Monthly Archives: June 2014

“A flawed, toxic figure”

Rebekah Brooks walked on air from the Old Bailey:

An emotional Rebekah Brooks has given her first statement since she was acquitted of all phone-hacking charges, declaring she was “vindicated” by the unanimous verdicts of the jury.

With her husband, Charlie, by her side, and her voice breaking, Brooks tried to strike a note of contrition as she said she hoped she had learned some “valuable lessons” from the long trial.

OK: vox populi, vox Dei, etc.

Paul Hoggart (son of, brother of, father of) had it aright for me:

The not guilty verdict will leave many scratching their heads. How could a woman of such intelligence and astuteness rise to the top in a male-dominated cutthroat industry and yet be so naïve or incurious not to want to discover how her underlings were sourcing their juiciest stories? Did she never ask, as any good editor would ask, where did this come from? Brooks repeatedly told the court she knew little about phone hacking, claiming she was not aware of the fact that a private investigator was being paid more than many of her senior reporters to illegally access cell phone voice mails. To be so ignorant of the criminal ruse that put her newspaper so consistently ahead of its rivals would seem to be beyond belief.

That’s not-too-far from where we find the huffing Heffer this morning:

Cameron knew perfectly well that during the time when Coulson edited the News of the World, the paper had become a criminal enterprise, hacking people’s phones, and that he had been forced to resign after one of his senior staff was jailed.

The day after Coulson’s astonishing appointment as Tory press spokesman in 2007, I wrote about Coulson’s claim that he had been unaware his staff had been paying more than £100,000 a year to a man to hack phones. I suggested this proved that either he was spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Though, perhaps, that needs a grain-or-two of salt: wasn’t Heffer’s name in the frame for Coulson’s job with Cameron? Doesn’t Heffer (self-proclaimed purloiner inventor of “Essex Man”) perchance resent Coulson as the onlie-true begetter of all things Essex and prole?

Let us press Heffer’s argument a stage further: the News of the Screws didn’t invent phone-hacking, and the worst examples of its use happened before Coulson was editorially enstooled in Brooks’s place. Yet Brooks maintained in Court she had no knowledge of the operations, or of it practioners. So, by Heffer’s definition, she too must be spectacularly incompetent, or spectacularly dishonest.

Paul Hoggart puts it as succinctly as anyone:

Brooks became a victim of her own tabloid methods. Although technically exonerated, she remains a flawed, toxic figure who at the very least allowed the company she was managing to suffer a profound public relations disaster which forced it to split in half and from which its press division may never recover.

Now to Tom Watson on LabourList, who lists Nine Remarkable Revelations From the Hacking Trial. These include much unfinished business, not least:

While being edited by Brooks, The Sun paid a defence official for exclusive stories about the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan, military scandals and titillating examples of indiscipline in the ranks. In all the Sun paid £100,000 paid to Bettina Jordan Barber, a mid-ranking official at Ministry of Defence who liaised with the MoD’s press bureau, between 2004 and 2012. The resulting headlines included: “Mucky major’s a sex swinger,” “Major feels privates’ privates” and “The Lust Post.”.

Hmmm … bribery, suborning, corruption — take your pick.

Cost/benefit analysis

The Hacking Trial may have cost the public purse some £35 million, in Roy Greenslade’s accounting:

The real cost of the trial to the taxpayer is not £110m

Let’s deal with the money first. The total includes the massive defence fund provided by Rupert Murdoch. It is estimated that the cost to taxpayers will be £35m.

Anyway, the police and the prosecuting authorities were taking on a powerful international company that had, for years, deliberately denied the existence of hacking and later defied attempts by the police to investigate it.

The investigation proved to be complex, involving many, many hours of painstaking research into computer files. It was bound to cost money. Can anyone imagine how the rest of the press would have howled if the police had simply thrown up their hands and said it was too expensive to carry on?

Draining the swamp” is, in another context, the phrase of the moment. I happen to think £35 million (perhaps just one-tenth of what Murdoch’s Sky TV annual ad costs are) is good value for essential public hygiene and sanitation.

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Filed under advertising., crime, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, human waste, LabourList, leftist politics., Murdoch, sleaze., smut peddlers, Tom Watson MP

Hold it right there, Mr Coulson

Bagehot in this week’s Economist:


That, in itself, is not revelatory: most of the UK commentariat has been making much the same noises.

Except … security types were impressed by his grasp of strategy.

The one thing we do know is that Coulson’s security clearance is a very grey area. The closest we have to certainty is the “addendum” from the Cabinet Office (anonymous) “Departmental Security Officer” to the Leveson Inquiry. It’s worth reading in full:

During Lord O’Donnell’s evidence session on 14 May 2012, in response to questions about whether previous holders of Mr Coulson’s post had DV (Developed Vetting), he agreed to provide “information on precisely when previous occupants of the office were DVd.” I am replying as I am the official responsible within the Cabinet Office for security vetting of Cabinet Office staff.

I am replying in respect of both Directors of Communication and PMs’ official spokesmen (6 postholders between January 1996 and May 2010). Three previous holders of the posts (civil servants) already had DV granted by their previous department on taking up their post in No10. Of the others, two (one special adviser and one civil servant) had DV granted around 3 months after taking up post and one (special adviser) had DV granted just over 7 months after taking up post.

There are two categories of clearance for access to sensitive national security information: SC (Security Check) and DV (Developed Vetting).

SC allows long-term, frequent access to secret material, or occasional/controlled access to top secret material. Staff who have long-term, frequent/uncontrolled access to top secret rfiaterial must undergo DV.

Therefore, in practice staff who are undergoing DV will, provided they hold SC, be occasional/controlled access to top secret material.

More generally, special advisers (and other civil servants) around Whitehall are DVd justified for business reasons, and this level of clearance is exceptional.

What that seems to imply is that Coulson did have access to top secret material, albeit occasional (how often is that?) and controlled (by whom?). Yet, according to Bagehot, it was sufficiently often to impress security types.

The other mystery is why every one of Coulson’s predecessors (count the six in the above) required “Developed Vetting”, but Coulson himself didn’t. The only reason that comes to mind immediately  — hat-tip here to Political Scrapbook — is that Coulson “dodged the soap”, knowing that DV would reveal the affair with Rebekah  Brooks (or some other peccancy), which would be potentially open to blackmail.

Or, possibly, just possibly “someone” protected Coulson from the DV process, knowing or guessing that such a revelation was in the offing.

And that really would be the “smoking gun”.



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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Economist, Political Scrapbook, politics, Tories.

Still, just, on the rails

The problem with magazines (and I’m an addict) is the Chinese meal one: you have one, and an hour later you need another. I may take a newspaper (or two) on a train journey; but I know it/they won’t keep me going the full distance, two hours or so between King’s Cross and York.

Back TrackA bit back I splurged on the last-but-one Back Track, “Britain’s leading historical railway journal”. What prised the £4.20 out of my wallet was Michael H.C. Baker on Dublin to Belfast, half-a-dozen close-printed pages on the old Great Northern line. My experience of that route started in the days when the Ulster Transport Authority and Córas Iompair Éireann had taken the line over, but when steam locomotives were still in use. Soon after steam gave way to diesel. To this day, you find many, if not most still refer to the service by the 1950s name, “The Enterprise”.

In all honesty, the trick was to arrange for one of the CIE services: the catering was superior.

As Baker’s conclusion admits, the rail link between Belfast and Dublin is under a cloud, if not under direct threat:

Not so long ago there was serious talk of electrification and an hourly service but rail travel in the Republic has fallen by 25% of late. Ireland now has a motorway and road network which means that almost all journeys between Dublin, Belfast and the principal cities and towns are quicker by road than rail and long-distance coaches have made great inroads into railway revenues. The ‘201’ Class has not proved to be the most reliable of locomotives, chiefly on account of the fact that they have to provide all the heating, air conditioning and other auxiliary power for the carriages, although converted BR-built Mk 3 generator vans now do the job which should overcome the problem.

In March 2011 the Northern Irish Minister for Regional Development listed 32 permanent speed restrictions — the permitted maximum south of the border is 90mph — between Dublin and Belfast. £40 million of upgrading had been scheduled just for the section between Lisburn and Lurgan but this was “now deferred indefinitely due to budget constraints”. Worse, Northern Ireland Railways have said that £500 million is needed to bring the ‘Enterprise’ service up to “an acceptable standard” and it has “so frequently broken down that it is no longer fit for purpose”. Its average speed of 43mph (69km/h) is very nearly the slowest inter-city route in Western Emope. Oh dear, of dear! Some of these statements are a perhaps understandable plea for an ideal which can never be obtainable and an inter-city route of less than 120 miles with a number of stops is never going to rival, for instance, Paris to Marseilles or London to Edinburgh. I always enjoy my journeys between Dublin and Belfast and no doubt will in the future. One minor, not very expensive, outlay could be in the buffet car where a replacement for the seats which must be left over from the Spanish Inquisition would not come amiss!


That any kind of rail transport still exists across Northern Ireland is despite the ingrained prejudices of years of Unionist government. Let’s not pretend: the UTA closures of the 1950s and into the early 1960s were, in part, sectarian politics: too many of the old GNR railmen were Roman Catholic. When the Benson Report of 1963 proposed the closure of all links to Derry, it was the old Northern Counties Committee line, through largely Unionist country, that survived, and the “Derry Road”, from Portadown and on through Catholic country, which was axed.

There are, today, just four lines remaining: to the Border (and therefore on to Dublin), the NCC track to Derry, with a spur to Portrush, (most of which is spectacular, but single-track — and the station at Derry is inconveniently the wrong side of the Foyle), and the two commuter lines — the Bangor line along the Gold Coast of County Down (which ought to service George Best Airport, but contrives not to) and the Larne line (which once linked to the ferries to Stranraer).

The obvious missing link is the mothballed Ballinderry link from Lisburn and Knockmore, past the back of Aldergrove (Belfast International Airport) to join the Derry Line at Antrim. Reviving that is the ever-rumoured, oft-promised, never-delivered story, most recently just last month:

Northern Ireland could finally get a rail link to Belfast International Airport.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has proposed a series of feasibility studies which could eventually mean the first major track extensions to the rail network since the wholesale closures of the Sixties.

In a new document outlining the future of rail investment for the next 20 years and beyond, the minister proposed looking at the potential to create a new route serving Belfast International Airport.

Add a spur to Dublin Airport (which was implicit in the original proposal for Dublin’s Metro North) and the two main runways of Ireland are directly connected, and as adjacent as Heathrow is to the West End. That, of course, involves a degree of finance, and a lot more imagination.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Railways, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, prejudice, railways, reading

… so you don’t have to buy it.

When the York Waterstones moved the length of Coney Street nearer to Redfellow Cottage, further attrition on my current account was inevitable.

9780571315789Yesterday’s raid was: two paperback histories, a hardback ‘techie and — I know I should have resisted — Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson’s anthology of Train Songs.

As always, the problem with such collections is you already have many of the selected verses in other books. That is inevitable with the obvious:

for starters.

In there, already, I’ve had a happy moment over Michael Flanders and Donald Swann putting the boot in on Beeching’s axing of The Slow Train:

My own ear worm has the remembered names on 43 miles of the defunct Wells-on-Sea to Norwich line: Kimberley Park, Thuxton, Yaxham, Nor’ Elm’n, Cowntee Schoo .., Fakenham! Fakenham! (always called twice), WalSINGham, Walsingham (ditto), Wighton Halt … All to the rhythm of a 4-4-0 Claud on jointed track.

A more taxing remembrance involves the names, and the eccentric East Norfolk pronunciations thereof, between Wells and Heacham, on the line closed after the 1953 floods: Holkham, Burnham Market, Stanhoe, Docking, Sedgeford, Heacham. Then on through Snettisham, Dersingham, Wolferton (and, pre-Myxy, its multitudinous rabbits), North Wootton, to Lynn.

The other stuff

I had forgotten that:

O fat white woman whom nobody loves
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves …

was Frances Cornford (page 19) and Seen from a Train. Note that, apart from the title, ano train is involved. Her Parting in Wartime is here, too (page 53), short, sharp and effective, even on a poster on the Central Line:

How long ago Hector took off his plume,
Not wanting that his little son should cry,
Then kissed his sad Andromache goodbye –
And now we three in Euston waiting-room.

There’s a surprising Irish (and Scots) element in this anthology: Heaney and MacNeice get three apiece, along with Michael Longley in an Italian Couchette (page 127), Paul Durcan, and Dennis O’Driscoll. A new one, to me, and wholly grabbing is Thomas McCarthy’s The Emigration Trains. Since McCarthy was born 1954, one wonders over:

We were heading for England and the world
At war. Neutrality we couldn’t afford.
I thought I would spend two years away,
But in the end the two became twenty.
Within hours we’d reach the junction at Crewe
And sample powdered eggs from the menu,
As well as doodlebugs falling nearby;
And that fatal traffic of an alien sky.

It doesn’t do to brood too much over that: would the best route from Waterford to work on the underground be through Holyhead and the Irish Mail? Surely no V1 flying bomb came anywhere near Crewe? Even so, McCarthy invites us to Pity the Poor Immigrant. No: there’s no Bobster represented here, not even his Slow Train. Copyright issues, perhaps? On the other hand, we do have Tom Waits’s Train Song (page 163) and a couple of obvious page-fillers (The Midnight Special, page 127, and Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain Blues (page 91, but worthy for other reasons):

If those, why not Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans? Or Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound from Wigan, via Widnes, to Brentwood? Both of those are indisputably “train songs”.

Of course, once we’re that far down the line, we might also be looking for Percy French railing From Ennis/ as far as Kilkee on which, years since, I have already adequately touched.

But may well be about to do so again …


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Filed under Literature, Quotations, railways, reading, York

It was on a Wednesday morning that the gas-man came to call

Apart from the day of the week, Flanders and Swann nailed it:

Here at Redfellow Cottage, the boiler ceased working. All seemed to be well, lights winking appropriately, except the damn thing wouldn’t ignite.

Send for the expert.

Nine a.m. sharp, he and his mate are on the job.

The problem stemmed from the roofers. They had dislodged débris from above, which had somehow penetrated the vent, and a fragment was preventing the boiler fan from rotating. Use of a fine bristle (actually, one of those jobs that clear out sinks) and all seems well, if not considerably improved.

What can go wrong next?

[Yes, the painter-decorator is hard at work downstairs. Doesn’t bode well.]

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Filed under economy, working class, York

The Lambeth (and City) walk

The IPPR’s Ed Cox reckoned expenditure on transport infrastructure, per capita, was:

  • south-west £215 [Index=100],
  • north-east £246 [Index=114],
  • Yorkshire and Humberside £303 [Index=141],
  • north-west £839 [Index= 309],
  • London £4,895 [Index=2,277].

Meanwhile, every few weeks the Thomas Heatherwick/Joanna Lumley “Garden Bridge” gets another puff or two in the metropolitan press, always appended to the Arup “visualisation” (homage to Canaletto never offered):


Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Thames bridge.

Today in The Guardian (which ought to know better) obliges:

“We didn’t want any old bridge,” says Richard De Cani, Transport for London’s director of strategy and policy, who was instrumental in the Emirates Air Line cable car, east London’s mostly empty aerial sponsorship opportunity. “We’ve got our lean, mean, efficient footbridges, like the Millennium and Hungerford, so we were interested in a bridge that did something else.”

He describes the £175m project as “supporting economic growth and development”, bringing some of the South Bank’s bustle to the “dead world” of the north bank. Lifting off from just east of the National Theatre, the Garden bridge will cross the river, and the roaring dual carriageway of Victoria Embankment, to land on top of Temple tube station, one of the least-used stops in central London. The area has been newly christenedNorthbank, and there are plans to pedestrianise the stretch of the Strand between the Aldwych crescent, a scheme into which the bridge neatly dovetails as a benevolent bringer of crowds.

You noticed the gybe about the “mostly empty” Dangleway. Did you miss the magic number: £175 million — which is up a further £25 million from the number bandied by Boris Johnson just two months ago. However, the project:

…  has garnered not only the support of London‘s mayor-cum-novelty-infrastructure-tsar, Boris Johnson, who has pledged £30m from his transport budget, but also the backing of central government, in the form of a further £30m from the Treasury. A detailed planning application has now been submitted, with the aim of having it built by 2018.

Now I can think of several provincial cities who would know precisely what to do with £30 million of unqualified Treasury support for a new bridge (the city of York comes instantly to mind). In these cases, the new provision comes nearer to necessity than an “icon” or a “folly”.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, equality, Guardian, London, York

Getting the boot

To celebrate the England football team’s performance at the World Cup, the BBC web-site has a feature by slang lexicographer Jonathon Green:

Mullered and 61 other words for beaten at sport

BoasWish I’d thought of it first.

The cliché has it that the Inuit have 52 words for “snow”. That originates from a 1911 book by Franz Boas. However, disputes this, and suggests a proper count is nearer just ten. Just as the Inuit may know the right (and wrong) types of snow, so the English should know precise terms for levels of defeat suffered in any sport which they claim to have invented.

I believe that the first international sporting fixture may well have been played at Leith in 1682. The Duke of York (later James II) and  John Paterstone represented Scotland against two English milords, and trounced them (trounce being the 63rd word Green should have found). SO the English sportsman should be inured to set-backs.

How to segue from that to the next thought?

Ummm …

Well, we might ponder on the English addiction to irony and self-mockery. It is, for sure, expiating our inner prejudices and guilts. Through the likes of George Macdonald Fraser’s magnificent gargoyle, Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE. he was fun, and only as the joke soured did the political-correctors get in on the act (Fraser did a piece on just how this developed). By the same token, we have just had a small susurration about the sexism of the Samantha redouble-entendres in I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (check some choice examples here).

51x7GmbKYFL._So, for the antidote to political correctness, in a sporting context, allow me to reintroduce you to Peter Tinniswood’s Brigadier, and the very first chapter in his first outing:

Root’s Boot

During the course of a long and arduous career in the service of King and country I have had the honour in the name of freedom and natural justice to slaughter and maim men (and women) of countless creeds and races.

Fuzzy wuzzies, Boers, Chinamen, Zulus, Pathans, Huns, Berbers, Turks, Japs, Gypos, Dagos, Wops and the odd Frog or two — all of them, no doubt, decent chaps ‘in their own way’.

Who is to say, for example, that the Fuzzy Wuzzies don’t have their equivalent don’t have their equivalent of our own dear John Inman and the delicious Delia Smith, mother of the two Essex cricketing cousins, Ray and Peter?

I have no doubt that the Dagos have their counterpart of our Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, and I am perfectly certain that the Wops, just like us, have lady wives with hairy legs, loud voices and too many relations.

Indeed it is my firm opinion that all the victims of this carnage and slaughter were just like you and I — apart from their disgusting table manners and their revolting appearance.Poor chaps, they had only two failings – they were foreigners and they were on the wrong side.

Now as I approach the twilight of my life I look back with pleasure and with pride on those campaigns which have brought me so much comfort and fulfilment — crushing the Boers at Aboukir Bay, biffing the living daylights out of the Turk at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, massacring the Aussies at The Oval in 1938.

But of all these battles one remains vividly in my mind to this very day — the Battle of Root’s Boot.

The incidents pertaining to this conflict occurred in 1914 during the MCC’s first and only tour to the Belgian Congo.

Who on earth had the crass stupidity to give the Congo to the Belgians in the first place is quite beyond me.

I am bound to say that I consider the Belgians to be the most revolting shower of people ever to tread God’s earth.

Eaters of horse flesh, they let us down in two world wars. They’re hopeless at golf. They drive on the wrong side of the road, and they’re forever yodelling about their blasted fiords and their loathsome fretwork egg-timers.

Is it any wonder they made such a confounded mess of running the Congo?

When we went there in 1914, there was not one decent wicket the length and breadth of the country, and the facilities for nets were totally inadequate.

And, if that weren’t enough, during our matches there were at least two outbreaks of cannibalism among spectators, which I found totally unacceptable, and which I am convinced were responsible for the loss of our most promising young leg spinner, M.M. Rudman-

He was sent out to field at deep third man in the match against an Arab Slavers’ Country Eleven, and all we found of him after the tea interval was the peak of his Harlequins cap and half an indelible pencil.

But of these setbacks we were blissfully unaware as in high good spirits we set off from Liverpool in April 1914 aboard the steamship, SS Duleepsinjhi.

The party was skippered by the Rev. Thurston Salthouse-Bryden, a former chaplain to Madame Tussauds and a forceful if erratic opening bat who distinguished himself in 1927 playing for the Convocation of Canterbury by scoring a century before matins in the match against a Coptic Martyrs Eleven.

TyldesleyI had the honour to be vice captain and OC ablutions, and among the notable players in our midst were the Staffordshire opening bowler, Thunderton-Cartwright, who was later to become rugby league correspondent for The Lancet, and the number three bat and occasional seamer, Ashton, F., who was later responsible for the choreography of the Royal Ballet’s highly acclaimed production of Wisden’s Almanack, 1929, featuring Alicia Markova as Ernest Tyldesley.

Of all the players in the party, though, the one who made the profoundest impression on all who met him (and some who didn’t) was the all-rounder, Arthur Root, a distant cousin of the Derbyshire, Worcestershire and England player, Fred Root, of the same name.

Root was what we in the ‘summer game’ call ‘a natural’.

During the voyage he kept us constantly entertained with his reading in Derbyshire dialect of the works of Colette, and his rendition on spoons and stirrup pumps of the later tone poems of Frederick Delius.

Root had charm, wit, erudition and the largest pair of feet it has ever been my privilege to encounter.

Indeed on the outward voyage they were directly responsible for saving the life of a Goanese steward who fell overboard seven nautical miles sou’ sou’ east of Ushant.

The poor wretch was applying linseed oil to the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden’s self-righting lectern when a freak giant wave washed him overboard.

With the lifebelts being in use for a rumbustious game of deck quoits, Root with great presence of mind threw the only object available to him into the sea — to wit, his right boot.

The dusky Indian steward clambered into the pedicular container and was instantly hauled aboard by the boot laces.

Little did we realize then how vital that boot was to be to our safety and well-being many many months later.

We disembarked without incident at Matadi and set off forthwith for the interior.

What a noble sight our native bearers made as they trudged along the primitive jungle trails carrying on their woolly heads the essential paraphernalia of our expedition — sight screens, portable scorebox and heavy roller.

The capital city, Leopoldvilie, was reached in three weeks.

How strange it was to our English eyes — no tram conductors, no Bedlington terriers, no Ordnance Survey bench marks.

Our only consolation came when Root discovered the local branch of Gunn and Moore’s where we bought leopard-skin cricket bags, scorebooks bound in genuine okapi hide, and the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden purchased an object warranted as a Bantu baptismal love token, but which to my untutored eyes looked more like H. M. Stanley’s left testicle.

We won each of our four matches in Leopoldville by an innings and ‘a substantial margin’, the Belgians ground fielding, as we had anticipated, being of a typically abysmal level.

A nation of congenital butterfingers, the Belgians.

We then set out for what was to be the most difficult and dangerous opposition of our entire tour — three unofficial Test matches against the Pygmies.

We left Leopoldville on a sultry August morning and did not reach our destination until late November 1914.
During the long and onerous trek we had the misfortune to lose three members of our party:

Evans-Pritchard, E. E.: stung by scorpion.

Leakey, L. S. B.: trampled by buffalo.

Attenborough, D.: retired hurt.

It was a nuisance to lose two wicket-keepers and a ‘more than adequate’ middle order batsman in that fashion, but nonetheless our party was in good spirits, when we arrived at Potto Potto to be greeted by officials of the Pygmy Board of Cricket Control.

The chairman, a gnarled, wizened little creature, who, incidentally, bore a marked resemblance to the distinguished light comedy actor and chanteuse, Mr John Inman, made us most welcome, offering us victuals and a choice of his most beautiful wives.

‘Just like playing for Derby against Notts at Worksop,’ said Root, and one and all joined in his hearty and innocent laughter.

On the advice of the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden we declined the feminine offerings but accepted the victuals which were served in the great adobe, thatched pavilion by elderly matrons of the tribe.

It was during the subsequent revelries that the first hitch in the proceedings occurred.
By prior arrangement we were to provide the balls to be used in the match, and, as a matter of courtesy, our baggage master, Swanton, presented a box of same to be examined by the Pygmy officials.

Imagine our horror when the minute, dark-skinned fraternity passed the balls from hand to hand, sniffed them, shook them and, with expressions of sublime delight, ate them.

Worse was to follow when the severely truncated tinted gents offered us the balls they wished to use — row upon row of small spherical objects, gnarled, matted, wrinkled and pitted.

For a moment we gazed at them in stunned silence.

Then the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden exclaimed:

‘Saints preserve us — they are shrunken heads.’

What could have been the very severest of fraught situations was saved by our ever-genial giant, Root.

Picking up one of the heads in his massive fist, he examined it briefly and then said:
‘Don’t worry, skipper. We’ll use this ‘un. It should be just right for seaming after lunch.’

The day of the first unofficial test dawned bright and clear.

The Pygmies won the toss and elected to bat.

PillingThe two Pygmy openers made their way to the wicket to the accompaniment of the howling of monkeys and the screeching of gaudily feathered parakeets, and as I watched them take the crease from my vantage point at deep extra cover, it was for all the world like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars at a dusky wee George Wood and an extremely sunburned Mr Harry Pilling.

Our opening bowler, Thunderton-Cartwright, came bounding to the wicket to deliver the first ball of this historic match.

It whistled from his hand at ferocious pace.

But all to no avail.

On the puddingy and unresponsive pitch the ball thudded mutely into the turf and rose no more than six inches from the ground.

‘Bouncer,’ yelled the Pygmy opener.

It was a cry taken up in unison by the masses of minuscule spectators packed in dense masses in what was, I believe, their equivalent of the Warner Stand.

An ugly incident seemed certain to ensue.

But at that moment, totally unexpected, came the crackle of small arms fire, and across the distant river burst a column of native Askaris.

As the Askaris waded across the river, firing indiscriminately from the hip, the Pygmies fled as if by magic.

As bullets whistled past our ears we flung ourselves to the ground, only to hear the following words which plunged an icy dagger to the depths of our hearts.

‘On your feet, Englische Schweinhunds!’

We looked up to see three white men, dressed in khaki drill, with shaven heads and leering duelling scars upon their cheeks.

‘Huns,’ we cried in unison.

Indeed they were.

Why hadn’t MCC informed us that war had been declared?

Why hadn’t the Test and County Cricket Board notified us that marauding parties of German colonial troops were rampaging through the territory?

Why was there no news in The Cricketer of the conflagration that was to rewrite the map of Europe and suspend for four years all Test matches between England and Australia?

Such thoughts flashed through my mind as we were bound by the straps of our cricket pads to the portable scoreboard, and the Askaris lined themselves in front of us in firing squad formation.

It was then, as death stared us in the face, that we were addressed by our skipper, the Rev. Salthouse-Brvden.

‘Oh, Lord,’ he said. Thou hast in Thy wisdom decreed that our innings shall be closed.

‘It is pleasing to Thine eye that in that great score-book in the sky it shall be written of our party, “Death stopped play”.

‘So, Lord, give us the strength to face the long walk back the celestial pavilion like men and members of the MCC, or whichever is more appropriate.’

It was at that moment that I noticed that Root was improperly dressed for the occasion.

His right boot was missing.

Before I could speak he motioned with his eyes towards the distant river.

An amazing sight met my eyes.

Floating silently in the current was a large right cricket boot.

And in it, paddling silently, was a war party of our erstwhile Pygmy opponents.

The Huns and Askaris, totally unaware of the approaching sporting footwear, paused to gloat over their triumph.

It waas to be their undoing, for in an instant the boot touched the river bank, the Pygmies sprang out through the lace holes and, screaming like dervishes, unloosed their poisoned arrows against them.

It was all over in seconds.

The Askaris and their vile Teutonic masters lay dead at our feet.

The match was resumed the following morning.

We had the good fortune to win, when Root took the last three Pygmy wickets with the last three balls of the match.

Years later he was to maintain that this was only possible owing to the slight inconsistency in the second new ball, which caused him to produce prodigious variations in swing and bounce.

And with a smile and a gentle nod of his genial head he would say:

‘I reckon it were the duelling scar in the seam what done it.’

 That may require foot-notes for the younger fellows.


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