The Nightwatchman 31Martin Chandler |
Author: Thacker, Matt (Editor)
Rating: 4 stars
The first issue of The Nightwatchman appeared more than seven years ago now, so it is certainly remiss of us not to have reviewed it before. Better late than ever however and the good news is that my understanding is that all of the back numbers of this estimable journal are still available from the publisher.
One of the best things about The Nightwatchman is that it is a beacon of stability in the uncertain world in which we live. It is the same size as it was when it began, the artwork remains the same, as do editor, publisher and, most importantly, the type of content it showcases. There was something reassuring as I flicked through the Spring 2013 edition in order to make this comparison that, as does Volume 31, Volume 1 ended with an essay on the subject of the redoubtable Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
In terms of what that content is it is a simple formula, a collection of around twenty essays by a variety of writers, some cricket journalists but others from all sorts of diverse walks of life. There are some photographs, very little advertising and, bringing up the rear, a collection of brief and entertaining introductions to those who have contributed.
There are twenty pieces of writing in The Nightwatchman 31, together with Matt Thacker’s introduction and, a single ‘news item’, which is a photographic interlude entitled Pandemic Pictures which manages, at the same time as reminding the reader of the strange times in which we live, to provide some hope that the game’s resourcefulness will ensure its future is brighter than its present.
In terms of the twenty essays I have my personal favourites, about which I could wax lyrical, but I remind myself this is supposed to be a review and as I must concede the standard is a high one, then it seems to me I should mention them all, or risk being accused of not accurately reflecting just how wide ranging the subjects covered are.
So in no particular order, other than that the first two were those I personally most enjoyed, I will mention Peter Hoare, who looks back at the appearances of those cricketers, and others connected to the game, who have appeared on Desert Island Discs over the almost eighty years over which the famous old radio show has run. At the other end of the technological spectrum is Mike Jakeman’s piece about Rob Moody, aka Robelinda2, the man responsible for maintaining Youtube’s finest archive of cricket footage.
Looking into the game’s past there is rich entertainment in Harry Pearson’s recollection of a dispute between his father and grandfather as to whether Wilfred Rhodes or George Hirst were the greater all-rounder. Also looking at family matters is Francis Neate, although in a rather different context, as he looks back on three generations of his family’s involvement with Falkland CC in Berkshire and in particular a match played annually for many years between the club President’s XI and a side raised by the Neate family.
In a different historical vein Garry White provides an excellent pen portrait of Percy Chapman, whose story he tells in the context of his sad decline as, after a lifetime of being Chapman’s friend, the demon drink took back all of the great gifts nature had given to him in his youth.
Being something of a bibliophile myself I much enjoyed Richard Hobson’s look back at the memories prompted for him by the family copy of a 1928 book, Fifty Years Cricket Reminiscences of a Non-Player, by the Old Trafford dressing room attendant William Howard. On a not dissimilar sort of subject Rod Edmond looks back at the life of WH ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, long time scorer, baggage man and general factotum to touring teams who also published a book, Mr Cricket, that appeared in 1957.
From Australia Matt Cleary writes of an encounter with Dennis Lillee in a pub, and other stories from his youth. Stephen Gregory’s inspiration is a rather less celebrated cricketing nation, Brunei. On a different continent again Santokie Nagulendran writes about the game in the West Indies from the perspective of the region’s significant population of Indian origin. It is a subject that has been written about at length elsewhere, but which Nagulendran neatly sums up in his essay.
Of course most cricket is played well below First Class level, and Simon Barnes produces a fine personal memoir of village cricket. I defy anyone reading it to be able to say, hand on heart, that they see nothing of their own playing career in what he writes, nor recognise any of the characters who appear. Later on Kevin Owens writes engagingly on life as a club cricketer. Not quite the same, if for no other reason than I don’t believe they have villages in the US, David Owen’s look at cricket in Chicago has a transatlantic take on a similar subject.
Something that is not generally my ‘thing’ is art, and on those occasions when it is (which is more frequent when cricket is involved) my tastes are generally on the traditional side. Tom Jeffreys contributes a well illustrated essay on contemporary cricketing art. I will admit to having been sorely tempted to skip it. I am however glad I didn’t, as again it is an illuminating piece.
Luke Alfred is a South African writer whose work I have read it before and enjoyed, and I am also in the market for any piece of writing about the County Championship of my youth. Against that background it will surprise no one that I commend his look at the contributions that Vincent Van der Bijl, Robin Jackman and Peter Kirsten made to English cricket in 1980.
Most of the writing in The Nightwatchman is of the easy to read and entertaining variety, but there are certainly three pieces that challenges the reader to come up with a view. One is written by Mike Phillips, and was inspired by Jofra Archer’s electrifying spell at Lord’s last year. The title of his essay is The Fear. Another interesting read is Julian Baggini’s look at whether our great game is, as we all like to think, a civilising influence on its participants. Finally in this category there us an essay from Snehal Pradhan on the increasing role of female officials in Indian cricket.
Which leaves just two, Brian Carpenter’s splendid paean to the transistor radio, a vital piece of equipment for the budding cricket tragic of the generation that he and I are part of. It is a piece that brought back many pleasant memories, and that just leaves the essay that references Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The Chanderpaul piece, written by Liam Herringshaw is an oddity. It deals with the naming of a previously unknown species of limbless amphibian after the great Guyanese batsman, and goes on to look at the naming of other new species on cricketing themes and features a David Gower (but not the David Gower). Put that way it sounds somewhat absurd, but as an entertaining and amusing piece of cricket writing it works rather well, and is an excellent note on which to conclude what is a very readable and highly recommended collection.