5 Reasons why the British should celebrate 4th July – Redux

Come on, let's celebrate together

Come on, let’s celebrate together

I love America. I have close family living in Colorado and California, many old work friends in the Pittsburgh area and whenever I have visited the US I have never been treated with anything other than complete kindness and respect. As you may know, tomorrow is Independence Day in the USA, a day in which our cousins across the pond celebrate the founding of their nation by drinking beer, letting off fireworks, having barbecues and watching sports. It is a time where people think of family, freedom and the american way.

It is also a day of some awkwardness for us Brits. You see, we don’t know what to do. We try to remain unfailingly polite but in the back of our minds we know that what is being celebrated is the humiliation of our forebears. It doesn’t help that whenever I have a conversation with American friends about Independence day, it usually goes one of two ways:

Conversation no.1: We kicked your ass!

Conversation no.2: Do the British celebrate Independence Day too?

Of course, the answers to these points should be 1: You did, and 2: Have a little think about that (see conversation no.1). The thing is, I believe the British should celebrate Independence Day. Not because of the potential for an extra day off work but because there are strong reasons why losing the american war of independence was good for us too.

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1: It was our idea

This will come as some surprise to many people (especially in the UK), but one of the strongest advocates for an independent USA was Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England. In 1776, Thomas Paine had only been in the US two years when he wrote the book, “Common Sense”. It was one of the first books advocating colonial America’s independence from the UK and became a best-seller. The book was so influential that John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”  So technically we lost but we also won. Sort of.

2: We got to keep Canada

Well, when I say we got to keep Canada, I mean the Queen is their head of state, and when I say Canada is ours, it is ours in the same way that Jaguar is ours (owned by Tata of India), Land Rover (Tata), Rolls Royce & Bentley (VW of Germany), Harrods (Qatar Investment Company). But you get the point. Canada remained part of the British Empire and then the Commonwealth.

It is unlikely the British would have been able to retain control of the American colonies and fight off the French in Canada at the same time. If it hadn’t have been for the war of Independence,  William Shatner, Neil Young, Jim Carrey and Terence and Phillip from South Park among many others would all have spoken French as their mother tongue. Could you imagine “Beam me up, Scotty” in Quebecois?

3: Curry

By allowing the USA to declare Independence*, we were able to concentrate on our other colonies, including the jewel in the crown, India. It can be argued that without the wealth generated from our colonies in India, there would be no Great in Great Britain, but for me the most important point is that if the old imperialists hadn’t been able to focus on India, there would be no Chicken Tikka Masala, the UK’s favourite dish**, so thank you, you American militias!

4: It’s the only date in the calendar year Americans pronounce correctly

It was recently pointed out to me by a friend that it is only on Independence Day that Americans pronounce the date correctly. For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth, or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. Now if only  we could only persuade our cousins to honour our standardised way of spelling.

5: We retain some shred of dignity with our most important sport

In the early american colonies, cricket was by far the most popular sport. Following the War of Independence, Baseball increased in popularity. Participation in cricket diminished and eventually slowly died out, much to the relief of millions of British cricket fans. Why? Well it’s bad enough being beaten by Australia, India, The West Indies and South Africa at cricket on a regular basis. Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game? It’s not like they take football (soccer) seriously yet they still did better than England this World Cup.

So, rather than ignoring the 4th July in the UK, we should embrace it. We should ignore the rain, start up our BBQ’s; pour a nice warm pint of bitter and light the fireworks to give thanks to our forefathers for screwing things up so badly that they turned a happy, contented colony into a hotbed of revolutionary zeal. Despite everything, it was one of the best things they ever did.

OK, this is a lie (see conversation no.1)

** Chicken Tikka Masala was created in Glasgow and is as Indian as Spaghetti Bolognese is Italian

 

This original of this piece was posted 4th July 2013. It has since been re-edited to add more jokes and bring it up to date.

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This be the word

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Many congratulations to the English cricket team for winning the Ashes again! I’m on holiday this week, so I haven’t written anything, but as a long standing fan of a certain small, ginger English batsman I read this opening to the Guardian OBO coverage by John Ashdown and thought it was so good, I should share it with you. Enjoy!

There was a boy. And the boy was doubted.

Over time, the boy became a man. Many runs did He score and many times voices were raised to proclaim His centuries, bringing great joy to His people. And yet still He was doubted.

Some called Him king. The doubters did not call Him king. The doubters saw flaws, His followers saw a man of their ilk, human in His fallibility. The doubters saw weakness, His followers saw a different kind of strength, one that echoed their own path. The doubters spat bile, His followers lifted their shields to deflect those words of hate, and the hate was turned upon them. Though they were few, His followers were bold and had great courage. They bowed their heads and braved the taunts and the endless torture of the beast Magraa in 2005, replayed not on televisions but upon the very plasma screens of their souls.

Springs followed winters. Summers followed springs. Leaves lived and fell. Years passed.

And lo, the Ashes of 2013 began. And lo, He did put the Australian bowlers to the sword with many runs. And the voices were raised in proclaimation to bring the good news of His centuries to the people of the land. Many did flock to the colosseums to see His blade flash and dab down to third man for a couple. The oversized Oompa Loompas, the Bananamen, the Flintstones, the Priests, the Borats, the Super Marios, the Scooby-Doos and Smurf after Smurf after Smurf did lift many a plastic glass in His honour.

And with each run carved into the rock of history did His doubters begin to turn their doubt upon themselves. Their eyes grew afeared as they saw what He had become. But so deep was their doubt that in the dark crevasses and cracks of their hearts they doubted still.

At last He came to the river side. And He did fail. And even those who had never given up hope shook their heads with grief and knew in their hearts that this indeed was a bloody shocking shot quite frankly. They bowed their heads. When they lifted them they saw through the tears the smiles of the doubters, their jagged teeth shining through oily jaws. And this filled their hearts with pity. And with anger. And with that they knew. They knew they still believed. They knew they still had faith.

And lo, they did come to the second dig. His comrades did fall. The sky grew black. But He did not fall. One by one they abandoned in the face of furious attack. But he did not wilt, nor did he fall to his knees and beg for the mercy of the good lord DRS. He stood. And He stood. And He stood. Until at last, with a ropey front foot prod forged from the fires deep within His soul, He made the voices of His people rise once more. For again He was a centurion.

The doubters scattered, bereft and broken. Tears did fill their eyes. Some pleaded for forgiveness. Some donned masks. Some scuttled for the dark and the filth and were welcomed back with open arms that clawed the meat from their bones even as they embraced.

And all was quiet.

The scribes came to Him and they asked him for His words.
“It was,” He began, ” a good challenge out there.”
The scribes wrote his words on their tablets of metal and light, to be saved for the ages. But still they asked for more.
“I was pleased,” He boomed, “to score a century.”
He paused. Tapes whirred. Ink dripped. Breaths held.
“It was,” He said at last, “a good challenge.”
And the scribes were happy. For though he had no kingly words he had a kingly bearing and his with his actions he had shown he was indeed kingly.

The doubters were gone. And in their place grew hope. And the land rejoiced and sang His name.

And His name was Ian Ronald Bell.

10 Top tips on how to improve the Australian cricket team – from a Pom

Taken by me at the WACA in Perth the day that ...

Happy days could be here again (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the current Australian cricket team has been an uncomfortable experience. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the results, but as an England cricket fan since the early 1990’s I’ve been having flashbacks to those dismal times. You see, unlike some England fans I don’t like seeing Australia be humiliated, in the same way as most people who have been waterboarded wouldn’t want it to be inflicted on anyone else. I’ve been there and it is just of painful. So in a spirit of solidarity I’ve come up with a few top tips that could help Australia turn the corner. If you’re reading this, Boof, feel free to use any with my compliments.

1 Give each player a stopwatch showing how many days, hours and minutes play are left
The game lasts five days. I know you are playing in England, but this is not a normal English summer; rain is unlikely to stop play (well, you’re in Manchester and Durham for the next two tests so I may be speaking too soon). You don’t have the openers with the skill to force the pace against this English bowling unit, so bat patiently and hope they blow themselves out.

2 Reverse the batting order
I don’t have the stats, but I’m sure the lower order have either out scored or come close to out scoring the top six. Why not let them open? It may sound a little strange, but you could encourage Shane Watson to increase his conversion rate by bringing him in at no.11, point out Agar, and tell him if he fancies that young squirt’s world record score.

3 Clone Ryan Harris
He’s the one bowler that has the English batsman worried and isn’t a vegetarian. You need a few more of him. Just remember to add extra calcium to strengthen those bones.

4 Treat the Umpires to laser eye surgery
A lot of people have moaned about DRS, or about Stuart Broad not walking, but the real problem has been the umpire team’s myopia. Us England fans felt the sting early on but there have been some howlers that have gone against you guys over the past few days. Why not treat the umps to laser eye surgery. Apparently it only costs £600 per eye – according to spam mail. It would be £5000 well spent.

5 Bring in some South Africans
It worked for us and as far as I know, your new citizenship laws are practically begging you to do so (while at the same time basically writing off the next generation of home grown talent – but what’s a disenfranchised generation compared to a chance of winning.)

6 Spike Jimmy Anderson’s and Graeme Swann‘s drinks
It’s desperate, but you can’t tell me that all those players who come down with Dehli belly on a tour of India are by accident. Admittedly we still have Onions, Tremlett and an angry Finn waiting for a chance and that Joe Root is a bit handy, but it could work.

7 Write off this Ashes and start training camps back home
It looks like this Ashes series is beyond rescuing, but you could have revenge within a few months. All you need to do is put all the toughest, spunkiest young players in a camp, feed them raw steaks coated in Vegemite, and play them tapes of ex-pro commentators who never got close to winning and Ashes series looking smug and basking in the reflected glory of their modern counterparts. Do that for six months and it could be carnage.

8 Tell Shane Watson to place his front leg so his bat can come around it
How many times is Shan Watson going to play beautifully only to be out LBW in his mid-twenties. Maybe you could wire up his box so that every time the coaching staff catch him planting his foot straight in front of the stumps to an in swinger, they could give him a little shock as a reminder to never do it again.

9 Know any Indian bookmakers?
It’s worth a try

And if all else fails

An Australian Ashes winner?

An Australian Ashes winner?

10 Remind the poms who taught them reverse swing in the first place
Yes, if none of this works, you can always remind them that if it wasn’t for Troy Cooley and David Saker, the poms would still be crying into their warm beer at yet another Ashes series lost. Just because they forgot to pass the word around back home, it doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for England’s success. Yes, at the end of the day, Australia will still win the Ashes.

Well, an Australian.

The Ashes: return of the fear

The Fear strikes at the best of us (source: dailymail.co.uk)

The Fear strikes at the best of us (source: dailymail.co.uk)

The Ashes cricket series between England and Australia starts today and for the younger generation of English cricket fans this is a time of optimism. England have won the last two series and three of the last four, have formidable bowling and batting line-ups, and have come off the back of a historic series win in India (where Australian recently lost a series 4-0) and a tough but good win against New Zealand. The England team are favourites and rightly so, but while the younger generation are licking their lips in anticipation of giving the Aussies a good hiding, those of us from an older generation prepare to welcome back an old friend:

The Fear

You see, it hasn’t always been this way. During the late 1980’s until the mid 2000’s, the Ashes meant one thing: humiliation. It wasn’t as if we were a terrible side during that period, it was just that Australia were the best side in the world, and arguably one of the best sides ever to have played (The West Indies from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s being the only other real challenger). The true horror of supporting England wasn’t that they were being soundly thrashed every time they played, but that they gave you just enough hope of a victory before being soundly thrashed. The pinnacle of this took place in Adelaide, 2006.

The fear made flesh, Adam Gilchrist (source: cricketplayersphotos.blogspot.com)

The fear made flesh, Adam Gilchrist (source: cricketplayersphotos.blogspot.com)

To have that little flame of hope extinguished not once, but again, and again, and again, has meant that cricket fans of my generation are psychologically programmed to expect the worst. Every time England appear to be in a good position, The Fear slowly worms its way into our spine, up through the central nervous system until it clamps its icy fist around the pleasure centres of the brain. We are physically unable to relax while England play cricket. We sit through each match convinced that a batting collapse is about to take place, or that Jimmy Anderson is about to suffer from the yips. It is little wonder that cricket is the favourite sport of business executives; watching England play must save them a fortune in S&M dungeon fees.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. I know, it’s wrong to trust in that sneaky little betrayer, but hope is there all the same and it is this: over the last ten years, The Fear has migrated to sunnier climes. Fed up with our cold, damp winters and cold, damp summers, The Fear now spends it’s time switching between the Gabba, the SCG and the MCG. Where once it danced with delight as Adam Gilchrist walked out to bat, now it tickles the spine of Sydneysiders as they see Graham Swann begin his run up. The Fear should no longer be the enemy of England fans but we should embrace it as a friend, because for the first time in years it will be be having a greater impact on our Australian cousins than on us.

At least until Cook is bowled first ball.

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Do not view if you are English and of a nervous disposition

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.