The cat that shits in my garden

There’s a cat that shits in my garden. There may be more than one cat – I don’t know as I’ve never seen it – but there is at least one that shits on my lawn. I hate that cat.

cat

Are you the cat? (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

I have dreams about that cat and what I’d like to do to it if I caught it in the act. But the cat is sneaky, as cats often are, and it shits while I’m sleeping, taking revenge on my dreams of revenge. Sometimes it waits until it sees that my car is gone, other times it waits until the cricket starts on TV. It now knows my routine well enough that it sometimes shits while I’m writing; in fact it could be shitting there now. I’d better check.

I first spotted the cat shit whilst mowing. When I say spotted, I mean smelt, because the cat had kindly hidden its shit under some moss. Gagging whilst cleaning out the grass collector, and a lifetimes enmity was born.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the cat shat under a bush or the large conifer at the front but no, it continues to shit right in the middle of the lawn. Well, I call it a lawn but it is mostly moss, or at least used to be mostly moss. I had a suspicion that the cat liked the softness of the moss and that was why it chose to shit on my lawn, so I  used weed and feed to kill the moss and resurrect the lawn. That will teach it, I thought. Now the  the cat shits on the large bare patches of earth between the few remaining tufts of grass that make up what I used to call my front lawn.

I blame cat owners. They know how cats turn evil once they are out of the house. In fact, I’m sure most cat owners love it when their cat shits in someone else’s garden. These would be the same people who growl with disgust when they see dog poo on the path, swearing about selfish dog owners who refuse to pick up. I hate selfish dog owners too, but dogs don’t shit on my garden.

If cat owners had any sense of responsibility they would make their cats wear nappies. That’s what considerate people would do. Maybe the scratch marks received whilst fighting a cat into a nappy would make them think twice about owning one of these devious creatures. I mean, what’s the attraction of a cat? They come and go as they please, look down their noses at you; they make the house stink and cause my wife’s eyes to stream whenever she goes anywhere near them. The only good thing about owning a cat is that it shits in someone else’s garden, usually mine.

Nerf War: Gun

Anti-cat shit device (Photo credit: Jake Sutton)

I waited up one night, looking out of the spare room window with Nerf gun in hand, hoping to catch a glimpse of my nemesis. I didn’t want to hurt it (what do you think I am, some kind of sadist?) but I hope the screech of the dart would scare it away, never to return. The coward never showed and I ended up with a stiff neck from the cold night air. I hate that cat.

I think people love cats because they have a knowing air about them. It’s the slight smile on their face as they listen to you speak, looking for all the world that they understand and empathise that the woman at the supermarket spoke rudely to you. I had a friend who used to smile like that at work during meetings. He didn’t say much, but everybody thought he was really clever. He wasn’t, but he was clever enough to know that an enigmatic smile and silence can take you a long way in life. Cats are like this, cats aren’t intelligent, cats are stupid, yet this cat has the better of me. I hate that cat.

Confessions of an OBO addict

I came to cricket later than most. I was brought up on football, which, coming from Suffolk and growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s when Ipswich Town were in their prime, was quite natural. I didn’t know anybody who liked cricket, or played cricket. My Dad was occasionally twelfth man for his factory’s cricket team, but that was more to do with the beer than for any love of the game. We didn’t play cricket at school (they preferred to play hockey – hockey!?) and being brought up in a working class home, joining a cricket club was unheard of. I still feel this to this day that I was the great lost all-rounder that England were looking for in the years between Botham and Flintoff,  living proof of the need for grassroots investment in the game.

It was the father of an ex-girlfriend who taught me about cricket. He came from Essex and was a cricket nut. It was through him I learnt that cricket was more than just throwing, hitting and catching; that cricket, especially test cricket, was the ultimate test of a player’s physical skills, but more importantly their psychological metal. Long before the days of Channel 4 analysis and Sky’s 3rd man, he explained how a bowler would look to set up a batsman into playing a false stroke, or how a batsmen would deliberately target a certain area of the field in the hope a fielder would be moved, freeing him up to score elsewhere. I was hooked.

The problem was, I had very little opportunity to actually watch the game. Work got in the way. I would catch odd days of play at weekends, usually whilst recovering from the night before, but none of my friends were interested. I remember trying to explain to a hungover friend, who had just witnessed Devon Malcolm take 9-57 against South Africa, that he had just witnessed sporting greatness unlikely to be repeated. He was unimpressed.

My main issue, though, was that these were just snippets from the bigger picture. Good test cricket has a narrative that ebbs and flows like the very best novels or films. Watching the highlights package was OK, but it didn’t give you the full experience. It would be like watching the scene from Apocalypse Now where the helicopters roll in and attack a beachside village to the strains of Ride of the Valkyries and feeling you knew what the film was about. It would be entertaining, but a very different experience to watching the film from start to finish.

The first seeds of a solution became available in the late 1990’s. I was working in an office in Slough and we’d been given access to this wonderful thing called the internet. At the time, searching for cricket information could be quite dangerous. The early days of the internet were like the wild west. There were very few specialist websites and the news organisations had yet to get their act together. I remember searching for the latest test score one day as a senior manager came to visit. I quickly hid my web browser and pulled up a spreadsheet, but as I turned to talk I saw him looking over my shoulder, his eyes wide in shock. Unbeknownst to me, my  very slow connection had finally come to life and the latest cricket score appeared, along with a pop-up advert for a porn site in all its graphic detail. I was lucky that the manager in question was a cricket fan and believed me when, red faced, I explained what had happened. After that, I was told to be more careful on where I gathered my information, and to keep him informed on the score.

Eventually, in around 2004, I stumbled upon the Guardian’s OBO (over by over) coverage. It was a revelation. Never again would I have to miss another moment of an England test match. All I had to do was go to the OBO coverage, press F5, and the full ebb and flow of the day’s play would be at my fingertips. From then on, at the start of every test match, I would go to the OBO report and be kept up to date with what was happening with minimal disruption to my working day. If I was tied up in a meeting – no problem; all I had to do was scroll back down (or up in the early days) the list of posts and be brought fully up to date. For the overseas tests, I would wake up, turn on the computer, and catch up on the days play. Every nuance was captured; the highs, the lows; hope, and as was often the case for England cricket fans, crushing disappointment.

What really made the OBO special though, was the sense of community that was being created. Readers (OBOers) would be asked to give their feedback on any number of subjects thrown to them, and we duly obliged. I don’t know if this was started due to boredom on behalf of the journalists, or whether it was part of a cunning stategy to increase readership, but it worked. During lulls in play you would be kept up to date with possible best man speech lines, where to eat in Copenhagen or your favourite childhood sweets. It soon became a real badge of honour to have your name mentioned as part of the OBO coverage. Some OBOers became famous in their own right, although I’m still convinced Gary Naylor is some form of advanced spambot. I eventually got a comment posted during the 2005 Ashes series, though I had to do it under a false name in case anybody from work realised what I was up to. It told the story of how our wedding dance was going to be a song from Catatonia until we realised it was called “Dead from the waist down.” The fact that this particular OBO coverage was eventually made into a book, meant that they were my first words to actually make it into print.

The first OBO book

The first OBO book

Nowadays I’m lucky enough to be able to watch most cricket live, but I still like to catch up with the OBO reports. I can read them on my phone now, and although they may be about 10 minutes behind play, a small part of me still needs to see the written word of Rob Smyth or Andy Bull before I believe something has actually happened. Plus, eight years after my first, I may get another comment to appear again. You never know.

Are we the baddies?

Honest folks, PRISM is for your own good

Honest folks, PRISM is for your own good

The only thing that has surprised me about the recent revelations that US intelligence services have been involved in spying on millions of people around the globe, has been the number of people who are surprised. Please tell me that I’m not the only person who already thought something like this was taking place? I’m particularly amused by the shock coming from members of congress upon realising that it wasn’t just those pesky foreigners that were being spied on as originally stated by President Obama, but US citizens as well, ignoring the fact that many of their erstwhile allies are not amused.

Here in the UK, the government is coming under huge pressure following allegations that they obtained data from the PRISM project as a means to spy on their own citizens without obtaining the necessary court approval.

Meanwhile, back in California, many of the world’s largest tech companies are falling over themselves to reassure their users that the US intelligence services have no direct link into their data servers.

When I look at this story, a number of things come to mind:

1. We are all complicit in this

The majority of information that is being gathered has been freely provided by us to the tech companies involved. When we sign up to use a service, we give permission for the service provider to store or activity. Every status update, tweet, SMS and (yes I appreciate the irony) blog post only exists because it has been created by us. I am not suggesting for one moment that what the security services are doing is right, or that they are not breaking the law (as may be the case in some countries.) But by handing our content over to third parties, this type of scenario was always possible.

2. History shows that this was always going to happen

During the post-war years in the US, war was declared on a concept (in this case communism.) What followed were years of paranoia and persecution including the surveillance of hundreds of thousands of individuals and organisations within the US by it’s own intelligence services. Moving along to the present day, war has been declared on a verb (in this case terror). What has followed should not be a surprise. Once the leader of a nation says “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists,” any chance to debate how large a threat has been posed or how to combat the threat is gone, including the usual checks and balances to prevent abuses of power.

3. Who decides the common good?

It would be easy to categorise the intelligence services involved and those who authorised the intelligence gathering as bad or evil, but you have to remember the context in which they are working. I am sure that the people working on these programs believed they were doing so for the common good, that they were collecting this data to protect the citizens of the United States (and handing it on to the British Government to protect their citizens too.). But who decides what is the common good and at what point does the act of protection cause more harm than that which you are being protected from? It shouldn’t be hard for the White House and UK Government to understand how this looks to the rest of the world. Just replace the word US with either China or Iran in my opening paragraphs and suddenly everything takes on a completely different meaning. The whole situation reminds me of a Mitchell and Webb sketch from a few years back (I would just like to point out that I am not saying the current US administration is anything like Nazi Germany.) The question is: in the modern world, are we starting to become the baddies?

Sat 8th June: The Floe, Al Lindsay, Lucy Sampson – Live at the Cottage, Debenham, UK

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

Walking through the door to the venue, my doubts intensified. This was Dove Cottage, a place imbued with the essence of parish council meetings and WI tea mornings; famous throughout the village for its dusty beams and faded chintz curtains. Why had anyone thought that this could be a music venue?

Rows of chairs filled both sides of the V-shaped room. A number of people had arrived early and there was a palpable sense of excitement. Many had brought cool bags, taking full advantage of the ability to bring your own to the gig. As the alcohol flowed, the scent of spiced savouries filled the room.

I sat with some friends and waited, hoping the gig would go OK. While we caught up, the remaining seats filled quickly until at last every one was taken. The fact that the gig was a sell out should have put me at ease, but my concern increased; this was a lot of people to disappoint.

Finally, the lights dimmed and Lucy Sampson walked to the mic. She played the intro of her opening song and as she started to sing, all my doubts evaporated. The dusty beams and chintz curtains provided perfect dampening, enabling David Booth to deliver a sound so intimate that it felt as if the artist was singing for you alone. The surroundings faded into the background so that only Lucy, her audience and her wonderful music remained.

Now, I have a confession to make. While Lucy sang, a little piece of my heart was hers. There was an honesty to her performance that can’t be faked, gently taking us by the hand and leading us through stories of heartbreak and loss. The highlight for me was her song “Trust,” which has been on constant rotation at home ever since. When the lights went up after Lucy’s far too brief set my friend turned to me. “Shit a brick,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting that. She was fantastic.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

A quick changeover was followed by a change in mood with the soulful funk tinged songs of Al Lindsay and Oliver Arditi, every song an intricate interplay between guitar and bass so skilful that if you closed your eyes you would have believed there were twice as many people on stage. Al has a singing voice many artists would die for, like Chris Rea’s but dipped in honey, and the audience was soon swallowed up inside their acoustic groove.

Expectations were at a high as The Floe took to the stage, yet from the opening chords of Sakura, the audience knew they were in for something special. Here were two people clearly in love with what they were doing, delivering perfectly crafted pop ballads in a style open enough to fill stadiums yet with an intimacy that suited the venue and audience perfectly. Never has melancholy been so uplifting. There were so many highlights from their set: Sakura, Don’t Look Down; Irreplaceable, and the giggle filled Pearshaped to name but a few. Between songs, Sarah was witty and entertaining, clearly enjoying herself as she toyed with the crowd. It is a testament to their talent that their cover of Skyfall was one of the weakest songs of the set. Eventually it had to happen, and during Sun, Moon and Stars I fell in love once more. The standing ovation they received at the end of the gig was fully deserved.

Then, sadly, it was over. The lights went on, the audience started to leave. Dove Cottage reverted to type. Yet, for a few hours, Dove Cottage had been a venue of real quality. I may have had my doubts but the people at Wet Feet Records didn’t. If future gigs are as accomplished as this one, Live at the Cottage has an assured future. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.