01/06/2014 § 2 Comments

The silent thwack of imaginary leather on non-existent willow; the ripple of notional one-handed applause; the hypothetical murmur of appreciation at a fine piece of fictional fielding or a dazzling Schrodinger’s catch.

Yes, the Metacricket season is here again.

In recent weeks it has become clear that I don’t belong to a cricket club any more. I belong to a Metacricket club.

For those unfamiliar with the game, here is a brief explanation.

Metacricket is a game whose existence depends on the organisation, anticipation and cancellation of cricket matches.

To qualify as Metacricket, the game must fulfil all of the following criteria:
1. The match must have been scheduled to take place;
2. The match must have to some extent been discussed by some of the participants;
3. The match must then have been cancelled.

In its simplest form, Metacricket consists of a discussion on the following lines:
Club Member: Have we got a game this Sunday?
Team Secretary: Ground’s too wet, so we cancelled.

Metacricket is a rich and immensely varied game, and its possible forms are too numerous to list here. I will merely give a description of some of the commonest examples encountered by the club Metacricketer:

1. The Team Secretary flags up a game four weeks in advance, receives an expression of interest and availability from fifteen or so players, no more than three of whom turn out to be available when the Team Secretary calls to confirm at the beginning of the week of the game in question. The more strenuous the efforts of the Team Secretary to get a team together, and the later in the week the cancellation, the more successful the game of Metacricket.

2. The Team Secretary ensures that eleven players are available, the Fixtures Secretary books the ground, and someone even remembers to buy a match ball. At 11.37 the night before the game the Club Secretary receives a text from his counterpart apologising for the fact that his team can only provide six players, three of whom are Colts.

3. Two full teams are available and ready to play.

It rains all day.

The most successful games of Rain Metacricket are the ones in which everyone feels duty bound to turn up because it’s sunny in the morning, but they all know that the rain is coming in from the west at lunchtime. The immersion of the pitch, at 1.43 pm, under enough water to fill Staines Reservoir fifteen times over, surprises nobody, and the seasoned Metacricketer will not even have bothered to bring their kit, but merely turns up for the inevitable leisurely two pints and four packets of cheesy moments that will only partly make up for the loss of the afternoon’s action. In a variant of this, the rain surprisingly fails to appear, but most of the players have looked at the forecast and made other plans, resulting in the cancellation of the game).

4. Eleven players are selected for a game and turn up expecting a keen renewal of a longstanding and eagerly anticipated fixture, but it turns out that the opposition folded the previous winter and failed to tell anyone. The Club Secretary is elusive when asked if he had confirmed the fixture according to normal practice. The more grounds that are visited in the fruitless pursuit of the fixture, the more successful the game of Metacricket. Bonus points are scored for failed attempts to reach the opposition’s Club Secretary on the day of the match.

5. Both teams turn out in full for the game but are eaten by a dinosaur at 1.57 pm on the day of the game (rare).

It will be clear from the above that it is not enough, if wanting to call oneself a Metacricket team, simply not to play cricket. One must make serious efforts to play cricket but be foiled (often at the last possible minute) by outside agencies over which the organisers have, or at least claim to have, no control. These outside agencies will include such things as: weather, Acts of God, stupidity (of self or of opposition), all-round general fecklessness and many more besides.

By extension, and in the context of Actual Cricket, a Metacricketer is one who appears eager to play cricket but never actually plays. The commonest kind of Metacricketer is the one who, at the pre-season dinner (the good Metacricketer always turns up to the social events), declares themselves “available if selected” for the whole season. When asked by the Team Secretary to play Actual Cricket, however, they turn out to be unavailable. As the season progresses, the reasons for their non-participation become increasingly outlandish, starting with the mundane (“it’s my son’s birthday” or the time-honoured “knee’s playing up”), progressing to the mildly convoluted (“I’d really like to, but my godfather’s invited me to Glyndebourne and I don’t really feel I can turn the old bugger down”) via the implausible (“would you believe it? My old history teacher’s having his retirement party in Prague that weekend”) and culminating with the brazenly and gloriously invented (“we’ve got the Pope coming to stay”).

Perhaps the greatest Metacricketer of all time was Ranulph Purslane-Ampersand, who, in a fifty-eight year career as captain of the Old Dirigibles Cricket Club, never played a single game. His name is so worshipped at the club that it is still, thirty-five years after his death, the first one on the team sheet — although it is always, of course, immediately crossed out.

Metacricket is, in my opinion, the greatest of all games. For those willing to devote the time to it, it can become an all-consuming passion, yielding many years of pleasurable disappointment, disillusion and regret.

It could be seen, in fact, as a metaphor for life itself.

You can

18/05/2014 § 2 Comments

You have many talents.

You can change a fuse.
You can watch Frasier all day long.
You can cycle for an hour without feeling tired.
You can balance a cricket stump on your nose.
You can name all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in order.
You can tell the difference between a rook and a crow.
You can flip a pancake and have it land back in the pan. Most of the time.
You can fix the model train, but you’re not quite sure you could do it again.
You can find the spot on the cat that makes it roll over and show you its tummy.
You can hold your own in three foreign languages, as long as you’re in a restaurant.
You can type at eighty-five words a minute, although not all of them are strictly words.
You can work out the square root of four thousand six hundred and twenty-four in your head.
You can hold a conversation with someone and never give them an inkling that you hate their living guts.
You can make the perfect cappuccino, but rarely do, because you don’t like coffee and it only reminds you of him.
You can stand on the sofa and jump up and down screaming “Go on Mo! Go on! Gooooo ooooon! Yeeeesssss!” But you can only do this twice in your life.
You can hold someone’s hand as they lie dying in a bare hospital room
and even though they no longer know who you are
you know they are registering your existence
and when the final breath finally escapes their lips you stay there, holding their hand,
knowing that you made a difference, but then you ask yourself
“made a difference to what, exactly?”
and the melancholy holds you for three days.

But, despite all this, there is one thing you cannot do.
Nor will you ever be able to.
It is this.
You will never be able to read the end of Winnie the Pooh aloud to your son
without the tears rising in you and taking you over
so that the final words
aren’t really words at all.

Everyone should have something they can’t do.

Book giveaway thing

27/04/2014 § Leave a comment

Some people are reticent about telling the world when it’s their birthday.

Not me.

To celebrate the day, and bearing in mind that I have made a habit of telling people how to celebrate other people’s anniversaries (Facebook friends will know what I mean), and also because I am extremely generous (nod your head and say “yes, Lev, you are extremely generous”) I’m doing a giveaway thing.

The premise is simple: I have three copies of that marvellous book Waving, Not Drowning to give to three people. All you have to do is suggest appropriate ways for a conductor (any old conductor) to celebrate their birthday. The best three, in the opinion of the judges, will win.

The rules:

1. Keep it clean. Seriously. One of the judges is nine years old.

2. Entries in by midnight (BST) tonight (27th April).

3. If you already own a copy of Waving, Not Drowning (there must be some of you), I will either send a copy to a person of your choice or send you a book of my choice.

4. I can’t think of any more rules and we’ve got to go out.

Write your suggestions below, or on Twitter, or on Facebook, or send them to me via very fast pigeon.

Ceci n’est pas un poème

21/03/2014 § 2 Comments

Today is International Poetry Day. Here is my contribution. I have taken Kurt Vonnegut’s words of wisdom to heart:

“Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Ceci n’est pas un poème

There’s an old joke in this here world
That if you take a normal sentence
And then split up
The words
Onto several lines
Like this
Then you have a poem.

Actually it’s not so much a joke
As a knowing comment
Or aperçu.

But is it true?
And how do you do it?


And if you put most of the words on one line and then the last one on another it just looks

I say
If it looks like a poem
And sounds like a poem
And the person who wrote it calls it a poem
Then a poem it is.

Even if it doesn’t rhyme.

Yore a pendant

19/12/2013 § 3 Comments

A small earthquake was reported in the Home Counties this morning.

The cause?

“The military is moving towards less boots on the ground.”

The lips of thousands of enraged Radio Four listeners exploded simultaneously.


The impact was seismic. Tiles were loosened. Garden furniture wobbled. A wall in West Byfleet fell down.

And then the typing began.

“Dear Radio Four, I was appalled to hear chunter chunter fume explode…”

How we love it when Radio Four gets something wrong. How we squirm with outraged delight. And how we enjoy it when they apologise an hour or so later.

It’s exhausting being a pedant. You have to be right all the time. There is nothing worse than being hoist with your own pedantic petard.

And there, of course, the pedants dive in.

“What do you mean ‘Nothing worse’? There are many things worse. Just think of all the people who have nothing chunter chunter fume explode…”

And so the long day wears on.

I waver when it comes to pedantry. Part of me quivers, longing to correct the hapless pedantee. It’s / its. They’re / their / there. You’re / your.

“Your joking,” someone texts / tweets / emails / Facebooks (yes I know “to Facebook” isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a thing. Sue me.)

“My joking what?” I reply (in my head – I don’t quite dare commit it to the ether).

But while one part of me quivers, the rest of me is painfully aware of the sad truth: the trouble with pedantry is that you tend to look like a bit of a prissy do-gooding git with nothing better to do than flaunt your perceived superiority over whomsoever you happen to be conversing with at the time. It’s not an attractive look. You can’t be a graceful, good-humoured, life-and-soul-of-the-party-type pedant. It’s the prissy way or no way at all.

And the other trouble with it is that language changes. If it didn’t we’d still be thouing and wouldsting each other instead of, like, omging and, like, loling, you know? Because language.

[That last sentence, by the way, is, so I’m told, correct nowadays. Because + noun = correct sentence. Because internet. I share your pain and raise you a hit of pure agony.]

Anyway, if you take the evolution of language back to its (‘it’s’? ‘i’ts’?) logical conclusion, we’d still be wriggling at each other in a single-celled haven’t-evolved-out-of-the-primordial-soup-yet kind of way.

So, yes, languages, like life forms, evolve.

But I’ll be buggered if you’ll get me to accept that the only reasonable reaction to the word “webinar” isn’t to vomit noisily on the person who said it.

Anyway, the “Radio Four got it wrong” thing led me to a brief burst of “Film Titles To Annoy Pedants”. Feel free to add your own.

For Who The Bell Tolls

The King and Me

Its A Wonderful Life

Me, Claudius

South Specific

To Of and Of Not

Brewsters Million’s

‘Tis the season

04/12/2013 § 5 Comments

Hello. Me again.

I’ve been off here for a while. Various reasons.

Sometimes I was on the verge of posting but then realised what I was going to write was pathetic; on other occasions I got halfway through writing something and got distracted by Borgen or something else altogether more worthwhile.

I half-wrote an amusing post about how the car broke down as a result of my devil-may-care attitude to fords. It contained the sentences “I’ve got a trolley jack” and “We’ve had a look, and there’s a leak in the minun ilmatyynyalus on täynnä ankeriaita.”

Oh how you would have laughed, if only I’d had the perseverance to finish it.

Mostly, though, I’ve just been too busy. Hurrah.

Anyway, to the point. I’d like to ask a favour.

You will have had a hard time, if you’re anything close to being connected to me, avoiding the appearance of my book Waving, Not Drowning earlier this year. Quite a few of you have bought it, for which you are in receipt of my refulgent gratitude.

Some of you might even have gone so far as to read it.

If you’re like me, though, it’s probably sitting in the exponentially-expanding “To Be Read” pile.

No matter. Such is life.

If you’re in the “already bought it” group, well, thank you – it really means a lot that people are willing to spend their hard-embezzled cash on the fecund outpourings of my diseased imagination. If you do happen to have read it, and, further, to have enjoyed it, golly gosh I’d be grateful if you felt able to spread the word. The idea, having produced the damn thing, is to sell it, and what with Christmas and everything…

You get the idea.

Even the distribution of a simple link to, accompanied by a note on the lines of “I have read this and can confirm that it is a book” can work wonders. Or perhaps a brief review here, supposedly the golden key to increased sales. That would be brilliant. Or, if you hated every word of it and used it as a firelighter, perhaps your announcement could be more on the lines of “Buy this book! It burns slowly.”

Of course, if you haven’t bought it yet, well…’tis the season for subtle hints.

Again, you get the idea.

There is, it should hardly need stating, no obligation for anybody to do anything. But if you did – as I say, gratitude of a refulgent nature. Heaps of it.


Oh, and listen to this. It’s about music and that and it’s brilliant.

Not So Vicious Cycle

07/08/2013 § 5 Comments

It was that perfect day.

People — a lot, but not too many; a sporting event — exciting, but not too important; London — beautiful, but…

Ah, you see, there it falls down. Because London was almost too beautiful. St. James’s Park had the kind of perfection that has God sitting back in Her lounger, caipirinha in Her left hand and a smug smile on Her face.

“See that? See the late evening sun angling through the trees and glinting on the water? See the cross section of humanity strolling companionably across the grass, coexisting peacefully in a way only dreamed of by even the most enlightened of world leaders? Yeah. I did that.”

Mother Nature pokes God in the ribs.


“Well ok then, you might have done a bit of it, but it was my idea.”

The ghosts of John Nash, Edward Blore and Aston Webb swoop down to remind them that without the tantalising glimpse of Buckingham Palace through the trees the experience would be much diminished and they would like some of the credit thank you very much. They pick up an olive each and swoop away again.

And so the long day wears on.

We were at an event called Freecycle. The idea behind it was one that, shorn of context, would have had Norman Tebbit smiling with quiet yet somehow sinister pleasure: to get us on our bikes. And so we did: 50,000 of us, apparently, all imbued with a faint but benevolent air of superiority and a feeling that surely it couldn’t be this simple. Was the solution to society’s ills really just a question of dispensing with the motor car and all its pestilential offshoots? For a while there, as we pootled along the Victoria Embankment admiring the view and the silence, I was seized with missionary zeal.

This, I thought, this is the future. Banish the motor car from central London. Force everyone to cycle or walk to work. Shoot those who refuse. It’s the future. Or, rather, The Future, because the really big ideas deserve capital letters.

Then I was cut up by a dickhead doing wheelies, and the dream was shattered.

Because the truth is that whatever form of transport you favour, you can’t banish the dickhead.

The dickhead might be bike-wheelie-guy, walk-blindly-into-oncoming-traffic-while-texting-girl, run-down-the-tube-platform-and-jump-onto-the-train-as-the-doors-are-closing-then-push-them-apart-just-before-they-crush-you-to-death-even-though-there’s-another-train-coming-in-two-minutes-man, or my personal favourite: stand-in-the-way-so-that-people-have-to-walk-through-you-when-they-get-off-the-train–before-you-can-get-on-woman. And myriad variations thereto.

The common factor uniting all these dickheads is, of course, that they are always someone else. You are never, ever the dickhead.

And it’s absurd to think that, deprived of their natural habitat (the motor car) the Lesser Urban Dickhead will miraculously disappear. No, they will merely disperse themselves and reform, somehow strengthened, to torment you once more. Just like the liquid metal terminator in Terminator 2.

Having said that, it would be safe to say that there were fewer LUDs on display than usual.

And it really was very peaceful.

After we’d cycled the loop we hung around in Green Park waiting for the racing to begin. A band played beneath a big screen, the sound disconcertingly out of sync with the pictures.

They were good. I’m not really sure of my genres, but they seemed to me to be playing a brand of Mimsy-Folk with Sub-Funk Stylings, cross-fertilised with lashings of Quasi-World-Guitary-Type-Stuff. Things were distinctly unpromising at first, but as soon as the girl with the flower in her hair put away the violin and started singing, prospects improved, and we gradually succumbed to a languid contentment such as can only be experienced on a warm afternoon in a London park when you’ve got nothing much to do but listen to Mimsy-Folk while waiting for a cycle race to begin.

The lead singer, apparently mistaking a few hundred people sitting on the warm Green Park grass for a crowd of half a million at Glastonbury, told us “You can get up and dance. Let’s do this!”

We respectfully declined his invitation.

Then he announced that, as a gift from the sponsors of one of the teams in the bike race we were all waiting for, he would be throwing free T-shirts from the stage into the assembled throng.

It was at this point that the true nature of the human soul made itself known.

Let’s remember that on offer were a few free T-shirts.

Not gold. Not the elixir of eternal life. Not even personally engraved iPhones.

T-shirts. T-shirts, furthermore, emblazoned with the logo of a company that most people had, until that moment, neither heard of nor given two hoots about.

Jiminy Cricket, you should have seen them. Women trampled their own children underfoot. Grown men sprinted Bolt-like towards the stage, throwing OAPs over their shoulders as they went. I swear I saw a little old lady trip a teenager with her stick and mouth the words “Back off, punk, if you know what’s good for you.”

As the supply of T-shirts dwindled, an exhausted collective whimper was clearly audible.

“Must. Have. T-shirts. Can’t…live…without…T…shirts…uuhhh…”

Eventually the bounty ran out, leaving the triumphant T-shirt-baggers basking in the glory of their hard-won spoils, and the bedraggled losers contemplating what might have been.

Our faith in humanity somewhat shaken, we collected our things and sauntered back to St. James’s Park to watch elite athletes cycle round and round. The atmosphere was redolent with that feeling that’s been in the air recently, a feeling that with enough effort we could make it feel a bit like the Olympics again. People smiled at each other in a non-London kind of way. The sun shone. Sanity seeped back into our souls.

The race was a good one, although we didn’t see that much of it. Laura Trott won it, as she does.

But best of all, it was free.

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