A limerick a week #199


A few weeks ago, my former boss emailed me to say “Now, don’t take this the wrong way (I know you will), but Marigold Hotel with Henry Blofeld was on TV last night, and I thought of you!”

Her allusion to Henry Blofeld, or Blowers as he is known to aficionados of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special (TMS) cricket commentaries, was (I hope!) due to her bemusement over several years when a colleague and I used to discuss cricket in the margins of team meetings.

I replied that, “I’m not sure about being conflated with ‘Blowers’. He is after all an old f*rt that talks about cricket and rabbits-on endlessly with anecdotes (that only he finds amusing) whilst not letting others get a word in edgeways. Along with that he prefers things the way they used to be, and is forever eyeing his next slice of cake. Ah, my dear old thing… now I see!”.

Participants in the second series of The Real Marigold Hotel in a pic in which the BBC’s caption mistakes them for the participants of the first series! Blowers is standing fifth from the left. I too have orange shorts and a Panama hat, so perhaps my former boss was on to something!

Anyway, I’m sure that like me, my ex-boss will be delighted to know (hah!) that international cricket is now back after its Covid 19 hiatus and that currently the West Indies are playing England at Hampshire’s home ground, the so-called Ageas Bowl.

The Test Match is being shown on Sky Sports, to which I don’t subscribe so I can’t watch it; however, the Graun has reported on it and has paid glowing testimony to the events on the first day. Not to the cricket itself, but to the Sky Sports’ experts’ discussions when, predictably, rain stopped play.

Chief amongst the pundits is Michael Holding, a former West Indies fast bowler and one of the awesome foursomes of fast bowlers in the Indies’ pace attack of the 1970s and 80s (Holding, Roberts, Holder & Daniel or Roberts, Holding, Garner & Croft or Marshall, Roberts, Garner & Holding; there were others too, so take your pick).

Michael Holding bowling to Brian Close during the 1976 test series (see Postscript)

Not for Holding the light-hearted, and admittedly humorous-at-times, tittle tattle of the BBC’s TMS commentary box, but some acute observations around racism and Black Lives Matter.

As Andy Bull wrote in the Graun,

You can’t understand the history of cricket without understanding the history of empire. You can’t appreciate the rivalries between these, and other, teams, without appreciating the relationship between our countries, what’s been given, and what’s been taken. You can’t understand the hostility of Michael Holding’s bowling without understanding what made him so angry, you can’t appreciate Frank Worrell’s grace as a captain without knowing something of the prejudice he faced, you can’t value the violence of Viv Richards’ batting without a sense of what he was fighting against.

Fortunately, the Sky Sports channel has put Holding’s observations in front of its paywall and you can see and hear him here, it’s powerful stuff.

The channel then followed on (see what I did there?) by posting a compelling video on YouTube in which Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent (the first woman of colour to represent England at cricket) talk about their experiences of institutionalised racism. This was the video to which Holding made reference in his live-to-air comments.


This is serious stuff, so well done Sky Sports.

On a much less serious note, and changing channels to the BBC, Michael Holding was also an innocent party in one of the most-cited-but-apocryphal quotes in TMS and cricketing history.

Legend has it, and it is only legend, that in the 1976 Oval Test Match between England and the West Indies, when Holding was bowling to Peter Willey, an England all-rounder, the TMS commentator, Brian Johnson (aka ‘Jonners’), voiced the immortal words that comprise the last line of this week’s ALAW…

His commentary was dull until he
Expounded out loud and quite shrilly
That the ball was in play
Which led him to say
“The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey”!

Postscript: The 1976 England versus West Indies test series was noticeable for the aggression of the Indies’ fast bowlers, Holding, Roberts, Holder & Daniel, and their frequent use of bouncers; short-pitched deliveries that bounced dangerously high. One could understand their aggression as during an episode of the BBC’s Sportsnight programme shortly before the test series was to start, Tony Greig, England’s South African born captain had stated:

Sure, they’ve got a couple of fast bowlers, but really I don’t think we’re going to run into anything … You must remember that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top are magnificent cricketers. But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.

Amazon’s intro to Grovel!, David Tossell’s book on cricket’s summer of 1976 puts it well:

When England cricket captain Tony Greig announced that he intended to make the West Indies ‘grovel’, he lit a fire that burned as intensely as the sunshine that made 1976 one of the most memorable summers in British history. Spurred on by what they saw as a deeply offensive remark, especially from a white South African, Clive Lloyd’s touring team vowed to make Greig pay. In Viv Richards, emerging as the world’s most exciting batsman, and fast bowlers Michael Holding and Andy Roberts they had the players to do it.

Greig acknowledged in his forward to Tossell’s book that he had got it badly wrong, whilst also denying that his South African background was behind his comment and that there was no racist tone intended. Well, he would, wouldn’t he, but even if true it reeks of the sort of historical and cultural ignorance that leads to and underlies the unconscious bias that can belie even the saintly; a significant part of the issues that Michael Holding raised in his live piece to air.

A limerick a week #197

Beyond satire… 

It’s a bit of a rant-cum-braindump this week, so just skip to the end for the limerick I would!).

From the Financial Times a few days ago:

Mr Johnson is expected to exhort his cabinet on Tuesday to lead a campaign to persuade Britons that it is safe to go back to the pub and to enjoy other aspects of normal life.

“There’s a job to be done to encourage people to go out,” said one government official, suggesting some ministers might take the lead by heading to the pub.

From the Graun (a few days later after the British-but-mainly-the-English public decided to crowd together at the seaside and inland beauty spots and ignore the Covid-19 guidance and pre-lockdown social norms):

Earlier in the week, Johnson urged people to get out and “enjoy themselves” on 4 July, claiming that “the bustle is starting to come back”.

How the UK’s right wing tabloids promote Johnson’s easing of the Covid-19 restrictions

Subsequently from the Graun:

While thousands of people used their “good old British common sense” to flock to the beach at the first sign of a heatwave – who could have predicted they would interpret Boris’s upbeat “Show some guts ending of hibernation” address this way?

And today from The Observer:

On Wednesday in parliament the prime minister was asked a simple question by Peter Kyle, Labour MP for the seaside constituency of Hove. It was certain, Kyle noted, that with the relaxing of restrictions on socialising, coastal towns like his would become dangerously packed with visitors. “What will the prime minister do in the absence of the promised [track and trace] app to make sure these communities are destinations for investment and not destinations for covid?”

Boris Johnson replied with typical scattergun harrumphing: “I will be calling on local representatives such as himself to show some guts and determination and champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support!”

Through his mishandling of the Cummins ‘lockdown’ affair, our Prime Minister and his Cabinet had earlier lost all moral authority to complain about the British public breaking his Government’s most recent Covid-29 guidance. On top of that, his pronouncements on the easing of lockdown have since positively encouraged the public to ignore it entirely.

And what is his next great thought? He declares that it is for local councils to deal with the mess for which he is responsible. What a pillock!

When Boris starts passing the buck
On a virus that’s now run amuck
All I can say,
In a most heartfelt way,
Is the man’s just a stumbling rumblef*ck

A limerick a week #196

🎶There ain’t nothing like a Dame🎶

When Dame Vera Lynn, the UK’s WWII Forces’ Sweetheart, turned 100 a few years ago, I recycled an old tongue-in-cheek limerick. You can read it here.

Well, she has just died at the grand old age of 103. Quite an innings, but I wonder, I just wonder, that with her passing and that of the recent 75th anniversary of VE day, whether the UK can finally place the part it played in WWII in its historical context, albeit its modern history, instead of re-living its glories every time our present-day politicians want to divert attention from the divisiveness of their policies.

I’m all for Rememberance, but only in its truest sense and not as a pretext for ‘uniting’ a country behind xenophobic populism. Dame Vera was symbolic of unity for the right reasons; reasons that led to the UK’s post-war social democratic concensus rather than the bitter divides that neoliberalism has brought about more recently. 

Anyway, here’s a ‘goodbye’ in ALAW fashion…

A songstress who enthralled servicemen
Sings no more, as the time has come when
It’s ‘adieu’ to Dame Vera
And the end of an era
‘Cos I don’t think that we’ll meet again!

A limerick a week #195

For someone at the start of their secondary school years, the early 1970s BBC Time-Life magazine ‘The British Empire’ made for a fascinating weekly read over the course of its 98 issues. 

It was the first ever part-work magazine that was specifically linked to a BBC television series and, as with the broadcast programme, the subject of ‘Empire’ and its presentation was controversial in the eye of the dominions if not to those for whom it was a nostalgic echo of when Britannia ruled the waves.

To the thirteen year old me, the magazine’s depictions of the slave trade were horrific. Horrific, but far away. After all, although we were ‘offcomers’ to my home town of Kendal, we were Caucasian just like the locals and weren’t exposed to the realities of racism in the 1970s.

So, despite being rather shocked by the appallingly-racist sitcom Love Thy Neighbour and bemused by the peculiarity that was the Black and White Minstrel Show, we were, in those days, quite unaware of the offensiveness, for example, of white actors ‘blacking up’ in other TV productions. 

It wasn’t until I was a student in the east end of London during the autumn of 1977 that I learned about some of the realities of racism. Although my stay in London was short, for a part of that time I shared a room with Gwyn, a young man of colour from the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) .

We were lodging with a senile landlady on the fifth floor of a tower block, the bucolically-but-deceptively named Barley Mow Estate on Oak Lane in Poplar.

My student ‘residence’ in London’s east end four years after I’d lived there

Our landlady’s senility was a problem (lettuce for breakfast, anyone?) and she should have been properly cared for by her family. Instead they encouraged her to take in students as lodgers so there was someone there to keep an eye on her.

But that wasn’t our real problem. Our real problem was the hostility shown to Gwyn by some of the area’s locals whenever he, or we, ventured out. It was more than an eye-opener to a naïve north country lad. (Due to my accommodation problems I dropped out after one term. I don’t know if Gwyn lasted the course or what became of him.)

Needless to say, in view of my experience back then, if only as a mere observer, the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and the downing of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol and its dumping in Bristol Harbour, has resonated with me and I do hope that it leads to a substantive change for the better and not just the usual hand-wringing of privileged UK politicos

Here’s the limerick

When the time finally came to take stock
It never was really a shock
For the people of BAME
To attribute the blame
To the man they’ve just put in the dock!

I’ll leave the last word to the historian and TV presenter David Olusoga…