Monday, 31 December 2012

A Scottish Cricketer's Hogmanay

An Edinburgh tram of many years ago..........

Time was when Scottish cricketers had nothing of this Christmas thing. The Presbyterians had discouraged it in the 15th Century and their influence only disappeared slowly.  Even as a very junior member, Fantasy Bob can remember his father going to work on Christmas Day - and he did not work for Ebeneezer Scrooge. Christmas Day was not a holiday, far less Boxing Day, and only became a bank holiday in Scotland in 1958.

FB can remember the milk and Scottish newspapers being delivered on Christmas Day until well into the 1960s. But milk and the newspapers did not appear on New Year's Day. For that was the Scottish holiday. This meant that to find out if he had been mentioned in the New Year Honours list, FB's Dad had to drive to Aberdeen station, the only place where the English newspapers were available. FB's resulting annual encounter with the Daily Telegraph has left a lasting impression on him.  And FB's father never found his name in the honours list.

New Year was the thing in Scotland - an inheritance of all manner of celebrations of the winter solstice. It came with a distinct set of traditions which cricketers would be wise to observe.  With the arrival of T20 cricket many of these traditions are dying out and are overwhelmed by firework displays of gargantuan scale.  For those cricketers who wish to do things the right way, FB has compiled a short reminder.

Debts should be paid by Hogmanay, for to enter the New Year in debt was considered bad luck. (So it has proved).  But time was when cricketers would be beating the doors of the clubhouse down to pay off their bar bills and some even paid their long overdue subs to the club. Many a club treasurer would like to see a return of this tradition.

During the day of Hogmanay there should be frenzy of dusting and sweeping and cleaning. For the New Year could not be welcomed into an untidy or unclean pavilion - that would be more bad luck. The ashes of the fire would be swept out and examined for portents of the year to come in the ashes - leading to the term redding being applied to the whole cleaning orgy. In many cricket clubs the away dressing room would get its only once-over of the year during the redding.

Doughty Groundsmen would forage for pieces from a rowan tree to place above a door to bring luck. They would hang mistletoe to prevent illness to cricketers (none of this kissing among Presbyterians). Pieces of holly would be placed to keep out mischievous fairies or leg spin bowlers.  Pieces of hazel and yew also had magical powers and would protect the pavilion and its cricketers. The pavilion was then considered ready to bring in the New Year.

Then there was the long and painful wait for the bells at midnight. This was made incalculably worse by BBC's Scotland's lamentable programming throughout the evening. This drove many a cricketer to drink.

But at last came the midnight hour. In cities there were gathering places beneath the church clocks and forgetting about their Presbyterian heritage kisses were exchanged with everyone adjacent.  In some towns there are fire festivals - Stonehaven has a particularly impressive cleansing of the old year from the wicket with a procession of swinging fire balls, a festival that FB enjoyed many times. As much noise as possible could be made to frighten off the bad spirits - ships at harbour and at sea would sound their horns and bells.

The back doors of cricket pavilions were opened to let out the Old Year - sometimes chased out with fire. Then the front door was opened to let the New Year in and the tense wait for Front Footers began. A tall dark stranger was what was required to bring luck for the year ahead.

Cricketers who went front footing had to have regulation kit with them - salt, black bun, shortbread, coal, a bottle of whisky.  Not much by way of a cricket tea perhaps but each had its symbolic significance for the year ahead.  A front footer could expect no leniency from the umpires - they would not be allowed on the field of play without these items. 

On New Year's Day itself there were big football matches - local derbies took place that day so as FB grew up, Aberdeen would be pitched against Dundee which is as local as it got.  Many teams had to play on both 1 and 2 January.  And they all took the field without gloves.  Large crowds would assemble - for everything else was absolutely closed.  Elsewhere in Scotland the ritual tribal war of  Rangers v Celtic would be played out.  But no cricket matches were played.

No wonder that it took the full year to recover for the next Hogmanay.

The Stonehaven fireball ceremony

Sunday, 30 December 2012


Scottish cricketers recoil from the term New Year's Eve.  It is namby pamby and effete.  They insist on referring to this day as Hogmanay.

Hogmanay means nothing other than in its reference to this day.  It certainly does not mean huge street parties with fireworks and rock concerts.

Its origins are unknown.  It may be of Auld French derivation, or Norse - a gift of the Vikings - or some twist on some Gaelic term now lost and gone.  No one knows, and perhaps no one cares.

There is no real reason why it was adopted by the Scots to refer to their celebration of the winter solstice.  In its origins the word might well have referred to something completely unrelated.  It could have been coined as an early cricketing term notwithstanding that cricket had not been invented.  Other words were prepared in anticipation.  Wicket is perhaps the best example.  Its use in its original sense of a gate is now hugely rare and may well have fallen by the wayside had cricket not rescued it.  So hogmanay may have been intended as a cricketing term. After all there are many events in cricket which lack a specific word and hogmanay may be as good a word for any of them as any.  So FB invites his readers to decide what the cricketing term hogmanay should refer to.  Here are possibilities -
  • the loose gathering of players of the fielding side following the taking of a wicket  
  • a dismissal off inside edge off pad onto the base of the stump
  • a weak throw from the boundary, or nearby, which allows an additional run to be taken
  • a ball which beats the batsman, glances the stumps but fails to dislodge a bail
  • a bowler's footmark into which a spin bowler attempts to pitch the ball.
These events and many others deserve a word of their own.

Friday, 28 December 2012

A Bridge Too Far

Fantasy Bob has noticed with interest that the authorities responsible for building the new Forth Bridge have run out of imagination.  So much so that they are inviting members of the public to nominate a name for the bridge, for it must have a name.

FB should declare here a proprietary interest in this subject.  Many years ago he was engaged in an earlier attempt to build a new crossing (as bridges are known to technocrats).  Many years he laboured at this project.  Regrettably however the powers that be were not impressed with his novel design making use of lego, lollipop sticks and chewing gum and they pulled the plug on the project.

FB never got so far as thinking of a name for his bridge.  He is not sure he would have hit on the ruse of asking members of the public for a name - an approach he associates with naming Blue Peter Guide Dogs and such like.  Names suggested so far indicate that at least the public have not been confused - their names are not appropriate for a Guide Dog.  Whether they are appropriate for a bridge is another matter.  Chris Hoy, Andy Murray, Queen Elizabeth all get a mention.

But there is one Scottish hero that has not so far been mentioned and surely deserves to.  A bridge named Fantasy Bob would surely honour Scotland beyond imagination.  Scotland could be the first nation ever to have a bridge named after a cricketer (even one as ineffective as FB).  There must be some meaning in the fact that his initials also stand for Forth Bridge.

Having considered these points, FB (the cricketer) is sure that his world wide readership will be writing to the authorities saying that the FB (the bridge) should be named the FB.

FB taking its place alongside its neighbours

Thursday, 27 December 2012

From the North Pole

Reading FB's letter
Every year in the early part of December, just like every other boy and girl Fantasy Bob sits down at the kitchen table, sucks his pencil, and dreamily writes a letter to Santa Claus.

Having confirmed that he has been a good boy all year he invites Santa to bestow on him all manner of goodness.  Having addressed the letter to the North Pole he posts it in time honoured tradition by putting it up the chimney.  FB's world wide readership might have thought that FB should have got out of this habit a few years ago - why does he not e-mail Santa?

In fact some other readers have suggested to FB that Santa is not real.  But that's what they said about the doosra and FB knows better.  For, year after year Santa has come up with the goods, or enough of what was listed in FB's missive to confirm for another year that belief is an appropriate response.

This however something went wrong.  Instead of a cornucopia of gifts appropriate to man of his age and status (and all FB's nearest and dearest know how much he enjoys wearing socks) his stocking, which he had so breathlessly laid at the foot of the bed the night before, contained nothing more than an envelop addressed to FB.  Excitedly tearing it open, FB was surprised to find the following letter.

Dear Mr Fantasy Bob,

I write to confirm receipt of your letter of 10 December.  

I regret to inform you that S Claus Enterprises is unable to meet your order.  

You report that you have been a good boy all year, yet our records show the following:

  • you frequently left your cricket bag lying in the precise place that Mrs FB is likely to trip over it (as she herself remarked with some justification it's a wonder she hasn't broken her neck yet...........);
  • you made yourself available for play without having checked that your trousers had been washed.  While none of your team mates was able to confirm your explanation that the green stains that disfigured the knees reflected your claim of a finger tip save in the covers the previous week, they do recall you sinking to your knees with exhaustion having chased a ball at least 20 yards towards the boundary;
  • you knowingly scoffed the final piece of chocolate cake from the tea table regardless of the fact that a junior member who you had bowled up the hill against the wind for most of the afternoon had been eyeing it longingly but was too exhausted to make his way to the table to collect it;
  • you repeatedly lost the toss by a significant margin;
  • you regularly and without due consideration made attempts at a quick single to the endangerment of your team mates' innings and the health of the opposition fieldsmen who struggled to contain their laughter incurring a surprising number of hernias during the season;
  • you continued to post a slip when you bowled despite the fact that the last time you took a wicket caught at slip was when flared trousers were still in fashion............................

...............Need I go on?  Frankly you've as much chance of that new Gray Nicolls Scoop as of flying to the moon.

But what really gets me, what is beyond forgiveness is the fact that you have never seen fit to invite me to play for your so-called All Stars Carlton 4th XI.  Every Friday during the season I have waited on tenterhooks.  But nothing. What on earth do you think we get up to all summer?  24 hours a day light means net practice goes on till midnight.  I am ready for the call.  

So what about it next season, Fantasy Bob?  Let me open the innings at Grange Loan and  that new bat you dream of could be yours.  And I'll add in some Christmassy empire biscuits.

Yours in disappointment but still hoping,

S Claus. 


A Christmas treat

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

That's what it's all about

Christmas was never a time of huge cricketing activity during Fantasy Bob's slow rise to manhood. FB realises now that there were tours abroad by the MCC, and a whole season of action in nearly every country but his own. But these events did not find  coverage in the pages of Aberdeen's Press and Journal whose sporting pages were dominated by stirring tales of the endeavours of heroes of Aberdeen FC such as Ernie Winchester or Joey Harper.

But there was an event that all through FB's childhood was the highpoint of the Christmas season. The British Legion Children's Party was held a week or so before Christmas and it seemed an invitation was extended to every child in the city, such was the throng that packed into the Beach Ballroom every year. Now the Beach Ballroom was no common or garden venue, but a fine art deco building on the sea front.  It was opened in 1929 and boasted what has been described as the best dance floor in Scotland - floating as it does on steel springs. It is as bouncy as a first day wicket at the WACA. And didn't the young FB and his cohort love to test the springiness of the floor?

There was of course tea with fizzy drinks and cake; there was a film show - either Laurel and Hardy or Hopalong Cassidy; and at the end of the afternoon excitement would reach screaming point and beyond as Santa arrived. Santa would then say good bye to each of the boys and girls a  present as they left.

But these are not what sticks with Fantasy Bob. For there were also a series of games played on the sprung floor accompanied by a full scale dance band. It was not apparent at the time to FB but looking back he sees these games as essential parts of his cricketing education.

There was the Grand Old Duke of York.   Apparently he had 10000 men whom he marched up to the top of the hill only to march them down again. It was averred that when they were up they were indeed up. But when they were down they down. It was only in recent years that FB has discovered that this was not a celebration of the captaincy skills of Geoff Boycott.  Subsequent research has revealed that the Duke of York was Prince Frederick, the second son of King George III and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. His one Test in charge was during the Flanders Campaign of 1793–4 and led to an innings defeat.  The verse celebrates his lack of military skills.  It was greatly ironic since Flanders is very flat and any hill would have been only a few metres high.  To the best of FB's knowledge  Boycott never played in Flanders and it was essential that all children knew this.

And then there was The Farmer's in the Dell. The Farmer wanted a wife who wanted a child who wanted a nurse who wanted a dog who wanted a bone.  This was a lesson to all children in the importance of getting a good place in the batting order. It has governed the behaviour of many players that FB has played with. The openers - the Farmer and his wife - had the best of everything.  But get down to the lower order and being the dog was not what you wanted.  For we all pat the bone - and boy did everyone pat the bone - usually with an exuberance which led to severe bruising, broken limbs and occasionally brain damage.  Dogs were rarely capable of playing higher order innings after the experience.  Many were fit only for scoring duties.

Finally there was the Hokey Cokey, with its advanced coaching in batting.  FB thinks now that it was an early selection process.  Kids who put their left arm in when their right arm should have been in, or their left leg in when their whole self should have been in, could not expect a place high in the batting order.  It took many years of bitter experience for FB to work this out.  He is still inclined to put his right leg in when his right leg should be out.  That's what leg spin bowling does to him.  Oh Hokey cokey cokey - that's what it's all about.

Merry Christmas from Fantasy Bob to his worldwide handful of readers.  Here is a version of God Rest Ye Merry gentlemen sung by Simon and Garfunkel.  Test Match Quality.  Tidings of comfort and joy.  

Monday, 24 December 2012

The End of an Era

There is wailing and lamentation throughout the land.  While it may have seemed inevitable for some time, its happening does not lessen the pain felt by true believers.

Sachin Tendulkar has announced that he will no longer be available for the Carlton All Stars 4th XI.  He has retired from one day cricket.

'I have decided to retire from the One Day format of the game,' he said in a statement. 'I feel blessed to have fulfilled the dream of being part of the Carlton All Stars 4th XI. I would like to wish the team all the very best for the future. I am eternally grateful to all my well wishers for their unconditional support and love over the years.'

Fantasy Bob spoke warmly of Tendulkar's contribution to the years of unparallelled success of his team.  'Obviously the team will miss him.  Particularly those little chocolate cakes that his Mum used to make.'

In his one day career Tendulkar made a record 463 ODIs, scored a record 18,426 runs and made a record 49 centuries. No other player in the All Stars XI matches these figures, although Fantasy Bob comes close  having also played 18,426 matches, scored 49 runs and eaten 463 empire biscuits in his over long career.

Executive authorities at Carlton also expressed their regret.  'We regret that Fantasy Bob has decided not to retire. It is a sad say for cricket.'

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Crystalline Energy

As ends of the world go, Fantasy Bob has to acknowledge that Friday's events were a trifle unconvincing, not to say disappointing.  An anti-climax.  It may of course be that following the realignment of the planets as predicted a new era of the world has commenced.  It may not be the fault of that new era, nor indeed those who prophesied its coming, that it is a lot like the old era.  Or as far as Scotland is concerned, like any era - pouring rain and grey skies.

But FB had been led to expect something more. One site he consulted about what to expect told him that the great event was in order to expand the Earth and Humanity beyond the 3rd dimension, and burgeon into 12 dimensions. …dimensions 5 to 12 of which are in nonpolarity, zero point Crystalline Energy & integral One-ness. And, FB is told in case he thought anything different, that is the crystalline frequency.  FB was up for this.

But instead what we got was localised flooding in many parts of north eastern Scotland. Complete failure on the crystalline frequency front.

This is the second failure of end of the world predictions in recent months. The Cassandras of cricket were out in force in November expressing their collective worries that England's Test series in India would end in nonpolarity, zero point crystalline energy and anything but integral one-ness. After a heavy defeat in Ahmedabad, it looked like the crystalline energy seemed to heading towards point zero. But a second innings of by Alistair Cook in defeat had an inspirational effect on the Cassandras and they soon went into overdrive about England's superiority. Justifiably. In both batting bowling and fielding they were by far the superior side. So it is not the English Cassandras who are looking at nonpolarity but the Indians. A team who barely 18 months ago were ranked number 1 have slid far from that pinnacle. And England even bested them in the second T20 with a splendid return to form by Eion Morgan in a winning skipper's knock. So the Cassandras of the sub-continent do seem to be looking at the end of the world. From this point FB is even confident about the ODIs that start the New Year.

Cassandra was of course given the gift of prophecy by Apollo overcome as he was by her beauty. But because she refused his advances, he ensured that none of her prophesies would be believed. That's the Gods for you. So far they seem to have fooled the Indian selectors who seem to have been slow to look to the future. They are paying for that failure in zero point crystalline energy.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Constitutional Shock

Constitutional theorists are divided in their opinions following the visit by Her Majesty the Queen to the Council of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton. Hitherto she has played only a ceremonial role in the affairs of the club, despite efforts to recruit her to tea lady roster.

This is the first visit of the reigning monarch to the Council since 1781 and critics have suggested that it compromised the cricketing neutrality of the monarch who had no place in the selection of cricket teams, particularly not in the lower divisions of the East of Scotland Leagues.  

The professor of government at the London School of Economics said her attendance will mean that the Queen will know things she is not supposed to know and hear things she is not supposed to hear.  Sources close to the club suggest that this might refer to the Doughty Groundsman's response to the Council's suggestion that additional rolling might be required next season.

The club's spokesperson said that the Queen seemed to enjoy the meeting and did not once appear to fall asleep, unlike most of the other members.

Now which one of you is Fantasy Bob?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Don't be vague....

...ask for Haig.  Fantasy Bob remembers this slogan from the days when strong drink was allowed to be advertised more widely than it is nowadays.  It never persuaded FB who preferred, even to this day, to remain vague - especially about field placings (somewhere on the offside is precise enough for most fielders).  FB is not a whisky man.

But this slogan - which was used from the 1930s right up to the 1970s to advertise Haig whisky came across FB's mind today when, through the wonders of the internet, he chanced upon the following wonderful advertisement which dates from 1965.

The cricketers who are both under 30 are testament to what continued dosing with Haig can do to that youthful appearance.

The 1965 season saw South Africa'a last tour of England for many years.  From the look of the cricketers in the advertisement they may well have been lamenting South Africa's exclusion from international competition.  No doubt they sought consolation in a few glasses of Haig.

Haig is Scotland's oldest whisky company and while it is now part of the Diageo conglomerate, its Cameron Bridge Distillery in Fife is still the largest spirit distillery in Europe.  At the time of this advertisement Haig Gold Label was the leading brand in the UK.

The most famous Haig of all was the First World War commander Douglas Haig who was subsequently Chairman of the Distillers' Company. Haig himself had several sporting interests - he played polo for England and was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.  

But as can be seen from this photograph he seems to have been less accomplished as a cricketer.  Haig's reputation and his conduct of the war remain controversial.  But hitherto historians have not considered the implications of his habit of wearing spurs at the crease.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


So, reads Fantasy Bob, the Grand Depart of the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire in 2014.

Yorkshire beat off competition from Edinburgh and Florence for the privilege.  The Edinburgh bid was almost bound to fail since the executive authorities at go ahead Carlton cricket club had not been asked to endorse the bid.  This meant that the possibility of offering the Tour officials an afternoon at Grange Loan watching Fantasy Bob toil up the hill and against the wind - which most informed commentators reckon to be the equal of any feat of endurance or skill in the Tour de France - was overlooked.  It would have been irresistible to the Tour.  But for that lack of imagination the bid was lost.  It may be that the organisers of Edinburgh's bid feared that FB would be fully occupied in the summer of 2014 at the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.  They should know that FB is made of sterner stuff.

FB would have been pleased to offer his services to Florentine authorities, but there appears to have been a similar lack of imagination there too.

Good luck to Yorkshire.  FB was intrigued to note that the person leading the bid and the Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire is Gary Verity.  He wonders if he can be any relation to the great Yorkshire and England cricketer Hedley Verity who tragically lost his life in action during World War 2.  By any reading of the records Verity was one of the greatest and dismissed Bradman in Tests more often  than any other bowler.  His views on cycling are not clear.


Friday, 14 December 2012


About to be replaced by Fantasy Bob
Fantasy Bob had never watched MasterChef in any form before.  But he followed most of the series MasterChef - the Professionals which finished last night in a draw between 2 contestants.  Or was it a tie? He is glad to note the show's affinity with cricket - hours of play ending in no result.

And that is an appropriate analogy for MasterChef isn't really about cooking.  It is a sporting event pure and simple.

Why did FB watch the show?  Was he looking for a few tips to refresh the cricketers' tea table next season?   If so, he will have been sadly disappointed, for at no time was a challenge laid down to the aspiring chefs to prepare a balance of sandwiches and cakes.  This is shocking - instead there was all kind of fancy vacuum-sealing, steam-bathing, plate-smearing, confiting, sea bass cooked 5 ways, and lots of other showy-off stuff.  None of the chefs realised that there are times when all a cricketer wants after an afternoon in the field just a plain egg sandwich.

FB notes that there are many different MasterChefs - there is a Celebrity  MasterChef, Junior MasterChef, MasterChef Australia, MasterChef India,  MasterChef this that and most likely the other.  He is therefore developing a new concept for a show with the working title MasterChef Cricket.  It is the search for the ultimate provider of the cricket tea.

The critically important factor about MasterChef Cricket is that FB will be the judge.  While he still thinks that being a Test Match Special commentator is his dream job, being a judge on MasterChef seems to run it a close second.  All you need is the ability to wield a spoon - which FB reckons he can master with a bit of net practice - and the ability to utter a series of nouns in no set order: 'The sweetness; the sourness; the mushrooms; the crispness............'  FB can handle this no problem.  MasterChef Cricket will therefore give him the first step on the ladder.

The challenges facing the contestants will be stretching.   They will have use imagination and flair to exhibit the full range of sandwiches that they can make from a limited set of ingredients - basically eggs, cheese and Branston pickle.  They will have to use precision techniques to cut a Battenberg cake into enough pieces to feed both teams.  They will have to keep the skipper's dog from wolfing the sausage rolls.  They will have to remember to bring the milk.  They will have to demonstrate how they will get the juniors to help with the washing up.

If they get through these rounds, they will face the ultimate challenge.  The empire biscuit challenge.  Can they make an empire biscuit that will convince Fantasy Bob, known as the world's greatest connoisseur of the Scottish patisserie delicacy?

It is a stern test.  The ultimate test.  Only the serious need apply.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Never bettered - a piece of Stilton
According to the reputable scientific publication Nature scientists have recently discovered evidence of cheese and cheese making dating back 7,500 years, to the Neolithic period, in Poland.

This is now accepted as the oldest cheese discovered by archaeologists, beating by several years the elderly cheese in an equally elderly sandwich discovered once in a dusty corner of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club's home dressing room. Carbon dating technology was not available to the club at the time of the sample's discovery, but local research and anecdote suggested that sandwiches of similar character to it were last seen no later than the time of the Picts. Local memory could not say when the Picts had last fulfilled a fixture at Carlton. Scholarly anxiety about dating the sample is now overturned by the new Polish discovery.

However there are many uncertainties about the discovery. In particular Fantasy Bob is sceptical about its authenticity. As far as he understands it cricket was not present in Neolithic Poland so the need for cheese to play its essential role in the cricket tea does not arise. Why would the Neolithic Poles have invented it? There is no evidence that they have invented any other elements of the cricket tea such as chocolate cake. There is therefore more work for scholars to do.

Poland is still in the top ten cheese producers in the world, although the table is led by the USA which produces about 1/3rd of the world's cheese. The majority of this probably goes to make cheeseburgers. The United Kingdom does not feature in the top ten world cheese producers, despite the fact that there are over 700 varieties of British cheese. In 1962, Charles de Gaulle was famously quoted as saying 'How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?' - but that may understate the number of cheese varieties in France which can be reckoned to be nearer 1000. However it may not understate the challenge of governing France. A country without cricket will always have such problems, with or without cheese.

The top cricketing cheese producer is Australia. Australia is also the top cricketing cheese consumer - it is 17th a long way behind the top consumer, Greece, which consumes over 30kg per head of population. The UK languishes at 20 in this list, consuming 11 kg. How does Greece do it - there are no cricket teas to swell consumption.

FB is partial to a bit of cheese. His all time favourite cheese is the English classic Stilton - regrettably all too rarely found as a cricket tea sandwich filling. Test Match Quality.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bobby's Girl

In December 1962 England were undertaking an Ashes Tour under the captaincy of Lord Ted.  They departed with high hopes of bringing back the Ashes but failed, as the series was drawn.

FB has no memory of these events.  In December 1962 he was inclined to listen to the radio on a Saturday morning when Children's Favourites was playing.  He could take or leave the wheezing of Uncle Mac but enjoyed the safe sounds of such tracks as Sparky's Magic Piano and Big Rock Candy Mountain.  But the world was about to change.  Suddenly out of the radio came a sound that got FB sitting up.   It was the perfect lyric to grab his attention - Susan Maughan belting out I Wanna Be Bobby's Girl.  This was her only hit record and reached number 3 in the charts that month.  Test Match Quality.

..........and if I was Bobby's girl what a faithful thankful girl I'd be......................And from FB's continuing point of view, why would she not?

The song followed FB about for some years - sometimes in earnest, sometimes in jest.  But it has never lost its meaning to him.

Mrs FB contends that she was unaware of this song and never in her life sang along with it.  However she says she was aware that England and Australia drew the First Test which finished in Brisbane on 5 December where Lord Ted was bowled for 99 in the second innings.  Mrs FB has many hidden talents.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Autumn Leaves

When Fantasy Bob responded at the weekend to the summons from the Doughty Groundsman for assistance in raking the leaves which cover the Grange Loan HQ of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton, he did not realise that he was taking such a serious risk.

For he now reads that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that over 76,000 people a year are medically treated for injuries related to non-powered garden tools, including rakes. The report tells FB in no uncertain terms 'Improper use of lawn tools along with the potential for tool-related accidents further compounds the risk of injury.'  

The very thought of improper use of lawn tools is something that is anathema to FB so stern has the been the doughty Groundsman's tutelage of him.  It was not always so.  FB has wittered before about a period long ago in his carefree youth when his relations with lawn tools were shamefully casual.  Perhaps as a consequence of those days, he spent many subsequent years assiduously avoiding any use of lawn tools.  A period of lawn tool self denial that ended when he came to Carlton and fell under the tutelage of the DG.

Had FB been aware of the risk he was running in grabbing his rake and getting down to work, he might have examined his insurance arrangements to make sure they cover the consequences of improper use of lawn tools.  He feels lucky to have survived.

Jacques Prevert
For these autumn leaves are so abundant across the ground that they have to be raked into orderly piles and heaped where they are unlikely to smother the grass.  It is one of the seasonal rituals of ground maintenance that must, FB has presumed for many years, have inspired the great standard song Autumn Leaves.  This great song was written in 1946 by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prevert for the film Les Portes de la Nuit.  It was given its English lyric the year after by Johnny Mercer and has been a standard ever since.  Despite its obvious inspiration in cricket ground maintenance the lyricists toy with the listener since neither the French nor the English lyric contains any obvious reference to cricket grounds.  This may not be too much of a surprise since Prevert was a symbolist poet with associations with surrealism.  The listener has to look for the references.   But more worryingly given what FB has lately read, is that there are no reminders to the listeners about the risks of improper use of lawn tools.  No doubt the French are less concerned about such risks.

It is not clear from the career of Jacques Prevert exactly what his attitude to lawn tools was.  What is known is that he was a great screenwriter being responsible for the screenplays of some of FB's favourite films of all time including Les Enfants du Paradis and Le Jour Se Leve.  FB's admiration of these films is despite their failure to address any serious cricketing issue.

There are many versions of Autumn Leaves.  Nat King Cole's version, which was the soundtrack to Robert Aldrich's film Autumn Leaves (1956) which starred Joan Crawford, is among the best known.  But that film did not depict the challenges faced by Doughty Groundsman when leaves fall across their grounds.  Instead it was a melodramatic tale of an older woman, a younger man and mental illness.

But here is an interesting version of this great song from an unexpected source.  Eric Clapton recorded this version on his 2010 album Clapton.  There is some fine guitar work on it.  It is also clear from the blues licks he uses in his solos that likely that he gets the symbolism in the lyrics.  Of course Clapton is a recognised celebrity cricketer so this is no surprise.

A man who knows
about improper lawn tool use

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Sky at Night

A firm number 11 bat -
facing up without his monocle
Fantasy Bob shares the sadness of cricketers throughout this and other galaxies at the death yesterday of  the legendary and unique TV Astronomer Patrick Moore.

FB's hold on astronomy is tenuous.  The Plough, Orion, Cassiopeia maybe and after that it's just a whole lot of other stars.  But FB's ignorance is not something for which Sir Patrick can be held to account.  Perhaps if Sir Patrick had started to rename the constellations after cricketers FB might have retained more but that chance was lost.

The Sky at Night was a programme that FB had long been aware of, he may have watched occasional episodes without comprehending much of the supernova-ing and black-holing and dwarf-starring.  But if didn't quite absorb all the information about the heavens that was available FB recognised and respected Moore's unquenchable enthusiasm for his subject and his self taught expertise.  Moore was a constant guide to FB as he followed the great adventure of the US Moon  Missions and FB was interested to learn that NASA made use of Moore's own maps of the Moon's surfaces.  Maps he had prepared using his own home made telescope.

Some inspiration for FB?
Reading the many tributes and obituaries that have followed the announcement of his death, FB is comforted to find that Moore was a keen cricketer.  He turned out for the Lords Taverners.   FB wonders if he may actually have seen him play for in the very old days before the Sunday League arrived some of the Taverners' matches were televised.  Maybe not.  He is reported to have been a firm number 11 bat whose curious leg breaks were decidedly unusual.  Perhaps his bowling action was accompanied by his 300 word minute commentary inviting the batsman's attention to a crab nebula passing overhead at the precise moment of delivery.

But FB finds that despite his pathetically hopeless grasp of astronoical knowledge, something of Moore's passion must have sunk in.  One of the many books that Moore published was titled Can You Play Cricket on Mars?  Was this an inspiration to FB's less than inquiring mind? It is after all a very good question.  So good that FB himself examined it about a year ago in this post (Life on Mars) about the current Explorer mission.  FB suspects that Moore's answer might have been more convincing than his own.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cook's Numbers

There is universal eulogising of Alistair Cook.  Quite rightly.  His achievement of scoring centuries on each of his first five Tests as captain is unique and he deserves all the accolades for becoming the leading English century maker and the youngest player to 7000 Test runs.   There is lots of natural talent and lots of hard work in this achievement. On current form he is an even money bet to catch up with Tendulkar's record numbers of centuries.

Papers and websites are full of analyses of Cook's impressive statistics.  But what is of interest to Fantasy Bob are Cook's scores in this series. The manner of his dismissal at Kolkata when he lifted his bat from the crease to allow himself to be run out suggests to FB that he wanted to get out on his score at the time 190.  What could he be signalling?

To reach a view on this his other scores in this series have to be considered.

So far in this series he has scored 41,176,122,18*,and now 190

Even FB can see they form no sequence  - although it is worth noting that 190 - 176 is 14 which is the inverse of 41 and that the sum of the digits in his other scores equals 14.  This should tell us something.

But after extensive research here are the factors that are driving Cook's batting.  FB will leave it to his world wide readership to determine whether a higher force is influencing these events.

41 - the number of the last symphony by Mozart also known as the Jupiter.  Jupiter was the Roman king of the Gods - a leadership position equivalent to captain of England

176 - a happy number and abundant number and a cake number this may be one only for number theorists. but at 176 on Rolling Stone's all time top 500 is Don't Worry Baby by the Beach Boys.  A fine track and obviously Cook's message to his team and to all anxious England supporters.

122 - While FB at first thought this might be a reference to the fact that Hadrian's Wall was first constructed in 122AD and that Cook might be making some comment on the campaign for Scottish independence, he thinks that is unconvincing.  it is more likely that Cook is making a comment on the completeness of his being - for in some Tantric philosophy there are claimed to be 122 minor chakras in the human body.  A chakra is a source of energy.

18 - The Hebrew word for life is chai which has a numerical value of 18 giving rise tot eh Jewish custom of .giving monetary gifts in multiples of 18 as an expression of blessing for long life.  18 is also the only number that equals twice the sum of its digits

190 - is another happy number.  But Cook is clearly making reference to the catalogue of the works of Johan Sebastian Bach in which BWV 190 is a cantata.  The full score has been lost, but it sets the text 'Sing a new song to the Lord' (Psalm 96).  Obviously Cook's undemonstrative way of drawing attention to his achievement in becoming the highest English century maker.  This link will take you to the reconstructed cantata.

To a lesser player all this stuff would be a distraction to effective batting.  It is a measure of Cook's quality that he can take all this in his stride and still step down the wicket to smack Ojha back over his head for 6. And all without sweating.  Some player.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Life with Mrs FB has been difficult this week.  Fantasy Bob sensed a certain anxiety a little while ago.    For once he was sure he was not the source.  He was sure that his cricket kit was well stowed for the winter and not lying in just the place that Mrs FB was bound to trip over it.  So there was something else.

And this week it all come out.  As the media spoke with excitement about the presence in Linlithgow this week of Chanel's chief designer Karl Lagerfeld and the prestigious Metier des Arts show  Mrs FB broke down.   'How could he come to Linlithgow and not invite me?' she sobbed to a sympathic FB, 'Have I not spent enough in Chanel over the years?'  FB quickly understood that the second question was rhetorical, for no one could doubt Mrs FB's long term commitment to the celebrated fashion brand.

Lagerfeld with Stella Tenant
modelling new cricket wear in Linlithgow
When sometime ago it was announced that Karl and his entourage of stick thin models would hold their show in Linlithgow, Mrs FB was confident that an invitation would be in the post.  Certainly she was prepared to cede front row seats to lesser celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie whom the media reported to be flying in especially.  But she would be there.  Chanel in Scotland would not be Chanel in Scotland without her presence.

FB shared the anticipation of his loved one.  He would be interested to see what the great Lagerfeld might do with the cricket sweater  and the jock strap - subjects overlooked by haute couture.

But more that that he would be interested to find out how Boghall cricket ground, home of West Lothian CC could be turned into an arena fit for a fashion show.  In his long cricketing career FB has never played at Boghall - a mixture of different leagues and weather caused postponements has ensured this.  But he has from time to time attended the ground as a spectator and always looks out as the train between Edinburgh and Glasgow gives a fine view over the ground.

To be honest, he was uncertain why Chanel would choose Boghall for their show.  He was aware that Coco Chanel was a frequent and fond visitor to Scotland, but he was uncertain whether she had ever been to the cricket at Boghall.  Had she done so, she might have shared FB's view that there seemed nothing particularly fashion-conscious about his fellow spectators the last time he visited.  Indeed the opposite was the case with a distinctly unfashionable array of anoraks and parkas protecting the supposed fashionistas from the summer elements.  But that is the thing about fashion, FB supposes, much of it looks awful and certainly the collection of anoraks and parkas on that day was no less frightful than the latest Paris collections.  Perhaps Chanel identified this as a challenge.  But having reviewed some of the photographs of the show FB considers that Mr Lagerfeld's designs are unlikely to replace more conventional cricketing wear.

Boghall has been home to West Lothian CC since 1969.  Although it is no longer on the list for international matches in its time it has seen a number of Scotland fixtures.  Mathew Hayden scored a century there in 1998 playing for Australia A, a side that also included Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds.  The match was drawn.  So the Chanel fixture would be a welcome return for Boghall to the international circuit.  In addition the event is reported to have generated over £2m for the local economy, although FB suspects that the models involved will spend little in Linlithgow's world class chip shops.

But as the event got nearer it became evident that Mrs FB's claims were being cruelly overlooked.  And FB has had to tread with care around the house.  Mrs FB is reconsidering her brand loyalty and Chanel's prosperity may be in danger.

A shame - for there must have been vacant seats as it seems that, despite all the publicity, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie failed to turn up.  Perhaps they failed to find the ground.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Succession

The executive authorities at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton have taken radical steps to bring the succession to the Carlton throne up to date.

The move, which was approved by all Heads of Commonwealth Governments and the Social Committee of the Carlton Junior Section, will mean that a left-hander can inherit the throne to become President of the Club.  This will end a long tradition of right-handed primogeniture.

A spokesperson for the club said that "People across the realms of the Commonwealth will be celebrating the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first child.

"We can also all celebrate that whether the baby is a left-armer or a right-armer, they will have an equal claim to the throne."

The club is believed to have ignored more radical proposals from Fantasy Bob and will maintain the convention that the heir to the throne should be a cricketer.  This will exclude Fantasy Bob from consideration.  

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Fantasy Bob marks December with the Four Seasons' disco classic December 1963 (What a Night).

This song was released in December 1975 and topped the UK chart in February 1976.  It has been filling dance floors ever since.  Or emptying them when FB gets up and does his stuff.

But for cricketers, late December 1963 is memorable for only one thing - Sir Jack Hobbs died on 21 December 1963 at the age of 81.  It is remarkable - but to their credit - that an ensemble such as the Four Seasons should mark this solemn occasion so.  For cricket is not notable in the rest of their work  (although Let's Hang On may be a song about the challenges of slip catching).

However even they were bound to acknowledge the greatness of Hobbs - chosen in 2000 as one of the Wisden Players of the Century and the all time England XI and all time World XI. Hobbs' Test average of 56.94 remains the fifth best among batsmen to have passed 5,000 runs.   He finished with 61,237 first-class runs and 199 centuries. Half his hundreds came when he was over 40, and he is the oldest man to score a Test century.  He was a mere youth of 46 when he scored 142 at Melbourne on 8 March 1929.  In 1953 he became the first professional cricketer to be knighted.

FB is confident that his world wide readership knowledgeable as they are in these matters are fully familiar with the detail of Hobbs' career so he need not say more.  There are excellent biographies - FB enjoyed John Arlott's elegant 1981 Profile of the Master many years ago and in 2011 a definitive biography by Leo McKinstry was published which is on FB's Christmas list.

Meanwhile Frankie Valli, the unmistakable falsetto lead singer of the Four Seasons, still tours with a band of that name.  As FB understands it they continue to overlook cricket as a subject for songs.  This makes December 1963 all the more remarkable.

In the words of another great Four Season's hit of 1975 Who Loves You?