xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: 2017

Thursday, 21 December 2017

No matter what others may call it, it is still Christmas time to me.

If you are one who greets people at this time of the year with, “Compliments of the season,” ‘Seasons greetings”, “Happy festive season” or “Happy holidays” please look away now.

Merry Christmas, everybody!
There I’ve said it. And I feel so much better for it. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Yes, it is Christmas time all over the world. Hip, hip, hooray! Let us hope that some of the great joy and hope that Christmas brings falls upon those who want to make it a crass commercial spending spree. It is patronising and very condescending of me, I know, but I do feel sorry for those who do not experience the spiritual and uplifting joy of the real Christmas story.  To me, that would be like having a toy without the batteries included, to make it work properly. Perhaps, a bit like that Dean Martin line when he said he felt very sorry for people who did not drink, because, “When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they are going to feel for the rest of the day.”

Fifty per cent of Australians indicated in the last Census that they have no religion, so many will not agree with me. Thank God, that we live in a democratic country and njoy freedom of opinion. To most of those people, The Festive Season is just another excuse for a party. Not anything really special. 

However, I think that that the Christmas message of, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all” is a far more life altering sentiment than “Roll out the barrel” or “Spend, spend, spend. There are only three shopping days left till Christmas.” That last one is the credo of the retailers whose favourite Christmas carol is the Ker-chingle bells ringing of their cash registers.

Christmas is a time of much happiness and joy, spent with family and friends. I have had quite a lot of Christmases and it is that overwhelming feeling of family joy and happiness that I remember, rather than the presents I received.But, I do remember a lot of those presents and the happiness they gave me. My first tri-cycle, my first two-wheeler bicycle, my first cricket bat, a Don Bradman bat, of course.  My first wrist watch.

One present I remember was one that I could not use. At least not for several days. I was about eight years old, living with my family at 7th Avenue, Inglewood. That Christmas, my Uncle Ben Magee and my Aunty Margaret and their three children, John, Noreen and Patricia were staying with us. Uncle Ben was a station Master at Mt Barker, but the family were in Perth for Christmas. Aunty Margaret was my dad’s sister.

On that Christmas morning I woke up just before 5-00am and quickly searched the end on my bed for any presents that Santa had brought. There was the usual bright red Christmas stocking packed with all sorts of goodies and two cardboard boxes, one quite large and a smaller one. The morning light in my bedroom was still dim, but I soon figured out that the large box was filled with chocolates.
Chocolates! You beauty! It was Christmas, 1946. The Second World War had ended sixteen months earlier, but wartime shortages and rationing meant that lollies and chocolates were almost impossible to find in any shop.

I immediately started ripping the cardboard to gain access to all those oh, so beautiful chocolates. It was not easy. The box was about thirty centimetres long by 15 centimetres wide. Of course, in 1946 we said it was 12 inches by 6 inches. It was very well wrapped. I could only succeed in pulling very small bits of cardboard off at any one time. It did not seem to have lid that I could open.

Well, I eventually ripped away a fair bit of cardboard and felt the chocolates, which seemed to be arranged in two layers, with four lots of two on top and the same underneath. With some difficulty, I prized one of these chocolates apart from its comrades. In the darkness it looked a dull creamy colour. I shoved it in my mouth and took a huge bite. Ugh! 

It was hard and inedible. It tasted horrible; like nothing I had ever tasted before. I knew straight away that it was not chocolate, but I did not have a clue as to what it really was.

What it really was, was a cell from a large dry cell battery that was to power my Morse Code Set which was in the smaller cardboard box. My Uncle Ben, being a Station Master, was a whiz on Morse Code.  Santa, in his wisdom, obviously thought it would be great to give little Noel a Morse Code Set so that Uncle Ben could teach him how to use it over the Christmas - New Year holidays. 

My Dad seemed to think it was splendid idea, too. In fact, my dad seemed much more upset than I was when Uncle Ben eventually saw the havoc I had caused to the large dry cell battery and said it was impossible to use the Morse Code Set until a new battery was purchased. That meant a three day wait. In those days the shops were shut on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and the next day was Sunday, when the shops were also shut. After that experience I always waited for full daylight before I opened any Christmas presents.

My wish for you this Christmas, Dear  Blog Reader, even if you only think of it as the Festive Season, is that enjoy a joyful and loving time with your family and friends.

May the joy and peace that Christmas brings stay with you

through a healthy and happy New Year.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Australia has won the Ashes, but the Ashes will not be given to Australia

The Australian cricket team has defeated England in the third Test at the WACA to take an unbeatable series lead of 3-Nil. So, according to the newspapers, the much talked about Ashes will be returning to Australia.


The much talked about Ashes will remain in their little terracotta urn in the Long Room at Lords.
Strange as it may seem, the greatest rivalry in sport, the TEST cricket matches between Australia and England has never resulted in the winning side “taking” the Ashes. That is because the actual ashes in the terracotta urn is not a sporting trophy. They were a gift to the Honourable Ivo Bligh and on his death in 1927, his widow, presented the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

It all started way back in 1877 when an Australian cricket team beat an England eleven by 45 runs in the first ever Test match between the two countries.

In 1882 an Australian team travelled to England to play three Tests. (Of course, there really was no Australia, officially, until Federation was proclaimed on January 1st, 1901.) England won the first two Tests but, horror of horrors, the colonial upstarts defeated England in the final Test. A tense Test match at The Oval.

England was shocked to be beaten at their own game, and on home soil, by a team of colonial s from Australia. A satirical obituary was placed in The Times of London saying that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”

In the Australian summer of 1882/83 the Honourable Ivo Bligh” led an English cricket team to Australia to play a series of three Tests. Bligh said he was going to Australia, “to regain those ashes” From then on, the media described Bligh’s trip as a “quest to regain the Ashes.”

After England had won the first two Tests, Bligh and his team enjoyed a Christmas break staying with some of the landed gentry in Sunbury, near Melbourne. His team played a social match in Sunbury and after the game some of the ladies burned a bail and put the ashes in a container. A young lady named Florence Morphy presented the container to Ivo Bligh, saying, “Here are the ashes of Australian cricket.”

Within a year the Honourable Ivo Bligh had married Miss Morphy and they made their home in England, with The Ashes taking pride of place in Ivo Bligh’s trophy room. They stayed there till Lady Florence presented them to the MCC. So, the Ashes were never, ever a sporting trophy. However, that did not stop Australian and English cricketers claiming that they had won the Ashes back for their country whenever they won a Test series

In 1988, for Australia’s Bi-Centenary the actual urn holding the Ashes presented to Ivo Bligh by Miss Morphy, did travel to Australia. And they did again for the 2006/7 series. Since 1988/89 England and Australia have played for a Waterford crystal trophy representing the Ashes urn. It is called the Ashes Trophy.

So, there it is. The only REAL Ashes matches are those Test cricket matches played between England and Australia. Media hype about the recent women’s Ashes Test matches between England and Australia are just that. Hype. There are no Ashes being played for in women’s cricket. Just as there are no Ashes being played for when some rugby journalist waxes lyrical about rugby Test matches between England and Australia. It is just more hype.

The cricket competition between Australia and England is regarded as the oldest rivalry in sport. It started in 1877 when Australia beat England by 45 runs in Melbourne. One hundred years later the two rivals played against each other again in Melbourne. Australia won be exactly 45 runs once again.

But is it the oldest rivalry in sport? If a Test match is a game between two international teams it might be claimed that the very first international TEST cricket match was played between Canada and the USA in 1844 when a group of US cricketers from the St George Club in New York City travelled to Toronto and beat a local team by ten wickets. They won $250 prizemoney. Though it is fair to say neither side could claim to be a representative national side. The Toronto team was selected from some payers who were available on the day.

Four years later in 1848 a more formal match was organised in New York City for a prize of $2500. Quite a substantial sum in those days. It is estimated that $100 000 was bet on the outcome. Canada won the match by 23 runs. Apparently, cricket was quite popular in the Us until the Civil War of 1961-65. After that its popularity faded away.

People can argue till the cows come home about what is the oldest sporting rivalry, but no one can argue that the only matches that are played for The Ashes are cricket matches between the Australian and England national cricket teams. Even though those famous Ashes do not travel anywhere, no matter who wins the series.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Testing Times.

The first Ashes Test between Australia and England started at The Gabba in Brisbane today.
Thank God, for that.

I thank God, two reasons. Firstly, we can now watch the cream of Australian and English cricket engage in five days of brutal sporting warfare, without weapons of mass destruction, of course. Although, a brick hard cricket ball hurtling towards your head at 150 kph comes  close to being a weapon of mass destruction. Secondly, our nightly Television news and morning papers will now be filled with actual reports of actual events that actually happened in the Test match.

For the last three months, our TV sports news and newspaper stories have all featured a host current and retired players roundly criticising the other team, or the selectors for choosing players that are either too old or lacking in requisite skills. Or, lengthy stories about what could happen, might happen, should happen or would happen, but no actual facts about what really did happen.

As a parochial Western Australian, I also think some of these criticisms were aimed at the selection of Western Australian players. Those pontificating eastern staters firmly believe that if ever there is a selection choice between an out of form Victorian cricketer, or one from New South Wales, then it must be the in-form West Aussie chap who gets the chop.

Personally, I shudder when David Warner, or some other Australian test player, is interviewed saying that Australia will win five-nil and that England is too old and too frightened to have any chance of victory. Or how worried you really are.

I think these comments can only serve to make the opposition more determined and resolute. Past experience has shown that often, when things don't start out the way some outspoken Australian players have said they would, their team quickly disintegrates into a rabble. Why, oh, why do the Australian players provide ammunition for the enemy!

It wasn't always like that. I first took an interest in test cricket back when I was about 8 years old in 1946 when Walter Hammond brought his Englishmen to Australia to engage with Don Bradman's Australians. In those days players of both teams spoke respectfully of each other. The games were very competitive and played fiercely but there was no obvious disrespect for opponents.

Of course, there was no television, but even the newspapers refrained from quoting any players, except the team captains, and they always spoke in friendly and sporting terms about each other.

There was one exception, back in the notorious Bodyline series in Australia in 1932/32 when Douglas Jardine packed the leg side field and ordered his fastest bowlers to bowl directly at the Australian batsmen. The poor old batsman could do little more than take the ball on the body, or try to duck out of the way, as fending the ball off with the bat would usually give a catch to the many fielders crowded around.

In one Bodyline test, the popular Australian captain, Bill Woodfull, was felled by a painful blow to the chest, above his heart. While he was recuperating in the dressing room, the England team manager, Pelham Warner, came to see how he was feeling.

Woodful's famous remark, "There are two teams out on the field, Mr Warner, but only one of them is playing cricket." resonated in newspapers around the world and nearly brought an end to Ashes Tests between Australia and England. The MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club, the august body in charge of cricket) did not take kindly to being called cheats. They insisted that England's bodyline tactics were well within the laws of the game. The Bodyline series was won by England, but it left a nasty legacy.

Of course, Douglas Jardine introduced Bodyline for one reason only, to stop Don Bradman from scoring runs. It succeeded in doing so, but nearly wrecked the game. Bradman only made one century in that Bodyline series in contrast to his tour of England in 1930 when he made several centuries including a triple century and two double centuries.. In the Bodyline series, he only played in four tests, but he made more runs than any other Australian batsman made in five tests. He even made more runs than all except two of the England batsmen.  Bradman made one century in the series and scored fifty in at least one innings of each Test. His average for the series was 54. Throughout his test career, over twenty years, his average was 99.6. So, he was curbed alright, but any cricketer playing today would love to finish this current Ashes Test series with an average of 54.

When the victorious England team returned home in 1933, they played a series against the West Indies, whose fast bowlers started using the Bodyline tactics employed by Douglas Jardine. The English batsmen did not like it. In a very short time the MCC brought in laws to limit the number of fielders who could be placed on the leg side. With far less risk of being caught out, batsmen now started hooking the "bumpers" and "bouncers" to the boundaries and Bodyline was no longer a lethal threat.

Bodyline was long gone when I became a cricket fan and the Second World War had strengthened the ties between England and Australia. Of course, there had always been banter on the cricket field. This was usually friendly and gentlemanly repartee. Players like Bradman, Lindwall, Miller, Hassett, Barnes and Morris never resorted to what, in the 1970s, became known as sledging. This gave friendly banter a much more aggressive edge. It was a tactic aimed at weakening your opponent by psychological means. It involved verbal assault and intimidating gestures.

Sledging became more widespread in cricket in the 1980s when Kerry Packer turned it into game played by highly paid professionals. At the time Don Bradman expressed his displeasure at the amount of sledging and the nasty look it was giving his beloved game of cricket. He was asked about it by the press and he said that if any player had sledged in one of his teams then they would not have played in the next match. A lot of the "win at all costs" captains of those days thought Bradman's ideas were  so very quaint and old fashioned.

Well, sledging still exists, but there are now certain limits on player behaviour on the field. Umpires are quick to act and television replays highlight unseemly on field behaviour which may result in a fine or. in rare cases, suspension.

These days the sledging seems to take place well before the game, on television and in the newspapers, as players try to play psychological games with their opponents to gain some sort of edge. Often it has the reverse effect.

The lead up to this long-awaited Ashes series between Australia and England has been notable for the many derogatory public statements by Australian Test players and retired test players. Even Nathan Lyon, who has never, ever seemed to say boo to a blowfly on the field, was dominating the sports pages recently with rather harsh comments about the ability of some of the England players.

Thankfully, that is all behind us for a while. The First Test has started and, hopefully, the only cricket news will be reports about the state of play and who did what with bat and ball.

At least, I hope that is what happens. It is just that I have this image of The Castle's, Dale Kerrigan, shaking his head at me and saying, "Tell him, he's dreaming."

PS. I know that quite a few people in countries outside Australia read my blog, so next time I may try to explain what Test Matches are and why Tests between Australia and England are called The Ashes Tests.

I may even tell you that the very first international cricket match was not played between Australia and England in 1877, but about forty years earlier between Canada and the United States. Canada won, which explains why baseball suddenly became popular in the USA.