No synchronised swimming for Mozambique

photo 3 (10)


I always wore cub uniform to school on Commonwealth Day (I’m not admitting to remembering Empire Day). That’s not a recent memory, you understand, and you’ll be pleased to know that I have no photographic evidence to offer you.

The Commonwealth appears to have got along reasonably well since that time without any further major inputs from me. South Africa has left and come back. So has Pakistan. Others, including Zimbabwe, have departed but not been seen again.  I understand that Gambia left last year, though nobody got round to letting me know, and Wikipedia informs me that South Sudan is putting in an application.

And every four years they put on the Games.  Glasgow, since you ask, later this month.

Blogfamily bought tickets the last time the Games took place in the UK – Manchester, in 2002. We had lived there until a decade earlier. The Games attracted 72 national teams, a record, and incorporated a programme for disabled athletes for the first time. Their success played a key part in securing the Olympics for London in 2012. Volunteers in shell suits around the city were an essential ingredient of that success, as was a ticket pricing policy that aimed at filling the stadia.

I can confirm it was all hugely enjoyable and the city took the whole thing very much to its heart. I still wear the T-shirt, though it’s doubtful that anyone actually thinks I competed.

Being occasionally of a nerdish bent where sport is concerned (Mrs. Blog tells me I can safely delete the word after “being”), I couldn’t get my head around the winner of the women’s 800 metres race that we watched coming from Mozambique. Now, call me old-fashioned but I thought, to be in the Commonwealth, you had to be somewhere that had had at least a nodding acquaintance with the wonders of Britishness. I mean, do they even play cricket in Mozambique? Apparently it had something to do with Mozambique, while a former Portuguese colony, being surrounded by bits that are, or were once, marked red on the map and thus a special case. So, there you go – an educational blog, it’s official. (Rwanda signed up in 2009. I rest my case.)

There is an application form you can fill in if you really want your nation to enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership, like visits from the Duchess of Cornwall and a special tie. It includes questions like “Compare and contrast Sonny Ramphal and Sonny Ramadhin”, “Why is the Hackney Empire so called”, and “Just why are those red bits on the map red?”  Candidate nations are now apparently required to demonstrate a current or previous “constitutional association” with an existing member state (or been invaded by one?)

The number of national teams taking part in the Games exceeds the number of countries in the Commonwealth, which is a neat trick. This comes down to places like Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs and even Scotland entering their own teams in order to share the medals round a bit. (One of those was made up.) The USA might have done ok in the medals table, but they had their chance and blew it back in 1776.

With Mrs. Blog hailing from north of the border (have I mentioned that?), we were always intending to make the most of the Games coming to Glasgow. I know for a fact that she’s  stocked up on blue and white face paint and has been practising phrases from her anthology of Gaelic abuse.

Thanks to conscientious and aggressive purchasing tactics we have acquired tickets for athletics, rugby sevens, hockey, netball (blogdaughter is known as the Vinny Jones of the netball court) and even the opening ceremony, which will surely showcase Scotland’s gifts to the world – like television, the telephone, the deep-fried Ferrero Rocher and Andy “Donald, where’s your troosers?” Stewart. My bet is that Prince Charles will take over the “parachuting into the stadium” duties from his mother. Which is ok provided he isn’t determined to wear a kilt.

One of the many charms of the Commonwealth Games – often described as the Friendly Games — has always been the possibility of seeing rank amateurs taking part, like a water polo team with buoyancy aids or a weightlifter from a small Pacific Island making up the numbers in the sprint relay. While not really expecting to see on the programme good old-fashioned sports in which the UK teams might conceivably “medal” (or “podium”??), like cribbage, welly chucking or maypole dancing, I was extremely disappointed to discover that my favourite Olympic sport, synchronised swimming, has failed to find a slot. They obviously wanted to keep that omission quiet until they’d made headway with ticket sales.


The Welsh water polo team search for the ball

photo 1 (13)


Warm up time for a Scottish athlete in the javelin

photo 3 (9)


The Australian bronze medalists in the Simple Simon Says competition

photo 5 (7)


An early round in the Rugby Sevens: the Scottish team responds to the All Blacks’ haka

photo (103)


Medal ceremonies at the Games tend to be dominated by the usual suspects but wouldn’t it be good to have an outing for one or two of the less frequently heard national anthems? I have carried out some research so you don’t have to.

In truth the great majority of new anthems seem to cover similar territory, involving pristine sands, shining seas, heroic daughters and fair sons (or possibly the other way round). This, for example, from the British Virgin Islands:

But with strength and will power we overcame

To restore Beautiful Virgin Islands pride!

To preserve our beauty we devised a plan

To retain ownership of our precious lands!

Educating our people is the golden key

To maintain the success of this Territory!


So that’s the contents of the Queen’s speech sorted for them for a year or two.

Intriguingly, Jersey’s anthem, until very recently, bigged up the “beautiful sky of our France” and the desire “to see again my Normandy …  the country where I was born”. I guess that’s what’s called “hedging your bets”.

Before 1949, when Newfoundland was incorporated into Canada, it fielded its own team at the Games. It may be just as well that its own anthem “didn’t trouble the scorers”, as they say, Team Newfoundland not having won gold, or indeed any other colour of medal:

At winter’s stern command,
Thro’ shortened day, and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land.
We love thee, we love thee
We love thee, frozen land.
When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro’ spindrift swirl, and tempest roar,
We love thee windswept land.
We love thee, we love thee
We love thee windswept land.


Now the sound of that might have cast something of a shadow over proceedings at the Games. It can’t have done much for their tourism industry back home either.

“Come on lads, how about some sun, sea and sand type lyrics?”

“We don’t get sun and sand in Newfoundland.”

“And your point is?”


Newfoundland: a holiday maker strolls to the beach to light the barbecue

photo 3 (11)


The Barbadian anthem has lyrics by one Irving Burgie, who also penned inter alia the far more memorable words for Jamaica Farewell and the Banana Boat Song. What wouldn’t  spectators give for something they could all join in with after a long day in the hot Glasgow sunshine, like a rendering from the podium of

A beautiful bunch a’ ripe banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Hide the deadly black tarantula
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

…preferably with the Stan Freberg “It’s too piercing man. Like, I don’t dig spiders” variation.


So, roll on Glasgow.

This blog has booked itself a pre-pitched tent at a rugby club in the city to avoid a long trek to out of town accommodation after each event. I should explain that I will not be accompanied for accommodation purposes by Mrs. Blog who “doesn’t do tents”. She was taken Eurocamping once when young and discovered there was no power source for her curling tongs. The experience left her deeply traumatised. Mrs. B will be resting between sporting events at the home of a fellow clan member before returning to her workplace.


Mrs. Blog roughing it at the Manchester Commonwealth Games

photo 2 (11)


Happily, our programme provides time for local sightseeing. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s wonderful School of Art may have been badly damaged in its recent fire but there are other fine examples of his work within reasonable distance, and, rest assured, this blog didn’t get where it is today without some serious ticking of sightseeing lists.

It has been – it must be said – some while since this blog exposed itself to the rigours of camping for such a length of time. Do tents come equipped with charging points for mobile phone and iPad nowadays? (I’m taking the airconditioning, jacuzzi and soundproofing as read.) Can blogging really take place under such adverse circumstances? Bear Grylls wouldn’t have lasted a minute.

To say nothing of the toilets. I fear the worst.


The Games campsite in Glasgow: blogging under difficulties

photo 1 (14)


A postscript: “Why no blog about the Tour de France?” I hear you say. As a native Lancastrian I’m tempted to conclude that the amazingly positive response of Yorkshire folk to the Tour merely demonstrates a lack of interesting things to do in the white rose county (though the scenery did look rather fine.) This blog had the benefit of watching the cavalcade of the 1994 Tour through Sussex and was very appreciative of the free sweets and paper hat. Like waiting hours for the Olympic flame to pass by, it’s always good to tick off another of life’s experiences but I’m not certain that, if it were passing by my window this year, I’d be guaranteed to put my newspaper down to look.







“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

photo (89)

This week sees Lewes’s annual demonstration of the triumph of hope over experience as more than hundred local teams attempt to prove that their modest showing in last year’s Rotary Club skittles competition in Grange Gardens was simply down to ill luck.

My own team has picked up a trick or two over the years. Not so much sledging our opponents, or ball tampering or reverse swing, as the covert appropriation of heavy balls (no, I’m not going there) from neighbouring lanes in order to boost the prospects of tumbling skittles. But, at the end of the day, skill tends to emerge victorious. So, despite the best efforts of “Two Puddings”, “Scan my Chip” and the rest of the team, we were stuffed as usual.

photo 5 (1)

I still haven’t worked out the etiquette here, after more than two decades of uninterrupted participation. Is it best, in the event of an occasional quality score (say, seven or more), to walk modestly forward, sensing – rather than actually hearing – the rapturous applause of one’s teammates, or should one give full vent to one’s inner Rooney and go into a knee slide along the bowling lane towards the fallen victims to one’s prowess. At my age, and with my orthopaedic history, I guess this is what they call a no-brainer.

But at least I’ve worked out that you have to go down the other end of your lane to pick up the skittles after your turn. Mrs. Blog still expects that to be carried out by some kind of mechanical device when she’s done and invariably goes in search of the Pimm’s she’d momentarily creched.

For Mrs. Blog and me, and for many in our social network, this is one of those fixed points in the Lewes calendar which makes the town what it is. A beer tent run by one of our bonfire societies, a burger stand run by the Inner Wheel (which supplied my birthday dinner of a “pulled pork” roll on the night), the whole thing well supported by press, businesses and the local community.

I still didn’t manage a “strike”.

But the town doesn’t content itself with just one major annual sporting spectacle. Each spring sees Lewes Lions Club organising its International Toad in the Hole competition. Toad is a pub game which involves throwing brass coins at a lead topped table with a hole in the middle. East Sussex is apparently home to the country’s only Toad league, with three divisions and a score of teams based in pubs around the county. So, “International” in the sense of “around Lewes”.

“But, what of stoolball?”, I hear you cry. Another Lewesian activity which I was dragooned into playing as soon as I arrived in town.

The game appears to have originated in Sussex, played by milkmaids around the 15th century, using milking stools as wickets, and been a forerunner, not only of cricket, but also of rounders, and even baseball.

Historians have theorised that the game was a Christian adaptation of pagan ball games strongly associated with fertility rites – in the comedy, The Two Noble Kinsmen, the phrase “playing at stool ball” seems to be used as a euphemism for hanky panky, if you’ll pardon the expression.

The game is played on grass with two wickets, a little like the arrangement for cricket, with one team fielding and the other batting. Bowling is underarm, with the ball reaching the batsman on the full as in rounders or baseball rather than bouncing from the pitch as in cricket. The wicket itself is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height fastened to a post and the bat is shaped like a frying pan. The batsman scores runs as in cricket and can be out caught or run out.

The game appears to have been rediscovered and codified in Victorian times by a local vicar who felt it would make a suitable pursuit for young ladies in their crinolines. This does not explain why, a century later, bearded, overweight blokes are bashing balls with their stools. Or is it the other way round?

photo 1 (5)photo 3 (3)

Stoolball seems to have run into something of an evolutionary cul-de-sac compared, say, with cricket or baseball and didn’t manage to hitch a lift on the backs of the Empire builders to reach the far flung corners of the globe (inasmuch as globes actually have corners). There is, sadly, little prospect of Lewes hosting test matches against visiting teams from the West Indies or the Antipodes any time soon. What’s the matter with these people?

“Where Lewes leads”, as the saying goes, “nobody else bothers”. But we’re happy doing what we do. The Lewes Arms, for example, hosts the annual World Pea Throwing Championships, having successfully beaten off a challenge to that title from the nearby village of Wealden over Fracking. Each competitor lobs three of the popular legumes down Castle Ditch Lane next to the pub and the winner is the one whose pea travels furthest. Well, obviously that’s the winner, we’re not that weird. If your pea goes down a grate, you get another go, even if you’re from out of town, which seems very fair.

photo 3 (5)

Not content with this claim to global pre-eminence – and setting aside for now the delights of its unique “adult” spring panto – the Lewes Arms also plays host to the pastime of dwile flonking (see also dwyle flunking). This surprisingly under-appreciated activity involves two teams, each taking a turn to dance around the other while attempting to avoid a beer-soaked dwile (cloth) thrown by the non-dancing team. Ok so far?

As the rules make perfectly obscure, a “dull witted person” is chosen as the referee or “jobanowl”, and the two teams decide who flonks first by tossing a sugar beet. The game begins when the jobanowl shouts, “Here y’go t’gither!”

The non-flonking team joins hands and dances in a circle around a member of the flonking team, a practice known as “girting”. The flonker dips his dwile-tipped “driveller”, made from hazel or yew, into a bucket of beer, then spins around in the opposite direction to the girters and flonks his dwile at them.

photo 3 (4)

If the dwile misses completely it is known as a “swadger” or a “swage”. When this happens, the flonker must drink the contents of an ale-filled “gazunder” (chamber pot) before the wet dwile has passed from hand to hand along the line of the now non-girting girters chanting the ceremonial mantra of “pot pot pot”.

Now, I’d like to see Gary Neville commentating on that if it were to go to a penalty shootout.

I wouldn’t want to sign off on a blog about excellent local games without a mention of another healthy outdoor sport which East Sussex gave to the world. I talk of course of Poohsticks, devised and codified in this very county by none other than local resident Pooh Bear, in the far off days when we still had ursines at large in Ashdown Forest and the Hundred Acre Wood and before they had been hunted to extinction by supporters of the Countryside Alliance.
photo 5 (2)

While we are content for non-Lewesians to enjoy their own imitations of our creation on their own “patch”, the game in its truest form belongs here. But, if you do wish to pay homage and play the game at its birthplace, could you please bring your own supply of sticks, as the river banks around Poohsticks Bridge are now somewhat denuded of competition standard timber?

Now, off to the World Marbles Championship just down the road…

photo 4 (4)photo 1 (6)photo 2 (3)