You never see it coming

It’s a well-known fact that someday, inevitably, we turn into our parents.  Habits, phrases and behavioural quirks that we swore would never become part of our daily routine end up sneaking in like a weasel through some form of genetic osmosis.  Resistance is futile and it’s safest to accept the inevitable and enjoy the ride.  There’s a great difference between noticing certain traits that have been handed down from parent to child and that specific point where it’s clear that the transformation is complete, but you’ll know it when it comes.  I did.

For some time now I have been walking into rooms for something, forgetting what it was, doing something else, then remembering what it was only by walking back to the exact location at which I first realised there was something I needed to get in the first place.  I have on various occasions found my pen in the toothbrush holder, my toothbrush in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard where we keep the teacups, but even this didn’t strike me as marking the definitive move over to the parent-side.  I was expecting the change to be rubber-stamped the day I rushed to answer the phone because a phone rang on the TV programme I was watching (which didn’t sound at all like the house phone) and I’ve been watching out for this particular event hawk-like for some time.  Maybe this was the problem and I must have taken my eye off the ball, because a couple of weeks ago I made a conscious decision to not simply complete the transformation, but to smash right through any kind of behavioural barrier than may have existed between myself and the intimate generation above.

The County cricket season started extraordinarily early this year, in the first week of April.  March had been balmy, giving hope that this early start might be justified weather-wise.  But the Gods of cricket have not built up a formidable reputation for nothing, and on Thursday 5th April a Baltic wind swept the Country, heralding the first day of the County Championship.  Undeterred, I headed to perennial strugglers Leicestershire and their pretty Grace Road ground.  A surprisingly large crowd (not quite into triple figures, but this is division 2) had gathered to see if Leicestershire could make a good start against Glamorgan.  Not quite a battle of the Titans admittedly but Glamorgan were the only side that Leicestershire had managed to beat in the last 12 months.  Two balls into the match, Leicestershire were 0 for 2.  When I turned up, they were 7 for 3.  I took my seat next to a woman, at least I think it was a woman; it was difficult to tell because she was wearing an anorak and furry hood tied tightly so as to resemble a periscope; a tartan rug was wrapped around the knees.  It was the sort of day on which Captain Oates might have stayed inside.  Still, as the scene unfolded before me, it still didn’t occur to me that I had completed the transformation by merely being here at this Cathedral of cricket on such a polar day.  However, as lunchtime approached and I delved into my bag to collect the goodies I had brought, it became all very apparent.  Crisps – check; Wispa – check; bottle of water – check.  Wait a minute!  3 separate tupperware pots!  How did they get in there?  As if in a dream, I had carefully placed the main ingredients for my picnic into different sized tupperwares.  There was one for the pork pie (it was Leicestershire remember), a smaller one for my slab of cheddar and the smallest was reserved for a smear of Branston pickle.  Yes, really – Branston pickle in a tupperware.  This was the moment I had been expecting for some years and I could imagine my Dad sitting there, next to me on the cold plastic seat, under leaden skies, and as another Welsh medium-pacer of little regard turned at the top of his run-up I could see Dad nodding to me with a mixture of pride and pity: ‘you’re one of us now, son’.  

In pursuit of happiness part 1

I’m currently experiencing the first few days of ‘nothing’ that comes with an ‘all or nothing’ job. The ‘all’ is term time, and the ‘nothing’ is the holidays. This is a job like no other; I reckon that I probably work the same number of hours per year as someone in a comparable Monday to Friday job, and I’m certainly not trying to suggest (as many teachers would) that I work any harder over the course of an average year. However, I cram my working year into about 35 weeks, as opposed to the 48 that is the norm. This isn’t necessarily better or worse, it’s just different. I have lots more days off, some that I cherish, others that bore me rigid. It’s irritating that in order to attend a wedding on a saturday, I need someone to cover my lessons for me; when I go on holiday, it’s always expensive flight time. On the flip side, I spent yesterday afternoon in Chelsea barracks, looking enviously at art that I’ll never be able to afford and drinking free Ruinart champagne. My official next day of work is 1st September, so there are definitely perks too.

I’m always amazed at how many teachers spend term-time weeks wishing their life away, raising eyebrows in the common room towards the end of term as they wearily state ‘just ten more days’, as if the job they do is some kind of pergutaory before the joy of long holidays stretch out before you, brimming with exciting possibility. These are often the same people that when you speak with them at awkward staff drinks at the start of the next academic year (very probably the only time you’ll talk that year) describe their summer activities as having been spent ‘just pottering about’.

It’s a difficult balance to strike. Most ‘normal’ people work very hard from Monday to Friday, and are delighted at the arrival of the weekend – Friday night drinks, saturday lie-in with Adam and Joe, sport in the afternoon, Ant or Dec in the evening. Sunday papers, late gastropub lunch with friends, sunday night work panic; it’s got a nice sense of familiarity. This doesn’t happen in my world. It’s seven day a week boarding School life, then acres of holiday time. Monday is the same as Friday is the same as Sunday, in the holidays as well as at work. At work, my life is structured to the nth degree, and every minute tends to be planned out. The holidays hit, and my life-framework is pulled apart, and suddenly I have decisions to make. ‘The Wright stuff’ of Jeremy Kyle? It’s not a life-or-death one, but the very fact that either have become possibilities makes it imperative to get out of the house as often as possible.

But how does one turn from a frankly boring one-conversationed teacher to exciting holiday-type fun-seeker? It soon becomes patently obvious that most people don’t have the time for long lunches, and if they do, they have to go back to work at some point in the afternoon. Going on holiday is one thing, and being away from home (actually on holiday in the traditional sense) makes it easy to put work behind you. Reading is another pleasure that is curtailed for 35 weeks a year, and my rate of getting through books during term-time is embarrassingly low. I’m piling through ‘One Day’ at the moment, and that’s the part 2 of the happiness theme. County cricket (one place where it’s de rigeur to look like a lonely man) is another saviour of the summer.

One of the things that makes me feel that I’m in the right job is that I probably enjoy term-time as much as the holidays. If I were to live for the holidays, I’d consider that too much of my life (the work part) was being wished away. If I felt at a total loose end for 9 weeks every summer, that would be wholly depressing. Life’s full of specks of happiness, and I probably get as many of them during work periods. The fun rarely lasts so long, and is far less hedonistic, but it’s also the sneaky snatched nature of it that makes it such fun in the first place. Holiday fun can be far more more exuberant and showy, but when you’ve no contstraints of time or money, it’s always going to feel a little more hollow. Score draw all round I say; after all, Gatsby never seemed all that pleased by the time his ‘pulpless halves’ went out on a Monday morning….

It just is cricket

I’ve just returned from my big sporting adventure of the summer, namely a weekend away in beautiful Worcestershire, playing cricket. Barring a possible guest appearance for Wroxeter CC up in Shropshire (Jamie, August 21st, 2pm, I know…), I have now completed my rigorous schedule for the summer. Cricket must be the only sport where you can end up weighing more at the end of the game than you did at the start (apart from perhaps the sport of competitive eating, but at least you’re likely to vomit it all up at the end of the session with CE). On both of the days I played, I had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I still managed to sandwich (excuse me) the most important of all cricket rituals into the day: the cricket tea. I could write a league table of Independent Schools based on their cricket teas, using my own School days as a reference (incidentally, St Edward’s Oxford and Hailebury always came out at the top), and the tea is as integral a part of the day as either of the innings, and often informs as much of the conversation in the pub afterwards. Here’s a quick run-down of the essentials:

1. Sandwiches/buns: simplicity is the key here, with ham and mustard and cheese and pickle being staples. Brie and cranberry is at the other end of the spectrum, and should be avoided at all costs (not due to calorific content, you understand).
2. Cake: ideally home-made by a rotund wife of one of the team stalwarts. Ideally one slice should be big enough perhaps not to sink a battleship, but at least to make sure that everyone’s fighting to field at first slip for the second innings. Victoria sandwich and good old chocolate cake set the standard. Nothing with coffee please.
3. Waggon wheels/penguin biscuits/jaffa cakes: WW should be there to ensure that everyone can discuss whether they’ve got smaller over the years (actually it’s more likely that your adult hands are bigger than your child hands). Penguin biscuits for the jokes (and because they’re actually lovely), and jaffa cakes so that the team bore can attempt to start a conversation about whether they’re biscuits or cakes. Tiresome.
4. Tea and orange squash: there should be a rule against drinking anything else. The orange squash should either be so dilute as to resemble a homeopathic remedy, or so concentrated that you can only remove it from your teeth with a toothbrush. Tea is the staple of the elder members of the team, though it makes us all feel manly.
5. Something that no-one eats: this may be the white chocolate biscuits, or the punnet of fruit, but there’s always something that need to remain untouched, possibly to be given as a sacrifice to the cricketing Gods, much as the miners used to leave some of their pasty in the mines, or something…

Here are some things you should never serve:

1. Anything ‘foreign’: I found this out as I attempted to serve quesadillas to the good men of Wem last year. I was regarded with the suspicion that Texans reserve for homosexuals and thin people. Stick simple, cricket caterers.
2. Salad: even if this is served as part of a ‘proper’ lunch, with ham and new potatoes, the chances are that no-one will eat it. If you serve it, you will be regarded with the same level of suspicion as in point 1.
3. Gatorade/other sports drinks: playing in Shropshire division 6 (or likewise) is great fun, but you don’t want to look like you’re trying to raise the level of your game by that 1-2% that’ll tip you over the 45mph mark on the speedometer. Best to look as though you’re taking the game only a bit seriously.
4. ‘Branded’ crisps: for some reason, monster munch or wotsits just look wrong on the cricket tea table, unless of course you’re playing for the under 9s, in which case they’ll be lapped up before anything else.
5. Alcohol: there’s always one peasant who feels the need to neck 3 cans of strongbow during the tea interval. This will not impress anyone, save the 2 straggley sunburned chavettes who’ve turned up in bikini tops and jeggings, and you probably had a pretty good chance with them back in ‘Velvet’ anyway, didn’t you?

But what about the cricket, I hear you ask? We won one, we lost one, and it didn’t rain.

Out of Africa

All of my previous blog entries have been written with a sense of calm. I’ve tapped lightly on the keyboard, whilst transferring my rambling thoughts from brain to screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve been impassioned to write this latest entry, but maybe I’m tapping just a little harder.

Here’s the facts that have brought about this feverish state of mind: tonight, Ghana played Uruguay in the 1/4 finals of the World Cup. It’s a 1/4 final that not many would have predicted, though it has a sense of importance: Uruguay won the first two World Cups, and Ghana are Africa’s last representative at the first African World Cup. To put you out of your misery, in case you haven’t seen: Uruguay won. On penalties. A harsh way to go for Ghana, certainly, but a ‘fair’ lottery. But maybe it shouldn’t have gone to that lottery, because right at the end of the game, Ghana were awarded a penalty, which would have taken them through, had they converted it. Not just any penalty mind, but one awarded for deliberate cheating, when an outfield player for Uruguay (subsequently sent off) handled the ball deliberately on the line. Anyway, Ghana missed it, cue much gnashing of teeth and cries of unfair play.

Yes, it is unfair, but so was England’s goal that was ruled not to have crossed the line, and so is any goal that is chalked off for an incorrect linesman’s flag. But that’s the beauty of sport. So much rests on key decisions, and often they are called wrong. It’s human error, only this time it’s from the officials, not from those on the pitch. Are the officials expected to be infallible? Of course not, they are only human, like the players. They make mistakes, but their impartiality is never called into question, and surely that’s the most important thing. Sport is great because it throws up upsets, because the best don’t always come first, because the story doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s unpredictable, and that’s often the best thing about it.

The script said that Ghana should have gone through tonight. That much is obvious. The African people were behind them, and the World outside of South America were behind them. But to pity them is to patronise them, and this is something that Africa has endured more of than most. If the situation was reversed, and a Ghanain player had handled on the line, Uruguay would have had the chance to win the game. The Ghanain player would have been lauded, and the World would have accepted it far more readily. There’s no great sportmanship in football any more, because it’s only partly a game, and the money and National expectation have placed it on such a pedestal that we have lost the sense of football as entertainment, and see it only as winning or losing, as justice being done or not. I’ve seen the Ghana players holding up mock yellow cards in an attempt to get the referee to book the players of other teams. They’re no worse than the Uruguayans, or any others, but it’s a sad indictment of what football has become.

Anyway, here’s the solution: man handles deliberately on line, goal is awarded, man stays on pitch. Fair.

Just one further observation, and a pet hate of mine: the sense of ‘deserving’ in football. By this I mean the situation where a team dominates play, squanders chances, and ends up losing 1-0 to the opposition’s only meaningful attempt on goal. You did not ‘deserve’ to win. Football is about putting the ball in the back of the net, and no more. If they score more than you, you deserve to lose, not win, because possession, shots on target etc mean nothing, apart from to Andy Gray and other football analysts. It’s an odd concept, and seemingly unique to football. We love the sense of justice being done, and are up in arms when the perception is that this isn’t the case. It’s not solely a British thing, but it’s most definitely ‘not cricket’…