About “The First Day of Summer”

It was raining. (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved.

“I thought it was tomorrow”, the voice on More Radio said as the car splashed through another puddle.  She meant the summer solstice and the official first day of summer which is, apparently, today and not, as it appears we were both taught at school, tomorrow.  The rain continued to fall hard regardless.

This is Bexhill. It was very wet in Bexhill. It was so wet that a group of European students who had walked along the seafront were taking refuge in the De La Warr Pavilion and using the dryers in the toilets in a forlorn attempt to return their clothes to wearable.  At least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  What with jokes about the weather and then forming an orderly queue they’re well on their way to passing any current or future British citizenship test.

You can see this photo larger here.

Following On by Emma John

To read Emma John’s Following On is to willingly send yourself to a time when England’s cricket team were, as nobody got tired of saying, terrible. Cricket was on the TV all the time – every test, every one day international, every kind of county game – and yet with the biggest audience the game would ever have looking on its national side slumped again and again … and again.  And yet Following On is not a chore.  It is a loving, and lovely, homage to the time, to the game of cricket, and to the people who play it and support it.

By my rough maths I’m probably about two years ahead of the author. I also went to a substantially crapper university and am not female. So whilst there’s a staggeringly high tally of shared experiences there’s more than enough beyond that to turn it from one of those “Heh, remember when …” type talking head experiences. I’ve also not got in touch with 11 cricketers and asked them about the past. It’s these conversations which form the spine of the book, from which the memories and up-to-date analysis of life and cricket follow.

It’d be a bit of an unfair spoiler to say which players and which matches get the in depth treatment – beyond the obvious that Michael Atherton and that day in South Africa. I remember watching he and Jack Russell defend like heroes via the medium of a small set in the university’s TV room.  A bunch of us roaring (and I suspect though have forgotten, roaring drunk) by the end.  That and other occasions are well observed and enriched by the anecdotes of players from the time.

What also comes through is family. Cricket is not a game you can instinctively follow. I remember, many moons ago, staying with an American family (I was so cool I’d travelled by myself to watch Chicago Cubs baseball) and I said that I’d picked up enough about baseball inside a game and a half just by watching and listening to the commentators.  But that’s impossible with cricket.  Baseball may have a complex set of stats to boggle the noobs but it has nobody standing at Silly Mid Off.  Emma’s mum, the introducer and explainer, features often – the bond of cricket keeping them going.  I had a bit of a gulp at it all. My grandad used to perch the portable TV set up in the kitchen and it was he who started me on my understanding of the game – beginning with England’s extraordinary failure in the 1989 Ashes. But he died within 18 months and I never got to experience being at a game with him.  I think he’d have liked that I spent yesterday with my own son vaguely trying to explain Duckworth Lewis – a concept which didn’t even exist back then, but which is as fiddly and incomprehensible as anything the evil gods of cricket have created since Thomas Lord laid out his field in Marylebone.

There is so much here to like.  Emma John is an engaging and charming companion with the right eye for the whimsical – and Following On is as good a personal fan’s eye perspective on sport as I’ve read since the much copied, sometimes derided, but not really ever bettered Fever Pitch which, worryingly for how old I feel, must be getting on for more than 20 years old itself.  Possibly 30.  I’m not sure that Following On makes me want to go back and relive all those middle order collapses but it does make the memories bearable – and certainly makes me feel kinder to the players who were part of them.

At the match: Sussex v Middlesex

A Shark. And a shark. – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, all rights reserved

Sussex 222-7 (32 overs) beat Middlesex 191ao (30.4 overs) by 31 runs.

“How can a nineteen year old play cricket?” asked my incredulous eight year old as Phil Salt came out to bat.  He was so curious he made me look up on my phone (the 21st century answer to consulting the Playfair guide) the Sussex player’s vital statistics. Yes, he is 19. Yes, this was only his second ‘List A’ game.  And, yes, seventy-odd balls later he’d pounded 81 runs and, as part of a score of 222 in a rain-shortened 32 over contest, put the match out of reach of Middlesex and set up Sussex’s first one-day win since 2014.  Not bad going.

The Royal London One Day Cup is hard-to-love competition. It’s not the joyous explosion of T20 and it’s not the real thing, unlike the Championship.  It’s not even the real heir to the old days of Benson & Hedges and NatWest Trophies.  It’s just there.  But on days like today it can feel just about perfect.  Sussex and Middlesex served up a genuinely exciting contest – even if the final score implies a relatively comfortable home win.

There was much to enjoy. Not just Phil Salt’s headline-grabbing performance.  Ross Taylor, aided by a runner, added 54 off 44 balls and got himself out by deciding to go forth only in maximums.  And then in Middlesex’s chase we had some beautiful stroke-play from Brendan McCullum and Eoin Morgan before both departed and left Middlesex floundering.  Even then there was the return of injured bowler Tom Helm (another runner required) defiantly staying in as the Sussex attack sought the final wicket.  That wicket fell to Chris Jordan who returned career best figures of 5-28.

I’m willing to bet that everyone here enjoyed themselves and the beauty of the English cricket season is that there will be plenty more opportunities for everyone to do so again in all formats of the game as what passes for our summer rolls on.  My incredulous eight year old is desperate to see more and, you know what, I might just be persuaded to take him – even if all that’s on offer is the good old, hard-to-love, Royal London One Day Cup.


On the Stade: Project Vee

I’m sure there’s a juggling joke could go here – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved

A thirty minute juggling act inspired by Soviet-era circus performance. On the evening England started their Euro 2016 misfire. The first surprise was that the boys and I weren’t the only people watching, the second was that Circus Geeks’ ‘Project Vee’ performance is pretty bloody good.

Yes, some bits didn’t quite go to plan but nobody wants absolute perfection.  The building of the platform (which didn’t seem to rotate properly at first) was a mite slow but I’m being a mite churlish in drawing attention to it. This was a splendid mix of sound effects, Heath Robinson gadgetry and epic throwing and catching.

The big test in outdoor entertainment is whether the crowd stays and the verdict this evening was obvious: nobody even thought of walking away.

At the match: Westfield v Alfold

A tackle – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved

The glorious sun gave way to cloud and intermittent rain but, in spite of the disappointing weather, those who made their way to the Parish Field had themselves an entertaining game of football, one that both sides will be annoyed with themselves with not winning and which ended with honours even and a 3-3 draw.

This was a topsy-turvy game that never actually really settled.  The ball spent a lot of time in the air and neither side seemed able to put their foot down and control the match.  If Sky were here they would almost certainly have 50/50 possession and 33/33/33 territory.  Westfield led 1-0 and 3-2 and the visitors held the advantage at 2-1.  The woodwork was rattled.  The referee had to calm uncool heads.  In the end hands were shaken with rueful smiles.

All in all, an enjoyable afternoon.  I took some photos: they are here.

At the Royal College of Physicians: Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee

John Dee – Portrait in the Asmolean Museum. (Wikipedia)

By the 1580s, John Dee had amassed a library containing hundreds of volumes.  His collection covered his principal interest: everything.  He was well-read, informed and listened to.  We may think of him today as a dark figure furtively practising the occult from his home in Mortlake but it wasn’t that simple.  Yes, he did that but, yes, he also did much else besides.  Either way, whilst travelling in Europe his brother-in-law, to whom he had entrusted his collection, allowed it to be ransacked and broken up.  Dee never came close to bringing his library back together again. Now, the Royal College of Physicians is displaying some of the hundred or so volumes that came into their possession in the seventeenth century that were part of Dee’s collection.

It’s a simple conceit but a rather brilliant exhibition.  The books are displayed so that we can see Dee’s own notes in the margin.  Like any good student sometimes he merely underlines a passage of interest, at other points he scribbles at length.  What they show is a man of relentless, restless intellect and curiosity who saw no divide between the spirit and rational worlds because nobody had yet come along to prove which was truly the best way to understand the world.  He was a mathematician, astronomer, spy (one suggestion being that his attempts to contact ghosts as described in his diary are an elaborate code for his secret service) and many other things too.  What he wasn’t, ever, was a Doctor or Physician in any real sense.  But we now know him as Doctor Dee in part because of how his legacy was set up by people who only focused on the fantastical elements of his life.  As this sensitive and compelling exhibition shows we have done an supremely interesting, if not always accurate, man a major disservice.

John Dee’s house in Mortlake is long gone although there is a block of flats in SW14 called John Dee House.  The library went before the house.  And the reputation of the man has drifted more and more towards legendary.  There are many facts we can’t know and a lot we can only infer but what this exhibition does so well is reveal who John Dee was and what he did, whilst leaving space for the enigma and myth to thrive.

At the match: Little Common v Bexhill United

Bexhill United in blue visit Little Common – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved

Overnight Storm Katie left a trail of fallen trees, torn off roofs and damage ranging from the “first world problem” level to the genuinely worrying.  Katie was still howling as these two local rivals ran out with the memory of their last meeting when five red cards were brandished still fresh.  Drama was therefore promised and whilst, with the wind lashing in a straight line from behind one goal towards the other, it did not quite match the set-up this was still a game with hard tackles, good goals and not a little skill.  I enjoyed myself.

The visitors had the lead at half time.  With the wind at their backs they had most of the early possession and got the ball over the line midway through the half before being called for offside. By the time they scored though it felt slightly against the run of play as by then Little Common had asserted dominance where it counted.  A pattern that continued into the second half although it was very late on – and with Bexhill down to ten men – before the home side pulled away to a deserved victory.  3-1 might have slightly flattered them but only slightly.

There was a decent enough crowd, the majority taking shelter from the breeze in the only covered area behind the goal nearest the clubhouse.  As a result of today Little Common now sit 9 points ahead of Bexhill in the table – and with two games in hand could turn the dominance gained from doing the double over their neighbours into a sound beating in the league table.  But I was warned, starkly, by a fellow spectator that with the fixture pile up caused by so many winter waterlogged pitches that they may fade a bit after today.  After all, it’s local bragging rights you want and having got those Little Common may well ease off a bit.

I took the camera along (and got a ‘thank you’ for taking photos of Bexhill Ladies last week, which was nice) and when it wasn’t being blown about got some photos which can be seen here 



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