The small island with major league talents

Curaçao, an island not far from Venezuela that forms part of the ‘Dutch Caribbean’ is the answer should your trivia question be, “Which country has, per capita, the highest number of major league baseball players?”.  This country of about 150,000 people has 7 active players with more looking like joining the ranks soon.

And the New York Times has a good article on the place and the baseball, as well as some very decent photos from Melissa Lyttle.  Have a read and a look over here.

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Serial

15 years ago a student was murdered in Baltimore and her ex-boyfriend was found guilty of the crime and sent to prison for life.  He remains in prison today, still protesting his innocence.  Serial (one story told a week at a time and sponsored with varying degrees of annoyance by Mailchimp) is a podcast that has become the chattering classes’ key discussion topic as it takes an in-depth look at the case of Hae-Min Lee and whether it really was Adnan Syed who killed her.

It was around episode 5 that ‘the world’ (twitter) went somewhat crazy for Serial.  It’s very easy to see why.  Sarah Koenig is a brilliant narrator and each episode to this point was rather cunningly constructed, throwing in doubt and revelation, as well as a cast of characters to make this supposedly mundane, straightforward case become something altogether compelling.  There were concerns: weren’t we having too much Cluedo fun for what was actually a real-life case, were we being fed lines just to keep things interestings, was this really just middle-class privileged types being tourists in a gloomy part of last-century Maryland?

Not all of these doubts went away.  Obviously, Hae couldn’t speak in a programme about her own murder but the absence of her family (although this was explained) meant that she felt very much like an optional add-on.  We could have had any murder victim whereas we very much needed the mix of thoughts that her convicted killer generated.  That’s not a nice feeling and Koening never quite managed to address it properly.  The idea of misery tourism did at least seem to lift as a wider perspective came in in later episodes – but then I’d read Jon Ronson’s interviewing Adnan’s family who were feeling shamed all over again and wonder just whether this really was in any way positive.  Finally, the Cluedo fun?  By the mid-point we were running out of new revelations and picking holes in specific bits of the story so that did die down a little but it never truly went away and with more ideas coming out even towards the end of the final episode it did remain part of the pleasure of listening.

But beyond the ‘is he innocent or not’ Serial was remarkable for how engagingly it took a single case and made it about what you can know, and what you simply can’t.  Koenig boiled down the facts at the very end and there was remarkably little there.  After twelve weeks listening to a myriad voices and so many different possibilities all you’re left with is a dead body and a few definite actions, all of which are open to interpretation.  And, spoiler alert, Adnan is still in prison and looking like being there for a while.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Serial and have spent a significant chunk of the past couple of months demanding that acquaintances drop everything and listen.  I liked, whereas some did not, the occasionally off-hand narration style although I found it baffling that it took until deep into the series before Koenig voiced that maybe, just maybe, being Muslim had counted against Adnan once the case went to trial.  Mostly, I liked the way ideas bounced around and that the depth of the programme – and the fact that each episode was put together so near to ‘broadcast’ – meant that those ideas could be returned to.  I did also like the way so many people got the chance to tell their version of the story.

For the listeners it’s been a twelve-week journey that’s been engaging, challenging and kinda fun.  We still don’t know everything, or really, anything.  And that opens up a whole new set of conversations.  But we should keep in mind, even as we debate Jay’s story, or cell-phone records, or why would a guy do this or that, that the reason the story is being told at all is because at some point on January 13, 1999 Hae-Min Lee was murdered and her body left, buried, in a park.  No amount of quirky, engaging investigation or thesis on what we cannot know is going to change that fact.

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Public Bowling Green

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

According to Wikipedia, the game of bowls can be traced back to at least the thirteenth century and potentially the twelfth.  Certainly it seems that the idea of rolling or throwing an object in the direction of another object is so universal that bowls must have a claim on being the oldest ‘sport’ even if the actual projectiles and techniques have changed over time.

This green is the public one in Alexandra Park in Hastings.  On a frosty, freezy, wintry morning there is no one around to play bowls.  Those who would wish to roll their woods must go indoors to satisfy their cravings.

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At RIBA: Ordinary Beauty – The Photography of Edwin Smith

Edwin Smith

Edwin Smith is something a forgotten man in British photography.  His work does not fit within the documentary tradition that became so strong in the years after the second world war and nor is it quite grand or artistic enough to sit easily with Beaton and his ilk.  It is often beautiful but rarely wry, judgemental or amusing so perhaps it is perceived as lacking in significance or meaning.  However, as we move further and further from the times he chronicled it may be that his work will come to sit on the same level as Eugene Atget (whose work Smith admired): artistic documents of a time and world now gone.

Making full use of the newish architecture gallery at RIBA this exhibition naturally focuses on how Smith photographed the world around him.  He did so at a time when how people lived in their cities changed, what they wanted to preserve and why came to be politicised and romanticised, and the role of buildings within the ‘natural’ environment came to assume new importance.  Smith’s photography is often beautiful with very simple black and white toning and apparently straightforward representations of reality.  But as the exhibition takes pains to show, and a study of the images reveals, that view is overly simplistic.

Firstly, such straightforward pictures do not happen by chance.  The composition in almost every frame is note perfect.  Even a shot of a field has the cows arranged as if by an artist’s hand.  You get the feeling the picture would not exist otherwise.  Secondly, there is a manifesto of sorts behind this.  A need to record – and to advocate for – buildings (and occasionally, people) who are being left behind and which are in danger of being crushed by progress.  It’s no coincidence that the great preserver Betjeman was a fan.  Thirdly, even basic toning of this quality takes time.  In the age before layers and levels in Photoshop, Smith was a darkroom junkie.  He didn’t merge negatives, he didn’t put in what wasn’t there, but he created the perfect tonal effect.  That took longer than setting up those cows.

Smith photographed widely.  There are working class streets, abandoned country houses, railway stations and all manner of vistas.  He appears to have been interested in virtually everything and everyone and to always have been able to pass on in a photograph what it was that made it interesting.

But now we are left with a legacy of a man out of time and out of place.  If only he’d put some of the anger and frustration he clearly felt about how the world was turning into his photos.  If only he’d been European so academics could write knowingly about him.  But, hopefully, the brisk business and positive reviews will see these images and this photographer become better known.

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About Alpha Cafe

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

As someone who is invariably early for their train I’ve spent an awful lot of time in cafes by or in train stations.  Whether that is the polite Puccinos at Gerrard’s Cross where you can also discretely read the morning papers whilst pretending not to see the sign telling you not to read the morning papers or the vast array of places that Manchester Piccadilly offers – all of which seem dedicated to destroying your soul and your wallet whilst not quite giving you a nice cup of coffee.  

This particular specimen is across the way from the magnificently named St Leonards Warrior Square and will serve you either an instant coffee or a filter coffee plus a gut-busting range of breakfast treats – all for the price of a regular seasonally spiced latte from the little Costa booth we have to suffer at Hastings’ main station.  The latter has lovely people by the way but they too must put up with corporate nonsense.  I once had to wait an age whilst trying to pay for an Eccles cake.  It could not be scanned and nor could it be found on the till.  It transpired that it was not under ‘E’ for eccles or ‘C’ for cake … it was under ‘L’ for luxurious, or some equivalent bollocks.  The staff looked sheepish and cursed a little in foreign.  Whether at me, the till or the vast indifference of heaven, I couldn’t say.

The photo is from a chilly December morning when winter had definitely arrived.  After a walk across to the station the lights of the Alpha Cafe never looked more appealing.  I was far from alone in using the little time before the London train arrived to get in out of the cold and select a beverage to keep one warm and sane.  And, thankfully, nobody had to guess which extra letters had been added to ‘coffee’ before it could be rung up on the till.

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At the match: Westfield v Bexhill United

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

A mix-up with the Sat Nav meant I arrived at the Parish Field home of Westfield Football Club just as the match was starting. The ground is just off the A28 but I swear you’d never know it was there unless you were looking for it. I found myself thinking of the start of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom: “Hidden among thorny brambles …”  Well, surrounded by massive foliage anyway …  I could now say that my photo shows a Wise Old Elf but I’m not sure the Referees Union would allow it.

And it was an odd game and the official in question played his part in that.  There were heavy tackles, there were fouls, there were a couple of melees that if they’d occurred in the Premier League, Match of the Day would have gone into meltdown.  And through it all the referee had long glances, long talks and long pauses before decisions.  But the cards did not come until later in the game by which time the players were mainly all fouled out.  The second half being noticeably better than the first because the instinct to severely damage their opponents seemed to have left most of the players whilst they were sucking half time oranges.

Bexhill won by the odd goal in one.  A header with about twenty minutes ago was the difference.  Either team could claim they’d done enough for victory but it was the Bexhill supporters (yes, they did bring some and they gathered round a jaunty pirate flag) who got to be warmed by three points as the sun set.  I took some photos other than of the referee and you can find them here.

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At the match: Hastings & Bexhill II v St Leonards Cinque Ports

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

I haven’t been to a rugby match of either code for the longest time.  But on the day when in league New Zealand and Australia produced one of the all-time classic test matches I ventured the short distance from my front door to Hastings & Bexhill RFC.  Of course it’s union on the south coast and the game I went to witness was a derby, albeit one between the reserves of the home side and the first team of the visitors St Leonards Cinque Ports.

The temptation at Hastings & Bexhill (or ‘hays’ as the vocal few cheering them on had it) is to turn away from the field and admire the view.  From the pitchside you can see across the Old Town and out to sea.  On a day like today with its mix of sun, cloud and rain it was intermittently dramatic.  Thankfully what was taking place on the pitch itself meant that only an occasional glance seaward was required.

The scoreline at the end read 28-5 to the visitors.  Four tries all converted to one unconverted.  The unconverted was due, in part, to the absence of a kicking tee at the crucial moment.  The result was more reflective of Cinque Ports’ ability to take their chances compared to their hosts’ ability to fluff their lines.  Going by territory, possession and flashes of skill it could all have been so much closer.

I took along the camera, such is my want.  The light was crap and this bad workman is also going to blame the resulting output on just how long it’s been since he clicked a shutter at an oval ball in anger.  Should you so desire you can see some photies here.  Not a single one of the sea.

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