Friday, November 30, 2012

hammond's organ

My earlier cricket-related post was both right and wrong in roughly equal measure, as following his 176 in the Ahmedabad Test and 122 in Mumbai Alastair Cook now has 22 Test centuries to his name, and therefore stands on the brink of breaking a record that has stood (despite being twice equalled since, in 1969 and 1981) for 73 years. More unexpectedly, following his rapid reinstatement in the side, Kevin Pietersen's remarkable 186 in Mumbai means that he also has 22 Test centuries, so the race is on to be the man to break the record. Since neither Cook nor Pietersen shows any signs of retiring imminently this is a record that could change hands a few times over the next few years, a marked contrast to how often it has changed hands in the past. My quick research suggests the record changed hands four times between 1901 and 1937, and has not done so since. Here's the progression of the record since 1901:
  • Arthur Shrewsbury took sole possession of the record on making his third Test century in 1893, and held the record with three until 1901;
  • Archie MacLaren took over the record on making his fourth Test century in 1901, and had raised it to five by the time he played his last Test in 1905; he was joined on five that same year by Stanley Jackson and they jointly held the record until 1920;
  • Jack Hobbs scored his sixth Test century in 1920, and by the time of his last Test in 1930 had raised the record to a lofty fifteen;
  • Herbert Sutcliffe, Hobbs' long-time opening partner for England, raised the record to sixteen by making what turned out to be his last Test century in 1932;
  • Walter Hammond took over the record in 1937 on making his seventeenth Test century and had raised it to twenty-two by the time of his last Test century in 1939, where it stayed when he retired after a fairly dismal post-war comeback in 1947.
Cook seems a pretty level-headed sort of bloke, but Pietersen's difficulties with authority have some interesting parallels with the people he currently shares the record with. Boycott was a legendarily spiky and controversial character, and even the more even-tempered Cowdrey was somewhat enigmatic. And Walter Hammond, the man who set the current record at The Oval in 1939, was a legendarily aloof and forbidding character. One suspects that no-one ever called him Walter "the Hamster" Hammond, for instance, at least not to his face.

In Hammond's case it's very interesting to speculate how much of this was as a result of the year he spent out of cricket in 1926 following his contracting a "serious illness" during a tour to the West Indies the previous winter. Since this sort of thing wasn't discussed openly back then it's difficult to make any definitive judgment, but David Foot's biography of Hammond argues that it was probably an STD of some sort (Hammond apparently being a fairly notorious swordsman), possibly just a really nasty dose of the clap, or possibly something more serious like syphilis, in which case the regular treatment in those pre-antibiotics days would have been doses of either mercury or arsenic, neither of which are particularly effective at curing syphilis, but very effective at giving you, respectively, mercury and arsenic poisoning, with, in the case of mercury in particular, potentially long-lasting neurological effects.

Anyway, enough of this prurient speculation. Elsewhere in the cricketing world Michael Clarke set a new record during the Adelaide Test for the number of double-centuries (four) scored in a calendar year. Since two of these scores were in excess of 250 Clarke becomes the latest addition to my list of people who have made more than one such score. Here's the current list:
  • Brian Lara (1994)
  • Mahela Jayawardene (2009)
  • Sanath Jayasuriya (2004)
  • Walter Hammond (1933)
  • Don Bradman (1930)
  • Chris Gayle (2010)
  • Michael Clarke (2012)
  • Virender Sehwag (2006)
  • Younis Khan (2009)
  • Hashim Amla (2012)
  • Ramnaresh Sarwan (2009)
  • Kumar Sangakkara (2006)
  • Javed Miandad (1987)
  • Graeme Smith (2003)
  • Stephen Fleming (2006)
The date denotes the year they joined the list. As you can see, as recently as 2002 there would only have been four men on it (Hammond, Bradman, Javed and Lara). Note that Clarke joins Bradman and Smith in making two such scores in the same calendar year; Bradman and Smith went one better by making theirs in consecutive Tests.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

it's beginning to look a lot like arseholes

Once again I'm afraid I've failed you utterly in terms of informing you in a timely manner about the need to vote in the 2012 Bad Faith Awards, as awarded every year by New Humanist magazine. Voting closed on Monday, and despite an impassioned last-minute plea in favour of perennial nominee Prince Charles it looks very much as if US Congressman Todd "legitimate rape" Akin is going to romp away with this year's poll.

Previous winners include Sarah Palin, Pope Benedict XVISheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed and recent jungle visitor Nadine Dorries. I'm pretty sure if the timing had been slightly different the medical staff involved in the farcical sequence of events leading to the death of Savita Halappanavar would have got a nod in the nominations, and with the outpouring of righteous anger in the aftermath might well have won. Anyone dismissing Nadine Dorries as a lovable harmless Great British Eccentric should reflect that more cases like Savita's would be a direct result of the sort of abortion legislation she advocates.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the pickled sprouts followed by the crabmeat phal

I'm not going to dress this up in any sort of pseudo-philosophical flummery or try to intellectually justify it in any way; what follows is some schoolboy sniggering at perfectly innocent use of the word "wood". Firstly on the packaging for some felt pads of the sort you put under the legs of furniture to stop them scratching your delicate floors:

Secondly on the packaging for a stair-gate to stop your kids from faceplanting into those same floors from the dizzy heights of the upstairs landing:

Finally here's the front page of the menu from our excellent local Indian restaurant, the Jewel Balti.

I'm going to charitably ignore the careless apostrophe abuse in the middle of the page and focus instead on the claim made on the right, about a third of the way down. Here it is:

I'll bet they are. Especially if they had the squid vindaloo.

Friday, November 23, 2012

stuck inside of mobile with the blogging blues again

As you were, calm down, sit down at the back there: this is just a test post to check the functioning of the Blogger mobile app that I've just installed. Imagine a world in which I can just literally BLOG STUFF while walking along the street, gambolling through a meadow, having a shit; the possibilities are endless. I've cracked a semi just thinking about it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

der phased plasma rifle in der 40-Watt range

It's been a good week for salutary lessons about the differences between the UK and the USA, and indeed the salutary differences between the USA and the rest of the USA. Amidst all the righteous schadenfreude in the wake of the presidential election result, though, I was reminded of some other differences by the contents of my junk e-mail folder. Here's a tempting special offer I was sent this week:

For those in a graphics-poor environment, or those who just can't be arsed to click on the image to enlarge it, here's the relevant e-mail text:
Our friends at Smoky Mountain Knife Works, "The Worlds Largest Knife Showplace", have an amazing offer for all customers.  Simply purchase ANY new Glock pistol and receive your choice of FREE knives directly from Smoky Mountain Knife Works!  Yes, literally any new model Glock is eligible, as if buying one of the most dependable and reliable pistols ever made wasn’t incentive enough. Simply choose your FREE knife from the drop down selection menu on each new Glock item page.  Your FREE knife will automatically be added to your order and shipped directly to you while your new Glock ships to your local FFL dealer.  Click here to find out which knife is best for you: 
We are very pleased to offer you this additional value when buying your next new Glock at   Our advertised Glock prices include UPS Blue 2-day shipping to your local FFL dealer and now a FREE knife from Smoky Mountain Knife Works!  Go and compare this deal to other online dealers....we're confident you'll come back to Buds for your next new Glock!   
At your service, 
Team Buds
So, basically, Bud's have listened to their customers' feedback, and apparently a lot of customers are saying look, this supremely lethal Glock pistol is all very well, but it doesn't have the up-close interactive personal touch that I need. I mean, yes, I can pump my assailant full of hot leady death from several feet away, but I get the nagging feeling as I watch his bullet-ridden body twitching like a ragdoll as the bullets rip through his flesh that I should be participating in his painful demise in a more hands-on way. So as his precious bodily fluids leak away into my carpet, what I'd really like to be able to do is reverently lay the Glock down on an occasional table, cradle his head in my hand as he croaks out his last words, unsheath a glinting blade and slip it firmly between his ribs to usher him into the netherworld in the way that I think, in a very real sense, he would have wanted. Or, heck, I might just stick him repeatedly like a pig, gouge his eyeballs out and then piss in the sockets. Too much? OK then. So, to summarise, a free knife would be great. Yours sincerely, A Maniac.

I should stress at this point that Bud's Gun Shop does indeed appear to be a real establishment, so it's not a scam; I should also stress that I have literally no idea how I got on their mailing list. But it is a fascinating experience to look at their website and marvel at the gargantuan range of lethal weaponry available there, any one of which, as I expect they would say, is ideal for home defence. I marvel also at the sub-headings entitled "Youth Guns" and "For The Ladies". You can also buy a crossbow if, for instance, you feel like re-enacting the killing spree from We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I should also add that while I find the American fetish for guns fascinatingly weird I would defend anyone's right to own some knifeware that could potentially be lethal if used in the wrong way. Knives, after all, have uses other than killing people - I have some weapons in my kitchen that could gut you like a mackerel, but I don't expect the police to start visiting me now I've admitted to possessing them. And then there's my Dartmoor knife.

Friday, November 09, 2012

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Bond villain (from Tomorrow Never Dies) Elliot Carver aka Jonathan Pryce. One of them is a grave threat to world peace and stability, and the other is a Bond villain, hahahahaha.

I think Carver (a heavy-handed satirical caricature of people like Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch) has a strong claim to be one of the most rubbish Bond villains ever. Note that this isn't entirely Pryce's fault, but his characters do always have a sort of sweaty shifty self-doubt about them, and you really want monomaniacal arrogance with a touch of insanity in a Bond villain.

Also, my delaying posting this until after the official announcement means that I can't use the "man who may Welby the next Archbishop of Canterbury" gag I was planning. Finally, Justin Welby's middle name is Portal. Fact.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

the last book I read

Clea by Lawrence Durrell.

So this is the fourth and final instalment in the Alexandria Quartet, following on from Justine, Balthazar and Mountolive. We join Justine's narrator, Darley, in exile on his Greek island after the events of that first book, thrown into a new perspective in the light of the alternative version of events described by Balthazar in, erm, Balthazar. We're meant to understand that he's been there for five years or so, looking after his ex-lover Melissa's daughter and surviving on food and money from who knows where, given that he's presumably not doing much schoolteaching (theoretically his profession).

Anyway, along with delivering the manuscript that forms the bulk of Balthazar, Balthazar makes it known that now would be an opportune time for Darley to end his exile and return to Alexandria. He does so to find the city ravaged by the Second World War, various wrecked hulks littering the harbour and people occasionally being blown up by random bombings, but otherwise life in the European quarter continuing very much as normal, with much sitting around in caf├ęs drinking coffee, desultory bed-hopping and the like.

Having off-loaded the child (with remarkably little emotion, giving that he'd been in loco parentis pretty much exclusively for the previous five years) to her father, Justine's husband Nessim, and after a brief encounter with Justine herself, Darley returns to Alexandria to take up his previous lodgings with French consular official Pombal. He also runs into Clea, a painter, much mentioned but never actually met in the previous three books, and no sooner has it become apparent that they had had a brief "thing" a while back than they fall into bed together and embark on a proper relationship. This relationship forms the backdrop to some catching up with characters from previous books in the series, principally David Mountolive and his lady friend Liza Pursewarden, sister of suicidal novelist Pursewarden whose writings litter the text. Liza, who is blind, enlists Darley, an aspiring writer, to sift through a trunkload of letters from her brother and assess their suitability for publication. On discovering that the letters describe a torridly incestuous brother/sister affair, including the birth of a child, also blind, who subsequently died, Darley suggests that the best thing to do might be to burn the lot. Wise words.

Just in case we were getting too cosy, Clea now starts behaving oddly, having occasional nightmares seemingly related to some mysterious but unspecified event in her past. To cheer everyone up she organises a day out swimming on a nearby island in the harbour with Darley and Balthazar, whereupon Balthazar, fiddling with a harpoon gun he found in the boat, discharges it accidentally and spears Clea by the hand to a bit of old wooden wreckage underwater. To save her from drowning, Darley grabs a knife and hacks away part of her hand to free her.

Needless to say this puts a bit of a damper on their relationship, and Darley decides to cut his ties with Alexandria and return to Europe. Clea, too, seems to have wearied of the city and offers (in an exchange of letters) just the possibility of the two meeting again.

Clea is the book which adds the fourth dimension (i.e. time) to the multiple views of essentially the same sequence of events described in the previous three books. I wouldn't want you to think that that means Bravo Two Zero levels of narrative drive and excitement, though, because not a lot really happens, even then. But, as with the previous three, that isn't really the point - it's all about the evocation of the city, the real subject of the novels, for all the assorted mooning about and angst-ridden carrying-on of the principal characters.

A lot of this teeters dangerously on the edge of unbearable pretentiousness, and as always John Crace nails its more ridiculous elements in his Digested Reads entry. It's certainly true that the quartet's critical reputation isn't quite what it used to be (although it does still feature in some heavyweight Best 20th Century Novels lists, for instance this one - other novels in this series feature at numbers 2, 4, 21, 55, 63 and 64), but I enjoyed it - for all its pretensions to experimental-ness (mainly in the business with the multiple viewpoints in the first three books) it's all very easy to read, and the four volumes are all fairly slim (Mountolive is the longest at 285 pages).

The business with the Pursewarden siblings provides another entry for my Incest Files as detailed here; while we're on Things That Remind Me Of Similar Things In Other Books the episode with Clea getting harpooned and the frantic hacking with the knife reminded me of a similar incident in Willard Price's Underwater Adventure when the senior scientist, Dr. Blake, gets his foot grabbed by a giant clam and has to try and saw his own leg off, sadly without success.

Incidentally it's the centenary of Durrell's birth this year, so my timing of completing the quartet is opportune (though unintentional). More information can be found here.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

time and relative dimensions in Newport

As I've said before, you can keep your Hanging Gardens of Rutland and your Great Pyramid Of Hull, we've got stuff just as good right here in Newport. Some of it might be, shall we say, slower to reveal its charms, but it's still there.

Here's a case in point: I drive along the stretch of Chepstow Road between my house and the M4 a couple of times a day (during the working week anyway), but it's only recently I noticed that there is an old blue police box standing by the junction between Chepstow Road and Hawthorne Avenue, a couple of hundred yards at most from our house. It turns out that not only is this a Grade II listed building, but that it's recently been the recipient of a major repair job worth over £10,000 funded by a grant from the Welsh ancient monuments people Cadw. Incidentally if you click on that Google StreetView link you'll discover that the Googlemobile managed to snap this vital architectural landmark at the precise moment that a skip lorry obscured the view; nice work. Track left or right for a better view, or just click on the unobscured image on the right which I snapped while out for a walk with the bairn yesterday.

So anyway, the significance of the box in historical terms (it being just a big concrete lump painted blue in architectural terms) is that there aren't many original police boxes still around today, most having been demolished since they stopped being actively used by the police in the 1960s. It's surprisingly difficult to answer the obvious next question, i.e. well, how many are left then? Or, at least, it's difficult to answer it by trawling round the internet, not least because of the difficulty in sifting the wheat of actual historical information from the chaff of endless bollocks about Dr. Who.

There is a sort of Dr. Who connection here, though, in that the Newport box is apparently affectionately known as the Somerton TARDIS by locals, and in fact prior to the repairs had a Tom Baker-style scarf painted on it. Anyway, back to the numbers - this map which suggests there are no more than half-a-dozen or so real ones left must be wrong, since it omits the Newport one; this list (map towards the bottom of the page) seems more plausible, and suggests there are maybe 20 or so around Britain, with the Newport box being the only one remaining in Wales. Plan your visit now! Parking is available in a nearby side-street; refreshment and gift-shop facilities are currently minimal (though there is a slightly ropey Chinese take-away up the road). I do plan to set up a stall selling blue TARDIS-shaped fudge any day now, though.