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.


An American Game—Part I

On a pleasant late Sunday morning, our last full day in Cambridge, Dennis Ryan and I took a taxi to the famous Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester, just a couple of miles from Sidney Sussex College, our home away from home. The Orchard is more than a room, it is an apple orchard as well. Tables and chairs are scattered under the apple trees where, since 1897, Cambridge students, faculty, townspeople, and tourists have taken morning coffee, lunches, and afternoon high teas.

The Orchard grew in popularity when the poet Rupert Brooke, then a popular graduate student of King’s College, took up lodging in the Orchard House in 1909. Brooke attracted a great following at the Orchard, among them John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—the so-called Grantchester Group, or the neo-pagans as Woolf called them. A poet of the First World War who never saw action, Brooke is famous mainly for one poem, The Soldier.  You are probably familiar with its opening lines: If I should die, think only this of me / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England. The foreign field in which Brooke is buried is an olive grove on the island of Skyros in the Aegean. Brooke died, not of battle wounds, but of a mosquito bite and an ensuing blood infection. He was not yet 28.   Brooke’s presence, and the presence of the other neo-pagans, is memorialized by a simple display board in the orchard that was just a few feet from where Dennis and I sat.

Orchard Tea Room orchard

We offered to allow management to take our pictures and add them to the board, but we were rebuffed. Undaunted, we finished our lunch and strolled down a short and gnarly path to a rusted gate that opened onto a large, green meadow where the Grantchester Cricket Club was assembling for a friendly afternoon cricket match with Liddgate-Ousden.

The featured image above is the Meadow. We chatted with a few of the players who were standing around and they graciously invited us to sit with them on the sideline as the match was about to commence. Dennis and I sat for a time and watched the match unfold, aided in our understanding by the commentary of Johnny Anderson, about whom you will hear more in a subsequent post I am tentatively calling A Connecticut Yankee In King Johnny’s Court. That will be the third of a three-part post on cricket. This is the first. The second post is tentatively titled It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish.

Cricket is, I suppose, the quintessential British sport. Wherever the British Empire reigned, cricket reigned too. Its origins are lost in the misty veils of history, but when the tower of St Bene’t Church (you’ll recall that we strolled by the church in an earlier post) was being built, about 1020 AD, a form of cricket was already being played in England.

Cricket is a truly international sport played by millions of people in 92 countries.  But not, seemingly, in the United States. And that is ironic because cricket was once the national game of this country. “The Hell, you say!” Yes, I do say. I do not lie to you, Gentle Reader. Cricket was one of the first outdoor sports to be played in America. An 1844 cricket match between sides (cricket “teams” are called sides) from the United States and Canada was the first international sporting event in the modern world, predating the revival of the Olympic Games by more than 50 years.

In 1751, the New York Gazette and the Weekly Post Boy reported on a match between a London “eleven” ( as sides are often called, there being 11 men on a cricket side) and one from New York City. This may be the  first public report of a cricket match in North America.  Both sides were probably from New York.

An article in the  Smithsonian Magazine in 2006 noted that the rules of cricket in North America were formalized in 1754 when Benjamin Franklin brought back from England a copy of the 1744 Laws, cricket’s official rule book. By the way, Dennis and I were admonished by one of the cricketers on the Meadow at Grantchester, “Rules are for Monopoly; cricket has laws.” One further reads in The Smithsonian  that “there is anecdotal evidence that George Washington’s troops played what they called “wickets” at Valley Forge in the summer of 1778. After the Revolution, a 1786 advertisement for cricket equipment appeared in the New York Independent Journal, and newspaper reports of that time frequently mention “young gentlemen” and “men of fashion” taking up the sport. Indeed, the game came up in the debate over what to call the new nation’s head of state: John Adams noted disapprovingly—and futilely—that “there are presidents of fire companies and cricket clubs.””

Abe Lincoln reportedly turned up somewhere to watch Chicago play Milwaukee in a cricket match in 1849. By then, an estimated 10,000 Americans were playing the game, and many more were watching.

The website of the United States of America Cricket Association, headquartered at Miami Beach, says that there are 1,000 clubs with more than 600 playing fields, and more that 24,000 active players of cricket in this country.  I suppose they should know and why would they lie? So, say what you will about cricket, but do not call it un-American.

But, let’s face it, most Americans dismiss cricket as an elitist game played by girlie-men who  dress in traditional whites and break for tea. And it’s slow. A match can take days to play. As slow as a baseball game might seem to some, cricket unfolds with glacier-like slowness. The longest recorded cricket match (a “Test” match—you’ll learn about that in Part II of this three part blog on cricket) was between South Africa and England played in Durban in 1939. The match lasted nine days (about eight hours each day with tea breaks of course), and ended in a draw when the British side had to board a boat back to England. International Test matches last five days. The friendly match on the Grantchester Meadow was going to be played in an agreed-upon two hours. Johnny’s wife was bringing sandwiches to the Meadow at 4 o’clock.

Cricketers are quick to argue that the game is far more dynamic, and more dangerous, than baseball. Johnny, our guide to the arcania of cricket, showed us a cricket ball: it is heavier—by half an ounce—than an American baseball. A cricket ball has a core of cork, is sheathed in layers of twine and cork shavings, and then wrapped in a bright red leather casing.


Johnny said that a cricket ball launched at a batsman by a skilled bowler (that’s like a pitcher in baseball) can be a dangerous projectile. The bowler, unlike a pitcher in baseball,  is in a full run after sprinting for up to 30 paces before hurling the ball. and unlike a baseball pitch, which is not intended to be bounced off the ground, a cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced off the ground of the cricket “pitch”whose grass has usually been trimmed and rolled to a concrete-like hardness. Johnny says that he has been hit in the chest by a “bouncer” and that it “hurts like hell.” Johnny said that the best bowlers can launch a ball at 95 miles per hour or more. That’s as fast as a major-league fastball. Johnny said all this and we believed him.

So, I don’t know about cricketers being girlie-men. And I certainly would not call a cricketer that to his or her (mostly his though) face. Johnny, for example, is a six foot and solidly built 62-year-old who had been a Cambridge policeman before he retired. No girlie-man he. But, Dennis and I both agreed, he did look fetching in his dress whites.


This Blessed Plot

It’s such a beautiful day, Gentle Reader, that I am wondering if you’d walk with me for a time. I’ll take you on a guided tour of some of the sites around and about Sidney Sussex College. Are you game? You are? Lovely! Grab your walking stick and your old slouch hat and we’ll be on our way.

So here we are on Sidney Street looking south I think. Just to our left, as we’ve exited through the Gate of Sidney Sussex College, you’ll see a fine old book store.

Sidney Street looking from Sidney Sussex College
Sidney Street

If you turn around, you’ll get a charming view of the Sidney Sussex Chapel Clock and Bell Tower.

Front of Sidney Sussex College
Sidney Sussex Chapel Clock

Seen enough? Okay, let’s walk just a few feet and turn right onto Green Street. Look, there’s Bill’s Restaurant where Dennis Ryan and I ate three meals during our week in Cambridge and then had dessert and Bellinis on the last night of our stay.  Bill’s is a happening place—always busy, always friendly. Bill, or one of his minions most likely, makes a very good hamburger.

Green Street
Green Street

Take care on these cobblestone streets, Gentle Reader. They are ancient and uneven and can pose a problem to those of us of an age who walk on tender knees. We’ll just walk down Green Street a bit longer and then turn left onto Trinity Street.

Trinity Street

We turn onto Trinity Street just at the corner of Trinity College’s Great Court. We will amble on for a bit. Trinity Street becomes King’s Parade as we pass by King’s College and its magnificent Chapel. Then it become Trumpington Street. A little confusing perhaps, but this is England after all.

There’s the Senate House on our right. It’s an early 18th Century Building of neo-classical design. It was where the University’s Council of the Senate met. The Senate House is now mainly used for the degree ceremonies of the University of Cambridge. It is also the building upon the roof of which Cambridge students once hoisted, overnight and unseen, a derelict Austin 7 automobile from which they had removed the engine and transmission. If you read the blog post Boys Will Be Boys, you know all about that. That’s one of the buildings of Gonville and Caius College in back of the Senate House. Alum of G&C are termed “Caians.” Among the notable alums are John Venn whose Venn Diagrams you have undoubtedly come across, and Francis Crick of double helix fame, whose path we will cross a little later on in our stroll. Steven Hawking is also a Caian.

Senate House and Caius College
Senate House

Now we are on King’s Parade which, I am sure you have noted, is dominated by King’s College and King’s College Chapel.

Kings College on King's Parade
King’s College and Chapel

That’s the Senate House on the far right. Remember? We just walked past it. King’s College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI. The Chapel is maybe the most iconic Cambridge building.  There are eight Nobel laureates who were either students or fellows of King’s. A notable alum is Alan Turing of Bletchly Park fame. Bletchley Park, you’ll recall, Bletchley Park was the home of British code breakers during World War II. It housed the Government Code and Cypher School, which successfully decrypted the secret communications of the Axis Powers and broke the German Enigma code. Yes, they did that by stealing an enigma machine, but let’s let bygones be bygones shall we? Other notable alums are John Maynard Keynes, Salman Rushdie, E. M. Forster, and, perhaps most important of all, Sir John Harrington. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of Sir John Harrington? But he makes your life better each day, several times a day I suspect. Sir John was the inventor of the flush toilet!

Getting a wee tired are you? Let’s walk just a bit more and then we’ll stop for refreshment. We’ve come to Bene’t Street where King’s Parade (formerly Trinity Street) becomes Trumpington Street. I want to show you the Corpus Clock on the facade of the Taylor Library of Corpus Christie College. Here it is. What do you think?

Corpus Christie Clock
Corpus Clock

Awesome! Yes, I agree. Big too. That gold disk at which you stare (blink your eyes now) is nearly five feet in diameter. Let me tell you a little about it. The face is 24-carat-gold-plated stainless steel. There are no hands or numerals as you can observe. The hours, minutes, and seconds are displayed by the opening and closing of those slits you see on the face. They are backlit with blue LEDs. That peculiar looking insect on the top that looks like a grasshopper is called a Chronophage, “time eater.” Let’s watch it for a time….You see how the Chronophage moves its mouth appearing to eat the seconds as they pass. Did you notice that the beast blinks its eyes? It likes what it eats, I think. By the way, Cambridge Students call the Chronophage Rosalind. No, I don’t know why. Can you read that Latin inscription below the clock? Mundus transit et concupiscentia eius. Your Latin’s a little rusty you say? It’s from the Vulgate John 2:17 and translates (thanks to Mrs. Nina Carlson, my high school Latin teacher) as, “The world passeth away and the lust thereof.” Yes, I agree, more’s the pity.  Just a few more words about the clock and then our little tour is almost complete. The clock is accurate about once every five minutes by design. The irregularity, according to the clock’s inventor, John C. Taylor, reflects life’s irregularity. Except for a motor that winds the clock’s mechanism and provides electricity to the LEDs, the clock is entirely mechanical. The clock was conceived and funded by John C. Taylor, a wealthy inventor and fellow of Corpus Christie College. Taylor donated £million to the project which took two years and 200 people to complete. It was dedicated on September 19, 2008 and unveiled by Stephen Hawking.  Expectations are that the clock can run for 200 years. Speaking of time, perhaps we’d best move on if you’re ready.

We don’t have far to go. In fact, if you turn around, you’ll see we are on Bene’t Street. See the sign above the Chop House’s Window?

Bene't Street sign
Bene’t Street

Are you oriented after gazing at the Corpus clock for so long? That’s King’s College off to the left. No, let’s not eat at the Chop House. I’ve got a better place in mind and it’s just down Bene’t Street. There’s but one more stop before we eat. Here it is on our right, St. Bene’t Church, the oldest building in Cambridge. Those in the know figure it was built around 1020 AD, well before the Norman Invasion in 1066.

St Bene’t Church

Bene’t is a contraction of Benedict. Bene’t is an Anglo-Norman name. Benedict is the Latin form.  The church is affiliated with Corpus Christie College for which it served as the chapel until 1579.  The tower was probably built around 1020, but the bell-openings are a “modern” addition, having been added in 1586 or there about. The bell tower contains six bells, five of which were cast in the 16th or 17th centuries. The bells still ring, but it’s best not to ask for whom they toll.

Turn around. There’s our final stop on today’s tour. Right across the street. It’s the famous Eagle Pub.

Eagle Pub Entrance to RAF Bar
Eagle Pub

It’s really a very large place and probably the oldest pub in Cambridge opening in 1667. It sits on land donated to Corpus Christie College in 1525. The College still owns the land and is the Eagle Pub’s landlord. As an aside, the various Colleges that comprise Cambridge University (there are 31 colleges) own about 70% of the land in Cambridge.  The Eagle is famous for at least two things: the RAF bar and Francis Crick and James Watson. I might add the bangers and mash as well. But you see we are entering the Eagle through the RAF Bar. Look up.

RAF Ceiling II
RAF Bar Ceiling

During WWII, the Eagle Pub was frequented by Royal Air Force airmen who would put a chair on a table, or sit on a chum’s shoulder and burn their names and unit designations into the ceiling with candles or cigarette lighters, or otherwise affixed the graffiti with lipstick or charcoal. When the Americans came to England in 1942, they carried on the tradition. Over time, the graffiti became covered with nicotine and other deposits. A pub regular got permission to clean the ceiling to reveal what was written underneath.

But wait, there’s more. In the early 1950’s, the Cavendish Labs were located on Free School Lane just around the corner from St Bene’t Church. The Eagle was a popular lunch spot for the scientists and staff working at the lab. Among those who lunched at the Eagle were Francis Crick and James Watson, credited with unraveling the DNA code. Crick and Watson are reported to have eaten lunch at the Eagle six days a week. On February 28, 1953, Francis Crick announced to all that he and Watson had “discovered the secret of life.” Those gathered at the Pub shrugged their collective shoulders and waited for Crick and Watson to stand everyone to a round. Whether that happened I don’t know, but Crick and Watson are memorialized with a plaque.

Crick and Watson Plaque Eagle Pub
Crick and Watson Plaque

Well that’s the tour for today. Let me stand you to a pint or two of ale, Gentle Reader, and I highly recommend the bangers and mash.

Bangers and Mash at the Eagle Pub Cambridge, England
Bangers and Mash at The Eagle Pub

Doesn’t get much better than this does it? Sort of reminds me, as we sit here quaffing a brew or two in the historic Eagle, across from the ancient St Bene’t, enjoying our bangers and mash, of Shakespeare writing in Richard III:

 This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.