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The Wicket Men: The Last Rites of Minor Counties Cricket

By Tony Hannan

It’s Britain’s hottest summer since 1976 and cricket is in a sweat of transformation. Audiences no longer care for long-form County Championship fixtures, traditional touchstone of the calendar. They prefer flash, bang, wallop! Or so the experts suppose.
Where though does that leave those twenty minor counties from Newcastle to Norfolk who for the last 125 years have provided a stepping-stone between recreational cricket and the first-class county scene?
Come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will be blown away like dandelion seeds on the breeze, to be replaced by a freshly branded and ‘more marketable’ National Counties Championship.
Well, that was the plan. In 2018, few had yet heard of Covid-19. What they did know was that their beloved competition was under existential threat and those to blame were at Lord’s, more interested in such innovative concepts as the promised new ‘Hundred’ than bolstering that which had stood the test of time.
Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs, spent what turned out to be the penultimate Minor Counties campaign in the company of Cumberland CCC, amid the dramatic lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria. And echoing that dramatic terrain, tells a story of ups, downs and a few surprises.
A team of journeymen skippered by Gary Pratt – who famously ran Australia captain Ricky Ponting out during 2005’s Ashes series – are but one thread in a tapestry that is by turns earthy, lyrical and amusing.
The Wicket Men draws stumps on a mostly ignored but emblematic level of cricket, a pastime whose arcane rhythms and rituals are rooted in English folk tradition.

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Seasons of Change – Busking Britain

By Tom Kitching

Tom Kitching is one of England’s leading traditional fiddle players.

He has worked as a solo performer, band member, dance caller, violin teacher, and street busker. That last element – the busking – was an afterthought, something to be phased out as he built a career in music.

But the busking bug wouldn’t go away. Beyond the music and the collecting hat, perhaps fiddling through the streets of England could be a key to finding out who the English really are, how they view themselves and how they deal with change. Is there anything that ties together people across England’s many cultural divides, from neat Cotswold villages hugging village greens to former mining villages huddled beside abandoned pits, from multicultural city to Anglo-Saxon market town?

Armed with a violin, a Northern sensibility and a love of life in all its troubling richness, Tom took an 18-month journey through England to find out.

This isn’t really a book about busking, though. It’s about people, place, and that elusive beast – Englishness. On Tom’s street-level odyssey, the lines between friend and stranger blur, informality reigns, and chance encounters make a mockery of careful planning.

As the seasons change and the tally of busking towns grows, the complex mosaic called England confronts its fly-on-the-wall observer with the challenge – define me if you dare.

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Touchstones

Rugby League, Rock’n’Roll, The Road and Me

by Steve Mascord

Steve Mascord – born Andrew John Langley – was obsessed with rugby league and rock’n’roll. Long after almost everyone he knew, he clung to these things like twin teddybears, turning at least one of them into a career and making a bit of money out of the other.

At the age of 47 he owned precisely nothing aside from hundreds of records and CDs and almost every edition of Rugby League Week ever printed. He was unmarried, had no car or property and was the proud owner of $50,000 of credit card debt. Then one day he discovered the truth about himself.

He always knew he was adopted but it turned out he was part of a bohemian family, his mother forced to give him up after suffering a mental breakdown. She searched for him until her dying day. Steve met uncles and cousins and aunties he never knew existed and for the first time in his life he felt whole. And he looked around that storage room full of CDs and football magazines and felt sad; a sense of loss. He appeared in newspapers and on radio and television and people thought he was successful but had he really created a life for himself? Or was he living in a childhood fantasy, compensating for what had been missing, ready to fall down on top of him as traditional media imploded?

Steve thought ‘enough of being Steve Mascord, who is not a real person. Time to finally be Andrew John Langley’. Having figuratively thrown all his toys out of the cot, he decided to conduct an audit. Which ones to pick up off the floor and keep in his new life, and which to leave laying there forever.

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Lost in Spain

In the Footsteps of Laurie Lee

By Dave Hadfield

It was the Booker Prize-winning author of Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally, who described Dave Hadfield as ‘The Poet of Rugby League’. True enough, though the man who has also been called Bolton’s answer to Bill Bryson has equally revelled in other subjects, like music and travel.

Lost in Spain is the result of the dying wish of his oldest friend’s wife, Barb, to have her ashes scattered along the route traced by Laurie Lee when he walked from Gloucestershire to the Mediterranean in the 1930s.

That original journey provided the material for As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, the book upon which, as well as Cider with Rosie, Lee’s glittering reputation rests.

Lost in Spain is a story of friendship and late-flowering love that is by turns informative, poignant, elegiac and laugh-out-loud funny.

These days freed from the constraints of daily journalism, Hadfield has no plans to stop writing. Of his ten books so far, five have been written since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.

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P*** Up In A Brewery

Adventures on the Ale – by Tony Thomson

When Tony Thomson decided it was time for York to have its own beer again, he had more than a brewery in mind…

As well as creating a superior beer, the pioneering independent brewer wanted to offer the Minster city’s visitors an alternative attraction – a showpiece brewery with a visitor centre, bar and club.

P**s Up in a Brewery records every step along the way to building a successful business – from the birth of an idea to the search for funding; from hauling a second-hand kit across the Pennines to the improbable task of finding premises within the city walls; from tackling the stern resistance of York landlords to the moment when the new kid on the block captures the industry’s most coveted awards.

Alongside the drama is the humour associated with building a business on the simple premise that you like its product. The book’s cast of colourful characters include Tony’s partner in crime, one-time burger-flipper Smithy, and the softly-spoken barman who lets his wooden club do the talking for him. With secretive brewers, a couple of ghosts and a lass on a hen party determined to down a yard of ale also in the mix, you have something between a soap opera, a business plan and a sitcom.

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