Late Christmas Presents…
December 30, 2010

David Cameron hasn’t had much to say for himself lately, leaving Cleggy to pick up the pieces of a coalition government in disarray, but he hasn’t taken his eye off the ball and was quickly off the mark yesterday cashing in on England’s Ashes victory by referring to it as a ‘great late Christmas present’.

There is nothing like sporting success to lift the mood of the nation and we certainly need it with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development already predicting unemployment is set to hit a seventeen year high during 2011. But that’s for another day…            

As expected it didn’t take too long for England to wrap up a historic innings victory on the fourth day of the 4th Test at the MCG.

There is no doubt this is not a great Australian team and before the series started, it could have been argued, on paper there was very little between the sides. However the Aussies, playing in their own backyard, have become so accustomed to pummeling the whingeing poms over the last 24 years that there was always an underlying feeling of inevitability about the eventual outcome.    

But not so, England have comprehensively out batted, out bowled and out fielded the Aussies, with the exception of the opening day of the series, in Brisbane, and a couple of sessions at Perth when Mitchell Johnson finally clicked into gear and bowled them briefly back into the series.

England’s preparation and attention to detail has been outstanding and much credit should go to Andy Flower’s coaching team and captain Andrew Strauss. All that now remains is to ensure, that with the Ashes secured, they don’t allow the Aussies any crumbs of comfort in the final Sydney Test.

With the Aussies in such disarray anything less than a 3-1 series victory might be considered disappointing!  How long is it since we have been able to say that?  

It will be interesting to see how the notoriously unsentimental Australian selectors deal with the Ponting question. He is great player at the fag-end of his career.

He could be dropped due to his dismal batting form, where unthinkably he is averaging just 16 for the series. Alternatively he could be omitted due to the hand injury, sustained in Perth, which he struggled with at the MCG.

Punter is nothing if not a battler and deserves a final chance to show that he isn’t quite finished.    

I’m sure celebrity cricket supporter Sir Elton John will have considered England’s victory the icing on his seasonal cake  following the announcement of his own special Christmas gift – a surrogate son born to him and his partner David Furnish.

I’ve always been an Elton fan, both of his music and personality. Let’s be honest he does genuinely fall into that increasingly over used category, national treasures.

However, on this occasion, I’m not at all sure about a 63-year-old pop star, still touring and living a highly publicised superstar lifestyle, arguably acquiring a newborn baby as if he were some sort of fashion accessory.

I hope I am wrong and that the happy couple can provide Zachary Jackson Levon with the start in life that he deserves.

Elton, formerly Reg Dwight, is also well-known, at least in Nottingham, as the nephew of Roy Dwight who scored for Forest in their 1959 FA Cup victory over Luton Town.

Elton’s uncle opened the scoring after 10 minutes. However with 33 minutes gone, and  Forest winning 2-0, Dwight was carried off the Wembley pitch after breaking his leg in a tackle.

These were the days before substitutes were allowed but Forest held on, winning the match 2-1, to become the only team reduced to 10 men by injury to lift the trophy.

Which brings me nicely to last night and the current Forest team who presented their fans with, the best possible late Christmas present, a beautifully gift wrapped 5-2 victory over local rivals Derby County.

The rivalry between the two clubs is as intense as any in the country. Both have seen better days but currently share aspirations of returning to the Premiership.

How often do former players return to haunt their old clubs? Last night was no exception. Marcus Tudgay and Robbie Earnshaw both picked up a brace for the Tricky Trees and Kris Commons withstood a torrent of boos to slot home one of his trademark free kicks for the Rams.    

The following is purloined from the http://www.thisisderbyshire website and will be music to the ears of Forest fans everywhere:

Forest’s pace and attacking play combined with Derby’s wretched defending made it a nightmare night for the Rams.

It was the first time in more than 100 years Derby had conceded five goals to the Reds. The last time was in March 1904.

The Rams are leaking goals at an alarming rate. Seventeen have found their net in the last seven games.”

Happy New Year!

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And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!