Last of the Summer Wine!
September 4, 2010

It has been a last of the summer wine type of week all round. Glowing late summer days have been followed by chilly autumnal evenings and the nights are certainly drawing in. This year I will miss  ‘autumn days when the grass is jewelled…….’  in more ways than one!

This is the week that was:

The BBC series Last of the Summer Wine took its final bow  after an incredible run of 37 years and 31 series. To be honest, despite its endearing gentle northern humour and quirky characters, I felt its sell by date had passed some time ago but I do look back with some fondness on the early series with Foggy, Compo, Clegg and dear old Nora Batty.

Tony Blair was conveniently away on a journey to the States when his book of the same name became the fastest selling autobiography of all time. Mind you most outlets had it on sale at half price from the outset. Could that be because the proceeds are going to the British Legion not lining the pockets of the author?

I haven’t bought the book but having seen the newspaper coverage and listened to Mr Blair on a number of pre-recorded programmes I feel like I’ve read it!

In a nutshell, the reviews have concentrated on Blair’s difficult relationship with Gordon Brown , who he describes as ‘brilliant’  but lacking ‘emotional intelligence,’ and the  not unsurprising lack of an apology over the invasion of Iraq, despite his ‘anguish’ over the UK deaths in the war.

There has also been reference to Tony’s revelations that he turned to drink whilst in office and his apparent obsession with proving he is a red-blooded alpha male – too much information!      

With the return of the political hacks from their summer hols, Blair was quickly followed on to the front pages by Foreign Secretary William Hague, sporting a tight-fitting, long sleeved white T-shirt and baseball cap. This not a good look when your sexuality is being called into question!

Mr Hague has vigorously denied rumoured accusations, started by Guido Fawkes in his political blog, and claims he has never had a gay relationship. He then rather misguidedly, in my opinion, attempted to back up his defence with reference to several recent miscarriages by his wife Ffion.

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything! He might have done better to have kept his head down (and lost the baseball cap!)   

The tabloids have also been to work on Fabio Capello following his complaint that they had turned him from a god to a monster.

Big mistake Fabio, huge! He was immediately portrayed on several back pages as Frankenstein’s monster, an image (reminiscent of Turnip Taylor) that I’m afraid he will have to learn to live with!  

Never the less Fabio’s new look England team answered his and their critics, in the best possible way, with a 4–0 win over Bulgaria in last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game.

Jermaine Defoe helped himself to a fine hat trick, Rooney began to find his feet again, Walcott injected the turn of speed that was missing in South Africa, Milner was at his industrious best and in Joe Hart we look to have found a secure keeper at long last.

The only disappointment was seeing Forest old boy Michael Dawson’s full international debut ending on a stretcher.     

The Premiership Rugby  season kicks off today. Gloucester have had a good pre-season beating two strong Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Ospreys, and narrowly losing at Munster.

World Cup winning England centre, Mike Tindall, has been named as captain and if he stays fit will have a big part to play in Gloucester’s continuing development. I’m quite optimistic about their chances of a top four place this season and hopefully they will get off to a flyer this afternoon, away at premiership newcomers Exeter.

Whilst the Pakistan spot fixing saga rumbled on Kevin Peterson, having been rested  from England’s forthcoming one day matches, had to make a public apology for venting his disappointment by tweeting an expletive!  

Meanwhile the Notts cricketers seem to be stumbling their way to the finishing line, having lost fairly emphatically to Durham yesterday. However they are still 22 points clear at the top of the County Championship with just two games to play. Hopefully, this will be their year and they can make the step up from being seemingly perpetual runners-up.

So, that was the week that was! My last in the UK for a while.

Last night there was an enjoyable  last supper, and last glass, at The Railway in the nearby village of Ripple. They do the best home-made fish and chips in the area!   

Thanks to all those who have sent cards, emailed, and called this week with best wishes. Next time you hear from me, internet permitting, will be from Rwanda.

I fly out  from Heathrow at 21.00 and hopefully should be met by a VSO representative in Kigali at mid-day tomorrow.  

It’s time to check my bags, take my malaria tablet, and enjoy a final piece of toast and Marmite before the great adventure begins. Murabeho!

                                   

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Aliens at ‘eadingley!
July 23, 2010

It were right cold at ‘eadingley yesterday!

Beneath leaden skies and sheltering from a biting wind full of Yorkshire grit, a sparse crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. It was a day for a flat cap, muffler and a thermos of piping hot cream of tomato soup.

The aliens clattered down the steps of the ufo that has alighted amidst the old north stand striking a discordant note that reverberates around this historic Leeds sporting venue. It carries the name, the Carnegie Pavilion!

The scene might have been from a Spielberg movie. It was not difficult to imagine little green men emerging from this equally green monstrosity, but instead it was the alien cricketers of Pakistan and Australia who had been condemned to play this second test, of a two match series, in some distant corner of England’s green and pleasant land.     

The local Asians and Australians have not responded in the numbers expected when Headingley was selected to stage this match. The occasional crescent and star twinkled against a fluttering green background but there were precious few men from down under sporting the gold and green.

Those Yorkshire members present had come largely out of curiosity and the opportunity to watch some international cricket, devoid of the emotional commitment involved when England play. Of course they were not averse to rooting for Pakistan, based on the anybody but the Aussies principle, and to offering captain Ricky Ponting the benefit of their combined wisdom and wit!

However, late in the day RP had the last laugh, well more a grim smile of determination really. His Australian team, although still behind in the game, had rallied from their catastrophic first day dismissal for 88 restricting Pakistan’s first innings lead to only 170, when it should have been much more, and by the end of play had all but eliminated the deficit for the loss of only two wickets.

On the way Ponting had survived a first ball appeal for lbw, that looked plumb to every one in the ground but umpire Rudi Koertzen, and made the most of this good fortune to register the top score to date, a determined 61 not out. Along the way, when on 40, he passed a significant personal milestone of 12,000 test match career runs which puts him 2nd in the all time list of scorers.

In recent years Ponting has often been subject to English boos and jeers when walking out to be bat (not cricket in my opinion) but thankfully the Yorkshire faithful gave him the tremendous ovation his achievement deserves.

It was a day of records in the cricketing world. Thousands of miles away in Galle, a wonderful cricket setting I once visited when holidaying in Sri Lanka and now thankfully restored following the tsunami of 2004, Muttiah Muralitheran, wizard of spin, claimed his 800th test wicket.

It was achieved in dramatic style, Muri in his last match before retiring from test cricket, taking the final Indian wicket to win the match for Sri Lanaka and end his career on a land mark figure which is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Meanwhile, nearer to home, Stuart Broad bowled my team, Notts, to an emphatic victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He finished with a career best 8-52 in what was a rare appearance for the county due to his central contract with England.

This result leaves Notts nicely poised to take the lead in the county championship race and they still have a game in hand on current leaders Yorkshire.

Nest Thursday Broad and, Notts team-mate, Graham Swann will be returning to England International duty in the First Test against Pakistan at their home ground, Trent Bridge. I hope to be there, weather permitting.

Now that is a ground with a proper pavilion!

Silly Hats, Strawberries & Streakers – The Great British Summer!
June 20, 2010

World Cup Final tournaments are addictive; they should carry a government health warning!

Admittedly the football, in South Africa, has hardly set the pulses racing, largely due to negative tactics and coaches preoccupied with self-preservation. Never the less the atmosphere is vibrant, results have been refreshingly unpredictable and the ongoing debate over the suspect ball and the omnipresent vuvuzela, have all been riveting for the football enthusiast. Not to mention the soap opera which the England team has become! Hopefully the best is yet to come, in the final group matches and knock out stages.          

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the ‘greatest show on earth’ and largely neglected by the national media, the great British sporting summer rolls on. It is of course the traditional season for silly hats, strawberries and streakers!   

This week at Royal Ascot the premier flat race meeting has come and gone with barely a by your leave. But even this traditional preserve of the sport of kings was infiltrated by the World Cup, with a Ladies’ Day vuvuzela hat, paraded on the front page of Friday’s Times newspaper.         

The Wimbledon Championship, at the All England Club, has crept upon us almost un-noticed. As from tomorrow, tennis enthusiasts will be descending on SW19, hoping for that elusive British success but ever ready to drown their sorrows with lashings of Pimms and strawberries. Normally the sports pages would have been hyping up Andy Murray’s chances for the last week or so, but in this World Cup year he has barely rated a mention. Hopefully this might work in his favour?

Similarly the razzmatazz of the county cricket T20 competition is passing us by and the forthcoming one day internationals will probably go unnoticed by many. Not by me though! I’m looking forward to making my debut, at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, for the day/night England v Australia game. I’m looking forward to seeing Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann (a couple of part-time  Notts players) and, weather permitting, I anticipate it might prove the perfect antidote to England’s football performance against Slovenia on Wednesday!  

Yesterday, on the other side of the world, in Sydney, the England ruby team raised their game, at long last, and ‘hammered’ the Aussies 20-21! It was their first win ‘down under’ since they lifted the World Cup in 2003 (on the same ground) and only their second away win in two years. But this narrowest of victories might prove vital in England’s rehabilitation process, almost certainly keeping Martin Johnson and his coaching team in their positions until after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and perhaps proving the turning point we’ve been waiting for. Ever the optimist!

I don’t like to upset my Welsh family members by referring to their latest performance against the All Blacks, so I suggest they look away now. They were soundly thrashed 42-9!

Finally a mention for Formula 1 (Scalextric for grown ups!) where two Brits continue to the lead the way in what is becoming a highly competitive championship. It was good to see the oft maligned Lewis Hamilton back at is his best in Montreal and last year’s champion Jenson Button proving he wasn’t a one hit wonder!  Next up his Valencia, in a week’s time and then Silverstone on World Cup Final day!

I wonder what odds I might get on England to win the World Cup, Andy Murray to lift the men’s singles and a Hamilton/Button 1-2 in the British Grand Prix? Dream on!