Ashes Poetry - cricket

PLEASE GO TO for all content here, and Ashes Poetry 2009 in England. Ta

David Fine, Ashes poet in residence in Australia 2006-7

England vs Australia.
Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney 2006-2007

To comment and find out more, especially about npower Ashes Poetry 2009, please e-mail - G'day!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Perth Day Three - prediction

Forget Dr Fiffle-Faffle's fiffle-faffle.

Best hope is the poms to bowl like drains and bat like kings, relying on Ponting's Declaration Manifest to eke out a draw.

Such is life.

Perth Day Two - fate awaits

A 11.30 kick off is leisurely, certainly compared to 10am at The Gabba. For fans this makes a big difference. It means more drinking in the evening, and yet more drinking in the morning too. Consequently a WACA crowd is by and large well-oiled, adequately inebriated, whimsically whacko and perpetually pissed throughout proceedings. The two advertising hoardings next to the scoreboard occasionally combine Johnny Walker and Some Hangovers Are For Life. Nobody gets drunk because they already are, which makes for an easy atmosphere.

It must be weird for the rest of Australia too - not that they aren't indulgers. For those on Eastern Standard Time, over half the population, play at the Waca starts at 1.30, or just after lunch, and finishes about nine, barbie embers cooling in the darkness.

There is a sense, probably greater than Brisbane, that Perth moves to a different time to the rest of Australia. It seems around ten years behind, maybe more, maybe less, and far less chic and far more bloke orientated. The Hip Guide To Perth from Tourism Western Australia seems to date from the last century, while the tv in my hotel room is proud to have four adult movie channels. I knew I should have packed flares.

'Come on, Coventry!' as a friendly greeting to Burnley compatriots in the row ahead. Colin from Essex asks my lunchtime prediction. '113 for 4' before patriotism gets the better of me, '113 for 3'

It's hard work. Collingwood out slashing, then Strauss to an iffy caught behind, to add to a dodgy one in Adelaide.

Those That Go Against You

In the cool shadowed privacy
of the dressing room sanctuary,
bats are hurled, windows smashed
with more force, anger and intent
than any maximum smite from the middle.

It never hit the bat.
Clearly missing the stumps.
The umpire’s finger,
not the acumen of the bowler,
sends you on your way.

Rage and fear routs the calm certainty
behind all due care and attention
in adjudication summoning
benefit of the doubt
not to give you out.

The quiet ones always seem to receive
the rough edge of the rub of the green.

Pietersen fairly comfortably, and Flintoff rather dangerously outside off-stump, get past the dandelion and burdock drinks cart and the Baggy Green verbals

Silence in Court

Australian fielders ceaselessly chatter between balls.

‘Will do, Ricky.’ ‘Test match cricket.’
‘On the money, Warnie.’ ‘Easy, Pigeon.’

It’s their way. Habitual as cockatoos
or car horns in the Eernal City,
as much to divert foreigners
as egg patriotism on.

The driving gavel of Pietersen
sends leather to the benches
and silence in court.
The Australians are livier in the field, feeding off the energy of the braided one.

Circus Tricks

A mid-off in the middle of the pool,
he waits for batters to toss a fish:
the lunge, leap, rush and scurry,
somersault, dive, fall, roll and parry,
comes up ball and applause in hand.

Only batters wonder
if they’ll run out of fish
especially if Symonds,
The Performing Seal,
takes a catch

113 for 3 my lunchtime prediction not too far out, before Freddie on borrowed time edges their performing seal and fifth bowler Symonds to slip, and this time Warne doesn't drop it. 107-5

Jones drives, ct Langer b Symonds 0. 114 for 6.

My Wolves supporter next to me has a spread bet that Pietersen will get more than 350 for the series. 'He better do it now.' Last night interviewed by Rod Quinn, we agree the team whose batsman gets a century should win.119 for 6, Lee's last over, it'll be good just to get to lunchtime.

After lunch Mahmood slashes unnecessarily but Hoggard gives good support to the Kevin Pietersen show.

The Art of Batsmanship by Matthew Hoggard OBE

1. Play Straight
2. No fancy stuff
3. Hold the stroke
4. Especially if you miss
5. Don’t forget to tell ’em
Sod off

Enter Warne, curiously held back, who does Hoggie with a leggie that bounces. 155 - 8. Pietersen goes for it, Warne into the stands, holes out to Symonds for 70. 175-9. Didn't quite make the Wolves' fan bet.

The Monty is at the crease. Together with Stevo Harmison, the last wicket puts on forty, with all the fun of the fair of dropped catches, swirling but safe skiers and outrageous play and misses. More to the point the last four wickets raise 101 runs, which again demonstrates the churlishness of inappropriate shot selection by members of the selection committee, Messrs Flintoff and Jones.

One thing for sure, unlike Adelaide this game doesn’t have draw etched all over it, and it ain't going to last five days unless both teams bat spectacularly well and bowl just as badly in the second knock.

Australia's small lead is significant. They'd fancy knocking England over for less than two hundred second dig, and England know it. In turn this means it'll be a hard game for England to win unless they skittle out the Green Baggies for around 150 or less.

In other words bowl their socks off. We shall see.

No such luck. Hoggard castles Langer through the gate first ball (cricket speak for clean bowled) Much in the same way Langer was bowled by Panesar. He doesn't get forward far enough.

That's it. Without too much trouble Hayden and Ponting – who else - complete fifties and at stumps Australia are 119 for 1, 148 ahead. While finishing this the room tv is tuned to India vs South Africa 1st Test. India 72-2, Dravid and Tendulkar conduct a master class how to defend against Pollock et al. The ground in Jo’burg is empty. Today the WACA was packed, and Billy The Trumpet was reduced to playing Carols.

We Two Kings

We two kings from Orient are,
Sajid Mahmood and Panesar.
From Pakistan and India,
Their parents give good cheer

O five for ninetyfour on day one,
You’ve done well, come on my son,
Both Monty and Sajid'll have to take plenty
Following your cricketing stars

Not even sure Santa can retain the Ashes for England, and I don’t think even my Wolves’ mate would get good odds.

Perth Day One – in the balance

All confusion - the tickets say 10.30 start, the official Cricket Australia official Ashes Tour Book 11.00, we kick off at 11.30. The Waca (not Aborigine but Western Australian Cricket Association) is ramshackle. More Headingley with decent weather and palm trees. If The Gabba was the Strineship Enterprise, then The Waca is Thunderbirds Are Go. The Inverarity, Prindiville, but particularly the Lillee Marsh stand with its modernist concrete office block behind are straight off Tracy Island. 'Okay, Scott. We just got a distress call from the England cricketers in Australia, apparently their Ashes hopes are going up in smoke. Only International Rescue can help them now.'

Talking of which, England pick Mahmood and Panesar

We Two Kings

We two kings from Orient are,
Sajid Mahmood and Panesar.
From Pakistan and India,
Their parents give good cheer

The attacking option. Australia go one better and win the toss. As usual Langer and Hayden play their strokes and ride their luck.

22-0 - Billy the trumpeter starts, which at least gets Freddie's attention at second slip. If we win this game, there's a ready-made excuse, no, reason, for going two down in the first place - a lack of Billy The Trumpet, who needs to do a Josuah at the Aussie Walls of Jericho.

Trumpet Voluntary – to tune of Land of Hope and Glory

Land of hope and Billy
Trumpets cross Aussie Grounds
Proscribed at Adelaide and Gabba
At Perth we rose to your sound

Maybe it won't do the trick but the Barmy Army falsetto Aussie singing has everyone in good humour. 27-0.

Every Australian

Every Australian
wants to be Matthew Hayden.
Giant stride forward to meet the ball,
great arc of willow becomes a maul
to drive each pom into the back
of the outback and beyond.
Every Australian
Wants to be Matthew Hayden.
Not to be outdone, Langer hooks Flintoff for four - through midwicket, then a flashing coverdrive - straight over the keeper's head. 39-0 My start of play lunchtime prediction of 87-3 looks a tad optimistic, at least wickets wise

42-0 Stevo Harmison enters the attack, but at 47 the Great Australian Hayden flashes the great arc once too often and is caught Jones, bowled,that's right, Hoggard. It might be the last appearance of the Great Australian Hayden, who is an endangered species, but the real contest starts. Ponting The Magnificent.

Exit for 3, the Tasmanian Devil lbw Harmison, to one which could well be going down leg-side, which from a partisan point of view, makes the success taste all the sweeter. Contest now on, Harmison bowling with fire, Flintoff tight, for the first time in the series, the England attack has the Green Baggies on the back foot, literally as well as metaphorically. Runs dry up, Flintoff grasses a hard chance from Langer off Harmison, and enter Monty Panesar with a maiden. The signs are good. John Major won the bag of 3 mobile goodies. Not the John Major, President of Surrey, friend of Edwina (note the Derby connection) and keeper of the Grey Underpants. Or maybe it was the John Major, after all.

Whatever the signs, this is the real England, with fire in their belly. They might have left for the WACA before the Adelaide Test was finished but they’ve certainly arrived here.

Mahmood joins Monty, two kings from Orient are. Langer cleaned bowled Panesar 37, last ball before lunch. 69 for 3. A pearler of a delivery.

The Demon Panesar

You become yourself as you reach the crease
Gently poised paces, all limbs leaned to slight
Opponents’ fraught intent. Deft, accurate,
no whimsical flight; quick arm at its height
injects lethal charm to bewitch them out.
You need show no mercy until they leave.
At drinks I’d just untrousered ten Australian dollars - about threppence in the Queen's shilling - for a raffle to support Western Australian junior cricket. They might be needed sooner than anticipated....

Clarke and Hussey bat well after lunch, but at the drinks interval Harmison pouches at return catch from Clarke 121 for 4. In the roof terrace of Tracy Island the taches of Lillee and Marsh droop and might just detach themselves from the rest of their puppets' strings. Enter Symonds a pom turned Oz, who doubtless possesses more hair in one of his braids than Warnie has left naturally in his napper. The braids stop shaking after each of his successive straight sixes land in the crowd, braids vs turban. Hussey has a word between the braided one's braids shell-like, and the next ball is extravagantly cut into the keeper's gloves. Symonds ct Jones b Panesar 26. 172 for 5. Gilchrist bat-pads to short-leg for a duck. 172 for 6. I get grief from a Burnley supporter for the inaccuracy of my tea-time prediction of 165 for 6 being a few runs short. Mea culpa, we beat them last Saturday by a dodgy penalty.

214 - 7 Warne out à la Symonds, cutting to Jones. Hussey still there for a well-played fifty, especially his off-driving, a purist's delight. My 65 for 2 at stumps looks interesting.

Enter the Gatorade drinks cart, and I dream of another antipodean contest….the Gatorade cart and the Tizer truck go head-to-head for the honour of a final against the winner of Extra-fizzy Cream Soda versus Dandelion & Burdock. How we yearn for the olden days of Robinson's Barley Water and Rose's Lime Cordial. I should sarsaparilla.

234 - 8 Lee lbw Panesar 10. Monty’s bagged a fivefor.

We Two Kings

We two kings from Orient are,
Sajid Mahmood and Panesar.
From Pakistan and India,
Their parents give good cheer

O five for ninetyfour on day one,
You’ve done well, come on my son,
After Monty, Sajid will take plenty
Following your cricketing stars

244 all out. Harmison cleans up the tail, 4 for 48. Billy's trumpet has clearly tuned up the Harmoniser with plenty of bounce and lift. Hussey left stranded on 74, a little like Collingwood at Adelaide.

Desert Island

Left, deserted, undefeated
how might you have done more?

Chance your arm, get out sooner
yet not your fault for other’s failures
to heed circumstances as found.

The innings end might seem a rescue
from a desert island you never wanted to leave
but like Robinson Crusoe you too had to go
having grown accustomed to a place and its ways

England start well. Strauss smacks Lee's first two deliveries for four, just as Radio Derby ring for a live interview in the morning - far too much background noise to proceed. At least my Nokia 1100 didn't take any wickets.

36 for 1 Cook ct Langer b McGrath 15 The Aussie crowd no longer quite so quiet.

37 for 2 Bell ct Gilchrist b Lee 0. Ten overs to go, eight more runs to save the follow-on, England would buy 65 for 2 at stumps, ending on 51.

Walking home I see a women waiting in a car….

She reads a book in the driver’s seat
Of a bright yellow Ford Falcon XR6

Then realise there are dozens of them, not necessarily reading the same book. There’s a poem in there somewhere, not necessarily in the books they’re reading, but something on the lines of Cricket Widows.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Adelaide Poetry

The Adelaide Oval - 1st December 2006 – end of play England 1st innings 266/3

If you've not seen it for yourself
think Worcester New Road, the view
across the River Severn, Torrens,
sun catching the water in its safe
hands, cathedral behind, an inspiring
article of sporting faith,
then add some. Disneyland
which folk round here rate England's chances
between slim and Buckley's

We shall see, shan't we?

The Wizard of Warne

We're off to see the wizard,
a wonderful wizard called Warne.
A spell-binding trickster of wrong-uns,
never one better for hair-loss in Oz.
He'll pluck England's Bell
like a rabbit from a hat;
sooner or later it's ring-a-ding-ding,
stumped, bowled, lb, caught HowZat!

From Barmy HQ, mentioned in dispatches

Mr Collingwood and Mr Bell
We think you've done rather well.
Two fifties on the stroke of tea
Suffices to retard their victory
March to the Promised Land
Of Ashes Regained,
While they may well be in retreat
Once Mr Pietersen takes a hand.

Paul Collingwood 98 not out overnight - went on to score a record-breaking 206

I shan't get out to this man,
It's not just I'm English and he's Australian,
I shan't get out to this man.
It's not just he's done me too often before,
(last match a century in reach, just needing a four)
It's hard enough to hit the ball, never mind score,
I shan't get out to this man.

Earplug his incessant chatter,
concentrate on being a batter.
But don't get too clever, over after over
I shan't get out to this man.

Even if I reach fifty or more,
will I ever feel secure?
Australia's most venomous creature
spits and coils with every ball,
I shan't get out to this man.

Bones soak under a long hot shower,
having defended hour after hour.
The splash of water reechoes the mantra,
I shan't get out to this man.

Adelaide Day Two – end of play England 551-6 dec Australia 28-1

Happy Birthday To You, Mr President

a cool morning’s start. blustery,
overcast, almost a two sweater day,
Collingwood’s very English century
made in very English conditions

i’ve come from the fun of the eighteenth
Test Match Brekkie. seven hundred in a room
Without views ending with scantily
clad New York, New York, all for charity

no charity here. Pietersen
laces McGrath’s first for three fours.
no back-handers or deceits however political
each bound to be found out for what they are
in these most English of conditions.

Record Heart Breakers

big tough antipodean arms,
sheep reivers, drove men used to labour,
held firm across broad chests,
hill people down for the day.

in silence they watch the Southern Cross
suffer. they eschew 3 blow-up fingers
to say Go Australia. they are australia.

jets cross the wicket, spectators
instructed how to inflate life-jackets
in case of emergencies. hill people
eyes remain motionless. fielders
motion to each other
across the paddock.

not waving but drowning

Adelaide Day Three – end of play England 551-6 dec Australia 312-5

Catches Win Matches

I swear I saw it come straight off the bat
A small red dot growing to fill the sky
and ready myself to hold its descent,
feet well apart, steady, hand-eye practiced
co-ordination triggered to make the catch.

Arms above my head, a high-board
diver sure to end the ball's spin, tuck
and revolutions with a perfect re-entry
to soft sweatless cushioned plams. Welcome
a mob of celebration. Mates stare. I dropped it.

I don't see how. A safe pair of hands,
maybe I lost it coming out of the stands,
the red and white flags of Saint George
a dragon of distraction that swallowed
opportunity in a fiery display of Engerland.

The Real Thing

At tea Team Boony and Team Beefy
contest the Battle of The ´Tasches.
A relay race to pad up, run away
and back again. As close to reality
as a rhyme is to fidelity.
None watch curatorial staff
re-line the crease, tend the pitch;
nor they us, the throng critical of players
once they resume the damning area.

Day of The Dead

on the occasion of the 8th Baggy Green Dinner, Saturday 2nd December, 2007 Adelaide and in commemoration of the Fourth Test 1929

Seven days hard yakka, they rise from the Ashes,
individual heroes all in teams to test their
undivided mettle. Close finish at the close,
seven days hard yakka, still they rise for the occasion.

We worship the memory, the more their breaths are done
short or long in the field, Jackson to Bradman,
White to Hammond, all eleven of each side
split by just a dozen runs after seven days hard yakka

in a field near a river watched by many,
attended by empire from a different era,
depression and bodyline still to come,
Adelaide will always welcome its heroes

whose ghostly boot-sprigs clatter down
and up pavilion steps. Some quick, some slow,
some two at a time, some quiet, near funereal,
a tattoo as sure as any scorecard of exploits

to become players of today. You may say
they do not bear compare with yesteryears’
titans, god-bestowed elegance of performance
to mist over the grind of seven days hard yakka.

Turn for confirmation and you shall hear nothing.
Nothing from them, for other matters call
at the end of their days, boots, bats, pads,
sweated armoury, undone yet not yet stowed away,

half-abandoned, stranded in an unwashed canvas
of labour against dressing room tiers
bear witness to these invisible spectres
off to share a few cool ones with posterity they created.

Adelaide Day Four – end of play England 551-6 dec Australia 513 England 59-1

River Crossing

From the Torrens I see thousands teem across Adelaide Bridge
All on their way to the Oval for cricket.
In other times it might be a rock concert
Or refugees fleeing a heartless enemy.

But this is cricket, two sides joining together
to cros a river, its waters placid
to the burbling viaduct of soles above.

I shall join them soon, become one of many,
Another anonymous ticketed ripple
Pouring into the Oval, filling it to the brim
Around about the start of play.

Lock-keepers inspect our holds for proscribed cargoes
Against clearly marked manifests.
We pass through, jostling gates
For the bridge to fall quiet as the river it spans.

At the far end of the day, bails lifted
Pulls the plug on our seats and we stream out,
No locks or gates to bar our progress.

Were the hopes and fears ferried inside our holds
Ever realised? Why else teem across the Adelaide Bridge.


At times it must be like climbing onto the moors,
dog tugging the lead when mists and ran come down.
Hard to see, know where you are,
stumbling into rocks, bogs, uncertain of paths
that could lead to nowhere or circles,
worried you'll be out here beyond nightfall.

Whatever you do the elements take their toll,
sap the spirit till it seems easier to give up
than go on. The familiar world twists cruelly strange.
You climb each hill, break its back before
it breaks yours, seven times
for one hundred and nine long runs, dogged
against these hounds you never let off the leash.

Adelaide Day Five England 551-6 dec Australia 513 England 129 Australia 168-4

Natural Break

sooner or later over five days
nature calls outside intervals
you leave the arena all a rush
hasten necessities
praying for quiet.
A roar, is it four
or a wicket fall
in midstream?

the hiatus afterwards tells all
a measure of time elapsed
for the next bat to take guard
or bowler to return to his mark

if only a force of nature
why is it never what you want?

A View From The Bridge

All is fine.
No reefs, hidden sounds, rip-tides, storms, fogs
or unanticipated conditions,
the sea a milkpond mirror,
the final day an easy cruise ahead.

Too easy. Captain and crew conspire
to foul propellors, drift off-course,
lose way, take incorrect bearings
till the SS Five Day Draw
is dead in the water,
listing badly,
holed below the waterline,
leak pouring in, pumps unable to cope,
doomed for the depths.

Aussie destroyers race from their stations,
each lacing boundary a torpedo
to dispatch the hulk to the bottom
with all due speed and efficiency,
leaving survivors to fend for themselves.

Captain Cook, W G Grace, Wilfred Rhodes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Percy Chapman, Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine, Harold Larwood, Hedley Verity, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Sir Len Hutton, Jim Laker, Fred Truman, Ken Barrington, Ray Illingworth, John Snow, Derek Randall, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Mike Atherton, Phil Tufnell and Dickie Bird, Your boys took one hell of a beating.


England Expects Every Man To Do Their Duty

The ground should be empty, dead,
Everyone gone, the last hour not taken;
England have batted out their draw.

The only Aussies remaining,
Paid to stay behind, clear up the mess,
The rubbish, plastic beakers and pie-wrappers,
Dross. They do a good professional job for little reward.

Two teams already gone, ready to go on to Perth,
Adelaide rush hour stuffed with traffic going home
To comment and criticism restricted to the pitch.

The ground is full, the CBD deserted,
England's collapse mimics Jessop's prowess
To empty offices. As wickets tumble

To false shots that'd earn official rebuke
in the workplace, Aussie workers scent blood.
Precious little work done this afternoon,

Collars and ties outweigh t-shirts and shorts
as gleeful witness the inevitable loss
four wickets delay. Englanders are so angry

no sorrow and little respect remains
for players who failed to play professionally.
They need to stay behind, clear up the mess
they created in each of our hearts and their own.

In Acerbic Rememberance
English Cricket
which died at The Adelaide Oval
Tuesday 6th December 2007
Bitterly lamented by a large circle
of sorrowing friends
and acquaintances
n.b. The body will be cremated
and its ashes retained by Australia
if its spirit fails to fight back

The Sick Team

Red Rose, thou are sick!
The Indivisible Warne
That beats you in flight
When you bat without gorm

Has spun out thy draw
Of English joy
And the Green Baggies
Does thy life destroy

With apologies to William Blake The Sick Rose

The English Disease

Like syphilitic medieval kings, England
suddenly went mad. No apparent cause,
no seeming attempt to stem noble pause
in bedlam's frenzy to lose without stand.
Fumbling wickets tumbled from their own hand,
Misery’s drubbing unconceived before
they gouged their own wounds to bone. Running sores
of needless cuts, hooks, pulls and slashes banned
by dressing room: empty-headed retarded
births within teeming middle of crisis
induced by syphilis's half-brother, hubris.
The day’s sure draw before all this started:
licentious defeats grow infectious,
chaste play's honour fouled by these haughty lechers.

inspired by Greg Baum, Sydney Morning Herald, report of proceedings
- "Like medieval royals with syphilis, they went suddenly mad"


The Adelaide Oval Wednesday 7th December 2007

return to understand
go back to the emptiness of defeat
you might learn something

seats tipped-up, crowd roar gone
a cockatoo, songbirds call above
drumble of traffic, clang of scaffolders
dismantling temporary stands
you demolished with your batting

A smear of dried ice-cream
stench of spilled beer around the bars
a nasal trail into the arena
its wicket perfect as it always has been

Why have I taken you here?
No flags of Saint George. No
Wigan, Norwich, Cheltenham
No sign of ourselves.

The scoreboard retells the story
168 for 4, a six wicket victory
they won't take down for a while

Taste the simplicity of defeat
ing yourself. Swallow its emptiness.
Stay till you understand
how never to fail yourselves again.

Brisbane Poetry

Courage Of Convictions

Some good, some bad, and some ordinary
people the wrong side of the law to hold
their breath against the creak of deck, rope and
canvas; fixed blank stars slowly alter course

Of lives, destiny and political
aspirations. Now history. Not then.
No going back. No return to the old
Till the end of each testing sentence

Whose surf, shore and hinterland are unknown,
prime and aboriginal. Imprisoned
by nothing but the land’s fresh horizons
how could all survive, endure and flourish?

Today twenty-two flannelled fools replay
Australia, set to court failure
on no other grounds.


Woolloongabba they come from far
they come from far to play to play
Woolloongabba Woolloongabba

Waters whirling winds in our hearts
Wind still whirling whirling waters
Whirling fight talk place noisome boys
Warriors outdo warriors

place to talk fight die and share
drowning placentas whirling waters
Woolloongabba Woolloongabba

First Ball 10.00am local time, Day One The Gabba, Brisbane

The toss, decision to bat or bowl, team selection
and media games, noises off the field.
Set and survey, bat makes mark, bowler back to his


admidst the hush, arm comes over, bat into line,
each grooved, almost automatic. Whatever its outcome

wicket, boundary boards, full face or edge, play
and miss, a middled middling dot in the scorebook

the glance between bat and ball as the field resumes
its mark for five more balls and many more
over five five day matches will tell all
they’ll know before sledge or smile
who has won the very first ball

Steve Harmison bowled a wide fielded at second slip by captain Freddie Flintoff

Brisbane Test End of Day One Australia 346 for 3 A Flintoff 2 for 42 R T Ponting 137no

The Blacksmith and The Dancer

Down they come, twentyfour hammering blows
Run up against the anvil of the crease,
England’s finest, leader of tall strong men
Pounds a flat pitch to make something from nothing.

Red-hot ignots bounce and spit from the anvil
Of Thor from the north to thud pain and fury
Even into the gloves of his own keeper
Three pitches distant from the beginning.

Those in the middle dodge hurtling force,
The smell of singed leather beneath noses
Sears their minds long after danger passes
Till an opener edges heat and is gone.

The dancer comes. Small, slick-quick tip-toe feet
A ballet pump or conductor’s baton
In his hands against Thor’s redoubled thunder
Strong enough to break his own braw bones
In full pursuit of forging victories.

The dancer banishes other tradesmen.
No interest but the blacksmith’s anvil,
Each hammerblow a pirouette, paso
Doble, cock a snook at the once red-hot ignot

Now dulled with dancers’ taps as worn floors
For clubbing once clubbing has been done.
Sore feet and hours from Hobart unto Accrington,
The dancer and the blacksmith each know the score.

The dancer needs the smith to play
As the smith the dancer’s touch
To end the dancer’s say.

Brisbane 1st Test Day 2

Up Against It Australia 4-407 Hussey bowled Flintoff

Each wicket a point on an English chart
Of hopes on a voyage round Australia.
No reefs, storms, rip-tides, sand-bars and currents,
Just a long lonely barren ocean of sweat
In the sun before the next wicket’s fall.
Cool, below decks, thieves plot their destiny

End of Day Two. England 42-3 chasing 602-9.
I imagine Christopher Martin-Jenkins in the Test Match Special Radio commentary box saying ‘England have a real mountain to climb.’

The Ascent of Mount Gabba

Six hundred and two is far more than a stiff climb.
Inside the poms’ dressing room it’s squidgy bum time;

Advance party leave base-camp, equipment checked
Against endless fury they’ll face beyond tent flaps;
Those inside hope against hope they will be some time.

Just out of sight, twenty eight steps taken well in hand,
One falls, hooked off a precipice overhung with risk.

Rescue party sent, immediate slip to slip
Second to second, rescuers can but observe.

Elements ancient magnificent accuracy
Of dispatch. Furies howl and yell,
scenting more blood

Not much further on, base camp
abandoned, useless
They hold onto each other, forced alone, a fall.

In the coldness of heat they find purchase enough
To sleep the night amid dreams of their dead.

Brisbane 1st Test Day 3 Australia 602 England all out 157 Australia 181/1

On The Third Day of Play (to The Twelve Days of Christmas)

On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
A blow up babe in custody.
On the third day of play the Gabba gave to me
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody.

And so on, till

Twelve crowd ejections
Eleven top selections
Tending to win
Nine tired bowlers
Eight ways in
Seven poms out
Six hundred lead
Five for McGrath
Four tall pylons
Three English Ducks
Two big balls
And a blow up babe in custody

Brisbane 1st Test Day 4 England 2nd innings 293/5 needing over 300 more runs

The Lap Of The Gods

Andy’s on the blower to his missus in Jakata
To accelerate the thunder due tomorrow afternoon.
She knows a rain doctor who dries out golf courses
To pilot this bad weather which can’t come too soon.

The Barmy Army take the Gabba with gamps and umbrellas
To make the most of Ricky Ponting batting way past his bedtime.
Queensland and England desperately need precipitation,
State and nation rest all on the imminent arrival of their Cloud Nine.

Brisbane 1st Test Day 5 Australia won by 277 runs

The Final Ball

five days hard cricket
pretty well going to plan
every run and every wicket
charts our course set on victory

no thought of commiseration
just a job well done
the emptiness of loss
is all too hard to bear
winning hard enough
but losing’s just begun

Poetry -writing & reading

Poetry is just about the most environmentally positive art-form around, especially when viewed on the internet or listened to on the radio. It's also one of the oldest. No one quite knows how human communication developed, but as a prehistorian I'd put my money on song and dance - it's memorable and effective, and the idea that Singing in The Rain goes back to neanderthal times has a certain zing to it.

Poetry comes from song. If there isn't a lyrical quality, something of a voice when you read a poem as text, then there is something seriously missing. Without that voice, however fine, noble, witty and otherwise cultured the words, to my mind it isn't poetry, and you might as well

the line

and treat as prose, good or bad, but not poetry.

Rhymes, rhythm, alliteration (all an a or otherwise o-s, likewise lots of linked up letters by sound) assonance (internal rhymes happen all the time) .... all these poetical tools can help the writer and reader share the poem's song.

The simplest way to appreciate a poem to its fullest extent is to read it out aloud. You'll soon find its voice, or discover it hasn't one. This is why traditional poetry rhymes or is alliterative (Beowulf and other scandinavian stuff) It comes from an oral tradition, so how else do you remember something which isn't written down?

I'm a greedy sort of poet. I'll use any sort of device or form which will help get what I want to say in my head across to you as a voice inside yours - sonnets, rhymes, hexameter, pentameters, rhymes, half-rhymes, metaphors, allusions, similes - like a batsman or bowler with all sorts of strokes or balls for differing occasions, you don't have to use them all at once. Indeed their greatest effect is by surprise, or building up.

By inclination I write free verse - no fixed rhythmic pattern and/or rhyming scheme. Robert Frost, the great Americn poet, and perhaps their most elegant, said 'Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.' True, but to use free verse well you still need to attend to rhythm and rhymes to give that voice, that sense of arrested by song, which means it's actually harder to do than using a standard form - to use Frost's simile, you need to erect your own net by the shots you play.

On this gig - a poem a day, and I'm off now to the WACA for the first day of the third test, ready to chronicle England's great fightback (ho, ho)

Here's my notes of what's to follow on, (as in Australia, after Freddie wins the toss - more ho, ho)

Aussie more traditional. Both sounds and meaning., Patterson vs the Queen.

Traditional forms
Paul Cameraman
Peter Parry

Perth Preview

Heard mixed reports about Perth. Some people say 'If you like Adelaide, you'll love Perth, it's so old.'

Others say 'Just like Brisbane, boom town, very American.'

You can see the open-cast mining scares and spoil-tips from the air as we come in to land.

Not sure what to expect. Perth is long way away from the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide triangle, the traditional urban heart of Australia. It's four hours plus from Sydney, which is further than Moscow from London.

There is a two hour time difference too. Being so isolated means it'll probably find its own way of doing things. Guaranteed to be warm, with the cooling westerly breeze from the sea known as the Freemantle Doctor, named after its port. I wonder how much it's changed since our blacksmith in Bakewell, Peter Evans, was there. Before I left we were talking about my trip - he likes poetry, even mine. I listed the test match cities. 'Been to all those places,' he said. 'Merchant navy, after the wall. Pubs were weird. They shut at six. I've never seen so much beer drunk so quickly in all my life.'

Today the Aussies don't seem to drink that much. In Adelaide and Brisbane there wasn't a binge culture of getting totally rat-arsed on a Friday and Saturday night, which seems to be the done thing with the young in Britain - every third person between 18 and 30 gets drunk every fortnight - perhaps because they're so pressured at work, drink is the only easy release. Maybe complusory one hour lunch-breaks would help to stop drinking wreck so many people's lives.

Aussie beer helps. Most of it has as much life and body as the Turin Shroud. It's probably the one thing we Brits beat those Aussies at hands down. The others?

Queues. We're very good at queuing, which Cricket Australia might note, since the sale of Test Match tickets was basically about ten million people all trying to dive off the virtual equivalent of Sydney Harbour Bridge into Sydney Harbour. Chaos, bedlam, misery and the odd splash of success. A ballot system, as per the ECB with their allocation, would have been so much simpler.

Castles and soccer. Although with both we've had something of a head start. Any others to add to the list - give us a shout.

Pies. Aussie pies, whatever the flavour, all taste the same. You realise why Rod Marsh called English fast-medium bowlers from the last two decades of the last century 'pie-chuckers.' Athough they each had different names, they all served up the same sort of dross.

Back to the cricket. What will the Third Test hold? On the face of it, England are in an all but impossible position. However teams have come back from losing the first two tests of an Ashes series, according to my brother Daniel - Australia in 1934. England probably need to win the toss or bowl like demons because indications are the pitch will be slow and good but take turn later on. Warne is six short of seven hundred victims, round about the same as the entire England attack put together. They certainly need some luck, tough talking, with someone like Terry Butcher in the Italia 90 dressing room forcing them on with talk of 'Fighting Tigers.'

It would be a good game to win, since it would bury the dreadful loss at Adelaide straight away.

Just don't queue up to bet your shirt, pies, beer or castle on it.

Professor Fiffle-Faffle predicts England will occupy the crease for longer than Australia, and are two-to-one on to score less runs.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bradelaide - A Tale of Two Cities

For the England cricket team and supporters, the first two test matches of this series have been the worst of times, and the worst of times.

The game at The Gabba was bad enough, the team clearly underprepared, but they'd batted well from the second innings at Brisbane till the last morning at Adelaide where they threw all their hard work away. Perth will be a challenge to say the least.

What of the cities themselves? For players, supporters and I guess journalists there's a tendency on tour just to see the games and then do a swift bit of sight-seeing. I'm the exception. I've not really gone sight-seeing. This is me. For years I was a field and landscape archaeologist so spent my time wandering around England and Europe digging up things. Consequently I tend to like to get a feel for a place and some sense of belonging. Doing that tourist thing doesn't do it for me.

You may have noticed in the poems and talks that I tend to focus on people and place - how else does The Gabba cricket ground become the Strineship Enterprise, "to boldly be more Australian where no Australian has been before?" Consequently Bradelaide is an ironic concatenation of two very different cities. Indeed more different than most cities in one country, apart from the USA.

Superficially all cities in a country are more or less the same since the road-signs, chain-stores, ways of speaking tend to be shared. I feel that for many England cricket players, supporters and possibly journalists, especially first-timers, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney aren't going to feel very much different because they'll travel together, go to the same sort of bars, not to mention spend most of the time watching or playing cricket - twentyfive days out forty, including Christmas and New Year. I feel the same - here to watch the cricket, not discover Australia.

Certainly I feel underprepared to talk about Australia since I've researched the cricket, not the country. Curiously I've done this half-deliberately. Learnt enough to understand how the different states established themselves, how the country grew from settlements to colony, territories to nation.

How the landscape and ecology is some of the most ancient on the planet, imperceptibly altered from Aborigine times which start up to 70,000 years ago (Whatever you read, add 5,000 years for the earliest settlement. Archaeologists keep pushing the dates back - when I studied it in the 1970s, it was around 20,000 years ago, and seemed to go back ten millennia every time I opened a periodical in the university stacks - by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, humankind will have originated in Australia before the Big Bang. You heard it here first, folks.) How the Europeanisation of Australia has devasted the landscape, ecology, never mind the indiginous cultures. How Australia isn't one country but six states and the northern territory. How big it is. And how all the cities, apart from Canberra, (which was built like Washington as a capital to stop any of the other city-states from getting too uppity) are on the coast.

Australia in one para: ping-culture for your microwave. The UK is easier. An enormous bus-stop full of history and people sheltering from the rain. Fair enough?

This might sound perverse but having read Bill Bryson's Down Under before coming here (about six years ago when I was crook) you start to realise it's quite superficial too. The differences between people's attitudes in different states and cities doesn't come across. Bill picks up on the sameness, the giant inflatables and big sheep, prawn.... obvious targets.... newness of the country... ditto... aboriginal ancestry and future... no real answers....

Strange because Notes From A Small Country hits the money regarding contemporary English social class, mores and nuance. It may be something to do with Bill himself, who, by how he writes is rude about people who he thinks are rude to him. He lauds the Brits for being fair, taking it on the chin, but isn't that fair himself in dishing it out on said chin. It's witty but also cheeky because it doesn't give them the chance to say what they think of him. (Not that much, I suspect.)

This tactic doesn't work in Australia because no one is rude in the first place. Everyone I've met is interested in what you do and have to say. They make eye-contact, listen to you carefully and chose how to reply with thought and feeling. You never get the left-hand of change from the check-out clerk whose head is 180 degrees in the opposite direction talking to her colleague 'I don't know, he's alright, isn't he, but I don't know, he's alright, isn't he, but I...'

She wouldn't last two minutes here. The average time it takes to gain a waiter's attention in Oz is measured in seconds, not hours in England. Walking into an empty high street shop from Southampton to Sunderland and the dozens of staff behind the counter immediately avoid eye-contact so you're forced to ask 'Sorry to trouble you, could you help me? I'm looking for a book on positive body language and communication' In Brisbane and Adelaide at least, they look at you and each other to vie who'll say 'G'day. How can we help?'


God's own country for restaurant and shop service, what else is Brisbane like? Very American. It reminds me of Pittsburgh, downtown squeezed into the bend of a river. Also American with skyscrapers vying with each other like those three dimension bar-charts grey-suits love to display with powerpoint - 'and here we can see that the predicted sales-returns percentages across the global market-share demographically almost match our competitors.' In other words we're lagging behind.

Brisbane isn't. It's a boom town. Mining for the far east economies is the back-bone of the city. It and Perth are fastest growing in Australia. From being the newest of the cities - originally part of NSW, it didn't start to grow till after WWI - it also has a different climate, sub-tropical all year round. Thus Queensland is big on fruit, especially bananas which is taking a hammering due to droughts. It's also a genuinely outdoor city. Walk through the fabulous park in the evening into the city and the sound of cicidas is replaced by buzz of conversation outside all the pubs, bars, restaurants. People sit on benches and talk - don't see that in Britain these days.

Brisbane is best viewed from its river. The architecture works well then. Close up, it's downtown USAville, and the remains of the old Brisbane - verandas, colonial style details - is pretty well gone, vestigial. They tell me that it's due to wood and termites, which is probably true, because you get two-legged insects in cities throughout the world. How come the old wooden houses have survived on the river edge, where you've damp as well as termites.....

If you like the anonymity and ease of American cities, Brisbane is for you. A 7-11 at every corner (which is confusing if you're jet-lagged and assume like I did there is only one) and never more than two minutes from a MacDonalds, KFC or your favourite fast-sludge outlet of choice. There doesn't seem to be a distinct chinatown or specific districts. I guess what sums it up for me is that the City Treasury, clearly a building based on financial probitity is now the biggest and most expensive casino in town.

All the same I liked Brisbane. It's efficient and the people are friendly - except for the Gabba security staff where I and pretty well everyone else at the Test Match felt like suspects. The police and the cricket authorities had to run a press conference afterwards to state that they were really happy with how the security went. What else would they say? If it went that well you wouldn't need to have a press conference, would you, because there wouldn't be a story, would there? The last time I recall a major press conference around the security of a sporting event was 1988, after the Hillsborough disaster.

People also seem to be looking over their shoulders. Couldn't figure out why till someone mentioned Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, State Premier 1968 to 1987. 'What was he like?' I asked someone in the safety of the Adelaide Oval. 'Oh, George W Bush, but dimmer. A lot dimmer. A real red-neck.' Apparently he ran a police state where hippies were beaten up for wearing too many beads, namely two. In the end the regime was exposed by Phil Dickie on an ABC tv programme, Four Corners - similar to BBC's Panorama - which demonstrated inconvertably Bjelke-Petersen was as corrupt as he was vicious -never mind bungs, or brown envelopes of notes being exchanged in shady soccer transfers in UK motorway service stations, this was supermarket trolleysof dodgy money, which Petersen swore blind had nothing to do with him.

The junior cops at the end of that regime are Queensland's top security officials today. People don't jay-walk. They don't look right, no car for about half-a-mile, then left, no car for about half-a-mile, and walk across. They wait for b-b-b-b-b-b-b buzzer and the green go sign. Struck me as nuts. Everyone takes lunch in Bradelaide - a good thing because the UK habit of grab a sandwich between e-mails leads to neither enjoying the sandwich nor e-mails. More seriously it leads to the notion that the busier you are the more productive you are, which is lamentable tosh - if a fly buzzes about twice as fast another fly, is it a better fly for all that buzzing?

Back to Brisbane, everyone heads out of their offices for their God-given Australian lunchhour - the chinese quick-foods are good -and spend most of their sixty minutes waiting for the b-b-b-b-b-b-b and the green go sign.

'Why don't you jay-walk?' I ask.
'You'll get fined.'
Not seen any notices saying this.
'How much is it?' I continue, figuring out whether it's worth it.
'Dunno, mate.'
'Do you know anyone who has been fined.'
'Oh no, mate. You don't want to get fined, do you?'

This might be the final vestiges of Bjelke-Petersen's police state. Let's hope so. All the difference between a $20 dollar fine, and $2000 medicare bill for helping the police with their enquiries. There was a mixture of awe, fear not to mention a tinge of envy in other pedestrians as I walked across empty streets without the green. The next time I go back to Brisbane I shall wear a t-shirt which reads:-

Ned Kelly jay-walked

As well as the Strineship Gabba, alhough it has theatres, museums, cinemas, concert halls, Brisbane isn't a work of art. There are isolated pieces of art in the city rather than a grand design. Before moving onto Adelaide, here's a one which caught my eye.

It's Analdo Pomordoro's Forms of Myth about Agammenon. When I visited the dead remains of Mycenae, one of the first cities, and Agammenon's home, I struck by how much had been lost, yet by being lost, still remained to be discovered....


up a hill, and down again column a trail of ants
pincers focus cameras at the Lion's Gate entranced

an entomology of the Gods

my antennae twitch at a tired american's call

Just a pile of rock

Is that it? Is nothing else left? Is that all?

why did he come here? why do we?
a once anonymous hill now named Mycenae
unearths our philosophy of archaeology


with shadows
and cricket song.

trowels click,
the tourist hoards
guides and excavators
each leg it
in time

and a

with golden helmet, and golden crest,
golden grieves, golden chest,
untouchéd gold,

his ghostly sword and shield
in time's dew
beside me

Agamennon still awaits a geezer
from the roofless houses below
to repair a chariot wheel
driven one too many over the eight
through the Lion's Gate

a domestic with Clytaemnestra
something and nothing, words were said
as nuptials go a disaster

third-party, fire and theft
nor fully comp
would assuage the scars left
in the stone posts and stoney silence
of their marriage

her indoors will be the death of him

you should have had it widened
i whisper to myself
to let us pass a little more easily

dust settles between us

simply done. one word from you
and people jump
i tell him
petrified to the spot

(with ghosts seeing is believing)

one eye the moon, the other the sea
through the gate of his mask
Agamennon spits out time
to swear at the Gods and i

Just a pile of rock


In years to follow Brisbane might become just a pile of rock, but Adelaide will always be Adelaide.

It embodies Plato's remark that the city is a work of art. These days this is taken as meaning art in the sense of the arts, but it's better to stick with the ancient greek where art is counterposed with nature - it is the work of people to build from natural resources. For Plato if not the art review sections of broadsheets, the arts had to include artisans.

Adelaide was planned from the word go. It was largely the work of one man, Colonel Light, who decided the layout of the city and its location, up-river from its port. South Australia is distinct from New South Wales and Victoria, being a place for settlers to pay to come out, the original ten-pound poms (people of means) and buy land and property - even if the scheme was thought up by a debtor in Newgate jail pretending to be in Sydney.

Here is Light's view of his endeavour:-

Extract from Colonel Light's Journal 1839

"The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be
generally understood or calmly judged at present by my enemies, however, by
disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it, and I
leave it to posterity and not them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or

In other words, sod off.

My sort of guy. Has vision, prepared to negotiate, listen, work towards it, and take responsibility. A trillion light years from Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, who denied the shopping trolley-fulls of bent dosh right under his and Four Corners cameras' noses.

My sort of city. I think it is the best planned city in the world. The original design of 1839 still works today without ring-roads, underpasses, massive urban renewal programmes. Posterity, always a hard marker, gives ten out of ten to Colonel Light, as recognised by the people of Adelaide who put this journal entry on their statue to him.

It's the sort of city that developers find difficult to develop. There are high-risers, bits that are lost which shouldn't be lost and forces trying to go for commercial rather than civic gain. Overall, though, it's a city which still works pretty much as Light - and Plato - would've intended, and they would have given the city elders pretty good marks too. It's no accident that the Adelaide Oval is one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world - hell, the universe - only the Betelgeuse Gardens with its twin suns is said to compare.

I'd happy spend a week or so in Brisbane, and then start to get bored. Adelaide is different. You'll find something fresh every day walking down its main streets, not least its market, which is everything a fresh produce market should be. Despite Queensland being a fruit centre for Australia, fresh produce is hard to find in Brisbane. Come to Adelaide, and it's as though all the fruit, veg, meat, nuts, cheese has rolled around the coast to end up piled high in its market - everything fresh, nothing unnecessarily wrapped. The acme of provision.

In the same way its arts, writers and ideas festivals are fresh, open and sincere. For a city so cultured there is surprisingly little pretence - or is this me with jaded European eyes?

Adelaide has its problems. Elderly population - kids go to the big and growing cities, which is all of them, not just in Australia but in the far east. In some sense the tiger-beijing economy has passed Adelaide by. A sense of not being a destination, not being part of the modern Australia, losing out to the bigness and pull of Melbourne, and especially Sydney.

But it's civilised. For a population of one million, spread across an area larger than Derbyshire (about half the people and ten times as much political partying) local government isn't on party lines. I like that. It means people stand for local issues and improvement, not political gain, either for themselves or their parties. If anyone tried to the foist party politics into Adelaide's local governance, they'd soon get the Colonel Light treatment. Were it so in the UK, especially Derbyshire.
Adelaide feels like a good-sized healthy rural town, which all cities should, because that's what makes it's civilised. Cities are about feel and friendliness just as much as anywhere else. You can bump into people, drop by on them, not have to rely on mobile phones and personal organisers. It isn't divorced from the countryside; it's like my home-town Bakewell should be, writ large.
Well done, Colonel Light and his successors. Keep up the good work.