“Caedite eos, novit enim, Dominus qui sunt eius.”

That does it. The final straw, the line crossed that must not be crossed, and once crossed cannot be uncrossed, the bridge too far, the Popeye Moment. Believe thee you me, if this isn’t a sign that the Apocalypse is at hand (and not a moment too soon), I don’t know what is.

The source of my discontent is news that Pope Francis is authorizing changes to The Lord’s Prayer and The Gloria. I was born and raised a Catholic in the heady days of the mid-1940s and 1950s and although I’ve consider myself a cultural Catholic—as opposed to a practicing Catholic—since I stopped attending Mass more than five decades ago, I still hold some atavistic attitudes. I, therefore, cannot, will not, shall not countenance such apostasy.

On those rare occasions when I am compelled to recite The Lord’s Prayer (funerals of late, and I only do it out of love and respect for the deceased), I shall continue to say “and lead us not into temptation” rather than the suggested “do not let us fall into temptation.” As a side-note, I also am wont to say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” although I do not object, on theological, moral, or aesthetic grounds, to saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”

As far as The Gloria goes, I think the proposed change from saying “Peace on earth to people of good will” to “Peace on Earth to people beloved by God” is dangerously discriminatory and I will have nothing to do with it. Does this God not love all people? Are we not admonished to hate the sin but love the sinner? Doesn’t such a change not merely condone, but promote, tribalism? How many more religious wars will this benighted policy spark among the religious fanatics. Who is to decide who is “beloved of God” or are we back to the motto of the Albigensian Crusade: “Caedite eos, novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”  Roughly translated: “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Regarding the changes in The Lord’s Prayer, Pope Francis suggests that the change is a translation that better reflects the Church’s view that we are the authors of our own misfortunes; that God, in his or her infinite  wisdom, benevolence, or I-could-care-less-about-my-minions attitude would never bait human-kind into transgressing the Divine Will. Oh no, our Father or Mother who art in heaven is no God of Entrapment. HAH! Tell that to Job. There is that nonsense from the Apostle Paul (among much nonsense from Paul) in his letter to the Corinthians to the effect that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If someone offers such cant to you in times of trouble, I encourage you to punch that person in the face. No, really, punch him or her in the face and then go buy yourself some ice cream.

But Francis says that the proposed change in The Lord’s Prayer is a better translation of Divine Policy. Translation? From what? The Greek (and Coptic Greek at that)? Aramaic? Latin? Please! It took Mother Church more than a thousand years to decide that we have a bad translation to deal with? This is a problem when, for example, the Washington Post just reported on a Vatican report that details how the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen—including young priests he is accused of “mistreating”—and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States, and at the Vatican? And, as we know, this is just the tip of the iceberg that is the moral rot at the heart of Mother Church—I hope you’ll forgive me, Gentle Reader, for the mixed metaphor. Bad translation, my eye (I was thinking of that portion of the anatomy a little lower, but one does not want to be crude). A distraction, that’s all it is—a distraction.

I have no idea why the change in The Gloria was proposed, other than to fall in line with the growing tribalism that increasingly describes today’s troubled world.

Lest you think of me as one to oppose all change, let me say that I welcomed the fresh breeze of Vatican II. Well, maybe not doing away with the Latin Mass. But then I always viewed the Mass as dramaturgy rather than theology ever since I fell away from the symboled world at about age fourteen. Even then, I did thrill to a Latin High Mass complete with incense, bells, couture vestments, and the Bach Mass in B Minor sung by a competent choir. A folk-songed-guitared-up Mass is no match  for that. Still, Vatican II was not without its virtues as evidenced by the resistance of the right-wing conservatives in the Vatican to Pope John XXIII and the proposed changes in Church culture designed to bring the Church—kicking and screaming much too often—into the 20th Century .

The question now is: Where do these changes lead me? Admittedly, my behavior is apt not to change much since I can’t attend church less than I attend now—it’s only a funeral that takes me into a church service today. I am far too old to be invited to weddings, or Christenings. My monetary contributions can’t decline any more either. But, by golly, I am changing my attitude about Francis, a pope I was inclined to think well of up until now. I fear he may be not much better than Benny the Rat, though Francis neither is nor was a Nazi as was and still is, I suspect, Benny the Rat.

Small solace, I’d say.  Still, it’s something. And it seems to me better than “killing them all and letting God sort them out.”



Living the Dream: Kondo, Kondo, Kondo, Kondo

This is my dream: I am in a city—unnamed though familiar enough to me in my dream—in a commercial district dominated by antique shops, second-hand stores, and used bookstores including several antiquarian bookshops. The store front windows are crammed with the bric-a-brac, curios, gimcracks, and bibelots characteristic of the particular shop. They are both luring and alluring to me.

I am, by the way, entirely alone in my dream. No one else walks the streets. There is no sound of traffic, no buzz of commerce. I am not sure this means anything, and I certainly take no notice that, in my dream, none of the stores has customers or shop-keepers.

I browse through bins of leather-covered books, their colors, textures, and musty odors massaging all my senses. Here is a store filled with Toby jugs of all sizes and characters; there a store filled with nautical memorabilia—scrimshaw, ships’ bells, brass lanterns and portholes, nautical compasses, brass telescopes and sextants, even an old copper-covered diver’s helmet and a full-sized ship’s wheel. Another store front window is festooned with old gold jewelry, pocket watches, gold coins, gold cigarette cases all of which glitter and gleam, pulsing with a light of their own.

There is a sort of Dickensian “Old Curiosity Shop” feel to the streets and the stores. I feel a little like Nell’s grandfather in his shop…

The place through which he made his way at leisure was one of those receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust. There were suits of mail standing like ghosts in armour here and there, fantastic carvings brought from monkish cloisters, rusty weapons of various kinds, distorted figures in china and wood and iron and ivory: tapestry and strange furniture that might have been designed in dreams. The haggard aspect of the little old man was wonderfully suited to the place; he might have groped among old churches and tombs and deserted houses and gathered all the spoils with his own hands. There was nothing in the whole collection but was in keeping with himself nothing that looked older or more worn than he.

These are fantastic, chaotic displays that somehow never seem to completely overwhelm my senses. In fact, I find great comfort in both the extent and the variety of the treasures that surround me.

The dream is recurring, and I always welcome its return. I would like to think that, somewhere in this favored land, bands are playing, hearts are light, and the streets and stores of my dream really do exist. What a fine place that would be to live. But I know that I have never actually trod the streets of my dream nor browsed in its shops. And yet…and yet!

So, from what springs this curious, charming, welcoming dream? There are many theories about dreams, of course, dating from the ancient Sumerians in 3100 BC, to Plato, to Freud, to Calvin Hall in the late 1950s, to Ann Faraday in the 1970s. Preoccupation with unfulfilled sexual fantasies, and stress dreams—taking that test for which you are unprepared, forgetting your lines as you step on-stage, running naked down a crowded public street—aside, why might I be having this dream?

Well, Gentle Reader, the answer is that I am, in truth, living the dream here in my small suite of rooms at Stately Johnson Manor South, a space that some—even I—refer to as “The Bunker.” The Bunker, by the way, includes a sign that lights up in neon-blue like a ten-fold beacon in the night proclaiming The Bunker. It’s a beautiful piece of art given to me by my brother. Given—I fear—not so much as an embracing of my dream, but as a gentle chide.

Toby jugs? I’ve got about three dozen from miniatures to almost head-size. A ship’s wheel? Got it, though not full-size. I’ve also got a glorious, full-color, 18-inch tall, papiermâché statue of a ship’s captain at the wheel. Next to him stands a shorter (15 inches) ship’s captain at the wheel, this one in bronze.

There are a dozen or so book-end sets some of which are actually used to support books, though most of the books—twelve-hundred or so—are found in the 14 bookcases that occupy much of the wall space of The Bunker and my attached bedroom.

The bookshelves contain, not only books, but other treasures such as a matched pair of rabbits in livery holding service trays upon which a candle might be impaled. There are commemorative plates including a John Wayne Commemorative Plate given to me, in jest, by my great and good friend, John Fortier. John Fortier is no fan of John Wayne, but the plate was produced by the Franklin Mint on bone china and trimmed with 24-carat gold. This is my only John Wayne Commemorative plate and I treasure it. There are many different John Wayne plates depicting him in various of his movie roles and I am a fan of John Wayne’s movies—if not the man himself or his politics.  If you are somewhere and see a John Wayne Commemorative Plate for sale, buy if for me. I will gladly and promptly reimburse you.

What else decorates the bookshelves? I am an admirer of lusterware— a type of pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze that gives the effect of iridescence—in its several variations of copper, gold, silver etc. On my shelves you will find a dozen or so lusterware pieces, none of which were particularly expensive, but all of which are fine examples of the craft. There are small brass or irons busts of characters from Mark Twain to Lincoln to Eisenhower to JFK, as well as a nifty Nixon commemorative medal.

Then there’s the array of decorative wooden boxes from cigar box size (oh, I have several old cigar boxes too) to breadbox size—about 15 or so of these little gems. These find a place primarily atop the bookcases. What also finds a place atop the bookcases are a half-dozen replicas of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. They will serve as a nice complement to the half-dozen or so framed pictures I have of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. But since there’s no current room on the walls to hang all these pictures, several of them are leaning against the bookcases, along with about two dozen empty frames that I recently purchased at a thrift shop.

My intention is to use these empty frames to hold some of the several hundred pieces of old sheet music—popular tunes of the day—that I purchased at Chester Creek Books & Antiques in Duluth, MN, my favorite “old stuff” emporium. The sheet music runs from the late 19th century to the 1920s and 30s. The graphics are spectacular and are works of art in their own right. I also purchased a trove of WWI sheet music, equally as spectacular, with titles like I didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier, Good-bye Broadway-Hello France, We’re all Going Calling On The Kaiser, Hunting The Hun, and Set Aside Your Tears Till The Boys Come Marching Home. They are going to look fantastic matted and put in my recently-acquired frames.

I can’t end the tour without mentioning my “Wall of Industry” that features an antique, hand-cranked, wall telephone, two 100-year-old+ regulator clocks that keep excellent time, a bright red (and very heavy) fire alarm box, and a card-punch time clock.

There are a few other odds-and-ends, but I sense you are getting weary, Gentle Reader, and so we will stop for now. Refreshments are available down in the fire-place room which, you will see, has a wall of books and treasures that is part of a separate tour.

You are always welcome here in The Bunker, even though my long-suffering wife, on her rare visits to The Bunker, claims she cannot breathe here. I claim that, if that’s so, it’s simply because she is out of shape and the climb up the stairs to reach The Bunker has winded her.

I’ll tell you who is not welcome here in The Bunker: any of those irritating Marie Kondo-decluttering-types. You know Marie Kondo, don’t you? The current guru of “organizing.” By the way, when I hear her name, after I stop shuddering, I hear Engelbert Humperdinck singing, Quando, Quando, Quando, Quando, and I start shuddering all over again. Of Marie Kondo, Wikipedia says, “In junior school, Kondo ran into the classroom to tidy up bookshelves while her classmates were playing in physical education class. Whenever there was nomination for class roles, she did not seek to be the class representative or the pet feeder. Instead, she yearned to be the bookshelf manager to continue to tidy up books.” But wait, it gets worse: Kondo said she experienced a breakthrough in organizing one day. “I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours [hmmm—sounds like Nancy’s recent experience here in the bunker]. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.”

“God of tidying?” This is not the “what ever gods may be” that drove William Ernest Henley to pen Invictus. “God of tidying?” Give me a break!

On the other hand, there may be a kernel of wisdom here, if only one can extract honey from the weeds. Kondo’s calls her method of organizing KonMari [now I am thinking of Louie Prima’s Oh Marie which does not make me shudder]. The KonMari method consists of “gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that ‘spark joy’ and choosing a place for everything from then on.” Well, all righty then—all my belongings “spark joy” in me; and as for “a place for everything,” that’s summed up in a framed cartoon hanging on my bedroom wall whose caption reads: “A place for everything and everything all over the place.” Thank you, Marie Kondo, for providing me with a quasi-philosophical underpinning for the state of the bunker. I find that I am living, not only the dream, but KonMari as well. Kondo preaches:  “Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object.” Of this philosophy, I am a true believer.

So, back to the dream. I don’t remember when I realized that the dreamscape was, in reality, sort of the stage version of the bunker, but when that realization did come to me, it came like a bolt out of the blue. I still have the dream occasionally but living the dream—and practicing my own version of KonMari— is so much better.

Democracy Hung Out to Dry

One of the reasons why Democrats have some difficulty in “messaging” is that they simply do not know how to frame an issue for rhetorical impact. The latest example of that is the incredible statement by Jon B. Erpenbach, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Senate who, speaking during the lame-duck session of the WI Assembly and Senate that resulted in lame-duck legislation that would diminish the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, compared the action to someone “stealing towels from a hotel.” Pardon me? Stealing towels from a hotel? WTF! This was an unbridled power grab by a bunch of anti-democratic legislators who actively sought to thwart the will of Wisconsin voters. Rethuglican Assembly and Senate mob bosses, Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald—two as insincere, dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious, hypocritical pieces of scum as you are ever going to find slimming the halls of power —mouthed justifications about “balance of power” that would be laughable if they were not so blatantly fascist. And all Mr. Erpenbach can say is that this is like “stealing towels from a hotel.” Shame on you Senator Erpenbach. Shame on you. But this sort of framing is so typical of the Democrats. What’s more powerful, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, even though pro-lifers really are only pro-birthers and care little about life after the womb. Pro-Choice sounds like part of an advertising pitch from your local ice cream shop.  How about “Make America Great Again” as opposed to “We’re Better Together”? Of course MAGA means make white nationalism, racism, and misogyny an acceptable part of the national dialogue. But the god-terms—America, Great—are higher up the rhetorical impact ladder than “We’re better together” which sounds like a line from one of those kumbaya songs popular during the folk song scare of the ’60s. As long as mealy-mouthed politicians like Erpenbach choose to define unprincipled attacks on the fundamentals of democratic government as “stealing towels from hotels,” the fascists win. It is as the historian, Norman Cantor, wrote: “The hard men with The Truth usually prevail over the tolerant liberal who, by his own philosophy, cannot bring himself to destroy his opponent, while his opponent does all in his power to destroy him.” The time has come (it is really long past the time), for the tolerant liberal to draw a line in the sand, roll up his sleeves, spit in his hand, and deck the “hard men with the truth.”

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The Bell Tolls for a Gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic Mechanic

Today, April 10, 2018, marks the 106th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, bound from Southampton to New York, but which, as we all know, sunk on April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.

Dramas played out on the world’s stage sometimes have a way of intruding on our everyday existence in ways that are so commonplace that they would be hard to imagine. Not included among the estimated 705 survivors, or the nearly 1500 victims of the Titanic disaster was a woman whose life on this earth was long and whose influence on the people with whom she came into contact profound. Naomi Halstead nee Lenander was 22 years old when she returned to Sweden from Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1912. She had been sent from her home in Malmo, Sweden by her parents when she was barely 11 years old to escape from the hard and bitter times, the bad harvests, and near famines that had descended on Sweden at the end of the 19th century. Now, no longer a child, but a young woman trained as a teacher, Naomi returned to Sweden to visit with family and friends.

It had been a grand visit, but now it was time to return to her home in America. And so, Naomi booked sea-passage—no jumbo jets leaving daily from Southampton to New York in 1912—and began the final round of visits and good-byes. Naomi came from a loving family who were reluctant to let her leave—particularly when her birthday was only a few days away. “Stay at least until after your birthday,” her family implored. “Who knows when we’ll see you again?”

Naomi heeded the entreaties of her family and turned in her tickets. She did not sail on the Cunard Liner Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship ever built, leaving Southampton, England on its fateful maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912. On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 PM, the Titanic struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea. On April 17, 1912, Naomi Lenander celebrated her 23rd birthday safe in Sweden in the loving embrace of her family.

Naomi Lenander Halstead was my grandmother-in-law and lived with Nancy and me for several years prior to her death at the age of 89 in 1978. I have often thought how different my life might be if Naomi had sailed home as planned. Nancy Lofkvist, my wife, would not have been born. Presumably, I would be married but to someone else, living somewhere else, doing something else. The mind reels.

Many long years ago I was telling this story to a group of my students, all members of the Davis Chapter of Model United Nations at the University of California at Davis. The occasion was a party and we were talking about the “small world” concept—how we are all connected to each other at some point of acquaintanceship. Later, American playwright, John Guare, wrote a play called Six Degrees of Separation that explored this notion [many years after this, I was in the Knickerbocker Tavern in New York City, one of Brother Tom’s locals during the days when he was a resident of The Big Apple, having a drink with Tom and a friend of his, the writer, Brad Morrow, when in walked John Guare, a friend of Brad’s, who joined us, thereby creating zero degrees of separation in a sense, but I digress]. Meanwhile, back in Davis, we were all intrigued by the implications of my story. One of my students, a Mexican—Jose Baron—said that he believed that he had a distant uncle who was a mechanic on the ill-fated Titanic. It was a family story often told, said Jose. I observed that that meant his uncle was a Hispanic Titanic Mechanic. And, if he were tall, well then, he was a Gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic Mechanic. That occupied our time for the next half hour or so (evil? —Satanic; showed off his learning? —pedantic, etc.) and probably obscured the original source of our word game. But here again was a connection.

And so, on this auspicious anniversary date, I see Naomi and Jose and Jose’s uncle, that gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic mechanic, in my mind’s eye and I recall the stirring words of the 17th century Scottish priest and poet, John Donne: No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory were; as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.



Broken Yolks and Balms in Gilead

Broken egg yolk

It was a cold morning here in the greater Windsor metroplex, and I decided that, rather than venture abroad to procure my thrice-weekly health-conscious breakfast at McDonald’s (an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin and an order of hash browns), I would fry up a couple of eggs in the warmth of the kitchen at Stately Johnson Manor South. It’s a contradiction, I suppose, that, if I am frying my own eggs, or when I have eggs at breakfast at Gus’s Diner (or anywhere that I am having breakfast out), I want my eggs over-easy. The egg yolk in an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin is broken of course. No problem for me. Luckily, the “law of contradiction” is never enforced otherwise the jails would overflow and I would be a frequent guest. I suppose I shouldn’t confess that I do not eat cheeseburgers, but I would be incensed if the cheese were omitted from my thrice-weekly Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin. And while I won’t eat pastries that contain nuts, yet a bowl of vanilla ice-cream strewed with salted peanuts and chocolate sauce is among my favorite foods.

But I digress.

I broke the first egg successfully (no broken yolk) into my cast-iron skillet. I did not have the same success with the second egg as you note in the picture. “Damn,” I cried, “and double damn.” Nancy Johnson, my wise and wonderful wife, who was boiling porridge next to me, asked what was the source of my vexation. “Look,” I said, “See the waste I have laid to this egg rendering it inedible.” Did Mrs. Johnson roll her eyes? Perhaps. After 49 years of marriage I really don’t notice those things anymore. I used to tell Nancy that, if she continued to roll her eyes over my every little inconsistency, she might get them stuck in the “rolled-up” position one day.

Did she offer me comforting words, a balm in Gilead, extinguishing my sorrow and pain? Well, perhaps. Her reply was, “May that be the worst thing that happens to you today.” And I thought that that was a kind and generous response, whether it was meant to be or not. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. It was certainly kinder and more generous than Nancy’s normal advice to me when I am confronted with a situation that calls forth my best whining: Cope!

And so I hope for you, Gentle Reader, that, whatever your metaphorical broken egg yolk might be, that that is the worst thing that happens to you today.


You Expected To Be Sad In The Fall

Hemingway, at least, expected to be sad in the fall. In A Moveable Feast he wrote, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” I have always found this passage to be very moving and I often quote it in various writings and even in conversation. If you live in a landscape of seasons, it’s evocative.

I find a solace in the fall that tends to buoy my spirit and find beauty even in branches “bare against the wind and cold, wintry light.” Part of the reason is that, growing up in the  Midwest, you punctuate your life by the colors and textures that each season brings. We Midwesterners well and truly understand Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, summarized succinctly in its opening line: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”  I recall a time when I was teaching at the University of California in Davis. I had a comfortable office in venerable old North Hall with a view of a magnificent tree just outside my office window. The problem with that tree, I discovered, was that it remained the same year round. It might have been a painting hanging just outside my window. I was standing in my office one day looking at the never-changing tree when a student came in (my door was always open) and asked what I was doing. “Waiting for that tree to change color,” I replied, “so that I’ll know it’s fall (or winter, or spring, or summer) and I can be about my seasonal appropriate activities.”

For many years, the fall was a time of renewal for me. From age six to age 35, I was a creature of the academic life either as a student, a teacher, or both. When the leaves fell from the trees and nature began hunkering down, when the hounds of winter were on summer’s traces, I was renewing old acquaintances and forging new friendships. The fall semester of academic life was the budding spring of the academic year. It was invigorating, full of potential, providing a new start. A time to sow, a time to be born, a time to laugh, a time to dance. Heady time, the fall.

The first fall after I was out of law school at age 35, the fall of 1980, I hadn’t expected to be sad, but I was. The rhythm of academic life that had sustained me for so long was out of sync. Fall didn’t bring the energy of renewal as it had up to then. September, October: now they were just months of the year, sands in the hourglass of time, markers on the paths of glory that lead…Well, Gentle Reader, you know where the paths of glory lead I am sure.

This past week I was able to immerse myself in the glory of a northern Wisconsin fall. The colors had not quite peaked, but there were the aspen and white birch with their golden leaves shimmering along the Brule as I drove HW 13 from Superior to Bayfield and Washburn. The coniferous Tamaracks give a deep golden yellow glow as well. They will shed their needles in the late fall, the only evergreen tree in the state to do so.  The sumac were already a deep scarlet red even along HW 94 and 53 driving up north from my home in Windsor. The reddening of the sumac is always an early harbinger of fall.  Farther north, In Superior, the leaves of the red maples were meeting expectations by turning a brilliant red.

Red maple Superior

And then I was in Bayfield, my original home town, the place where part of my soul still resides. There’s a black maple tree in front of the old courthouse in Bayfield that I have taken a picture of for years and years. It was still there, still beautiful in its fall golden coat, and I took its picture once again.


The tree is about a block from my Johnson grandparents’s home. That site of blessed memory is no longer in the family, more’s the pity, but I feel its Siren call whenever I am in Bayfield. There’s an old barn on the property that is now on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Cousin Mark Johnson and I spent many happy hours playing in that barn when we were wee lads in a time long ago, and, it sometimes seems, a faraway place. But when time and place seem to be slipping away from me, I always find my way back.


Sad in the fall? Hemingway maybe, but not me. Not me, not yet.

There and Back Again: The Curious Journey of Oliver Cromwell’s Head

In the Dining Hall at Sidney Sussex College, in Cambridge, England hangs a 1656 portrait by Samuel Cooper of a former Sidney Sussex College student, Oliver Cromwell, who, though he did not graduate from the college, attended from 1616-1617, and is rightly embraced as a “Son of Sussex.”

In the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College hangs a plaque commemorating the return of this “Son of Sussex” to his Alma Mater on March 25, 1960.


Plaque noting Cromwell's head is buried in Sidney Sussex College


Let me set the stage.  If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that Dennis Ryan and I spent a week as residents of Sidney Sussex College while Dennis, a disciple (I don’t think that’s saying too much) of the great 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, examined various documents held in the Wittgenstein Archives of the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge where Wittgenstein taught from 1929 until his death in 1951. While Dennis spent three days buried in the Wittgenstein Archives, I was on a somewhat different journey of discovery: trying to locate Oliver Cromwell’s skull. Though I made a Herculean effort (as documented in the pictures below), the closest I came to Cromwell’s head was sitting under the Cooper portrait in the dining hall.

For starters, I was able to acquire the services of a couple of local blokes possessed of a backhoe and practiced in the art of digging holes who were willing, guided by my admittedly limited knowledge of the precise location of Cromwell’s skull, to dig where I instructed them. All to no avail and, after a couple of days, they filled up the holes, I paid them off, and sent them on their way. Cheerio and all that.

Looking for Cromwell's Head II

Looking for Cromwell's Head IV

I then decided that perhaps the authorities that buried Cromwell’s head would not have been quite so public about the location of the head’s final resting place. And given that the burial was in 1960, an age of modernity even in Cambridge, maybe these authorities utilized the myriad underground tunnels that contain the water mains and electrical conduit that connect Sidney Sussex College to the outer world. I located a manhole cover very near the antechapel that contains the plaque commemorating the burial of Cromwell’s head and I brought the blokes back for another effort.

Looking for Cromwell's Head III (3)

Our efforts, more’s the pity, were not successful.  Bitterly disappointed, I abandoned the quest to find Cromwell’s head and retired to a nearby pub, the Champion of the Thames, where I found solace in the warm beer and warm heart of Beth the bartender— and daughter of the pub’s owner to boot.

Beth at the Champion of the Thames Pub Cambridge

Beth told me to buck up, suggested that I just tell the story of the journey of Cromwell’s head (“and by the way,” she asked,” who is this bloke, Cromwell?”—Beth is very young), that I didn’t really need the skull to tell the story, and besides,Beth pointed out, drawing another pint for me, if I had found it, it was unlikely that I’d be allowed to leave Cambridge, let alone the UK, with the head in my suitcase. She was right, of course, though it took a few pints of Summer Lightning and a Scotch egg or two to convince me. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

The story I am about to tell you, Gentle Reader, is, I think, mostly true.  It is the story of the curious journey of Oliver Cromwell’s head from its first appearance at Sidney Sussex College in 1616, firmly attached to the body of Cromwell, to its macabre return 343 years later: there and back again.

We’ll let ourselves get a little ahead of the story and briefly describe the importance of Oliver Cromwell in British history.  Some of you may already know what I am about to relate and you have my permission to scroll down a couple of paragraphs to the start of the journey of Cromwell’s head from his body in 1661 to the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College in 1960.

From 1653 to 1658, Cromwell was the Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland. This occurred after the English Civil Wars (there were three of them from 1642-1651) whose consequences were the trial, conviction for treason, and beheading of Charles I on January 30, 1649; the exile of Charles II in 1651; the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth of England from 1649-1653; and then the Protectorate under Cromwell and his son from 1653 until 1659.

Cromwell had been a member of Parliament during Charles I’s unhappy 24 year reign. Charles was his own worst enemy: self-righteous, arrogant, and unscrupulous. His troubles began the moment he ascended the throne in 1625 upon the death of his father James I. Charles simultaneously alienated both his subjects and his Parliament, prompting a series of events that ultimately lead to civil war, his own death and the abolition of the English monarchy. When the conflicts between Charles and the Parliament finally resulted in a civil war, Cromwell became the military leader of the Roundhead army of the Parliament against the King’s Cavaliers.  He was also the third signer of the death warrant issued after Charles I’s conviction. On January 30, 1649, a bitterly cold day, Charles I was led to the scaffold erected at Whitehall Palace, London and beheaded. Charles went to his execution, or so the tale is told, wearing two heavy shirts so that he might not shiver in the cold and appear to be afraid.

What followed was a two year period of the First English Commonwealth, a rough patch that led to the third English civil war. Cromwell and the Roundheads effectively eliminated the military threats to the Commonwealth, but economic trouble continued and, for reasons entirely too complicated to be discussed here, Cromwell, with no apparent authority except the backing of the Roundhead Army, dismissed Parliament and was appointed the Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

I’ll not bore you with the tedious details of Cromwell’s adventures over the next five years. You can read about them elsewhere at your leisure.

Cromwell died at Whitehall Palace during the mid-afternoon of Friday, September 3, 1658 probably of septicemia following a bout of malarial fever and a urinary infection to which he was prone.  He was buried with great pomp and circumstance befitting a king. Ironically, Cromwell, Caesar-like, had previously turned down the crown. Still, being the Lord Protector was pretty much like being the king, though to say “It’s good to be Lord Protector” is not as funny as saying “It’s good to be king.”

King or not,  preparations for Cromwell’s funeral did not go well. The government planned a public viewing, a grandiose funeral, and internment in Westminster Abbey. Given that all of this would take time to organize, the powers that be ordered that Cromwell’s corpse be immediately disemboweled and embalmed. This preservation was carried out as instructed, however Cromwell’s corpse was already in a horrendous state of decay and the embalming was done badly. According to George Bate, a physician present at Cromwell’s embalming, Cromwell’s corpse was wrapped tightly in four layers of grave cloth then buried in two coffins, one lead and one wood, yet despite this, a horrible stench still leaked from the outer coffin. Hence the decision was made to bury the putrid Protector, prematurely and privately. An effigy dressed in Cromwell’s clothes took his place at the lying in state at Somerset House.

Thus, Cromwell’s body was buried in Westminster Abbey several weeks before his state funeral. In mid-October, Londoners were invited to view Cromwell’s “body” lying in state at Somerset House though what they saw was an ornately-dressed wooden mannequin sporting a wax death mask. The funeral procession did not take place until November 23rd, eight weeks after Cromwell’s death. The coffin transported to Westminster Abbey was probably empty.

Opinion varies about whether Cromwell was a proto-fascist dictator, or the herald of democracy in England. I do recommend Lady Antonia Fraser’s interesting biography of the Lord Protector, Cromwell, Our Chief of Men. Her goal was to rehabilitate Cromwell’s reputation as a statesman without ignoring his many flaws, among which were a very bad temper and his propensity to see events as in the hands of a divine providence, that, surprise surprise, spoke to him at critical times. I still pitch my tent in the Cromwell-as-a- proto-fascist camp, but that’s neither here nor there for this story. Suffice it to say, that whatever one’s opinion of Cromwell might be, it cannot be denied that he is a figure of  central importance in British history.

Now the real tale begins (“and not a moment too soon,” I hear you chide, Gentle Reader). Cromwell’s son, Richard, who inherited the Protectorate after Oliver’s death, was not the man his father was and, in May of 1659, he resigned as Lord Protector ushering in the restoration of the Monarchy and the return of Charles II from exile in 1660. Richard, by the by, having resigned from government, fled to France, and then traveled extensively around Europe under a variety of pseudonyms.  He quietly returned to England in the 1680s and managed to live to the ripe old age of 85, dying on July 12, 1712.

On January 30, 1661 (the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I), Charles II had Cromwell’s body exhumed from Westminster Abbey and given a gruesome posthumous execution.  Cromwell’s corpse was hanged at the Tyburn Gallows, the principal location for the execution of traitors back in the day. If you are at all familiar with London, Tyburn was located near the present day Marble Arch.

Cromwell’s body was left to hang for a day and then the body was cut down and decapitated. According to legend, it took eight blows of the executioner’s ax to separate Cromwell’s head from his corpse. Who knows? The body was wrapped in four layers of grave cloth through which the ax would have had to cut. But the job was finally done. Cromwell’s head was dipped in tar and then impaled on a wooden pike attached to a 20-foot pole and displayed on the roof of Westminster Hall facing in the direction of the spot where Charles I had been beheaded. Cromwell’s body may have been buried in a pit under the Tyburn Gallows, though one story has it that his daughter was able to retrieve the body. I have no idea if that’s true, and, if true, where those bones might be.

So now we have Cromwell’s head on a pike on the roof of Westminster Hall where the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded seeing it on Feb. 5, 1661. A gruesome sight I am sure. You can see the pike impaled through the skull.

Cromwell's head on a pike


And there it remained for at least 24 years, an eerie human weather vane blown by wind, drenched by rain and snow, bronzed by countless searing summer suns. But in the late 1680s, maybe about 1685 or maybe a bit later, the pole on the which the head was impaled snapped during a fierce storm. Cromwell’s head rolled into a gutter in Parliament Square and is believed to have been found by a sentry, one Pvt. Barnes, who promptly took it home and, according to a diarist of the time, “secreted it in a chimney-corner.”

There is some thought that Barnes was a republican who did not want the head to fall into royalists hands once again. More likely, he was frightened by the hue and cry that arose when it was discovered that the head was missing and by seeing placards issued by the government a few days later ordering anyone who found the head to hand it in . And so it stayed in the chimney until Barnes revealed his secret and the location of the head to his wife and daughter on his death-bed perhaps around 1702.

The next time we have evidence of the head it is in the possession of a collector of curiosities, Claudius Du Puy. Du Puy maintained a museum of curiosities which was apparently one of the most visited museums in London at the time, a motley collection of marine monstrosities, idols, waxworks, musical instruments and strange footwear that filled four rooms.

Du Puy died intestate in 1738 and when next we hear of the head it is in the possession of Samuel Russell, “a dissolute, drunken and impecunious comedian.” Russell appears to have married Pvt. Barnes’ granddaughter and thus his link to the head, though how he came into its actual possession is not known.

Russell attempted to sell the head to Sidney Sussex College and was rebuffed. But James Cox, a London jeweler and moneylender, paid Russell £118 for it in 1787 (about $18,400 today). Twelve years later, he sold it for £230 (about $26,000 today, a tidy profit) to a trio of speculators, the Hughes brothers.

One of the stranger aspects of this already strange story concerns the fate of the Brothers Hughes. Before the head was very much older, each of them suffered a violent and untimely death. One was mugged by a highwayman; another drowned; the third had an apoplectic seizure while out riding, fell off his horse, and died.

The three daughters of the third brother then became the heirs to the head. In 1814, they sold it to their family physician, Dr Josiah Wilkinson, a collector of Cromwellian artifacts. Josiah often showed it to his patients, and the Wilkinson family was apparently in the habit of showing off the relic to their house guests. One house guest reported that the head was usually shown off after breakfast.

Cromwell’s head remained in the Wilkinson family for 146 years until it was donated to Sidney Sussex  College in 1960.

But there remains a pressing issue here, does there not? And you, Gentle Reader, I am sure you are asking the most important question to be asked: How do we know that this skull, now secreted somewhere in the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College, is truly Cromwell’s head?  Because if it’s not, then all this has been merely words—sound and little fury signifying nothing.

Fear not Gentle Reader, the provenance has been well and truly established. Let me count the ways.  The Wilkinson family allowed scientists to study the head, including Dr. George Rolleston in 1875 and Karl Pearson and Geoffrey Morant in 1935.

In 1875, Dr. George Rolleston, an Oxford professor, examined two heads that were reported to be Cromwell’s and compared them to Cromwell’s death mask. The first was a skull from the collection at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. Rolleston believed this skull wan’t Cromwell because the damage around the hole in the parietal bone indicated that a spike entered from the top of the head, not the bottom;  there was no flesh left on the skull, and no evidence that it had been embalmed all of which as would have been the case if the skull were Cromwell’s. Rolleston then compared the Wilkinson head to Cromwell’s death mask. He considered this to be the best candidate for Oliver Cromwell’s head.

After another full examination in 1911, with comparisons to the Ashmolean head, archaeologists dismissed the Ashmolean head as a fake. But the absence of firm evidence of the whereabouts of Cromwell’s head between 1684 and 1787, a chain of custody issue, made the examiners wary about declaring the Wilkinson head genuine. They concluded their study unwilling to verify or refute the Wilkinson head’s identity.

The uncertainty increased public demand for a full scientific examination, and Canon Horace Wilkinson, a descendant of Josiah, reluctantly allowed the head to be taken for examination by the eugenicist Karl Pearson and the anthropologist Geoffrey Morant.

Pearson and Morant examined the head for their book, The Portraiture of Oliver Cromwell With Special Reference to the Wilkinson Head. They described the head as embalmed, very shriveled, but still showing a depression on the site of the famous wart that Cromwell had always insisted his portrait painters depict faithfully. The marks of the ax used to sever the head from the body were also apparent. X-rays confirmed that the Wilkinson head was the skull of a man of about 60, Cromwell’s age at death. They argued that the cranial measurements corresponded to portraits of Cromwell. The skullcap showed evidence of having been removed and then reattached with embalmed skin, which corresponded to historical reports. They also found the remains of red hair, which Cromwell had. Their 109-page report concluded that there was a “moral certainty” that the Wilkinson head was that of Oliver Cromwell.

Well, this verification of the Wilkinson head as Cromwell’s head caused Canon Horace Wilkinson no little ethical concern: what on earth to do with the head of a former head of state? He was apparently reluctant to give it to a museum on the grounds that it constituted “Christian remains” and descendants of Cromwell were still living. Perplexed by what to do, Canon Wilkinson apparently just “popped” the head on his mantle piece awaiting divine instruction one presumes.

Cromwell's head just before it was reburied at Sidney Sussex College.
Canon Horace Wilkinson holding Cromwell’s Head, ca. 1949

Canon Horace Wilkinson died in 1957, bequeathing the head to his son, also called Horace. Horace Wilkinson, fils, wished to organize a proper burial for the head rather than put it on public display, so he contacted Sidney Sussex College which, having rebuffed Samuel Russel a couple of centuries previous, now welcomed  home this infamous, if not famous, “Son of Sussex.”

And so Oliver Cromwell’s head, whose first recorded appearance at Sidney Sussex College, according to the Matriculation Record Book, was April 23, 1616, returned to the sheltering arms of its Alma Mater on March 25, 1960, its 343 year journey complete. It rests now in a secret location near the antechapel, preserved in the oak box in which the Wilkinson family had kept the head since 1814. The box was placed into an airtight container and buried with only a few witnesses to the end of this most curious journey.








Random Acts of Kindness: Joshua at the Battle of Heathrow

In an era full of anxiety, when mercy in this world is less and less available, perhaps it’s time to recall the words of that 18th century sage, Dr. Johnson (Samuel that is to say). No, I don’t mean “Patriotism is the last refuge of  a scoundrel” though that is certainly apt these days.  More to my point is Johnson’s reminder to us that “Kindness is always in our power even when fondness is not.” I offer this, not as a plea to suffer fools gladly, but to tell a story about an act of kindness of which I was the recipient on my Cambridge excursion with Dennis Ryan.

The story relates to the featured image above. You, Gentle Reader, probably think you are seeing a picture of Michael Caine. You would be right, and you would be wrong.  It is a picture of Michael Caine, but I offer it as the spitting image of an attendant at a National Express Coaches Booth in Heathrow airport. If you have been a constant reader of Cromwell’s Headyou’ve already read that all British, white males over the age of, say 60, sound and look to me like Michael Caine. I know I am overstating it, but, in this instance, the attendant in question did sound and look like Michael Caine and he was kind to me when I needed kindness. More than that, he was our Joshua leading Dennis and me, as lost as the Israelites after the Exodus,  out of our wanderings in the desert of Heathrow.

Here’s our story. Dennis and I arrived at Heathrow at approximately 6:45am, on Monday, July 17. We were tired, we spent endless time getting through customs and retrieving our luggage, we were confused as to how we were to get to King’s Cross Station where we would connect with our train to Cambridge. While we had train tickets (well, we didn’t have the tickets in hand; we’d have to obtain those from a pre-paid ticket kiosk the location of which we had no clue), we did not have pre-arranged transportation plans to King’s Cross Station.

There are three basic ways to get to King’s Cross Station: take a bus, take a cab, take the “tube.” A cab would have been expensive, in excess of £60 (close to $100 American for an hour ride and the traffic into King’s Cross on a Monday morning is horrendous we were told). We didn’t know where the “tube” was, but, after schlepping our luggage through the vast desert expanse that is Heathrow, I spotted a National Express Coaches booth. Dennis set off to find the tube and I set off to see about a bus to King’s Cross.

It was a warm and humid day. I was wearing a black blazer that was far too heavy for the weather and I was sweating profusely when I arrived at the ticket counter. There sat Michael Caine, or perhaps his twin brother. Same smile, same lilting south London cockney accent. Mr. Caine took a look at me and said, “You just slow down a bit. Everything’s going to be fine.” And then he reached under the counter and pulled up a box of Kleenex-type tissues and offered it to me. I hadn’t said a word at this point. I took a few tissues and wiped the sweat out of my eyes and thanked him.

“Now,” he said, “just how can I help you?” I said I was wondering about the possibility of taking a bus to King’s Cross Station to connect with our train to Cambridge. “No,” he said, “you don’t want to take the bus; you want to take the tube which is much easier.” Easier! Hah! I didn’t say that out loud by the way.

I said that my traveling partner and I were a bit confused about things and didn’t know where the tube was, or where we’d get our pre-paid train tickets to Cambridge. Mr. Caine, in that no-nonsense cockney, said that the tube was just down the corridor in which I was standing and that I could get tube tickets from the folks handling the tube ticketing. “Just go until you see a lot of people sitting around not doing anything.” Then he pulled out a tube map and showed me where we were and where we were going. The tube is on the Piccadilly line and it goes all the way to King’s Cross. The bus, said, Mr. Caine, goes to Paddington Station and then we’d have to take a shorter cab ride to King’s Cross. He also said that the pre-paid ticket kiosk was at King’s Cross Station. He never lost his smile. He seemed genuinely concerned that I was working myself into a state of something. He offered me more tissues. This took about 10 minutes and I was feeling much relieved, and a good deal drier as well. So I took the map and a few more of the offered tissues, expressed my eternal thanks and was about to take my leave when Mr. Caine stood up (yes, he was about as tall as the real Michael Caine) patted me on the shoulder, offered his hand to shake, and reiterated that all would be well, and that he hoped I would enjoy my stay in Cambridge.

That’s it, that’s the story. Such fuss, you’re saying, about so little? Well, I don’t believe that you, Gentle Reader, would ever say such a thing. You understand that this reluctant traveler was pressed to near the limits of his endurance and that a harsh word would have pushed me over the brink of despair. But I walked away from the National Express Coaches booth nearly a new man, prepared for almost any obstacle that Heathrow could throw in my path.

I met up with Dennis who had found the tube. We got our tickets and a seat on the tube (they would be at a premium as we moved on down the line) and arrived at King’s Cross Station about an hour later. We found the pre-paid ticket kiosk and retrieved our pre-paid tickets. We arrived in Cambridge, about 64 miles north of London, at high noon, a mere five hours after landing at Heathrow. All was well. All as my Michael Caine had predicted.

How easy it would have been for Mr. Caine to have dismissed me outright. Was I so different from other harassed travelers who clamor at his booth? In truth, no one else was clamoring at his booth. Prior to my arrival he had sold a bus ticket to a little old lady who seemed even more confused, if less sweaty, than I and he treated her with the same Michael Caine smile and good will.

Clearly, that was my Mr. Caine’s/Joshua’s style. I am willing to bet that fondness for others was as much in his power as was kindness. And the walls came a-tumblin’ down.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court—Part III

Dear Gentle Reader: Like the refugees in Casablanca, you have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this third and final post dealing with cricket. Your wait is over. Soon you will be in Lisbon, metaphorically speaking.

You’ll recall that the first post in the trilogy, An American Game, argued that, although cricket has pretty much fallen out of favor in the USA, there continues to exist a sub-culture of cricket playing in America. Part II, It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish, compared cricket to an absurd game invented in 1965 by Mad Magazine writer, Tom Koch. Similar to 43-Man Squamish, cricket is defined by a series of seemingly nonsensical Laws (as one cricketer told Dennis Ryan and me, “Monopoly has rules; cricket has laws.”  The Laws are published in the blue handbook under the auspices of the Marylebone Cricket Club, the keeper of the flame since 1788.

MCC Laws of Cricket
MCC Blue Book

I confess that I was making fun of cricket when I compared it to 43-Man Squamish, although I don’t think the comparison is entirely unfair.  But, after watching some videos about cricket including some video clips of cricket matches, I have come to appreciate the basics of the game, even if I don’t entirely understand the nuances.

At its core, it is a fairly simple game. Let us begin with the basics. Cricket is a contest between two teams, called sides, composed of 11 players each. It is a bat and ball game the object of which is to score runs . Whichever side scores the most runs wins. How simple is that! Well, there’s a little more to it than that, of course.

Cricket is played on a more or less oval field, called the ground. Here’s a diagram of a typical field:

Cricket field positions II
Cricket Field With Fielding Positions

Note the Squamish-like positions that the non-batting side can assume on the field.The Deep Gully is something like the Brooder in Squamish. The Silly Mid On and Off are more or less like the Overblats. Myself, I am particularly  fond of the Forward Short Leg.

The center rectangle is the pitch. The pitch is sort of like the space between the pitcher’s mound and home plate in baseball. The pitch is 22 feet long and 10 feet wide. The ground between the  ends of a pitch is hard-packed mowed grass like the tennis court at Wimbledon.  Unlike baseball, the cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced on the pitch. “Bouncers” hitting a batsman in the head have proven to be fatal on occasion. At each end of the pitch are positioned three stakes, called stumps, upon which rest two bails. Together the stumps and the bails are referred to as a wicket. Here’s a wicket:

Stumps with Bails

The distance between the two outside stumps is nine inches. The height of the stumps and the bails is 28 inches. The objective of the bowling side is to take down the wickets. The objective of the batting side is to defend the wickets.

The essence of the game is that while one side is being pitched to, called bowled, trying to score runs by hitting the bowled ball, the other side is in the field trying, in a variety of ways, to take down the wicket. Only two players of the side that is batting are on the field: the scoring batsman, and the non-scoring batsman. All 11 players of the bowling team are on the field.  Here’s a helpful diagram.

Cricket explained
Cricket Explained

The point of the game is that the batsman is attempting to  defend his wickets while the bowler is attempting to knock the wicket down (take a wicket). A batsman can bat the ball all over the field; there is no foul ball such as in baseball. The batsman bats until he is out (his wicket is taken). When all 11 players on the batting side are out (well, 10 actually because you can’t have only a single batsman on the pitch), or, more precisely, when ten wickets are taken down, the side that’s been in the field has its turn at bat. Note that there are two batsmen at either end of the pitch. When the batsman who is being bowled to hits the ball, he and the non-striking batsman (at the other end of the pitch) run back and forth as many times as they can. Each exchange scores a point. The goal of a really good batsman is to score a 100 points before he’s out. The official record is 400 points for one batsman. Some of the ways a batsman is out are noted on the diagram above. It’s more complicated than that—there are at least 10 ways a batter can be put out—but you get the basic idea from the diagram. By the way, a batsman who is put out is said to have been dismissed. Also, by the way, a batsman doesn’t have to run if he thinks he might be dismissed if he and the non-striking batsman are running. The batsman also gets six points if he hits the ball in the air beyond the boundary of the ground; if the ball rolls over the boundary, he gets four points. I believe, however, that if a batsman is awarded six or four points, no other runs are scored so running back and forth on the pitch is of no value.

Given that a good batsman may be batting for a long time, and if you have 11 good batsmen, well, a cricket match could conceivably take a long time. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the longest official cricket match was played between South Africa and England in Durban in 1939. The game commenced on March 3 and continued for nine days until March 14. England needed 41 runs to win at the close of the ninth day, but the match was a draw because the English players had to leave to catch their boat back to England.

Nowadays, the length of the match is agreed upon before the match starts. For example, in so-called test matches, the agreed-upon time is five days. Sides will play as many as eight hours a day, not including tea breaks. When the five days are up, the match is over. So, while there is no rigid “clock” as in American football, cricket matches do have an implicit time limit.

If a cricket match is not completely finished when time runs out, the match is a draw, no matter how lopsided the score may be. You could have the situation where a good side could bat and bat for five days in a test match, scored hundreds of runs and the other side hasn’t batted yet. But after five days, the game’s over and it’s a draw because the Laws of Cricket say that you have to take all ten wickets of the other side.

There is a way around this. It’s called “declaring.” At any time the captain of the side that is batting may “declare” that their innings are over, regardless of where the side may be in the batting order. The formerly batting side immediately takes the field, and the other side has its turn at bat. Remember, the batting side has to score runs, but it also has to take the ten wickets of the other side as well.

In the match that Dennis and I watched on Grantchester Meadow, the sides had agreed that they would play only two hours. Food and drink would be served at 4 o’clock. Game over. We did not stay around to see what the outcome of that friendly match was.

Let me explain one other concept, that of “overs.” A cricket inning is divided into “overs.” In one over, a bowler delivers six balls from the same side of the cricket pitch. When this is done, a different bowler delivers six balls from the other side. That’s the next over. Then a different bowler from that one (might be the first bowler, but doesn’t have to be) bowls the next over from the first side again. Sometimes a cricket match is timed by an agreed upon number of “overs,” 20 or 50 being common.

Well, that’s basically it. Shall we review? Cricket is played by two sides of 11. Each side is usually up twice. The first side is up, they send two players (batsmen) to the field. The two batsmen stand at either end of the rectangular pitch. The bowler delivers the first ball of the first over. The scoring batsman tries to hit the ball and/or defend his wicket. He hits the ball in any direction in an oval-shaped field. If he hits the ball, he does not have to run. If he hits the ball a little, he and the non-striking batsman run back and forth on the pitch scoring runs. If he hits the ball far enough, he may get a “boundary.” Six points if the ball goes over the boundary on the fly, four points if it rolls over the boundary. If the batsman is dismissed (wicket knocked over, fly ball caught, etc.) he leaves the field and is replaced by the next player in the batting order.  When ten men are out, the innings is over and the other side is up. When each side has been up twice, the game is over. If it’s a test match, five days have elapsed. The side with the most runs wins. As in baseball, if the last side is having their last innings (“bottom of the ninth”) and they surpass the other side’s run count, the game ends immediately at that point.

On the day that Dennis and I wandered onto the cricket ground of the Grantchester Cricket Club, we were invited to sit on the sidelines and watch. Our host was John Anderson, or “Johnny” was he introduced himself. Johnny is 62 and a retired Cambridge policeman, a Bobby. “Johnny’s a Bobby,” said one of the other club members on the sideline. At one point, Johnny got up and came back with a cricket ball and bat, the characteristics of which he described to us.

Cricket bat and ball
Cricket bat and ball on green grass of cricket pitch

Then he said to Dennis, ” Put your camera down.” and he gestured to Dennis to follow him. I knew what Johnny had in mind and I relieved Dennis of his camera. Johnny was going to give Dennis a lesson in holding, swinging, and eventually, hitting the cricket ball. And, by golly, Dennis took the instruction well and after a couple of misses, smacked the ball pretty impressively. You will note Dennis’s form in the featured image above. Johnny declared Dennis a “cricket natural” of such raw power the likes of which he had never seen before. Johnny was proposing to set Dennis up in a nice set of whites, beginning by slapping his hat on Dennis’s head. Is it too much to say that Johnny was nearly weeping? Yes, I suppose it is.

A Cricket Lesson From Johnny
King Johnny and the Connecticut Yankee

But the Lidgate-Ousden side objected, citing some obscure Law of Cricket from the Blue Book, and threatened to take the keg of beer they had provided and go home. Since beer and food are the main reasons that these friendly matches are played, Johnny snatched back his hat and declared that Dennis’s cricket career, at least with the Grantchester Cricket Club, was over. I made up this part.

The Preamble to the MCC Laws of Cricket reads: Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. 

The spirit of the game was alive on the cricket ground of Grantchester Meadow that famous afternoon that Dennis and I, having taken our lunch at the Orchard Tea Room, wandered onto the Grantchester Meadow and into history. The members of the Grantchester Cricket Club, Johnny Anderson in particular, could not have been more gracious to us. Members of both sides chatted with us before the game began and the Grantchester side invited us to sit with them.

Grantchester cricket club members

For a brief time, Dennis—who was born and raised in Connecticut, and, therefore, is truly a Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court—and I felt as though we were characters in a Mark Twain story, part of the long and proud, if still somewhat baffling, tradition that is cricket.

It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish—Part II

I am pretty sure that you, Gentle Reader, have never played on a 43-Man Squamish team. Unless you were a reader, as was I, of Mad Magazine, it may well be that you have never even heard of 43-Man Squamish.  It was the June, 1965 issue of Mad (#95 if you are now digging through your collection) wherein Mad Magazine’s long-time writer, Tom Koch, along with illustrator, George Woodbridge, introduced us to what was not destined, more’s the pity, to become the next great American pastime.

You are aware that this is the second of three posts about cricket, the first being An American Game wherein I argued that cricket was once also an American game and not just a British or European game. Such is not the case today, although there appears to still exist a sub-culture of cricket in this country. The final post is A Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court wherein I will detail Dennis Ryan’s brief, but not altogether unsuccessful, career in cricket.

I start with 43-Man Squamish because it seems to me that cricket could just as easily have been an invention of Tom Koch as was 43-Man Squamish. Take the positions as an example. There are 43 positions of Squamish: the left and right Inside Grouches, the left and right Outside Grouches, four Deep Brooders, four Shallow Brooders, Five Wicket Men, three Offensive Niblings, four Quarter-Frummerts, two Half-Frummerts, one Full-Frummert, two Overblats, two Under-blats, nine Back-Up Finks, two leapers, and a Dummy.

Cricket, on the other hand, has only 11 players, but they can play numerous positions on the cricket field as this diagram indicates:

cricket field positions
Cricket Field Positions

Not quite 43 positions (I counted 40), but it comes close and your Backward Square Leg, Silly Mid, or Cow Corner is no less imaginative than a Back-up Fink, a Frummert, or a Brooder. And, like 43-Man Squamish, cricket also has its Wicket Man.

I know  that you are thinking that this is all very silly and that I am making fun of cricket…and you’d be right. But there are other similarities between 43-Man Squamish and cricket that just can’t be ignored.

For example, each squamish player is equipped with a frullip, a long, hooked stick that is used to stop opposing players from crossing your goal line. The frullip and its use is picture below.

The Frullip
The Frullip

I know that the frullip looks nothing like the cricket bat, pictured below,

Cricket bat and ball

but the original bats were not always this shape. Before the 18th century bats tended to be shaped similarly to a modern hockey stick. Cricket historians think this may well have been a legacy of the game’s reputed origins. Although the first forms of cricket are obscure, it may be that the game was first played using shepherd’s crooks. If a frullip isn’t a shepherd’s crook, you tell me what it most resembles.

I don’t want to carry this analogy too far, but it also strikes me that the “laws” of cricket and the “rules” of 43-Man Squamish are similar in that they seem to disregard the notion of syntax. For example, here’s some of 43-Man Squamish’s rules as devised by Tom Koch:

The Rules of 43-man Squamish

  • Each team must have 43 players.
  • Games consist of 7 Ogres (8 if it rains that day) that are 15 minutes long.
  • Each player must wear the regulated uniform: a Helmet, Gloves, Swimming Flippers, and is equipped with a Frullip.
  • Before play begins the Probate Judge flips a Spanish Pesta  and if the visiting captain guesses correctly, the game ends  immediately.
  • Play then begins after the Frullip of the advancing team is touched to the Fluteny and “Mi too es enfermo per la carretera es verde” is chanted.
  • Hitting the Pritz across the goal line is a Durmish and scores 11 points.
  • Carrying the Pritz across the goal line is a Woonillk and scores 17 points.
  • In the 7th Ogre (and 8th if it rains) only Niblings and Overblats are allowed to score.
  • Each team has 5 snivels (similar to downs in football) to get the Pritz across the goal line.
  • If there is a tie, a sudden death match must begin, but if both left overblats are out of the game, dirty limericks are to be shouted from opposite ends of the field until one team breaks up laughing.

The pritz, by the way, is equivalent to the cricket ball. The Flutney is the five-sided field on which the game is played. “Mi too es enfermo per la carretera es verde” means “My uncle is sick but the highway is green,” or something nearly similar to that.

As an example of the loss of syntax in cricket, consider Law 28 of cricket regarding Dismissing a Batsman (the rough equivalent of striking out a batter in baseball) which could have been written by Tom Koch and maybe it was:

“Losing a wicket refers to a batsman getting out. If dismissed by a bowler, the bowler is said to have taken his wicket. The number of wickets taken is the primary measure of a bowler’s ability.

For a batsman to be dismissed by being bowled out, run out, stumped, or hit wicket, his wicket needs to be put down. What this means is defined by Law 28 of the Laws of cricket. A wicket is put down if a bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or a stump is struck out of the grounds by the ball, the striker’s bat, the striker’s person (or by any part of his clothing or equipment becoming detached from his person), a fielder (with his hand or arm, and provided that the ball is held in the hand or hands so used, or in the hand of the arm so used).

If one bail is off, removing the remaining bail or striking or pulling any of the three stumps out of the ground is sufficient to put the wicket down. A fielder may remake the wicket, if necessary, in order to put it down to have an opportunity of running out a batsman.

If however both bails are off, a fielder must remove one of the three stumps out of the ground with the ball, or pull it out of the ground with a hand or arm, provided that the ball is held in the hand or hands so used, or in the hand of the arm so used.

If the umpires have agreed to dispense with bails, because, for example, it is too windy for the bails to remain on the stumps, the decision as to whether the wicket has been put down is one for the umpire concerned to decide. After a decision to play without bails, the wicket has been put down if the umpire concerned is satisfied that the wicket has been struck by the ball, by the striker’s bat  person, or items of his clothing or equipment separated from his person as described above, or by a fielder with the hand holding the ball or with the arm of the hand holding the ball.”

It is at this point that I believe one would start to shout dirty limericks.

If it’s cricket or squamish you play,
You’ll play to the end of a day.
Like the Man from Nantuckett…

I’d better stop here just to be on the safe side.