I like to ride my bicycle. Sort of.

10/06/2015 § Leave a comment


10.15 pm
I cycle from my home in West Norwood to Crystal Palace Park. About ten minutes, most of it uphill. My legs never enjoy the uphill thing, but this time they somehow intuit that this is not a one-off, merely the prelude to a long night of activity. They chide me gently.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Too late now,” I reply. “We’re committed. Also, shut up.”

I think about dementia.

I think about cycling 100km through the night.

I think about the people who have donated so that I can do the second thing to help the first.

Mostly I think about breakfast, eight or so hours away.

10.30 pm
Sign-in is rapid, if vaguely chaotic. Mind you, there are a lot of people knocking about the place.

They’ve run out of safety pins, so I ride without a number on my chest. Rebel.

I have in my panniers a bicycle pump, a large bag of Skittles, a spanner, some wet wipes, several maple-syrup-flavoured multigrain bars, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a bottle of water, a multitool, a first aid kit, cheese sandwiches, three tyre levers, and a banana.

It will turn out that the only things I really need out of that lot are the Skittles.

I have eschewed the puncture repair kit. Punctures and I don’t get along.

That’s a lie. Punctures love me, because I am the one person in the world who can be guaranteed to make them bigger and better at their job. Given that their job is to expel air from an inflated tube, what is good for them is bad for me. Much simpler, should the worst happen, to change the inner tube, regardless of the championship-quality swearing this will involve.

10.55 pm
We join about fifty other riders at the start line and sweep out of Crystal Palace Park.

I am riding with my brother Step, whose idea this was. I have been kept going through my training by the thought that if anything bad happens I can blame him.

‘Training’ has consisted of doing more cycling than I usually would (up from about 20 miles a week to 60 or so), and by adding progressively longer rides. The longest ride I have done was 51 miles. This one is 62.5.

I fear the unknown, and those extra eleven and a half miles loom large in my easily-frightened subconscious, like the monster that I am still convinced lurked in the lavatory of my childhood, waiting until I flushed before it emerged with a roar and ripped the flesh off my eleven-year-old bones, then feasted with avid glee on my still-beating heart.

I may have over-estimated the difficulty of those last eleven and a half miles, but I doubt it.

11.00 pm
We’ve been told to watch out for the black and yellow ‘Nightrider’ signs. I spot the first one, a left turn that takes us back past the south side of the park towards the wilds of Sydenham.

About thirty riders ahead of us miss it. They continue blithely towards West Wickham, the M25, and, eventually, Eastbourne, where they watch the sun rise while wondering what happened to all the other riders and why nobody’s ever told them that London has beaches.

11.50 pm
Blackheath. A cyclist ahead of us goes the wrong way, changes direction at the last moment without looking and nearly perishes under the wheels of a Toyota Yaris.

And we wonder why cyclists have a bad name.

We stop briefly by the funfair for half a banana and a breather. Blackheath is windy. Blackheath is always windy. A group of fellow Nightriders pass us. One of them is playing 80s pop on a speaker strapped to his back. Fun idea or irritating punchmagnet? Only time will tell.

00.30 am
South London has been good. Hardly any hills and barely a heckle. I’d harboured fears of having to fend off aggressively drunken Rotherhithers hell bent on taking a couple of cyclists with them as they staggered towards a premature demise under the wheels of a night bus. But no. We’ve had nothing more than the odd ironic cheer and an ‘allez!’ or two. We reach our first official break without drama. But with traffic. Lots of it. London on a Saturday night. Awash with cars and alcohol. And cyclists.

1.30 am
We’re stuck in traffic. At half past one on a Sunday morning, just north of Tower Bridge. Stuck in bloody traffic. This isn’t what I signed up for.

A cab driver calls across.

“Why are you cycling round London at this time of night?”

Step, ever combative, replies.

“Why are you driving a cab round London at this time of night?”

I fear reprisals.

A silence, then:

“For charity, is it?”


“Which one?”

“I’m riding for I CAN and my brother’s riding for Contented Dementia.”

The cabbie leans across and passes us a fiver. The traffic begins to move. There is a flurry of activity from the back of the cab. The cabbie’s fare is flapping a fiver at him. We just manage to make the exchange before we all have to move on. The cabbie has one last thing to say.

“I can’t stand cyclists!”

London, ladies and gentlemen. London.

2.00 am
Wapping to Canary Wharf. The least famous of the cobbled Classics.

Speaker Guy is back. Irritating punchmagnet.

Canary Wharf is weird. I’ve never been there before. Cycling through it at night is like being on the set of a futuristic 1980s dystopian sci-fi movie. Looming skyscrapers, empty office buildings, strange networks of walkways. Concrete and glass and steel. I fully expect to be confronted by an angry cyborg at any moment. Or a tsunami. Maybe both.

We make our escape and head for the midway break at the Lee Valley Velodrome.

Through the backstreets of Bow. A lull. No traffic, industrial estates, not much in the way of clubs and bars, but a few people who appear recently to have been inside them.

A BMW, cruising slowly, rear tinted windows partially open to reveal a backseat of youths. Not just any old youths, either. The kind of youths that a pair of wheezy middle-aged cyclists would do well to cross the continent to avoid, whatever the hour. At 2.30am in East London the choices are stark: hyperspace, invisibility cloak or furious but surreptitious pedalling.

We choose the latter.

Fifty yards further along, another youth, in no way inebriated no not at all no definitely not.

“Hey, gonna take a drugs test, Neil Armstrong?”

Tempted though we are to make his acquaintance, we have an appointment to meet, and we hurry along again. Shame. Seemed like a nice young man.

2.45 am
A small statistic.

My highest speed on this ride, attained down a steep hill in Hampstead, while adopting a feeble imitation of an ‘aero tuck’ and pedalling like billy-o, was 34.9mph, a shade over the speed Bradley Wiggins maintained for an hour when he took to the boards at Lee Valley Velodrome just over fifteen hours after we stopped there for a cuppa and a sarnie.

Yes I know: professional Tour-de-France-and-multiple-Gold-medal-winning elite athlete with £££s of technology, a rigorous full-time training regime, dedicated backup staff, and a once-in-a-generation capacity for single-minded focus vs occasional trundler out for a fundraising pootle on a 7-gear hybrid, fuelled by cashew nuts and a banana.

But still. The man is a freak.

3.30 am
A couple, walking along a residential North London road, talk quietly. He pulls away, body language defensive.

“There’s no need to be like that about it.”

He’s wounded, not angry. She walks on. He falls in step five paces behind her.

Overtired, I think. And they’re not alone.

We’ve been going for four and half hours now. Deduct an hour or so for breaks and it’s still several hours longer than a sane person spends cycling late on a Saturday night.

Two climbs loom.

I’ve got better at climbs. Not faster, just better. Better in the sense that I can now climb a moderate hill on my bike and not feel as if I’ve earned the rest of the year off; better in the sense that hills that six months ago would have elicited a mirthless bark of laughter and a ‘Really? Me? Cycle up that?’ I now regard as mere foothills; better in the sense that I am now more likely to go forwards up a hill than backwards or sideways.

Within reason.

And proper steep will always do me in.

3.50 am
Inky-palmed dawn has been hinting at an appearance, and the earliest birds have been a-twitter, for half an hour now. My mind is on other things.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Up the hill to Ally Pally.

I make it sound so easy.

Breather. Photos. Drink.

Down the hill to Crouch End. Wheeeeeeee.

Up the hill to Highgate.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Cycling is easier when you know where you’re going, how far there is to go.

“Ok, it’s ten minutes to x, and then another five to y, and just ten more to z. And then w is just along there. I can do that.”

I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know how far there is to go. All I know is that there is hill in front of me. And more hill.

I pass someone who has decided to get off and walk. His bike looks as if it cost about £3k.

A bit further on, a sturdy-looking chap is pedalling faster than I could ever manage, but because of his gearing he’s making as much progress as a beetle tugging an oil tanker up Mont Ventoux. It’s a comical sight and I feel I have earned the right to laugh at him ever so slightly, though not audibly, as I zoom past him.

Well, it feels like zooming.

It is now dawn proper. The birds of North London are giving it large and then some, and I feel able to appreciate it as we coast through leafy Highgate to the next break point.

4.30 am
North London is bigger than I think or want. It is also peaceful, beautiful and cyclistempty.

5.00 am
Hello Baker Street. I could hop on a number 2 bus and it would take me all the way home.

There is no number 2 bus.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

5.15 am
There is a moment on a Sunday morning when the people going home after a night out rub shoulders with those who have, for whatever reason, risen early and are striding out for the day.

It’s not difficult to distinguish one from the other.

A girl, pallor personified, hangs insensible from the shoulder of her beau. They have the air of a couple who have partied not wisely, but well.

Another girl, on the other side of the road. Mini skirt, sheer white stockings, blue and white wig. She talks urgently and quietly. She might be talking through a micro-receiver to The Master Ship, coordinating the first wave of attacks. She might be talking to herself. I favour the latter.

Two pedestrians wait politely to cross the road as a dozen of our cycling colleagues ignore a red light. We wait, let them cross, and apologise. I have never felt more British.

We can see Waterloo Bridge. Cyclists have stopped and are looking at the view.

“Quick stop there or do we not do that kind of thing because we live here?”

Step gives me a look.

But when we see what they’re looking at we both stop.

It’s a magic moment worthy of Perry Como himself, the magic only intensified and enhanced by rigorous exercise and lack of sleep.

Fifty hot air balloons? Cool.

Fifty hot air balloons viewed from Waterloo Bridge as morning breaks over the Thames? Strikingly beautiful.

Fifty hot air balloons viewed from Waterloo Bridge as morning breaks over the Thames after you’ve cycled around London through the night and are close to physical collapse? Well then.


5.50 am
We’ve had a longish break at the Imperial War Museum. Too long, I realise as I try to force my protesting right leg back over the saddle and into action.

“You sure about this?”

“I refer the honourable leg to the answer I gave some hours ago.”

19km to go. Child’s play.

7.00 am
I’ve cycled up Fountain Drive dozens of times. The first time, it took me about a fortnight.

Today I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. I’ve got a breakfast to get to.

* * * * * *

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! This is what all this was in aid of. And these are the people who organised it. And this is The Contented Dementia Trust.

I reached my ‘target’, but we all know that there is no real target, so please consider giving what you can afford. Thanks.

Charity shmarity

06/06/2015 § 2 Comments

The Contented Dementia Trust is a good charity. It will remain a good charity, whether or not I cycle 100km around London tonight. Yet if I had merely said “The Contented Dementia Trust is a good charity — please consider giving it some money” and left it at that, I wonder what the reaction would have been, and how much money I would have raised.

Maybe that’s an experiment for another year.

In these days of extreme charity ennui, fundraising is a tricky business. I was rather sneery, for example, about the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not the cause itself, you understand, which is obviously another good one (so many good causes, so little time…). But it became a little too much like a chain letter (“I nominate you and you and you, and if you don’t do it may the wrath of social media be upon you”), and when it really took hold there seemed to be quite a few people who didn’t know which charity they were raising money for. If, that is, they knew that it was for charity at all — there were some who seemed to be doing it just for a laugh.

But it did raise a shedload of money, which I suppose is the point.

I remain uncertain where this equation came from: good cause needs money = I must go through some sort of personal discomfort. Can’t we just give the money regardless? Incidentally, John Finnemore (who else) wrote a brilliant sketch on this subject. Unfortunately I can’t locate it online. Tell you what, just buy the CDs of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme — you’ll get to it in the end and they’re well worth it).

For now, though, I am committed to it. And while I’ve raised some money, I’d like to raise some more.

Because, as I say, The Contented Dementia Trust is a good charity. And the fact that I’m cycling 100k tonight doesn’t change that.

If you’d like to add to my total, click on this sentence. Or this one. Thanks in advance.

I want doesn’t get.

24/03/2015 § 2 Comments

“When it came down to it, it was a matter of who wanted it more.”

I’m not quoting anyone in particular, you understand, but it’s the kind of thing people routinely say after games like today’s, a quite superb spectacle provided by two skilful and committed teams in front of a wildly excited and understandably partisan crowd at Eden Park.

But it doesn’t wash. Not this time.

Honestly, can you imagine anyone wanting anything more (within the narrow parameters of sporting contest, that is) than Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel or A B de Villiers wanted to win that cricket match?

Me neither.

Once, when I was ten, I wanted a Caramac bar so much that it hurt, that aching that only a pure and childish sugar craving can bring.

But then I went to the shop, bought the Caramac, ate it, and the desire was gone. I didn’t endure two decades of picking up the Caramac once every four years and then either dropping it, throwing it quite deliberately away (while under the impression that it was already mine), or being deprived of it because the system for allotting Caramacs was inadequate and meant I had to perform a miracle in order to acquire it when just two minutes earlier I was already on the point of ripping it from its golden wrapper and cramming it greedily down my gaping maw.

I didn’t wear the nickname ‘The Caramac Choker’ round my neck for twenty years.

Oh yes, South Africa wanted it. But as the song says, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Of course, there’s another song that says “We are the champions” – South Africa won’t be singing that one. Not for the moment, at least, poor sods. And they might have to wait a bit before they can genuinely give voice to the immortal classic “I don’t like cricket – I love it.”

But for the fabled ‘neutral observer’ it was an absolute treat, and absolutely what this World Cup demanded at this stage – a great match in the way only a semi-final can be. So much at stake, especially for two teams who boasted ten World Cup semi-final defeats between them.

Eleven, now.

And, like all great cricket matches, the result hung on not just one moment, but a long series of them, the balance shifting infinitesimally and imperceptibly with each of them until the final crushing blow, delivered so matter-of-factly by Grant Elliott, as if to say, “Oh sod this for a game of soldiers, let’s just do it, shall we?”

A scrambled single here (New Zealand will want to think about their running in the final), a fumbled catch there, an acrobatic but badly-timed run out everywhere, and it swings the other way – the margins, like Mr Creosote’s fatal after-dinner mint, are wafer-thin.

You might argue that New Zealand have lost six World Cup semi-finals (funny how nobody’s ever called them chokers) to South Africa’s four, so their desire to reach a final was, in the style of Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier, two more than their opponents’.


Two very fine, deserving teams played a game of cricket. One of them proved very slightly better and very slightly luckier. That’s all.

If, if, if. The shortest and most agonising of words.

Next time, boys. Next time.

You say tomato…

18/11/2014 § 3 Comments

It was such a simple question. “Do tomatoes have any place on a breakfast plate?”

It turns out that people (or at least people on Facebook, which isn’t necessarily the same thing) care about this stuff. Feelings ran high, the thread to over fifty comments. At one point I was described as a “tomato fascist”.

Guilty as charged.

So what was the outcome of this scientific process?

These are the facts:

Thirty people expressed an opinion (what do you mean, that’s not a representative sample?)

Fourteen of those people gave a more or less straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’. These are the ones I like, because they make my life much simpler.

Twelve more gave easily decipherable answers, but decided to expand a little. Of these, my favourites were: “Of course they do, you monster”, “Yes, but don’t bother eating it”, and the delightful “They belong on my dad’s plate, picked off mine and plonked on his.”

After I had waded my way through these (but not, you’ll be glad to hear, the tomatoes themselves), the score was desperately close: No – 12, Yes – 14.

Now it gets complicated.

There was this answer: “I always feel they should be there, and I cook fresh ones all yummy in bacon fat, but then when they’re actually on the plate I regret putting them there and eat them first to get rid of them.”

I think the writer speaks for many of us, but such indecision does nothing to help the democratic process.

And then there was “Yes, but only as an addition to beans”.

What are we to make of that? Yes? No? This is worse than the Hanging Chads.

And then we have the hopelessly wishy-washy “It depends on the lubricating/off-setting needs of the other ingredients.”

People, please. We need decisiveness.

Finally, we had the nearest a civilised breakfaster will ever get to a dirty protest: “I think they should be included, but the breakfaster should reserve the right for them to be left as the one uneaten item on the empty plate at the end of the meal.”

Well said. Sort of.

Where does this terminal vacillation leave us?

Well, in the end I did what any self-respecting tomato fascist dictator does: I rigged the vote.

The people have spoken. Tomatoes have NO place on a breakfast plate.

You may disagree, but I should warn you to be careful what you say. We tomato fascists are very touchy.

Ten Books

13/09/2014 § 1 Comment

Everybody’s doing it. Ten Books That Have Stayed With You Since Childhood. Ten Books That You Feel You Should Have Read But Haven’t. Ten Books That You Have Never Read But Are Pretending You Have For The Sole Purpose Of Impressing Your Online Friends, Most Of Whom You Haven’t Met.

The lists have varied, but for the purposes of this exercise I’m sticking to the childhood one. Just because. So there.

Lots of people have done very impressive lists that read more like Guardian articles on the subject of ’Ten Books Children Must Read’ (or, more accurately, ’Ten Books That Adults Think Children Must Read, which isn’t necessary the same thing). I would love to be able to join them, these children who seemed to read nothing but classics, with their Secret Gardens, their Emils and the Detectiveses, their Swallowses and Amazonses.

I did read, and enjoy, those books, and quite a few more (Stig of the Dump! Bloody marvellous book). But they’re not the ones that jumped unbidden into my head, whose spines broke through overuse, whose characters swam around in my head when I was supposed to be learning the pluperfect indicative of ‘video’ or exactly how to spell hipotenuze hyppotineuse hypotenuse.

These are they.

Charles M. Schulz – Peanuts
Charlie Brown and Snoopy – twin idols of my childhood. Charlie Brown, for his uselessness, a quality to which I felt ideally suited to aspire; Snoopy, for his Snoopyness. He was loyal – how many other dogs would strike up an enduring friendship with an incomprehensibly monolingual bird of indeterminate species? His fantasy world (“Here’s the world famous fighter pilot doing battle with the Red Baron”) mirrored mine (“Parikian comes in, bowls, and there’s his hat-trick and England have won the Ashes!”). And he possessed the enviable ability to kiss pretty girls on the nose and get away with it.

Besides, you’ve got to love a beagle with a van Gogh in his kennel.

Dr. Seuss — The Cat in the Hat
A cat.
A hat.
A catty hat.
A hatty cat.
A natty batty snowball-splatty
Ever-so-slightly twatty cat.
But memorable, for all that.

Roald Dahl — Danny, Champion of the World
All the Roald Dahls, of course. Or at least all of them that had been written when I was a child, which means James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the insuperable Fantastic Mr. Fox.

My obsession with him led me to read his adult short stories at a slightly earlier age than I was supposed to, but I like to think he would have approved.

Today, coincidentally, is Roald Dahl Day. Treat yourself – read Danny, Champion of the World.

photo 4 photo 3

Laura Ingalls Wilder — Little House on the Prairie
Eleven-year-old me was a little bit in love with fifteen-year-old Laura. It was one of the great loves, doomed from the start by geographical and temporal realities over which I had no control. I might, freed from parental control and afforded an unlimited budget, have found my way to de Smet, SD, but the impracticalities of time travel would have put an end to any prospect of finding Laura and wooing her.

And anyway, what chance would I have had? In These Happy Golden Years Laura marries Almanzo Wilder — rugged and manly son of the soil, farmer boy, good with horses. I could boast little more than an obsession with cricket (see below), Grade Four piano, and a fair to moderate ability on a skateboard, virtues that I think would have counted for little in the Land of the Pioneers.

The only thing we had in common was that both our dads played the fiddle. Perhaps we could have talked about that.

Playfair cricket annual and, later, Wisden
Cricket lends itself well to statistics. Boys of a certain kind love lists. I was (am) a boy who loved (loves) cricket.

Ergo, Playfair (only pocket-sized, yet still more full of gems like “D R Doshi 8-7-1-1” and “Zaheer Abbas 216* and 156*” than Kevin Pietersen is of himself) and later Wisden (weightier, more grown-up, with page upon page of magnificently arcane details jostling alongside serious articles about the state of the game and match reports of MCC vs Old Salopians) were staples. Wisden still is. Is there a better way to while away half an hour on a November afternoon than to spend it perusing* the list of players who have scored two centuries in the same Test match?

I don’t think so. And neither do you.

*OK, memorising. Go away.

Book of British Birds
Fond as I was of birds, there was a part of me that regarded twitching as a competitive sport. How many birds had I seen? Was it more than my friend Michael? (Ornithology was the only area in which I could possibly hope to compete with Michael, nauseatingly adept and competitive as he was in the sporting arena, and perennially lazy as I was in the intellectual. We achieved joint top marks in the school General Knowledge paper, an achievement only slightly undermined by the fact that we had blatantly cheated — or, as my magnificently sagacious and kind form teacher put it when he explained that our scores were to be expunged from the records, “collaborated”.)

Where was I? Oh yes, competitive ornithology. How strong were my binoculars? Would the acquisition of stronger binoculars enable me to see MORE BIRDS?

There was something of the statistician about me as I leafed through this large volume, with its beautiful representative illustrations of every single bird it was possible to see if you lived in the British Isles. The distribution maps were a source of endless fascination, showing where you could see each bird. How I yearned to see the dramatic Golden Eagle, impossibly romantic and distant, with its few nesting pairs in the north of Scotland.

But I loved the small birds too. Wrens were common enough for the sight of one to be a pleasure rather than an excitement, but I still remember the moment I saw a goldcrest by the vegetable patch in our garden, its eponymous distinguishing feature wonderfully visible and making certain identification a cinch. Most of my twitching life before and since has been a case of fantasy and guesswork.

“Is that a tufted duck or a wigeon?” I asked myself as I peered at an indistinguishable blob through my (not strong enough) binoculars across the marsh flats of Suffolk, near my great-aunt’s house. “Maybe I’ll just put down both.”

Tick. Next up: the avocet.

I mock myself, but Crikey aren’t birds wonderful? Except starlings. Starlings are bastards.

Willans and Searle – Down With Skool!
It’s frankly astonishing that anybody from my generation can spell anything.

Truth be told, I was more of a Fotherington-Thomas than a Molesworth. Chiz chiz. Wot a weed.

Richard Scarry – What Do People Do All Day?
What do people do all day? They lounge around looking at the pictures in a Richard Scarry book, mostly.
Dogs dressed as traffic cops!
Families of pigs driving to the seaside!
Watermelons cascading off colourful trucks and squishing the cars behind them!
Lowly Worm!
You had to be there.

Goscinny & Uderzo – Asterix
If you didn’t love Asterix I don’t want to know you.

Unless, that is, you loved Tintin instead.

Some people loved both, but most people, when pressed, would belong to one camp or the other. It was like Jane Eyre vs Pride & Prejudice. But with menhirs and magic potion and incompetent detective twins and hard-of-hearing professors.

Dogmatix vs Snowy in a bone collecting contest. Discuss.

Eleanor & Herbert Farjeon (illustrated, I now discover, by Rosalind Thornycroft – Kings and Queens

photo 1 photo 2Slightly left field, this. For me, at least.

I hated history and was famously useless at it. I couldn’t remember which Henry was which (still can’t) and it was all frankly a bit of a blur between 1066 and the 1830s. There was a Civil War in there somewhere, wasn’t there? And that bloke with the wives. And plenty of wars with France. And Scotland. And everyone really.

But the gaps in my knowledge were no fault of Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon (and, lest I forget, illustrator Rosalind Thornycroft). With deft (well, deftish) poems and vivid illustrations they charted the history of the English (and later British) monarchy in easy-to-follow-even-for-historical-ignoramuses double spreads.

Couplets like “Sign, King John, or resign instead! / [And King John signed]” and “This time it was Henry who / hopped the twig, and a good job too” are burned into my memory (somewhat against my will).

Books, eh?


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.

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