Thursday, May 26, 2005


In Russell Brown Hard News style, this entry has several observations about isolated events. That's where any similarity ends.

Went and saw the wonderful Ska Cubano last Sunday night at the Zodiac with my colleague Sue, her man Neil, and my friend Evelyn from Noo Ziland. Ska Cubano generate a wonderful mix of of Ska rhythms. They played for two hours with immense amounts of energy, every bit the equal of The Go! Team, although The Go! Team do have better tunes... Much of the gig was in Spanish, so some of it was lost on me, but the rhythms needed limited explanation. The band is comprised of a band leader from Brixton, an amazing saxophinist (of the feminine kind) from Japan, and brassmen, bassists, percussionists, guitarists, keyboardists and a singer in a white suit from Cuba and Jamaica. Quite simply and extraordinary amount of fun an be had at these gigs. I was standing on a slightly elevated part of the floor towards the front and at one side of the stage, so I could look out over both the band and the crowd. Two things stood out to me. Firstly, the whole audience was going for it, for the whole gig. Most gigs I have been to has seen a gradual dissipation of energy, that is the further away from the stage the more stationary the punter. Not on Sunday night. Secondly, and I wanna stress this is just an observation, while the whole of the band was black or Asian, pretty much the whole audience was white.

Highlight of the evening - Istanbul not Constantinople. Much, much fun...

Yesterday I had to negotiate the wilds of Croydon, south London. Croydon is where Lunar House is, and Lunar House is where you can find the ominous sounding Imigration and Nationality Directorate (why does any government department with 'directorate' in the title sound so damn menacing? It sounds so damn totalitarian...). I've heard nightmares about this process, and if Patrick's Czech experiences (here and here) were anything to go by (yes, I know, different countries and all), it was not going to be fun. Usefully, the UK version of the IND has the option to create an appointment for the express service. The qualifying part of the express service is to have £500. Brandishing my form with 74990 scrawled on it, I invincibly marched my way in, smugly passing the long queue of those without the number 74990, before facing a whole lot of having my forms checked by pretty much every official I passed on my route and finally a whole lot of waiting in a very long room that was set up like a zoo. Lots of long blue chairs, all facing in one direction, all facing a long series of glass booths where hopes and dreams are being crushed and kindled. Oh yes, we can all sit and watch as applicants get asked tricky questions, see the tensions boil up as they find out that they haven't got the right documentation. Eventually, I heard 74990 called, and all my nerves dissipated as my interviewer decided that as far as she was concerned the only thing that important to her was that my surname was actually pronounced 'body'. Constantly being called 'Mr Body' followed by a chuckle was quite soothing, it has to be said. Twenty minutes later I was sent away, and told to come back in two hours while they found someone to stick a paper in my passport. Three hours later (the sticker man was out to lunch), I had permission to stay till 2008. Happy days.

Been hanging with my friend Evelyn a bit recently. She was really a friend of my friend Steph who has some temporary nannying work in Wytham, a small village west of Oxford. She knew no-one here, but Steph pointed her in my direction. It's a funny thing, in that she has certainly utilised my time and space, but that simply doesn't bother me. Maybe if she wasn't such a damn fine person it might have.... But three and a half years ago, my friends Sarah and Craig made me so welcome when I moved to Edinburgh, and then two and a half years ago my friends Sarah and Mike did the same when I moved to the 'shire. Now I know that I could never repay them, and I know that they would never expect it, but I think that what they would expect of me to treat new people in my world the same way they treated me. Not that I thought about this for a second. And it is nice to talk to someone with no connection to poetry, cricket, hOME, work...

When was the last time you saw a woman driving too fast? Yep, I can't remember seeing one either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Older, no less wiser, but just as content

Yesterday I Got Older. This made my blogspot address a little less relevant, and being runoutforthirteen in my only knock of the season makes it even less relevant. I might have to come up with something different. However these two people have already jumped the gun on me (Steve needs to pull his finger out but thitywhat is quite entertaining).

Blah blah.

Getting older results in two questions: 1) How does it feel? and 2) Do you feel any wiser?

1) I gotta say I feel the same as I felt the day before yesterday and the day before that. Content with my lot.
2) Nope.


I've stolen an idea that appears on a lot of blogs, but it was Patrick's source code that I actually stole. And it was Claire Fauset's poem that gave me this entry's title.

I've not read a lot this year, so I'm making a determined effort to change that. So, on my side bar is a list of books I'm trying to read. At the moment I am half way through the rather heavy but engaging Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I'm open to suggestions for other books.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Two Nil!!

My boys did it again. Wallingford Crcket Club's second eleven has now played two, won two. And won two by six wickets. On Saturday it was the turn of Princes Risborough to face the Wallingford juggernaut. Proving what many have suspected for years, that I am indeed a master tosser, I won the toss, and inserted the visitors in to bat. We started well, knocking over the two big hitting openers who had in the past caused us grief. The first one bowled by Rich Hadland and the second caught by big Bennie Denton, in an absolute screamer of a catch. The ball was seemingly struck past Bennie who was fielding at point. The boy stuck out his right hand, realised he wasn't going to make it, decided to leave the ground, caught the ball in his right hand, rolled it down his arm and with a thump landed cradling the ball in his belly. I wish his dad had seen it.

We kept the good work going, and at the half way mark had limited them to 47-4. But, as always happens, a mid-innings malaise kicked in. I don't know quite how it happens, but I get the feeling that most of us (ok, maybe it's just me) would have happily curled up on the field and had a kip. It happens every game. We lose a bit of focus, we let catches go, we misfield, and we Let the Opposition Off the Hook. The exception was the unshaven Darryll, who, despite suffering a back spasm while keeping wicket, would still call out incessantly "Come on Wallingford, Keep it going!". To demonstrate his alertness, he took a good hard catch, bending low at mid-wicket. Back spasm? What back spasm? It was during this malaise, that I first let a ball slip through my hands for runs (sorry, Tim) and then used my thumb to stop a ball with the tip of my left thumb. Today is the first day I can bend it beyond about three degrees. Finally the end came, when, aside from lusty hitting from Risborough's Daly (he managed to panel beat a car, putting alovely seam mark on the bonnet of a foolishly parked Mazda), Princes Risborough were restricted to 157-7. Rich had three wickets, Smithy, had three and I had none. I had decided to experiment with bowling myself for a couple of overs, as I thought that if I were bowling I wouldn't have to use my thumb to catch. The experiment lasted two overs, after I had gone for 16 runs, including five wides off one ball and had had the piss resoundedly (and deservedly) taken out of my run-up by Smithy who was standing at mid off. Sorry lads, that was a dumb thing to try and we won't be doing it again. Till next week. Or maybe the week after.

In reply, I demoted myself to number eleven, and sent Mark Cox and Chris Stubbs in. Chris started well, not looking like getting out, then had a swipe and was on his bike. David Max quickly followed in a dreadful mix up between him and Cox. Mark Searle came in, swiped 21 in no time before chopping on. Darryll was next in, and decided to 'keep himself going'. He was nearly out very quickly when, lofting a ball down the ground, had it pitch either directly in front of, or on top of a Risborough fielder's foot (who happened ot be the only woman on the field), who then caught it on the rebound. I was watching from the sidelines with Mark Cox's fiancee and we both thought it was a half volley (we figured that if it had landed directly on top of her foot, she would have screamed). Some of the fielders thought it was out. Some of them were sure it wasn't out. However, the sole discretion lay with the unfortunate David Max, who was umpiring. He decided, to some debate, that he was not sure, so therefore Darryll was not out. How crucial this turned out to be is debateable. A little while later, Mark C had quietly knocked up his 50 when he was hit full on the leg. From our completely askew position on the sideline, square to the wicket, it again looked not out. David Max was forced to make another contentious decision. This time, he decided Cox was out for a well compiled 51. Time for an aside.

Aside: The way I play sport is firstly to enjoy myself, then to win, and secondly to play the game in a good spirit and with integrity. Without the third thing, I cannot expect the first thing, which makes the second thing irrelevant. Part of this is to make sure that the people I play with are enjoying themselves and to make sure that they too are playing in the spirit of the game. One of the roles my players is to do the odd bit of umpiring. Umpiring is damned hard work, and very stressful. Whenever I umpire I always question my judgement, what exactly it was that I saw, and I don't particularly enjoy it, but it I know it has to be done. What I expect from my umpires and from myself is to be as honest as they can. If they think someone is out, then they should be given out, even if they are on 99 and we need one run to win. That is just how it is. Likewise, if someone knows they are out, then they should walk. Maybe I'm an idealist, maybe I'm a puritanical wanker, but that is what I like to see in my team. On Saturday David Max did exactly that. One went in our favour and one didn't. I have respect for him for calling it exactly how he saw it. I hope that the next time I get into such a situation I too am as honest. End of Aside.

Darryll, fresh from his reprieve and now joined by leaping Bennie Denton, decided to enjoy himself and finish things off in a hurry. I believe he was supposed to be somewhere at 8pm. Out came the big hits, and inevitably the reverse hook shot that is part of his compulsory repertoire. With twelve overs to spare, Darryll (44*) and Bennie (17*) had seen us home, and for the second saturday in a row, poor Tim Treadaway and Smithy were waiting, padded up, for a turn at bat that never arrived.


You can say what you like about Bill Gates. Typically he is the sort of person you can slag off with impunity (unless you are a competitor, or have I just done what I'm blogging about? Oops). He's the sort of person you can insult and be safe doing it, because he's rich, and therefore he is a bastard and hell, everybody is doing it.

I know little about him and what I do 'know' is based round reports of his apparently dodgy business practices. Whatever he does, today I simply do not care.

Today the BBC has reported that he has donated $250 million to Grand Challenges in Global Health, an organisation that he and his wife Melinda set up in 2003, to treat malaria, polio and influenza. This is a good thing. I want to say as well that I don't care about potential ulterior motives he might be suspected of having. The reasons I don't care can be found in one of my favourite books, and certainly one of the most inspiring in terms of writing and travelling, the book being A.A. Gill's A.A. Gill is Away. A.A. Gill is another one of the safe targets, and someone else for whom there is a 'love him or loath him' appraoach. Personally, I love him, and a sample of his writing can be found here. In one chapter Gill visits Uganda to visit a treatment centre for sickness. There is a lot in the chapter to make you very angry (in fact it is called I don't know what makes you angry). The very last paragraph (in its abridged format) reads something like this (apologies, Mr Gill):

"Between 1975-97 there were 1223 new medicines. Of these thirteen are to treat tropical diseases. Four of these arose from the pharmaceutical industries desire to cure humanity. None were discovered on purpose."

Whatever you might think about his motives, whatever you might think about his business practices, today Bill Gates did a Very Good Thing.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


It's 7pm on a sunny Saturday evening. Right now I should be playing cricket. The reason that I'm not is that an hour ago Wallingford's 2nd XI finished demolishing the third XI of Dinton by six wickets. How does it feel? It feels fine. Damn fine. We ripped through them for 85, Rich Hadland taking five for 47, Neil (Smithy) Smith four for 14. Not a dropped catch among them either, including one that was whacked straight at me. Jon Whiteman saw it, he can vouch for it. Or come see the marks on my hand.

In reply, we started well, Mark (Searley - can you see what we've done there?) Searle and I put on thirty for the first wicket till I ran myself out for thirteen (unlucky for me) when I slipped. A brief slump saw us lose another three wickets for one run, before Mark (NOT Markie or Coxie) Cox and Ben (Bennie) Denton strode to the crease. Now, we all know Mark can bat. Last year he knocked up a good eighty against Bledlow and a good sixty against Banbury. Fifteen year old Bennie, however, did not have such a fine record. However the boy has potential. Today, he showed us that potential. Taking some two or three overs to get off the mark, but without looking like getting out, he then picked the short one, pivoted opn one foot and twatted it to the fence for four. Another one quickly followed, then a lovely flick down to third man. Twelve runs, all boundaries. More fours followed as the Dinton bowling got increasingly ragged and the Denton (and Cox) batting got increasingly fluid. By the time it was all over, Bennie had 24 and Mark 27, and they'd put on 55 unbeaten runs for the fifth wicket, and Wallingford had the great record of played one, won one.

A good day at the office. Cheers, lads.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I Go!!-ed

Tonight I should have been writing a review of a Hammer and Tongue poetry slam at the Oxford Literary Festival for the Nail. Instead, I went to see The Go! Team at the Zodiac.

Sorry Dave. I promise I'll write it in the morning.

I've been looking forward to this gig for so long and man, was it worth the wait. Loads of energy, loads of passion, and that was just the crowd. They bounced, they funked, they shook and they made me forget I'll be 31 in eleven days.

So good!!


I love them...

Especially Ninja.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Paternal Pride

As part of my role at Wallingford Cricket Club, I am the manager of the under 15 side. Last night, while I sat in Berlin's Shoenfeld airport (try not to get stuck there, there are worse places in the world (like LAX), but not many), my charges had their first ever game. They played Abingdon's Under 15's and went and bloody won!! My wee fellers made 101 from twenty overs and restricted Abingdon's wee fellers to 91-9.

I'm so very proud of them.


This past week I have been on my annual last-holiday-before-the-cricket-season-starts holiday. Being the skipper of a team requires that I be at the vast majority of (if not all) the games. This is a burden I'm willing to bear. Last year I had my premature mid-life crisis holiday and went to Namibia in an act of getting to Africa before I turned 30. This year was a bit different. I visited Poland, travelling to three towns, Krakow, Wrocław (pronounced Vrots-wahf - if you say rocklaw the Poles look mystified and then they laugh at you) and Oświęcim. That last town has long been known by a much more ominous name, it's the town where the Nazi's built a death camp when the town was known as Auschwitz. The Lonely Planet rather glibly decsribes the town as 'possibly the most moving sight in Poland'. Uh huh.

The camp is actually broken up into forty camps, of which only two survive. The principal camp of Auschwitz I is possibly the most well known, and certainly provides the most familiar images. It's there where you walk under the sign that reads'Arbeit Macht Frei' (work makes you free), and where you can see the rooms of hair, spectacles, shoes, Jewish items... The most startling room was the pile of suitcases. Almost all of them had names of them... There is also the familiar lamps along the electrified barbed wire fence, and yes the squat chimney of the crematorium attached to the gas chamber. Much of the camp has been preserved as a museum.

However (and apologies for the history lesson), Auschwitz I was not the death camp. That role fell to the much larger camp of Auschwitz II, or the camp at Birkenau, some two kilometers away. When you drive to the camp, you come round a left hand bend and as you cross over some railways lines you are confronted with the chilling sight of the gate to the camp. It is a distinctly familiar building, a symmetrical building with a watch tower in the middle. Directly under the watch tower there is a large arch, through which runs the railway line. Oddly, the building seems quite small and isolated. It is the only significant structure for some distance. You park your car out the front and you go in. You climb the watchtower and immediately you get struck by the magnitude of this place. The enormity of this place. This place is huge. The railway line, surrounded by a striking beige sand, splits off into three lines which disappear off into some trees. The camp stretches off to your right for about a kilometer, maybe a kilometer and a half, with regular guard towers and a line of low barracks two deep. Beyond the barracks are endless chimney stacks and low brick structures, separated by intermittent wire fences, which you just know are electrified and barbed. These stacks and bricks are all that remain of the hundreds of huts built to house the inmates.

As you walk around the camp you walk into the odd hut, you peer through the barbed wire fences, you see the outline of the SS guards huts. And then you get to the far end of the camp. The business end of the camp. There is a grove of trees behind which are piles of bricks and a small pond. The grove of trees was where people waited before entering the buildings. Where they died. The pond is where their ashes were poured. It is at the same time very beautiful and numbing. The trees are very pretty, but it doesn't take much to think of a famous image of this site that hangs in the main camp. The image shows a group of naked women being forced to run to the gas chamber. Behind the chamber is a pyre of burning corpses. Again it doesn't take much to think of the people who were waiting for their turn. What they must of thought, what they must have screamed. This place is simply evil. Except. Except this conclusion does not hit you for some time, in my case it took days. Maybe it was because I have read an awful lot about this place, and maybe I was too familiar with the crimes committed here. But I found it impossible to comprehend it, even standing in front of the evidence. Or maybe that it was also a beautiful day, the sky was blue, it was hot and the birds were singing. There is a myth that not even the birds sing at Auschwitz, but that is not true, it is just a myth. You do get moments of revelation, moments of understanding, moments of grief, but that was all.

As you carry on from the copse of trees you encounter the second gas chamber. This one was blown up by the Jewish prisoners who worked in it. They blew it up because they knew that their turn was next.

Walking towards the far end of the camp you encounter the 'Sauna'. This was the building that the 'lucky' few got to see. This was where those that survived the selection process got registered as inmates. That is, they were fit for work. You walk along a raised glass floor, passing all the stages of registration (being stripped, shaved, tattooed, deloused and finally issued with the thin striped clothes that are again such a familiar image of this place. At the end of the Sauna is a wall of photos. Behind the wall are yet more photos, which are grouped into families. In the middle of the groups are the stories of what happened each family member. This is not a place that you can spend much time.

Exiting the Sauna it is a short walk past the camps water treatment plant (you wonder why they bothered), past the wide drainage ditches dug by the inmates, past a lone tower, turning left at the fork (the attractive tree lined gravel path leading away to the right leads to what is simply labelled pyres and pits), and to the terminus of the railway lines. Here, seperated by the enormous monument to the victims of fascism, are the remains Crematoria I and II. Away to the right leads the beige and last road that 1.7 million people took. The remains are large but not huge. But apparently they were each able to 'process' 2000 people at a time. Fifteen minutes to die and about as long to be cremated.

Again you just stand and look at it. I didn't know what to think. I just kept my mouth shut. For some reason there was a man with a surveying staff measuring the ruins. And then, for some stupid, Fucked up, reason, I started taking photos of the ruins. Trying to get an arty shot or something. Sitting at my desk at home four days later I can only think to myself what an utterly inappropriate response that was. God, what was I thinking? I have about 50 photos that I took at the two camps. Three of them are below, but the rest, I don't know about them. And in a moment now of pure self-indulgence, I start to think about how I responded and how my responses have messed me up. And then I flagillate myself for thinking about how that was all I have to worry about, something so trivial, whereas this was a place of basic survival for so many. And it makes me conclude that there is no appropriate response to this place. Granted some responses are less appropriate. Which makes me conclude that this place simply messed the world up. It messed up those who died here, it messed up those who worked here (although I'm guessing they were already a little messed up), it's messed up history by putting a great big marker post by which things get measured, as if anything should be compared to this place, it messed up the descendants of those who died here, it's completely messed up the survivors, and it messes up those who visit it.

You simply cannot get your head round this place. But then, who on earth wants to?

There are many questions that Auschwitz invokes. Most start with why. Why? No really, Why? Why didn't the inmates revolt? What provokes a people to do this to another people? (Perversely) Why the hell did the Nazis bother with little soap dishes in the inmates latrines? How did anybody maintain their sanity (perhaps they didn't)? What does 1.7 million look like? How did they not know? Why didn't the Allies bomb the living daylights out of the camps seeing as they knew it was happening? And, what would I have done? None of these questions can be answered remotely adequately, although Daniel Jonah Goldhagen tried in the weighty Hitler's Willing Executioners, and perhaps it's a little naive of me to expect answers.

One of those questions, the one about the perpetrators of the crimes, is particularly hard to answer. Through the camps you are given personal accounts of the victims, but the murderers are always referred to as 'the SS men', as in 'the SS men blew up the crematoria to hide the evidence' and 'when the trains arrived the prisoners went through a selection process where SS physicians determined who was fit to work and who wasn't' (75-80% of new arrivals failed that first and final test). Because of this, you can't see them as people, more as evil robots from Dr . Who or some such, and because you can't see them as people, you can't get understand them. Maybe this is a good thing, I don't know. All that can be seen is short and grainy video clips of guards at their trials, looking unrepentant and, if it were possible, even less human. All that remains is a demonised image of the erect SS officer with his peaked hat, breaches and jackboots. I remember visiting a church in Prague that was the last stand of a group of Czech resisitors who killed Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governer of Czechoslovakia. In the church there is an photo of his body lying in state, with a detachment of six SS guards standing to attention. The camera is looking directly at them, so you can see their eyes. There is not an ounce of humanity in them. But then these people had mothers, maybe sons and daughters, passions, hurts. Like I said, I just don't get it.

Auschwitz gets into your head and results in the weirdest stuff coming out. It is one of the most trippy things I have ever had to confront, certainly the most severe, and I accept that much of my responses are messy, perhaps premature. I'm glad I went, although I wonder about the motivations for going. I can concede that there is a morbidity to the fact that I decided to go in the first place, but I believe it is important that I went. It's said to be a cliche that people go there and come out changed. Bull shit, there's no cliche there. It's a fact. I suspect for many people, like me, that change happens a little bit after the visit.

Maybe over the coming weeks I will have further thoughts. I hope I do. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

The railway lines

The grove of trees

The wall in the Sauna