as I passed the time on the train reading the various news reports on hacking, I concluded that this mystery would do credit to Agatha Christie. We now have a huge cast, at least a dozen possible villains, including some of the police who are supposedly checking for clues. Yesterday saw the plot thicken even further.
A few days ago, in true Agatha fashion, it looked as though a conclusion had been reached. The words-wizard James Murdoch had confirmed to a parliamentary committee that he had been unaware of an email suggesting hacking at the News of the World, and that very day the suave Cameron had announced the appointment of a Judge to launch a full enquiry into the whole affair. But we should have realised that the book was far from finished. Yesterday we learned that Lord Justice Leveson twice attended parties at the home of Elisabeth Murdoch. Before we could even begin to check that out for signs of a Cameron conspiracy we learned that Colin Myler, the former editor of the Red Top, and Tom Crone, its former legal manager, have contradicted young Mr Murdoch by claiming that they both made him aware of the document!
And now we have the sudden appearance centre-stage of the handsome and incredibly rich Osborne. It transpires that he flew to New York on December 6th and enjoyed a “social” dinner with Dad Murdoch. On the day of his return, the suave Cameron sacked the kindly Uncle Vince Cable, who was known to be hot on the trail of his enemies in the Miurdoch clan. Two days later Cameron had Christmas parties with Rebekah Brooks, the then glamourous right hand woman of the Murdochs.
As with every Agatha tale this one will keep us guessing for a long time yet. Any one of a dozen could be guilty and we will encounter a lot of false-leads. Cameron is now attacking Coulson, another lead party, who until two weeks ago he described as his best friend. But does he mean it? Meantime his other friend, Murdoch Junior, has stopped funding the hacker at large, who is now threatening to tell all. But will his friends at the Yard be implicated or cleared?
As with all Agatha plots this one challenges us to pick the villains, but it also keeps revelations up its sleeve. As the train sped for home I concluded that there may be a whole bunch of villians operating as a mafia-style clique. Cameron and Osborne may prove to be the good guys but my wager is on them. We need a few more chapters to be sure.
At this point I wearied of my musings and £4 Virgin Rail sandwich and turned to Charles Moore’s column in the Telegraph. If anyone could be relied upon to clear the good name of right-wing bigwigs and tycoons it was surely he. Imagine my shock at reading his conclusion that maybe the left were right all along. He sees the right wing so beloved by him in the past as too slow to see that it was confusing populism with democracy. He reflects on the Banks, the Murdochs, the police and the politicians and fears aloud that an Arab Spring could come here. We are bust, declares this long-time advocate of conservative values, bust both actually and morally.
I think we should include him in the Novel. Agatha often features a wise and loving Uncle who suddenly sees that all he had trusted is corrupt and evil!
YOUR WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. Who was Corrie’s Fred preparing to marry when he suffered a fatal heart attack? 2. What did Robert the Bruce die of? 3. Who has played for Crewe, Liverpool, Charlton and Spurs? 4. Dijon is famous for which condiment? 5. Which Robbie Burns hero gave his name to a flat cap? 6. Where is the Bay of Rainbows? 7. A nectarine is a cross between which two fruits? 8. Which top-selling band featured Stuart Cable on drums? 9. What is affected by osteomyelitis? 10. What is Charles 11 said to have hidden in after the Battle of Worcester?