Friday, April 20, 2018

first day of the cricket season…

The new cricket season started today… and I went down to Taunton to watch Somerset ‘entertain’ Worcestershire.
The sun shone all day; there were over 350 runs scored and, somewhat ridiculously, 18 wickets fell. The wet conditions of last week turning to glorious sunshine this week clearly affected the wicket – in fact, across the country, the top innings score on this opening day was a mere 256 runs (perhaps the gradual demise of the county games means that players don’t get enough practice of the four-day game?).
Despite the fact that, at 10am today, the visibility from the train was reduced to 150metres at one point (you’re going to tell me it was ‘heat haze’, aren’t you?), by the time the match started at 11am, the sun was shining brilliantly and didn’t stop shining throughout the day.

The day’s cricketing honours went to two young players: Worcestershire’s Ed Barnard took his first five-wicket haul and Somerset’s Matt Renshaw scored an unbeaten century. 22 year-old Renshaw (born in Middlesborough, but already capped for Australia) was making his debut for Somerset and, ironically, he was a last-minute replacement for Somerset’s original Aussie signing, Cameron Bancroft – who you might recall was ‘caught up’ in the recent ball-tampering scandal.
It was all very idyllic – perfect weather, entertaining cricket, a very good crowd and people clearly delighted to meet up again and bore each other with their respective knowledge of cricketing records (that only other cricket fans have any interest in at all). Life is good.
PS: The day’s other points of note included: a) the old lady sitting directly behind me, watching the cricket and constantly humming quietly to herself (and me), b) me buying THREE old cricket books for a TOTAL price of £2 (yes, I’m feeling slightly smug!), and c) the woman announcer at Taunton station (ok, I know it was a recorded message) explaining to passengers that our train was running 29 minutes late due to a signal failure – but, at the same time, actually seemingly to infer something along the lines of “well, that’s what they told me anyway – but, frankly, who knows?”.
Photo: The above image probably should have been added to the “day’s other points of note” … this was the very first thing I was confronted by when I arrived at the ground: the bizarre sight of a press photographer(?) desperately trying to take a photograph incorporating a pint of Thatcher’s cider, a cricket ball and a boundary rope (and I just love his ‘leg action’)!!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

facebook…

Like many people, I struggle with the mysterious world of information technology, smart phones, social media and the like… and I simply know that I’ll always struggle.
And like many people, I’ve been appalled by some of the recent revelations/accusations regarding facebook and Cambridge Analytica (eg. the analytics firm apparently having harvested more than 50 million facebook profiles without permission; staff boasting about using manufactured sex scandals, fake news and dirty tricks to swing elections around the world etc etc) and other stories about a digital services firm linked to Cambridge Analytica receiving large payments from a pro-Brexit campaign organisation which potentially violated referendum spending rules.
As a result of these apparent violations to privacy agreements, there’s been a growing #DeleteFacebook movement.
A few of my best friends have decided that they‘ve “had enough” and have either deleted their facebook accounts or are about to do so. I understand that and, obviously, such decisions are very personal and need to be respected. But it saddens me. Will such actions have any real effect? Will the power of facebook or google or one of the myriad of other similar organisations get to them anyway? I really don’t know.

I have over 600 facebook ‘friends’ from all over the world. Of course, I’m probably only in proper, regular contact with a relatively small proportion of these friends but, nevertheless, facebook is the way I ‘keep in touch’ with them… and I love that. “But”, I hear you say, “if they were REAL friends, surely you’d make every effort to see them on a regular basis?”. Well, yes, wouldn’t life be wonderful if we were able to do that… but such options are both impractical and unrealistic. Yes, I could email or telephone my friends (I hate the telephone!), but it wouldn’t be same and it would be hugely time-consuming and inconvenient… not to say, far less effective (and enjoyable).
So (perhaps selfishly?), I’ll be staying with facebook – at least for the time being – and only hope that the privacy issues etc can be satisfactorily and quickly settled… and that I learn the very best ways of protecting my personal data (and that my friends learn to do the same).
I’m really sad that some of my lovely buddies have already decided to delete facebook, but recognise and accept their perfect right to do so (and will miss them big time).
But, of course, as they’re no longer on facebook they won’t be reading this.
Photo: illustration by Mitch Blunt.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

wonderstruck…

Ok, I admit it, I went along to the Watershed at lunchtime primary to have a glass of wine, some chunky chips and to do some surreptitious sketching in the bar… but, given that it was a rotten wet day, I also booked in to see Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck”.
The film is an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s young adult novel of the same title. According to the Watershed’s blurb, it’s “both a children’s film for adults and a refreshingly grown-up film for children” and, if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, “Wonderstruck is a movie that will leave you just that”…
Given such cheesy descriptions, I really should have known better!
As far as I was concerned, the film was neither a “children’s film for adults” or a “grown-up film for children”.
The main action takes place in New York 50 years apart (1927, in black+white, and 1977, in glorious colour). The two principal characters, Ben and Rose (both 12 year-olds, I think)(played by Oakes Fegley and  Millicent Simmonds respectively) are both deaf (actress Simmonds is actually deaf in ‘real life’) and both “desperately unhappy”. They both dream of a better life and head off for the Big Apple in search of a) Ben’s absent father, following his mother’s tragic death and b) Rose’s silent movie star heroine.
They both end up being drawn to the American Museum of Natural History as the two stories become interwoven. I think I’ll leave it at that… (frankly, the plots are pretty ridiculous and unconvincing – but the music is good!).
Look, it’s a perfectly ‘pleasant’ film (for a horrible, rainy day) but, frankly, I would have been much happier if I’d gone to watch “Isle of Dogs” again!
PS: On the positive side, I did do three very rapid scribbled sketches before watching the film (and I don’t think I was ‘spotted’ by any of the ‘victims’… and without either spilling my wine or covering them in mayonnaise!)

Sunday, April 08, 2018

we all need ‘spark’ in our lives…

I’ve just finished Alice’s second book, “Spark”, in her ‘Skin Trilogy’.
Don’t worry, this is a *no spoilers* post – I’m definitely not going to give away any clues about the storyline!
All I will say is that, in my humble unbiased opinion, my daughter is a brilliant, BRILLIANT storyteller!
I absolutely loved it. An outright ‘page-turner’ if ever there was one…
So, I’m not going to spoil things for you… I’ll just repeat some of the words on the book’s inside cover: “This sequel to bestselling ‘Ink’ is a story of deception and truth, of old foes and new friends, of abandonment and acceptance. These words will get under your skin”.
In this world of power and control/ haves and have-nots/ morality and corruption/ manipulation and duplicity/ judgement and risk/ belief and unbelief/ integrity and hope, this is a wonderful, thought-provoking, wise and powerful book. It might be labelled as ‘Young Adult’ (YA) novel, but it has a message for young and old alike.
Having three, talented, creative daughters who constantly make you feel massively proud… How special is that!?
The BIG question is… how on earth am I going wait another year for the final book?!

Friday, April 06, 2018

march-april 2018 books…

The Fading Smile (Mike Burke): Author Mike Burke is an Anglican clergyman who came and spoke at one of the recent ‘Resonate’ events at Saint Stephen’s, Bristol. I suppose one would categorise the book as ‘Christian fiction’ – and, although I haven’t read many such books, this genre probably rates as one of my least favourite! The book is set in the 2020s (although, frankly, there are several references that are simply too far-fetched to fit into such a time-frame… maybe 2040s or 2050s would be more credible?) and draws us into a world where things are covert and shadowy and neither individuals nor governments are in control. Huge private security firms seem to call the shots with their ever present surveillance and multinationals wield immense power… and people’s lives have become severely controlled and monitored. Religion isn’t part of this world… although the re-emergence of a language of faith and prayer (albeit in ‘underground’ form) shapes a central core of what the book is about. It’s a political thriller (of sorts) which explores an alternative future centred around the fear of terrorism, rampant consumerism and the suppression of information. I certainly didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but I DID find it thought-provoking – especially given all the recent reports about #CambridgeAnalytica, the apparent violation of social media accounts and ‘smart’ messaging to influence behaviour.
Words From The Well Of Wisdom (Laurie Farnell): This is a rather beautiful book of aphorisms gathered over the past 20 years or so (in tiny bound notebooks) by a man who was homeless for a ‘considerable period’ of his life and who started to write aphorisms as a way of coping with severe depression. He was eventually introduced to an organisation called ‘Converge’ at York St John’s University and began to develop his writing skills and sing in a choir… and, importantly for him, ‘become part of a community where I’m not labelled or judged’. His words made me smile, think and wonder. Here are just a few examples: “All adventures start with a dream imagined”; “An adventure is only an adventure when things go wrong”; and “To progress is to remember what we’ve learnt from the mistakes that we’ve forgotten”… and I have no doubt I’ll continue to re-read the book several times over the coming years.
The Way Of The Carmelites: A Prayer Journey Through Lent (James McCaffrey): This was my ‘spiritual’ book through Lent. It’s a beautifully-written, gentle, wise book about Carmelite spirituality – essentially in the “company of the Carmelite saints” - and, in particular, about prayer.  As someone who constantly struggles with his prayer life (or lack of it!), I was especially struck by the chapter on ‘Teresian spirituality’ (focussing on St Teresa of Avilam 1515-82), which I found very helpful and enlightening. I think my one criticism of the book was that, at times, it didn’t seem to be focussing on our respective journeys through Lent itself (well, as much as I’d hoped anyway). Nevertheless, an insightful and very helpful book.

Goodbye To All That (Robert Graves): First published in 1929, Graves wrote this autobiography in his early 30s. He described it as his “bitter leave-taking of England” before departing to live in Spain. I can’t quite believe I’d not previously read it. It provides a brilliant, candid account of his life: from childhood and his unhappy days at Charterhouse to his harrowing time serving as a young officer in WW1 (and the depressing daily register of the lost lives of his colleagues)… together with his encounters with fellow writers and poets (including Sassoon, Hardy and TE Lawrence) and his increasingly unhappy marriage to Nancy Nicholson. Probably the best personal account of the Great War I’ve ever read – of experiences and scenes that were to haunt him throughout his life. A really wonderful book.
Tears Of The Giraffe (Alexander McCall Smith): Some welcome light relief after the gruelling horrors of conflict! Another of McCall Smith’s enchanting, pleasurable and refreshingly heart-warming books. I love the characters, the gentleness, the humour and his writing style.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

isle of dogs...

Moira and I went to the Watershed this afternoon to see Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs”. It’s a ‘stop-motion’ (animation) story set in an imaginary Japan of the future (the Japanese setting was apparently simply chosen because of Anderson’s love of all things Japanese… or something along those lines) where dogs have been exiled to a vast refuse-dump called Trash Island. Essentially, in Megasaki City the cat-lovers have the upper hand and with outbreaks of dog flu and snout fever(!), the Mayor (boo hiss) has quarantined all dogs on to the island. In order to show an example to his fellow citizens, the sinister, dog-hating mayor starts the process by dispatching the dog (Spots) of his 12 year-old nephew, Atari. But Atari isn’t going to accept this situation (oh no!) and he sets out on a daring rescue mission to Trash Island… where he meets a group of abandoned dogs who are determined to join him in his search.
Well, let me be quite candid here… I think Anderson can do absolutely no wrong when it comes to producing films. I absolutely LOVE his eye for design, detail, colour… and his humour.
As far as I’m concerned, this film has them ALL in spades.
Despite its affectionate and funny backdrop (I spent most of the film with an inane grin on my face!), the film also has bite… there are powerful references to rigged elections, fake news, hackers, environmental issues and (given the recent Florida shootings and the stand taken by students, for example) its young people who are left questioning authority.
The animated characters are simply wonderful and I adore Anderson’s eye for detail.
I absolutely LOVED this film (and so did its Watershed audience, who applauded at the end!). You definitely need to see it… you’re in for a treat!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"don't talk to me about cricket..."

Another truly AWFUL day for the England cricket team on the first day of the First Test against New Zealand in Auckland today (remember they lost 4-0 to Australia earlier this winter). England were bowled out for a meagre 58 (with five batsmen scored ducks!). BBC commentator Jonathan Agnew summed things up thus: I don't think anyone who watched the play would claim England were bowled out for 58 because of tricky conditions. That was not the case and New Zealand's reply put the performance into context”.
At the end of last season, I blogged about the sad demise of English County Cricket – which is the closest format to playing Test cricket (they play 4-day games compared with 5-day Test matches). Agnew raised similar concerns in his report on the BBC website today: Cricket's administrators are responsible for protecting the game and they seem keen to protect the 50 and 20 over formats - but the majority of people who love cricket want the same devotion to Test cricket. The administrators have to be extremely careful. If Test cricket gets squeezed, more and more the standard won't be what it should be”.

The number of Test matches played has remained roughly the same, but the huge difference is the number of One-Day International and Twenty20 games that now take place.
I’ve been comparing the forthcoming season’s County Cricket fixtures with those of, say, the 2000 season. In 2000, teams played 16 games; now, in 2018, they play 14 games. Here’s the comparison of when those County matches take place (with the figures in brackets denoting the number of fixtures in the respective months for the 2000 season):
April: 2 (1)
May: 2 (3)
June: 3 (3)
July: 1 (4)
August: 2 (2)
September: 4 (3)

In other words, it seems that cricket is no longer a “summer game” – unless you regard the 50 and 20 over formats as “proper cricket” (which, old codger that I am, I don’t!). ONE championship game in the whole of July for goodness sake!!
The County game is effectively the ‘nursery’ for young players and a stage for them to both ‘learn their trade’ and to attract the attention of the England team selectors.
The trouble is that cricket (or at least the County Championship element of it) has now been shunted towards the start and end of the season (the season now starts at least a week earlier and finishes a fortnight later than in 2000) in order to make ‘space’ in the fixture lists for the 50 and 20 over formats in the prime of the English summer – so that clubs can make some money from the dumbed down version of the game.
Not In My Name!