‘The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey’

I spent much of yesterday listening to Test Match Special (TMS) on BBC Radio 5 Live – I don’t subscribe to Sky Sports so couldn’t watch it on TV (except for the highlights in the evening).

The Ashes urn is only six inches tall.

The Ashes urn is only six inches tall.

Test Match Special? Well, for my many followers on this blog I’m referring to cricket. And yesterday, England won a remarkable victory over the Australians in the 4th Test Match (= match between international teams) of the summer 2013 Ashes Series (the rivalry between England and Australia goes back more than a century, and is fierce). I say remarkable, because midway through the afternoon session it seemed as though Australia were cruising to victory, having lost only two wickets for 168 runs. Then England fast bowler Stuart Broad found his mojo, and Australia were scuttled out 74 runs short of the required 299. So England win the five match series 3-0 so far, with one match (at Old Trafford last week) drawn, and one to play, at The Oval in London next week.

My father was a great cricket fan, often spending a Saturday summer evening watching a local match at Leek Cricket Club, or occasionally traveling to Chesterfield to watch county side Derbyshire play. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, there were few overseas players in the county sides, because they had to gain their residency in English cricket before they could play in the First Class (i.e. county) game. Many did this by playing for local clubs. So in the North Staffordshire League (I think that was its name) we could watch some of the world’s greatest players, such as West Indian batsmen Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Gary Sobers, and fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths. Quite a treat to watch these players before they hit the big time, and for any team to come up against these players in the opposing side.

I can’t remember anyone ever explaining the rules of cricket to me. Maybe it’s a ‘genetic’ thing – growing up with the game, I just became aware of how it was played. And at high school we did play cricket during the summer semester, although I was never good enough to play for one of the school teams. Cricket for me was much more a recreational sport. As a graduate student at Birmingham, a group of us would play a few overs (six ball deliveries) during the lunch break, and when I was based at CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica in the late 70s, we managed to scrape a team together, prepare a pitch, and challenge the San José Cavaliers to a limited overs match (which we easily lost). Even at IRRI in the early 90s we managed a game or two, and given the high number of staff and students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, that’s not surprising.

Already, however, I’ve lapsed into jargon: ‘overs’, ‘sides’, ‘wickets’, etc. So for many, especially in the USA, cricket remains a ‘remote’ sport. In some ways that’s hardly surprising when you have fielding positions such as ‘silly mid on’, ‘silly mid off’, ‘slips’, gully’, and ‘deep fine leg’ to mention but a few. And the fact that Test Matches are played over five days, with lunch, drinks and tea breaks further adds to cricket’s unfathomability for some. Needless to say I have the same issues with American football and baseball.

There has been a significant change in the way that cricket is played, with the expansion of the one day, limited overs, matches, and the more recent phenomenon: T20 (20-twenty), in which both sides have just 20 overs to score as many runs as possible. It’s a big thing in India, and fortunes are spent on promotion, commercialization, and key players. Not really my cup of tea.

Yesterday’s match at the Emirates Durham in Chester-le-Street was a great exhibition of the very best of Test Match cricket. The balance of the game swung from one team to the other, until England finally made the breakthrough late on in the afternoon. Roll on The Oval!

Brian Johnston

Listening to a cricket match on the radio is also special – but you have to know something about the game, and the field placings, etc. to fully understand the commentary. I grew up listening to the likes of John Arlott and Brian Johnston and later former Australian captain Richie Benaud. Other commentators have come and gone, but the current crew are, in the main, very good (Jonathan Agnew, former England captain Michael Vaughan, former England opener Geoffrey Boycott, Henry Blofeld, and others). Then and now, you can detect the camaraderie among the commentators, and the fun they are having – as well as their love of cricket. But commentating live has its pitfalls.

The title of this blog refers to something that Brian Johnston is reported to have said during a Test Match in 1976 between England and the West Indies at The Oval Cricket Ground in south London. England were batting, and Peter Willey was facing a ball from West Indian (very) fast bowler Michael Holding. It’s up to the commentator to describe, as succinctly as possible, what’s happening on the field of play. So, for the listening audience, Jonners (as he was known) quickly described the state of play: ‘The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey’. Listen  to cricket commentator Henry Blofeld talk about this. 

Well, if true, it’s a classic, as good if not better than Jonathan Agnew’s (Aggers) description of Ian Botham missing a shot and trying to get out of the way by leaping over his wicket – but failing. ‘Botham can’t get his leg over’ was the comment! On cue, commentators in the booth falling about, laughing so hard, unable to broadcast.

And this is how it was. Here’s Aggers setting up former England captain Michael Vaughan. Lots of great commentating, lots of humour – and lots of cakes sent in by listeners, which became a TMS tradition which endures to this day.

And it’s not just during cricket matches that commentators wish they could rewind the tape, so-to-speak. Out of the mouths of babes and commentators, come some of the best unintended double entendres, which I discovered earlier today on the Internet. Enjoy!

1. Ted Walsh – Horse Racing Commentator: ‘This is really a lovely horse. I once rode her mother.’

2. Pat Glenn, weightlifting commentator: ‘And this is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing!’

3. Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977: ‘Ah, isn’t that nice. The wife of the Cambridge President is kissing the Cox of the Oxford crew.’

4. US PGA Commentator: ‘One of the reasons Arnie (Arnold Palmer) is playing so well is that, before each tee shot, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them …. Oh my god !! What have I just said??’

5. Carenza Lewis about finding food in the Middle Ages on ‘Time Team Live’ said: ‘You’d eat beaver if you could get it.’

6. A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked: ‘So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?’ Not only did HE have to leave the set, but half the crew did too, because they were laughing so hard!

7. Steve Ryder covering the US Masters: ‘Ballesteros felt much better today after a 69 yesterday.’

8. Clair Frisby talking about a jumbo hot dog on Look North said: ‘There’s nothing like a big hot sausage inside you on a cold night like this. ‘

9. Michael Buerk on watching Philippa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1’s UK eclipse coverage remarked: ‘They seem cold out there, they’re rubbing each other and he’s only come in his shorts.’

10. Ken Brown commentating on golfer Nick Faldo and his caddie Fanny Sunneson lining-up shots at the Scottish Open: ‘Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny, other weeks he prefers to do it by himself.’

Three days, three houses . . .

During our trip to the northeast a couple of weeks ago, we visited three National Trust properties over three days. They all had one feature in common: until quite recently they were still occupied by their owners.

In Northumberland, the two houses were: Seaton Delaval Hall, just north of Whitley Bay, about a mile inland from the North Sea Coast (map); and Wallington House and Gardens (map), home to generations of the Blackett and Trevelyan families for generations, about 25 miles northwest of Newcastle. In North Yorkshire, just south of Helmsley in the North York Moors lies Nunnington Hall (map), which we visited on the journey home.

Seaton Delaval Hall
This impressive property was designed in 1718 by Sir John Vanbrugh (who also designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard) for the Delaval family who had occupied estates in the area since the time of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century. It comprises a Central Hall and West and East Wings (which houses the large stables). The Central Hall was destroyed in a fire in 1822, although a number of features did survive. The West Wing (and the extensive cellars) originally housed the servants, but in the 20th century became the residence of the owner. Some restoration has taken place, and the Parterre Garden was designed in the 1950s. Although Seaton Delaval will never again reach its former glory, its outward appearance speaks volumes for what it must have been like.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wallington House and Gardens
The hall dates from the 17th century, but had extensive modifications in the Palladian style in the 18th. Two aspects particularly impressed me: it definitely had the feel of a family home; and the walled garden, about 15 minutes walk away from the house, in among the woods, is perhaps one of the nicest gardens I have visited. The entrance hall has bright murals showing many different aspects of the history of Northumbria, and the house is full of beautiful treasures. Wallington is definitely worth a visit for so many reasons.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nunnington Hall
Alongside the River Rye, parts of the house date from the Tudor period, but over the centuries it was remodeled. There are signs of its occupation by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. The gardens are not extensive, but quite attractive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An apo in the Northeast

A couple of weeks ago our daughter Philippa asked us if we could babysit grandson (= ‘apo’, Tagalog for grandchild) Elvis Dexter for a couple of nights while she and Andi attended a wedding. They live in Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast of England, 225 miles north of where we live.

I can’t deny that Steph and I were a little apprehensive. It’s one thing babysitting while parents are out for the evening. It’s quite another being left completely responsible for a small child. After all, we haven’t had that sort of practice for more than 30 years.

We needn’t have concerned ourselves. Young Elvis was a delight to look after. Having been introduced to his nursery ‘teachers’ on the Monday afternoon, we went along with Philippa when Elvis attended nursery early on the following morning. It was then up to us to collect him in the afternoon, give him his evening meal, bath-time, play, stories and bed.

Once down for the night (around 19:30) we didn’t hear a peep out of him. In fact, on the second morning, I had to wake him up to get ready to head off to nursery!

As you can see from the slideshow, he also enjoyed himself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


It will be interesting to see how he reacts when his baby brother/sister comes along in about five to six weeks time.

Leek – Queen of the Moorlands (updated 2018-11-05)

April 1956. Did my world fall apart? I probably thought so at the time.

We moved from Congleton in Cheshire (where I was born seven years earlier) to the small market town of Leek in north Staffordshire. Less than 12 miles away, but it could have been another planet for all I was concerned.

New town, new home, new school, and new friends.

When I say ‘small market town’ I always was under the impression that Leek had a population of about 20,000 when we moved there in 1956. So I was quite surprised to note in the 2001 census that the population was a smidgen under 19,000. It seems the population has changed very little over the past century.

I’m not sure that I could say that Leek is a picturesque town, but it’s certainly a very interesting one, with some remarkable features and history (the link gives a pretty comprehensive account). And it’s surrounded by some of the most glorious landscapes in the country, the Staffordshire moorlands on the southern edge of the Peak District (the UK’s first national park). Although I was not born there, and actually only lived there for a little over a decade before moving away to university (and moving on) I still think of Leek as my home-town – and proudly so!

In the 1960s panorama below, taken from the top of Ladderedge (on the southwest of the town, besides the main road linking Leek with Stoke-on-Trent – the Potteries) looking towards the northeast, you can see many of the distinctive features of the Leek skyline.

1-13 Leek

Just to left of center is the square tower of the 13th century Anglican Church of St Edward the Confessor (although there is some evidence for a pre-Norman church in the vicinity), and to the right of center, the tall spire of the Roman Catholic church, St Mary’s (which we attended), built in 1887, although there had been earlier churches.

Church of St Edward the Confessor

To the right of St Mary’s spire is the white clock tower of Leek’s impressive war memorial, the Nicholson War Memorial, commonly known as The Monument (at the eastern end of the main shopping Derby Street), and to the right of that another Anglican church, St Luke’s, with a square tower and a small spire to one side.

The Nicholson War Memorial (the Monument), photographed in April 2012. The roundabout has now disappeared – a great local controversy – as part of road ‘improvements’ to ease the flow of traffic. The video below shows its dedication in 1925.

And in the middle of the panorama rises the impressive green copper dome (no longer green) of the Nicholson Institute, housing the public library and art gallery (including a facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry) and (in the past at least when I was growing up) a celebration of much of Leek’s wealth that was built on the silk weaving industry. Indeed, textile manufacturing and dyeing were among the main industrial endeavours in Leek, and quite a few of the mills and their chimneys can be seen on the Leek skyline. In the mid-60s a couple of these were destroyed by fire within the space of just one week – very dramatic happenings in a small town. William Morris, a prominent member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, may have resided in Leek for several years.

The central area of Leek is bounded by five streets: St Edward Street on the west, Stockwell Street on the north, Brook Street/Hayward Street on the south, and Ball Haye Street on the east. And these are through routes connecting Leek with Buxton to the northeast, Macclesfield to the north-west, the Potteries to the southwest, and Ashbourne to the east.


We lived in a couple of properties in St Edward Street where my father established his photographic retail business between our arrival in Leek in 1956 until 1962.

Then my father was able to purchase a prime site in the Market Place, which he kept until his retirement in 1976. I’ve recently discovered that 19 Market Place is now a shop selling home-made jewellery – Little Gem. That’s quite interesting since my wife’s main hobby is making bead jewellery. We must visit next time we are in Leek. But I digress . . .

Leek was granted a charter to hold a market on Wednesdays during the reign of King John at the beginning of the 13th century. And that market thrives today. In the valley of the River Churnet, and on the north-west of the town lie the rather depleted ruins of a Cistercian abbey, Dieulacres; many of the stones were used in local building after Henry VIII’s men had done their business, and particularly in the Abbey Inn that is found close by.

Leek was connected to the growing canal system in 1801, with a branch of the Caldon Canal. It closed in the mid-1940s, and was eventually filled in (now part of an industrial estate on the southeast side of the town). Famous 18th century canal engineer James Brindley lived in Leek for many years. Until the 1960s Leek was served with rail connections, but after these ended, the station was demolished in 1973. The last steam trains from Leek in 1965 are shown in the video below.

I read recently of plans to try and reopen the mothballed railway link between Leek and Stoke. The web site has some stunning photos of steam locomotives near Cauldon Lowe.

Close by the Monument is the bus station, opened in the 60s on the site of the former cattle market (that moved afterwards close to the site of the old railway station. Thanks to my old friend Geoff Sharratt for sharing these two photos with me.

We never talked politics at home. I suspect my parents voted Conservative, but I do not know for sure. When we lived in Congleton my father was elected to the local council – Congleton was a borough with a mayor. Not long after we moved to Leek my father sought election to the Leek Urban District Council – as an Independent since he strongly believed that national political affiliations had little or no place in local government. In 1968 he became Chairman of the Leek Urban District Council.

In the 1950s and 60s as I was growing up in Leek the annual Club Day, a 200 year-old tradition, held in mid-July was (and still is, apparently) a very important event in the town’s calendar. Held on a Saturday afternoon, it brought together churches and Sunday schools of all denominations in an ecumenical celebration, held in the Market Place. It was a riot of colour and best outfits, banners and bands, with the children and their parents and friends processing from the individual churches to the Market Place, and afterwards around the town.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today it seems that Club Day in Leek is rather a different celebration altogether. My elder brother Ed and I took part for a number of years with the St Mary’s 5th Leek Cub (cub scout) Pack. Here we are in our Cub uniforms.

Me with my brother Ed (r) in our Cub uniforms in the late 1950s.

Me with my brother Ed (r) in our Cub uniforms in the late 1950s.

After my parents retired in 1976 they took up residence in a first floor apartment in Greystones, a 17th century town house on Stockwell Street, just in front of the Nicholson Institute. After my mother (and the lady on the ground floor) moved out in the mid-80s, the property became a tea room.

Greystones, with the Nicholson Institute behind.

Greystones, with the Nicholson Institute behind.

But in many ways it’s the location of Leek that is one of its best assets, nestling as it does in the shadow of the Staffordshire Moorlands, with close access to the Peak District National Park, and particularly the Roaches, Dovedale, and the Manifold Valley to mention just a few special places, and the famous ‘double sunset‘ that figures in the old coat of arms (two suns).

Here’s a video I found recently on YouTube (2014-04-25) about the Staffordshire Peak District – all within a 10 mile or so radius of Leek:

I visit Leek rather rarely now, but when I do walk around the town, and look at how it has changed over the decades, my mind fills with good memories of a happy childhood. It was good growing up in Leek. And it seems that many around the world also hold fond memories of Leek, as comments on the Visitors’ Book at Leekonline show.

And finally, here are some recent photos of Leek that I have put together in a short video.

Ireland’s turbulent history

I guess I first became aware of Ireland’s turbulent past when I was studying Advanced Level (pre-university) English Literature between 1965 and 1967. Our English teacher, Frank Byrne, had family from Co. Roscommon in Ireland, and on the curriculum the years I studied was the poetry of Irish poet William Butler Yeats (Nobel laureate in Literature for 1923). Through his famous poem Easter, 1916, in which three of the four verses have as a final line ‘A terrible beauty is born‘, Yeats emphasizes his belief that the genie was out of the bottle, so-to-speak – Ireland would be changed forever.

Martin HealyElsewhere in this blog I have written about my own Irish ancestry, and often wondered how my Irish family reacted to – or even took part in – the events that shook Ireland in the early and mid twentieth century following the April 1916 rebellion. My maternal grandfather, Martin Healy, had served in the British army in South Africa and on the Northwest Frontier in India, and afterwards served as a policeman in London’s Metropolitan Police. As a Catholic, did he ever suffer from any sort of discrimination while in the Army or the police? Of course from his birth in 1876 he was a British citizen of Ireland. The Irish Free State was founded in 1922. I assume he retained his British citizenship throughout. But his roots were Irish. He and my grandmother came from large families. Were any of their brothers or sisters involved in the various struggles in Ireland from 1916 onwards: the Easter Rising, the civil war, and the various bombing campaigns carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) both in Ireland and in England? A family anecdote has a great uncle of mine serving in the IRA and being executed by the Black and Tans, but I have no further evidence for this.

I’ve often wondered what and who the IRA was, are. And during a visit to St Paul, MN a couple of years ago I picked up a secondhand copy of Tim Pat Coogan’s tome The IRA – A History. I recently had a second stab at reading this. When I bought it I managed just a few pages – it’s not the easiest of reads. But having just finsihed T. Ryle Dwyer’s Big Fellow, Long Fellow – A Joint Biography of Collins & de Valera, I decided to give Coogan’s book another go. This time I managed about one fifth (it’s a long book, >500 pages, small font) before giving up. There is little attempt I felt at synthesis. Instead one is bombarded with fact after fact after fact. Indeed, I quite lost track of the overall narrative. Nevertheless I did begin to understand the origins of the IRA, how it became a proscribed organization in the Irish Free State and Republic, and its role in destabilizing society and politics in Northern Ireland more recently in ‘The Troubles’. While Coogan’s text is undoubtedly of considerable value to the serious scholar of Irish events – because he interviewed many of the leading characters in the IRA story – getting to grips with the big picture is not something that this book achieves.

9780717127870On the other hand Dwyer’s joint biography of Irish patriot Michael Collins and elder statesman Éamon de Valera is a much more accessible read, and one I enjoyed from cover to cover.

One thing that came though quite clearly to me is that both Collins and de Valera at various times of their careers were rather unsavory and ruthless characters, not averse to ordering the assassination of opponents when necessary. However, Collins seems to have been the more pragmatic of the two whose life and contribution to an Ireland on the road to becoming a republic was cut short when he was killed in an ambush in 1922. As a member of the negotiating team that agreed a treaty in 1921, leading to the partition of Ireland into the 26 counties of the south and the six counties of Northern Ireland, Collins was vilified by Republican purists, among whom was then numbered Éamon de Valera. But as Collins emphasized in debates about the Treaty to establish the Irish Free State, ‘In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire … but the freedom to achieve it.’

de Valera had commanded a unit during the 1916 rebellion but was saved from execution by the fact he was actually born an American. From Dwyer’s book I had the distinct impression that de Valera was never consistent in his opinions or deeds, and certainly changed tack as and when it suited him politically. He did help found the political party Fianna Fáil, led nine governments, and became President of the Irish Republic in 1959, serving until 1973 when he was 90. He died in 1975. He did become father of the nation.

I’m still looking for that one book that will give me the overview and honest interpretation of recent (well, the last century) Irish history.