The Light Fantastics

A City Romance (also available for animation)

Meet the Light Fantastics.

This is Lady in Red. This is Green Go-to Guy. They live in two little spaces in a traffic light in the Big City, on a busy corner of Main Street and Crosstown Avenue.

Lady in Red tells people to stop and wait before they cross Main Street.
Green Go-to Guy tells them when to cross Main Street.

They have to wake up early in the morning when they hear the first trucks rumbling down Main Street and be ready for work. Their first walker is always Dust Cart Man. Lady in Red makes him wait. Green Go-to Guy tells him when to cross and sweep the other side of Main Street.

Then come the early workers.

Then come the regular workers.

Then come the schoolchildren. Lady in Red makes them all stop. Green Go-to Guy tells them to cross.

Then it’s the late workers. Some of them want to cross in a hurry, but Lady in Red makes them wait like anyone else, before Green Go-to Guy lets them go.

Then it’s the shoppers. Then the people taking early lunch. Then the people taking regular lunch. Then the people taking late lunch. Lady in Red and Green Go-to Guy tell them all what to do.

Then it’s the schoolchildren and the workers crossing the other way.

Then it’s the people going out for dinner, or to see a play or a movie or a concert.

Then it’s the clubbers. Lady in Red stops them all, Green Go-to Guy lets them cross.

But when the last clubber crosses Main Street to go home, the Big City belongs to the Light Fantastics. They watch the last clubber let himself into his house. They look at each other and slide down the traffic light into Main Street. They stretch… and stretch… and stretch a bit more. And when they are tall enough, they dance… and dance… and dance…

They dance down Main Street. Past all the places where the people work or shop or go to school. But nobody can see them. Through the Big Square with the Victory Arch and the statue of Marshal Law. Past the Town Hall with the statue of Mayor Culpa. Into the park with the bandstand – where they can tap dance. They finish the routine with a big kiss. Then they take a drink at the fountain. And since nobody’s looking they bathe their feet.

Then they walk together, hand in hand, under the stars. They leave the park and walk back to Main Street. This time they reach the part with lots of advertising boards.

Lady in Red stops Green Go-to Guy. She looks at one of the big boards and says “We’ve never seen this one,” and he says “Do you want to try it?” It has a picture of a flashy fast car. An Alfa Pseud. And the two of them jump right into the car – because they own everything in the Big City at night, including the advertising boards and everything inside them.

The picture in the board has the Alfa Pseud all on its own on a long desert highway. Green Go-to Guy opens the door for Lady in Red and lets her drive first. All the way to the end of the highway in the picture. Then they change places and Green Go-to Guy drives it all the way back. Who do you think drives faster? Wrong. It’s Lady in Red. After stopping people all day, at night time she likes to put on a little speed.

Green Go-to Guy parks the car in the same spot in the picture. They get out and jump out of the board back onto Main Street.

“What did you think?” asks Green Go-to Guy. Lady in Red shakes her head and says “It went pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-qweep in sixth gear.”

They walk a bit longer along Main Street and stop in front of another advertising board. This one’s for a big blockbuster movie with the world’s biggest stars – Luke Upward and Stella Cast. But since they own everything in the Big City they jump right into the movie set and Green Go-to Guy says “Luke, my man, do you want to take five?” and Lady in Red says “Stella, honey, would you like to powder your nose?” And the stars leave, so that Green Go-to Guy and Lady in Red can play the big scene themselves. They look at the scripts the stars leave behind.

“You don’t love me any more.”

“I do.”

“You don’t.”

“But I do.”

“Your lips are moving but your eyes are lying.”

“Believe me.”

They give it all they can and then they look at each other and say the same thing. “This stinks.” They call back Luke and Stella and jump out of the board back into Main Street.

They walk a bit further and stop at another advertising board. This one has a tropical beach with nobody on it. They stare and stare at it. They have never seen anything so beautiful in the Big City. Finally Lady in Red says “We deserve a vacation.”

Green Go-To Guy says “We haven’t got much time. You know what happens if we’re missing…”

Lady in Red says “Just a quick swim?” And she takes his hand.

So they jump onto the beach. They kick up a little sand. They look at the clear blue water and run towards it, still hand in hand. But before they can jump in, the whole beach starts to shake. Not just the sand. Not just the sea. But the sky and the sun too. It can only mean one thing. They run back along the beach and look out of the board. It’s the first truck rumbling along Main Street. The Big City will not belong to them much longer. They will not be allowed in the advertising boards – or anywhere else. If they don’t get back to their traffic light in time they could be locked up as deserters.

So they jump back onto Main Street. No more dancing, they just run, and run, and run. Hand in hand. When one gets tired, the other pulls. Run, Lady in Red! Run, Green Go-to Guy! Back into the park… past the fountain… past the bandstand… Past Marshal Law and Mayor Culpa. Past the workplaces and the shops and the schools. They see more and more trucks. Faster, Lady in Red! Faster, Green Go-to Guy! The dawn is breaking over the Big City. At last they reach their section of Main Street.

They can hear the Dust Cart. One final sprint… They reach their traffic light just in time. They help each other up, and shrink again to fit into their little spaces. They are ready for Dust Cart Man. Lady in Red stops him in the usual way. Green Go-to Guy lets him cross in the usual way. He notices nothing different about them and heads down Main Street to sweep the other side.

Lady in Red and Green Go-to Guy watch him disappear. They look round the street. No trucks. No people. They slip out of their little spaces and have one final kiss.

Potential sequels

The plot device in which the two characters inhabit and interact with the images of poster advertising could be used in a series of sequels, with a similar premise at the end: the pair must finish their adventure at daybreak in time to resume their normal duties inside the traffic light. In other possible sequels, Green might have a rival, Bicycle Man, and the two might go into combat using traffic arrows as spears; Green and Red might raise a family of lesser lights; Red could save a child’s life in the busy street (or more exotically, a lost circus elephant); Green and Red could have a peaceful vacation in a remote country township with almost no traffic.

Richard Heller

05. November 2023 by rkh
Categories: Books, Movies | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on The Light Fantastics

A Cricket Bag Of Ideas

Three letters sent to ECB in the wake of the ICEC report in July 2023: no reply to any point received by January 2024

Richard Gould
CEO England and Wales Cricket Board

Dear Richard

I emailed you through the ECB Media office with some proposals for the ECB response to the recent ICEC report. This letter contains some revisions and additions.

Your immediate reaction to the recent ICEC report was rightly welcomed, but you and the ECB now have the devil of a job in making specific and measurable progress on it and within a short time. I have not read the report in full. From what I have read so far, I think that the authors could have done much more to enlist the support and engagement of the existing cricket community of England and Wales, not least in its language, which (in my view as a professional writer) has too much special pleading and sociological gobbeygook. I am strengthened in these views by reading more of the report.

What follows is a collection of personal suggestions to help achieve the high-level objective shared by the report’s authors and the ECB: making English and Welsh cricket truly representative of their whole nations and accessible and welcoming to all potential participants.

They are top-of-the-head suggestions without a strong evidence base (although informed by my experience as a player and watcher of cricket in 20 countries and as a cricket writer and historian). I am certain that the ECB and counties and individual clubs are far ahead of me on many of them, but I jot them all down in case they are of direct value or stimulate further thinking.


The ECB might make and repeat three simple points to the English cricket community, especially those sections who have responded indignantly to the report.

1) Cricket, like all sports, now operates in a very crowded and competitive leisure market. Within such a market it is fatal for any sport to be identified as the preserve of a privileged community, even if there are enough members of such a community to keep it alive. Such exclusion becomes self-perpetuating, the sport disappears from general public view and it fails to attract any new generations or offer them the chance of a professional career. [One could add: its administrators become more and more amateur and cranky.]

2) Thousands of volunteers give their time and often their money every week to provide access to cricket in a safe environment for children who might otherwise be excluded from it. These volunteers are betrayed by every instance of racism, sexism, snobbery and prejudice in the world of cricket.

3) Like it or not, English cricket cannot live solely on the income generated by its participants. For years it has needed outside income. It must be a “product” which outside sponsors and advertisers are proud of. None want their brand associated with racism, sexism, snobbery and prejudice [or indeed bad onfield behaviours].

The ECB and inclusion

4) The ECB should establish a specific Inclusion Unit and set measurable goals for it to achieve in participation in English cricket for all the groups now excluded from it (including LGBTQ and disabled people). It should compare these participation rates regularly with those of other sports.

5) The Unit should administer grants to all clubs and other organizations which achieve special success in promoting inclusivity. It might include automatic rewards for the engagement of children in receipt of free school meals. The prime judges of such grants should of course be from those groups now most excluded.

6) The Unit should encourage the media to promote inclusivity in cricket. I am certain that the Cricket Writers Club would assist this, and promote awards for journalists who report it and also for those who do most to combat racial, gender and class stereotyping in cricket.

7) A small step but the ECB should create extra income and recognition for cricket coaches who can coach in a foreign language, as well as umpires and other officials who are proficient in a foreign language (including Welsh.)

8) The ECB should encourage all cricket clubs to make contact with local faith groups. I say this as a secular atheist, but it is a quick way to encourage access to the game in many minority communities. Clubs will have to take great care in this if they contact groups with exclusionist views.

9) The ECB should encourage all cricket clubs to offer a safe place for children to meet under supervision and carry out purposeful activity, even if it is not cricket (eg a homework club).

The ECB and the education system

Present constraints on public expenditure will last a long time and offer almost no hope of new public provision for cricket in state schools. But the ECB could take some steps to help this:

10) Collect, collate and publish every scrap of evidence that playing cricket is beneficial for children’s general education, character and welfare. All sport achieves this but emphasize what makes cricket so special particularly
– Its unique combination of sequential solo skills (bowling then batting then fielding) with team work
– Its need for so many forms of different thinking (immediate decision making, medium-term tactics, long-term strategy)
– Its demand for empathy with partners and team mates
– Its demands for patience and calm to achieve success (many examples of cricket calming damaged children)

11) A curious unintended advantage of cricket over football is that it is now unfamiliar to many children and success in cricket requires mastery of completely new skills.

12) The ECB might offer a pathway for state schools to get the advantages of specialist sports status or academy sports status through cricket. It could set out approval criteria for such status in school cricket programmes, especially in the participation of hard-to-reach children.

13) The ECB might encourage all major clubs to offer local schoolchildren a complete day’s education through cricket, and to give them a chance of work experience or other regular participation in their activities. I know that your former club, Surrey, is very advanced in this, and perhaps others are too. See Appendix A for further suggestions.

14) The ECB should offer automatic registration as young cricket supporters, for nothing or a minimal fee, to all children of school age, divided by primary and secondary age. I have not thought of a name, and in any case it would be better to invite children to come up with their own suggestions and vote on them. Benefits from registration should include free admission to any county ground except on big match days, discounts on cricket equipment, magazines with appropriate content, some created by children (see also Appendix A), contacts with not only top players but also officials, commentators, writers, photographers, a supervised chatroom (which could promote contact with cricketing children overseas, and a pen-pal service, if today’s children still have pen-pals) and competitions with cricket-themed prizes.

15) Independently of 14) I think it would be an excellent idea if all public cricket nets were free to schoolchildren immediately after school hours during the summer.

Assisting curatorship

16) Many public cricket pitches and facilities are poorly maintained not only for lack of funds but also from lack of specialist knowledge. The ECB, counties and major clubs should offer technical help and advice on cricket curatorship to all local authorities.

Attacking the drinking culture in cricket

I strongly support the idea of an independent regulator for cricket. It is unsustainable to combine this task with promoting the game.

17) It would be a tremendous sanction for a regulator to object to the renewal of an alcohol licence (and/or a gaming machine licence) for any club which had failed to combat racist, sexist and other unacceptable exclusionary behaviours by members, whether drink-fuelled or not. I think that prospect would frighten clubs into combatting such behaviours very quickly

18) There is now a strong competitive market in non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits. The ECB and individual clubs should make a special effort to attract their makers as sponsors. A possible slogan (illustrated by a top batter): At last I can drink and drive.

19) I am assuming that registered cricket supporters are disqualified automatically for racist, sexist and other offensive behaviours. But just in case this is not the case, the ECB should provide for this and seek names of offenders from individual clubs.

Cricket and politics

20) England is now governed by a cricket-lover. If the ECB wants anything from government, it might want to act now, while he is still in power, rather than take its chances on Keir Starmer, who is a football-lover with no evident interest in cricket. That said, some of the steps above should appeal to him and Labour politicians as much as to the present government.

21) The ECB might wish to emphasize to all politicians the contribution which Afghan refugees are already making to English cricket.

22) A reformed inclusive game would be a very good means of integrating migrant and marginal communities into English life generally. It could also be a fine advertisement for our country in all of the 175 other countries where some form of cricket is played, and a contributor to British soft power. These points should be made to politicians of all parties.

I am at your disposal and that of the ECB if any of the above points are of interest.

I emailed you and Richard Thompson separately about the ICC and Afghan cricket and would appreciate any reply the ECB is able to give.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller
Appendix A

County Cricket clubs and general education

There should be an education hub in every county ground, offering a complete programme of cricket-themed lessons over a day for local schools. With adjustments for the ages of children concerned, cricket clubs could from their own resources offer at least the following subjects:

Written and spoken English: the media office. Children would learn the basics of cricket reporting and commentary (and see below). They would also interview players and staff, and the results would be published.

Other languages: translating cricket materials from English into other locally used languages.

Art and photography: the media office, with help from visiting professionals.

Mathematics, statistics, data analysis: the scorer and any data specialist

History: the museum. Images from the past – changes in players, spectators, grounds and what these show about changes in local society. I am especially keen on this module, as a historian. A sequence of images of the ground in question would be a rich source. Children would be encouraged to look less at the cricket than the spectators. What are they wearing in each generation, and what does it say about them? How much did they pay to get in – and what did this, and membership, take from average earnings? How did they travel to the ground? Of those reading newspapers – what stories were they reading? And so on…

Human relations and psychology: the coaches and captains

Physics: the behaviour of a cricket ball

Biology and chemistry: the ground staff give a master class in soil science and pitch preparation

Domestic science: the cleaners

Maintenance/engineering/lighting: relevant technical staff

Food preparation and hygiene: the catering department

Business studies: the finance department and the administrators

Health: the medical and first-aid staff

And of course, physical education. Under supervision, children would use the nets and facilities.

I think that this too would create lasting relationships between clubs and local children, their families and communities. It could be a source of recruitment.

There should be a contest in each county to find the best under-18 cricket reporter, commentator, analyst, and photographer. I would suggest doing this in two age-groups, under and over 13. The winners would get prizes in cash or kind, but more importantly, their work would be featured by each county in its publishing and media activity, through its match streaming services, and in display and access at each ground. They would each be mentored by a professional in their particular specialism. I think that such a contest would also generate great engagement among local families, communities and schools, and develop new talents in sports media with lasting reasons to be grateful to each county for giving them a start.

Appendix B – supplementary letter of 4 July

I am sorry to trouble you with yet another response to the ICEC report. But I had two further ideas and I hope that they might be of some value to you and the ECB.

A) The ECB should offer to part-fund a Cricket Development Officer working for each local authority responsible for a deprived area. He/she would have broad responsibility for promoting participation in cricket throughout the borough, including the availability of pitches and nets, liaison with all local clubs whatever their scale, and, above all, increasing the connexion of local children with cricket. I hope that the ECB could persuade central government to make some contribution to this (especially under the present cricketloving Prime Minister) and private and charitable funders. Once on offer, this in my view would be hard for any relevant local authority to refuse.

B) Does the ECB hold any information about why people leave cricket as players or officials or other regular contributors? I suspect not and none is cited in the ICEC report other than those who volunteered testimony that they left cricket after encountering racism, sexism and other bad behaviours. A properly structured survey of this issue could be immensely informative and guide future policy. It would be especially revealing to track this in depth for different ages, genders, racial groups, classes, and playing abilities. All respondents to such a survey should be asked whether after leaving cricket they gave the same energy and time to another sport or leisure activity – and if so what attracted them to it?

As an exercise I went through all the first-hand quotations in the report. I would say that over two-thirds of them gave a negative view of English cricket. Some were exceptionally hostile. Nearly all the remainder could be described as neutral. Until the reader reaches section 9.7 he or she will not read a single first-hand tribute to English cricket. I think that this is a serious omission.

Section 9.7 refers to efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in English cricket, especially for children. It is hugely outweighed by the evidence of barriers to inclusion and diversity, especially those arising from systemic racism, sexism, economic bias and personal snobbery. The ICEC’s own figures suggest that hundreds of thousands of people of all ages participate regularly in cricket who are poor, female, or of minority ethnic origin or from other groups under-represented in cricket. But it has not produced a single citation from anyone in those groups who enjoyed cricket and whose life was transformed by it. This is a great gap and it is hard to reconcile this with the report’s title of A Mirror To Cricket. It is a mirror which shows only warts and blemishes. The ECB should seek out urgently and publicize its own evidence of the power of cricket to raise human potential. This is copious, and extends to all participants regardless of class, race or gender.

Section 9.7 deals only with initiatives organized centrally by the ECB or counties or charities such as ChancetoShine. It has not described any local initiatives by clubs and individual volunteers, or their benefits, especially to clubs in terms of playing results, membership and income. This is a great pity because others are not inspired to imitate them. That strengthens my earlier suggestion that the ECB should give money and public recognition to such efforts.

I do not mean to nit-pick about the report, but I feel that it is dangerous for cricket to beat itself up too much. The general public and commercial interests alike will desert any sport which is identified as racist, sexist and snobbish and reports itself as such without giving any counter-evidence of its public benefits.

Hunting might give a warning to cricket. Like cricket hunting had deep historic roots in our country and a rich cultural heritage. It had a strong following and created local employment and activity. But it was perceived as cruel and snobbish – and was therefore legislated out of existence. Cricket (one hopes) would not face such an outright ban. But it could certainly lose all hope of public provision and intervention. Cricket would be told to stand on its own feet and run itself as a purely commercial business.

Appendix C supplementary letter 5 July

I am sorry to trouble you yet again about the ICEC report, but I found one statistic so striking as to be worth interrogating.

4.3.6 For children, this trend was mirrored with those from less affluent groups being least likely to play. In addition, the survey also revealed that whilst 16.8% of children at private schools were playing cricket once a week during school hours, [my emphasis] only 7.2% of children at maintained state schools and 6.2% at academies were doing so (during the academic year 2021-2022).

The bold figure seems very low to me. It means that six out of seven children at private schools do not play cricket. Their parents or carers are paying substantial fees for their education: for them money is no barrier to playing the game. I think it would be worth examining why they are not. Do they (or their parents) prefer other sports? Do schools prefer to teach other sports? And if so, why? One possible explanation may be the recent intake of foreign pupils from non-cricket countries. But I have met a few of these who became enthusiastic cricketers: why are there not more of them? Private schools often boast of their value to British exports of goods and services: if so, why can they no longer export cricket, as they did in Victorian times to Britain’s political and commercial empire?

Since I have written again: one further good point about modern English cricket, unremarked in the ICEC report, is the growth of age-group cricket for older people. There are more and more over-70 sides and I have heard of over-80s as well. It would be worthwhile for the ECB to produce some figures on this to show to policymakers in national and local government. Cricket does offer the chance of long involvement in an outdoor activity. I will celebrate my own “platinum jubilee” next year. One of the great advantages of not being any good to begin with is that you do not notice so much decline.

24. January 2024 by rkh
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J E P McMaster: the hero of zero

Published in Scoreline magazine, Pakistan, 2018

At the time of writing (2019), 687 players have represented England in 1004 Test Matches since 1877. (By comparison Pakistan have used 233 players in 416 Test Matches.)

I think I have watched every English Test performer since 1954, including many great ones. At the beginning were Len Hutton, Peter May, Fred Trueman. More recently were Alastair Cook and Jimmy Anderson. Along the way were such as Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, Ian Botham and David Gower. But none of these are my favourite England player.

That honour belongs to number 67: Joseph Emile Patrick McMaster.

He faces stern competition from number 221: John “Jack” Crawford William MacBryan. He is the unluckiest man ever to play Test cricket for England. He was chosen as a batsman in the Old Trafford Test at home to South Africa in 1924. As sometimes happens in Manchester, it rained a lot. The whole match lasted only 401 balls. MacBryan did not bat or bowl and he did not take a catch. He was never picked again. MacBryan’s father, incidentally, had the distinction of being P G Wodehouse’s model for the forbidding psychiatrist (“loony doctor” in Bertie Wooster’s description) Sir Roderick Glossop.

But I think readers will agree that he has to take second place to McMaster.

“J E P” was born in Gilford, County Down, on 16 March 1861, in what was then a united Ireland and then after independence and partition in Northern Ireland. He went to Harrow but did not get into the first XI. He then went to Trinity College, Cambridge to read law. He played no major cricket matches at Cambridge, but won a blue at the new-fangled sport of lawn tennis in 1881.

He qualified as a barrister in 1888, but then disappeared on a daring adventure, the private cricket tour of South Africa organized by Major R G Warton. To say the least it was a mixed party, with five England Test players, four county players, and six like J E P with no cricketing record. One was a comedian called Cameron Skinner, chosen to provide entertainment for the party although I can find no record of his best gags.

Major Warton’s party were genuine pioneers, enduring rudimentary transport and accommodation, and sometimes in danger from outlaws and wild animals. Political tension was building in South Africa between the English settlers and the Boers, of Dutch origin, which would burst into war a decade later.

Warton’s team played twenty matches but 17 were at odds, against local teams with between 15 and 22 players.

J E P played in thirteen of these. A sponsored history of the tour was published by Charles Cox of the Port Elizabeth Advertiser, describing him as “Mr Emile McMaster, moderate bat and fair field,” and summarizing his record as “fairly successful.” But he scored only 107 runs in 17 innings, average 7.2. His top score was a “carefully compiled” 34 not out against XXII from South-Western Districts.

Two of the matches were against 11 players representative of South Africa. To the fury of some cricket statisticians, these were given Test Match and therefore first-class status retrospectively (like England’s first two Tests against Australia). J E P got his chance in the second of these, through injuries. His captain was a young Monty Bowden, himself substituting for the injured C A “Round-The-Corner” Smith, a Sussex amateur bowler, who later became better known as the actor Sir C Aubrey Smith and founder of the celebrated Hollywood Cricket Club.

The match, at Newlands, Cape Town, was played on 25-26 March 1889.

England won the toss and batted first. McMaster came in at Number 9, with the score at 287 for 7, when the renowned Bobby Abel of Surrey was bowled by “Gobo” Ashley for 120. Was J E P disappointed to go in Number 9, three places below the wicket-keeper H Wood? Did he get nervous in the pavilion, watching Abel’s long innings against the persistent Gobo Ashley on a difficult pitch?

No doubt J E P had to wait for the applause for the Surrey professional’s century. He took guard against the left-arm medium Ashley – and was out first ball, caught by Rose-Innes at slip. He took the long walk back, perhaps murmuring an apology to the next batsman, Hon C J Coventry, now facing a hat-trick ball.

The golden duck was the zenith of his career. He fielded out two South African innings in which they were routed for 47 and 43 by Lancashire’s slow left-arm genius Johnny Briggs. He was not required to bowl his rare leg-breaks. He took no catch, as Briggs hit the stumps 14 times in a match analysis of 15-28.

J E P never played another major match. This lone appearance therefore represented his entire first-class career, giving him a record which is impossible to beat. One ball faced, no runs, no wickets, no catches. He is a cricketing Yarborough. That is why he edges out MacBryan from my pantheon of failure. MacBryan had a worthwhile first-class career for Cambridge University and Somerset. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1925. (He was also an England hockey international, and, for a while as a 90-year-old he became England’s oldest living Test player.)

At least J E P was not denied the retrospective glory of an England cap, and at least he knew about it, unlike poor Monty Bowden. He died of fever in Umtali only a few years later, buried in an improvised coffin made of whisky cartons which had to be guarded from marauding lions. (The genius Johnny Briggs died even more tragically in a mental asylum, but Hon C J Coventry survived a premature report of his death and was able to join his own funeral celebrations in his home village).

I like to imagine J E P in later life, toiling at the Bar, bored out of his mind in Chancery. He replays his fatal stroke over and over and turns it into a spanking boundary, the springboard of a career in cricket’s Golden Age. Each year he buys Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, to view his entry in the Test players list.

I think of him playing club or village cricket, with the permanent aura of a Test player, a cherished wicket for opposition bowlers. Deliriously happy schoolboys would tell their mothers “I got McMaster out, the England player!” By contrast, opposing batsmen would pat back his slow half-volleys and long-hops, for “You don’t take chances with McMaster, the England player.”

Pakistan has no McMaster among its Test players. But when I began to research its cricket history, I was often struck by the number of players who made one first-class appearance and then vanished. I especially enjoyed meeting two of these, Brigadier M T K Dotani (who appears on the scorecard as Taimur Hasan) and Mr Shahid Javaid Khan (recorded as Javed Khan) – survivors (with one run between them in four innings) of the Dera Ismail Khan team who set an unsurpassable record of losing a first-class match in 1964 to Pakistan Railways by an innings and 851 runs. They told me a vivid, touching story of a provincial team, mostly of schoolboys and college students, who played for fun on the local parade ground, doing battle against one of the best teams in Pakistan.

But I have seen many more scorecards, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s, where players make one appearance, bat low down the order, score few if any runs, do not keep wicket or bowl, and do not take a catch. McMasters all, and I would love to hear more of their stories.

03. January 2024 by rkh
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The rewards of mediocrity

Published in the Journal of the Cricket Society December 2023

Some are born mediocre, some have mediocrity thrust upon them but some achieve mediocrity only after a lifetime of hard work.

That is the central message of my intended autobiography as a bowler. It is to be called Six And Out, after the role I was usually asked to fill on the school playground of inducing the retirement of the best batter who kept hogging the strike. Over the roof… no need to waste a review there.

I did not get where I am today (no mate, yours is Pitch 94 on the other side of the Marshes, this is Pitch 67) by just rocking up and turning my arm over. It required days and weeks and years of constant practice, sometimes in nets empty of human life, before audiences of bemused bees abandoning their search for nectar in discarded sweet wrappings. At a very rough estimate, I have attempted 18,347 deliveries in some setting or other. These do not include the dead balls resulting from the low roofs of many public nets, which are responsible for the death of flighted spin bowling in our country, but I certainly count my the experimental deliveries on either side of the Equator in the Arcadian Atlantic archipelago of São Tomé e Príncipe. I fully intend to reach 20,000 next year, which will represent my Platinum Jubilee in our summer game.

Of course all these deliveries were self-taught. It would be cruel not to say defamatory to attribute them to any coach.

Another calculation suggests that I have given close to a year of my life to those deliveries. They therefore carry a huge opportunity cost, a term I remember from the rare attention I gave in my old Oxford college to the Economics section of my course. Had I used that time differently, I might have completed the Great Novel whose detailed plot and notes were lost on the memory stick which my cat used as a plaything, or possibly ingested as a snack. In either case, he has yet to return it.

My bowling career had a number of formative events.

The first ended the early career of flighted orthodox legspin. It was the fielders’ collective mutiny by my team mates when I purveyed it on a small rural ground. After only the fourth six they declined to hack through any more nettles and brambles or climb over any more barbed wire to retrieve any others. If I wanted to continue it would have to be in another style. This experience converted me into a workaday slow-medium (well, with a following wind) dibbly-dobbler who could (punches cliché button) “keep an end going” until the captain thought of something better.

After many years in this style and visits to several continents I reached the summit of a mediocre career and made an important discovery. Batters out of form are best served, in the recovery stage, by reliably mediocre bowling. This is far better for technique and confidence-building than feasting on lollipops or facing totally random dross. With this discovery, I had built up a small part-time business as a batting therapist. The therapy consisted simply of bowling at the customer and letting him or her discover that with concentration and appropriate shot selection my deliveries could be hit very hard at or above me. With young customers I made a point of pretending that their straight drives really stung my hands when I tried to catch them or intercept them. (I learnt this from an inspiring early coach of my own, a ”resting” actor who eventually came to permanent rest as a games master. I recommend this to others. Just remember to control your language when the sting is for real.)

This phase was ended by an onset of the Yips, the mysterious and deeply depressing condition which strikes not only at cricketers but also tennis players and golfers, a total memory loss of how to perform a normal but routine action. In my case, the ball simply refused to leave my hand, as if in terror of abandoning its sanctuary. When finally compelled to, it went absolutely anywhere, sometimes at my feet, sometimes backwards imperilling the umpire. For two (punches cliché button) wilderness years, I bowled nothing to any real batter, only in rehearsal to my image in the long mirror at home. No memory of better things returned, and I eventually gave that long mirror to the local poor. It has since assisted a long line of dapper dossers.

This nightmare was ended by unusual means: having a stroke. It was not much of a stroke, more a push to midwicket and a scrambled single than a lacerating square cut, but a real scoring stroke nonetheless. On recovery I discovered that I could bowl again, although far slower than in phase 2. My consultant suggested that the stroke had wiped out the part of my brain which had told me I could not bowl and that I was now using another part which had no memory of this. This is a drastic remedy for the Yips, and has yet to appear in any sporting manual.

I began a third and final phase of slow flighty stuff, taking the opportunity to invent a series of new deliveries. In imitation of Shane Warne’s supposed mystery ball, the zooter, I gave them all names beginning with Z, thus the zombie, the zamboni and the zorker. I am at work on the ultimate mystery ball, the zarathustra. I achieved a new summit of mediocrity and was able to resume my part-time career as a batting therapist. The zombie, the zamboni, the zorker initially flummoxed some customers, especially young ones, until they realized that they need not bother to decode them and that simply getting to their pitch would empower the same satisfying straight drive.

Through all the phases and their plateaux and summits each delivery has required a mighty whirl of the right arm through 540 degrees, about 1 ½ times the normal maximum. Pro-rata, compared to a normal bowler, I have attempted 27,521 deliveries, rather than the officially recorded total, while my right shoulder is consequently 114 years old compared to the birth age of 75 ½ for the left.

Were they all worth it? Yes, on watching one of my recent customers, grandson 2, now aged 11, compile 30 in a competitive match before being compelled to retire (a problem which has never affected me). His innings included several straight drives

Prodnose (the pedantic tormentor I have inherited from the great Beachcomber): No, no, these were surely no ordinary straight drives?

Myself (chastened): So sorry. (Punches cliché button) Several booming straight drives.

I was able to murmur to other admiring onlookers “I taught him those.” I did not of course reveal my methods.

18. December 2023 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The rewards of mediocrity

No Agent, No Baubles…

… and no sale either, when this was offered two years ago

I have been dismissed by my literary agent. Politely but unmistakably, and I was glad to be spared the usual flummeries: pressure of demand from other clients … feel unable to present your work with conviction… never known markets so hostile … None of all that, just goodbye.

This has happened many times in the past fifty years, and it really should not give me such a jar, no more than being hit for more than ten in my solitary over in a cricket match or the swift exits from the room, even by the portly and infirm, when I start to play the piano. But all these events still have to power to jar, indeed to discombobulate me. Some years ago in my cricket career, I suffered from the phenomenon known as the yips, a total loss of control over my bowling. The ball would go anywhere at all, sometimes backwards. Much better bowlers than me have also been victims and many have reported the same symptom. The ball eventually refuses to leave the hand. It becomes virtually a living creature, saying “Don’t let go of me, you know it will not end well.”

Writers can get the literary yips, and the loss of their agent is a regular trigger. It gives them a bleak message: “Nothing you could conceivably write (forget anything you actually want to write) will ever yield me a percentage.” I have the yips now. Everything I have written and was hoping to sell, everything I thought of writing next, is saying “Don’t let go of me. Leave me in the cupboard, the computer’s memory or even that small creative part of your brain. If you release me anywhere it will not end well.”

It is always an ordeal finding a new agent. The painful search through the dwindling list of agents willing to consider a new submission. The elimination of those whose existing clients I cannot stand or (more likely) have never heard of. Trying to persuade the surviving possibles that I would be the perfect addition to their stable (I have written some of my best fiction for this purpose.) Waiting for at least three months before daring to send them a reminder.

Writing is the occupation with the highest opportunity for jealousy and paranoia. Those months of silence always lead me to believe that agents have warned each other that the Heller account is looking for a home again, and that they are arguing fiercely, as in long-ago selection meetings on the school playground: “I had him before. It must be your turn.”

Even without such a sinister conclave, I know that it will be hard to find a new agent at … at … (punches cliché button) oh, all right, at my time of life. He or she will not be expecting a long association in which to develop a mutually profitable career, and is likely to think, well, if this writer is still undiscovered at 73, perhaps there was nothing to discover.

Do writers really need an agent? Alas so, to achieve their ultimate goal. Recently I re-visited George Orwell’s famous essay “Why I Write”, in which he listed four motives for being a writer.

One: sheer egoism. “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death.” Well, indeed, I feel that too.

Two: aesthetic enthusiasm. “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.” Absolutely so, particularly for me after one of my very best jests or even a mere apophthegm.

Three: historical impulse. “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.” Well, yes, although in my case this impulse has been channelled largely into uncovering the careers of obscure cricketers.

Four: political purpose. “Desire to push the world in a certain direction.” Yes, that too. I have devoted much of my writing to what I thought were good causes, latterly saving pangolins from extinction and replacing them with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Orwell was an austere and principled man, and for him those four might have been enough. But for the rest of us, certainly for me, he should have added Five: “To acquire the baubles of vulgar success.” For these, agents are the gatekeepers. Without one, a writer has almost no chance of reaching the markets of vulgar success. This is especially true for a screenwriter. For a studio or individual film maker, an agent offers a basic guarantee that a submitted script is the original work of the writer he or she represents, and if they make it that they will not get hit by an embarrassing and expensive plagiarism suit. Things are a little easier for novelists or non-fiction authors, but not very much. Ever fewer publishers of any size are willing to look at a fresh writer without the wrapping of an agent.

The baubles of vulgar success should not be confused with the baubles of vulgar wealth. When guests at my salons ask directions for the loo, it would be fun to imitate Jeffrey Archer and reply “Turn right at the Picasso.” But this is not essential to me. I ask only for enough vulgar wealth to fund a new upright piano and a Hammond B3 organ.

The baubles I really want are these.

A cheesy photograph of myself in a fashionable eatery with an even cheesier signature, as it might be “To Elena, thanks for the best Negroni in town!”

Autograph hunters.

Countless free samples, even of things I cannot stand.

Good causes begging for my name, not just my money.

Being told by cab drivers about the other Famous Person he had in the back of the cab that day and what a mean sod he was and doubling the tip to avoid figuring in the next version of the story.

Invitations from strangers. I would be only too happy to present the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School and I would not get lit up like Gussie Fink-Nottle.

Requests to sign photographs of children or pets who are “just like you.”

Requests to read the manuscripts of children or pets which are “just like your stuff.”

Intense speculation about the contents of my next book.

Offers of free trips by ghastly governments, to be contemptuously refused.

Requests for interviews with ever more desperate promises of control over the published copy.

Only an agent can secure any of these. After I have enjoyed them all to the maximum, only an agent can lift me as a writer through the ranks of media obituary. The summit would be RICHARD HELLER DIES: I have become a household name. The next level down would be RUBATO AUTHOR DIES: one of my works has become big enough to draw readers to the story, even if I have not. Quite a way below this would be FAMOUS AUTHOR DIES: readers need a sharp nudge to attract their attention.

Without an agent, I am condemned to the lowest section, when only the circumstances of my death, tragic, violent or simply bizarre, create the story.


04. December 2023 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on No Agent, No Baubles…

How to write a rejection letter

Written for a how-to video series for businesses 2010

How do I write a rejection letter?

The writer Evelyn Waugh had a simple and instant method of rejecting proposals from strangers. He sent out a printed card with the words: “Mr Evelyn Waugh cannot do what you wish.”

Waugh did not care if he never heard from the recipient again. In fact, he preferred it that way. For most other people, and for any business or organization, it is worth taking more trouble with a rejection letter.

Even an unwanted proposal represents a free offer to you or your organization. For the sake of good manners alone, it deserves a proper reply. The person making the offer is an actual or potential customer, or partner, or supporter or voter – it’s not just bad manners but bad business to offend him or her. Above all, the next proposal from that person could be of real value to you. Make sure that you get it first, not a competitor.

If you want to stay friends with someone when you send a rejection letter, make it a personal letter not a form response, and follow three basic rules:

• Good manners
• Give the bad news
• Leave the door open for another offer – but make sure it is something you might want

Good Manners

1) A personal letter, not a form. Put your name on it and show your status.

From John Slushpile, Associate Director Non-Fiction, Bingo Publishing

2) Be sure you have addressee’s name right

Mr Augustus Fitz-Wattle Fink-Nottle
Bassett House
Market Snodsbury

3) Say thank you and show appreciation of the rejected offer

Thank you very much for sending us the manuscript of your proposed Complete Guide To British Newts. We were extremely impressed by its painstaking scholarship, particularly on the mating habits of British newts, and by your colourful account of the male newts waggling their tails in the moonlight.

Give The Bad News

1) Give the bad news plainly

However, I have to tell you that we will not be publishing your book

2) Give a clear, understandable reason for your decision

The costs of producing the work at the length you propose (over half a million words) and with so many full-colour illustrations would be prohibitive, and we do not believe that it would find sufficient buyers to recoup them.

3) Make clear there is no appeal against the decision

Our decision on this is final and we cannot enter further correspondence about it.

Leave Door Open For Another Offer

1) Refer to a specific offer if your organization would be ready to look at it.

I did pass your proposal for a children’s story, Finding Newto, to our Children’s Department. If you wish to develop this further, they would be glad to consider it. Please follow their Submission Guidelines, which I enclose.

2) Otherwise, steer addressee in the right direction

Most of our non-fiction list is based on popular history. You may consider writing a book on famous newts who have changed the world. If so, we would very glad to look at it.

03. December 2023 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres | Tags: , | Comments Off on How to write a rejection letter

The Quality Of Mercer Gets Quite Strained

Two new songs by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen

Any Place I Feed My Cat Is Home (for Theo)

Still a kitten
That’s his style
Life is playtime
Makes me smile
Stalks treats in the
Carpet pile
Shreds paper into
An’ any place I feed my cat is home.

Finds a place
To sharpen claws
But not the scratch-post
He ignores
Stops for grooming and
Licks his paws
Loves his brush and
An’ any place I feed my cat is home.

Flies buzzing in his face
Invade his space
Them all got a nerve
Them he has to chase
No help from me
He’ll take them all on.

Out the door
To call on friends
When he’s back
It all depends
Corridor calling
Now it’s time to
I’ll let him have a wander
Into his own yonder
‘Cause any place I feed my cat is home.

Adapted from “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” by Johnny Mercer, music by Harold Arlen

Sinatra’s Last Over

I’m 73
There’s pain in every joint
Especially each knee.
So give me the ball
I really hope I won’t embarrass you all.
I’m bowling, my friend,
At match end,
And we can’t wait to lose:
So it’s one for the over,
And then break out the booze.

I’ve still got my pride:
I’d hate for them to win
This match off a wide.
I’m bending my back
To make the pitch pitch inside
His half of the track.
Let him hit me for four,
Maybe more,
Any place he might choose.
That’s my one for the over:
Now let’s break out the booze.

You’d never know it –
I once knew how to bowl it
The ball that even Ben Stokes couldn’t play,
A total corker, a late reversing yorker…
But now it’s gone away

The evening’s turned cold,
The ball and I are almost
Equally old:
So thanks for the cheer,
I know you think it’s time
I closed my career.
As I call it a day
I can say
That I paid all my dues.
So that’s my one for the over
Now let’s break out the booze
That long awaited booze.

Adapted from “One For My Baby” by Johnny Mercer, Music by Harold Arlen

Published in The Nightwatchman issue 35 Autumn 2021

30. November 2023 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Quality Of Mercer Gets Quite Strained

Meeting The Young Marshal

Published in High Life magazine May 1998

An elderly Chinese gentleman and his wife, both in wheelchairs, are leaving the morning service at a Protestant church in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The woman is still beautiful and elegant. Her husband, behind his thick glasses, is alert and soldierly, his features a mask of dignity. The congregation watches reverently as he and his wife are wheeled into their waiting transport.

I catch sight of him again, in Honolulu, being wheeled out of a luxury apartment block. He passes a line of taxi drivers, waiting by their cabs: they stand to attention and bow.

He might have been a last emperor – and he once ruled a state. He was also once a playboy, a gambler and a drug addict. He is Chang Hsueh-Liang, also known as Peter Chang, or the Young Marshal, or the Dancing Despot – and one of the most fascinating people of the twentieth century.

In 1936 he changed the history of the world. He kidnapped China’s ruler, Chiang Kai-Shek and forced him to abandon his civil war against the Chinese Communists and form a united front with them against the invading Japanese. This event in December 1936, the Sian Incident, led to full-scale war between China and Japan: it opened World War II in the East. The Young Marshal became the hero of China. But, in his moment of destiny, he sacrificed himself for the sake of his country and spent more than 53 years under house arrest, so becoming the longest-serving political prisoner in history.

At the age of 90 he was set free. He remains revered as a patriot both in mainland China and Taiwan. In his current home in Hawaii, he is visited by leading politicians from both governments, seeking his blessing. Chang Hsueh-Liang was born in Mukden, capital of Manchuria, on 2 June 1900, the first son of a hunter-turned-bandit-turned-warlord, Chang Tsolin. Young Chang and his eight brothers went to school in Mukden. He learnt English with a Scots burr from his best friend, Jimmie Elder, son of the Mukden railway director.

At 16 he was married, at 17 a father, at 20 a general in his father’s Manchurian army. At 24, he captured two great cities, Peking and Tientsin, and helped to make his father the arbiter of China. But later his father retreated back to Manchuria from Chiang Kai-Shek’s advancing Nationalist army. He never made it. The Japanese had designs on Manchuria. Through their secret agent, Major Giga, planted on Chang Tsolin as his military adviser, they blew up his private train and killed him.

He left his son a fortune of $50 million (untaxed, in 1928 values) and a state the size of Western Europe, with 30 million people, and an army of half a million and huge, largely untapped mineral and agricultural wealth. At 28, Chang Hsueh-Liang, now the Young Marshal, was the youngest ruler in the world.
Sixty-two years later, on his release from house arrest, Chang told Japanese TV interviewers “My father loved me a lot. He had his first victory in a war on the day I was born and it was on my birthday that he was killed. Since then I have never had a happy birthday and I have changed my birthday. Still, every year I remember him.”

Under the ancient Chinese code, it is a supreme duty for a son to avenge a murdered father. It took ten years, but in 1938 a Manchurian hit squad, paid by Chang, finally caught up with Major Giga in Japan.

The Japanese, already pursuing their aggressive and ultimately catastrophic policy of military expansion, expected young Chang to become their puppet in Manchuria. They knew him already to be an opium user (like many Chinese generals he found it relaxing between battles). Another Japanese secret agent became his doctor and gave him a “cure” – morphine.

But Chang was determined to resist Japan. When he found two of his generals plotting with the Japanese he invited them to play mah-jong and then gunned them down over the tiles. The assassination made him massively popular with his subjects.

For the next three years, Chang struggled to modernize Manchuria and rid it of foreign influence. He donated most of his father’s fortune to found training schools. He used his army to suppress civil war and support anti-Communist Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek as sole ruler of China. It was the start of a long relationship as Chiang Kai-Shek’s disciple, brother-in-arms – and sacrificial victim.

Handsome, energetic and affable, Chang attracted admiring profiles in Western media. In his spare time he drove fast cars, danced, held all-night poker sessions for huge stakes, bought gadgets, wore excellent clothes, took up golf, collected beautiful works of art and calligraphy, loved many women and tried to give up drugs.

He also enjoyed his twin-engined silver monoplane, the Flying Palace, equipped with giant sofas, an ornate desk and an icebox. With a long Chinese robe tucked round his knees and his purple bell-boy cap askew on his head he would perform hair-raising stunts and drop messages to his prostrating troops.

But in September 1931 the Japanese carried out their long-prepared plot to conquer Manchuria. They replaced Chang with Pu Yi, the Last Emperor, as puppet ruler. Ironically, Chang himself had encouraged Pu Yi to return to politics. “I told him ‘when the time comes when China elects its President you have just the qualifications to run’”.

When the Japanese struck, most of his army was out of Manchuria, fighting for Chiang Kai-Shek: Chang himself was in hospital in Peking. He appealed to Chiang Kai-Shek for help, but Chiang order him not to resist. He was counting on the League of Nations to act and was in any case determined to fight the Chinese Communists in preference to the Japanese.

This non-resistance policy was deeply unpopular. To spare Chiang Kai-Shek’s reputation, Chang accepted the blame, as he did later when the Japanese pushed south in China and took Jehol and Peking. Chang announced his “retirement”, aged 36.

He went to Europe, met and admired Mussolini, and set up with his wife and family in London’s Dorchester hotel. He tried to enter Oxford University and had the same hope for his teenage sons, who were given the English names of Raymond and Martin and a tutor in Hove. Chang visited aircraft factories, bought Savile Row suits, went to nightclubs (earning the title of The Dancing Despot), watched Mickey Mouse films and turned up uninvited at the 1933 World Economic Conference. Asked if he expected any result from the Conference, he remarked that “it was a great benefit to hotels”.

Above all, during his British stay Chang finally cured himself of drug addiction.

In 1934 he returned to China, at the head of his exiled Manchurian army, fighting Mao Tse-Tung and the Communists on behalf of Chiang Kai-Shek. Observers noticed that he had dropped his playboy habits for a Spartan regime, and that he spent more and more time with young radical officers. They wanted to fight the Japanese and return to their homeland, not to fight fellow Chinese thousands of miles away. Many of his officers admired the discipline and apparent patriotism of their opponents. Under their influence, Chang opened contacts with the Reds, especially Chou En-Lai, whom he later described as “an intimate and trustworthy old friend.”

In October 1936 Chang appealed to Chiang Kai-Shek to reverse his anti-Communist policy and lead a united front of all Chinese against the Japanese invader.

Chiang Kai-Shek flew to the Manchurian army headquarters in the remote provincial capital of Sian (home of the Terracotta Warriors). He intended to give Chang a dressing down and order him into a final offensive against the Communists. But on 7 December 1936 Chang kidnapped him in his night shirt, and forced him to negotiate with Chou En-Lai and to agree to accept the Communists in an anti-Japanese coalition.

Chang then amazed China by releasing his prisoner. In his Japanese television interview he explained why. “If I had kept Chiang Kai-Shek there would have been a war between the civil government and us. We kidnapped him to avoid war, so I decided to take the responsibility of releasing him.” He also faced heavy pressure from the Communists: Stalin was anxious to preserve Chiang’s authority.

Still more amazingly, Chang left his army and accompanied Chiang Kai-Shek back to his capital in Nanking – as his prisoner. Like Stalin, he still believed that Chiang Kai-Shek alone could lead China, and sought to save his leader’s face as he had before over the Japanese invasions. He gave Chiang a public apology. The sophisticated ex-resident of the Dorchester said “I am naturally rustic, surly and unpolished. This has led me to commit an impudent and criminal act.” He offered to accept any punishment, even death, although he expected a nominal sentence.

Chiang Kai-Shek had him put under house arrest. A month later, Sam Goldwyn offered him a starring part in a film epic about Marco Polo. He was unable to accept the engagement. Although he did not know it, Chang had begun 53 years of imprisonment – comfortable, but still imprisonment. He was joined by his lover – Edith Chao. Eight years earlier, as the beautiful teenaged daughter of a privileged family, she fell instantly in love with him as his dancing partner at a ball in Shanghai. Two years later she caused a society scandal by running away to join him (a married man) in Manchuria. She chose to follow him into captivity and in 1964, after the death of his wife, they were able to marry.

Chang remained under house arrest during the war and the subsequent Chinese civil war. In 1948 the Americans and his own advisers urged Chiang Kai-Shek to release him, as the only man who could save Manchuria from the advancing Communists. But Chiang Kai-Shek refused, and instead sent Chang in an aeroplane to Taiwan, where he remained a state prisoner, never allowed to tell his story.

Chang occupied himself by writing poetry and taking up photography. He played a lot of bridge. Most important, he became a Christian, adopting the name of Peter. On Sundays he was sometimes seen worshipping at the church used by Chiang Kai-Shek. The two men were reported to have retained their staunch friendship, although each still claimed that he was right in the civil war.

In 1990, after Chiang Kai-Shek’s son died, his long captivity was ended. He went to Hawaii, where his younger brother Henry had settled. He moved with Edith into an exclusive apartment block.

When I met him, in 1997, his eyesight and hearing were failing and both he and his wife were wheelchair-bound. They worshipped regularly at their Protestant church in Honolulu but otherwise rarely appeared in public. Whenever he did so, he commanded instant attention and respect. His friend, Hawaii’s first senator Hiram Fong, told me “He is very popular and regarded as a great hero of modern China. When Chinese people see him they want to take his picture.”

He has refused all requests for interviews in Hawaii. In October 1996 he gave personal papers and a history of his life to Columbia University in New York, but at his request they are sealed until 2002. They are housed there in the Peter H L and Edith C Chang Reading Room, in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library where there is a small permanent exhibition of his life.

Mr Chang has spoken to his congregation and written about his discovery of Christianity. Their faith clearly meant much to him and his wife: he was a benefactor of his church and she wrote four books about Christianity and Bible reading.

It was at church that I met them both after the Chinese language service which they attended on the first Sunday in Advent. Mrs Edith Chang was still beautiful in her 80s, with dark hair and neat features. She had respiratory problems but appeared bright and composed. Her husband, in his 98th year, kept the soldierly air of the Young Marshal. A figure of great dignity, wearing a check shirt-jacket and a black skull cap, he followed the service attentively. One of the hymns (in Chinese) was Fight The Good Fight.

He shook my hand firmly and when I said slowly and loudly that I came from London, England, he broke into a radiant smile – perhaps recalling happy memories of the Dorchester. He had great personal magnetism, equal (in my experience) to Nelson Mandela. I also sensed a vigorous mind – an impression confirmed to me by his regular mah-jongg partner, Robert Woo: the pilot who flew him to Taiwan on Chiang Kai-Shek’s orders nearly 50 years earlier.

Apart from mah-johngg, I was told that he followed the news each day. His wife’s great-niece, Mrs Li, visited him each day and read him newspaper stories, especially ones about China, international affairs and American politics. She told me that his memories were still vivid and accurate and that he was still in touch with people he had known 70 years before, including Mussolini’s daughter.

But she also told me that he was constantly baffled by his reputation for being a dancer. “I never danced,” he would say, “I was always marching”.

May 1998

Postscript (2000)

At the end of May 2000, Chang Hseuh-Liang had an advance celebration of his 100th birthday, with his wife and family members, and many prominent visitors including representatives of the Chinese and Taiwan governments. A film crew recorded the celebrations and his thoughts on a long and crowded life, which he predicted to last another five years. (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, widow of his captor, is still alive in New York, aged 103).

But a month later his wife Edith died of pneumonia, aged 88, ending a loving relationship of 72 years. Heartbroken, Chang Hseuh-Liang held her hands tightly as her life ebbed away. A few months later he died peacefully, aged 100.

22. November 2023 by rkh
Categories: Journalism | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Meeting The Young Marshal

What has the ICC done for Afghanistan’s women cricketers?

As Afghanistan’s men rightly celebrate their achievements in the World Cup there are questions for the International Cricket Council about its women. My letter below, repeated twice, unanswered thrice.

Media office
International Cricket Council

I am a British author and journalist who writes regularly about cricket. I am co-presenter of a weekly cricket-themed podcast, with a global following. I would be grateful for the following information about the ICC’s policy towards Afghan cricket, which is not available on its website.

1) What decisions on this matter did the ICC reach in its Board meeting in March this year? Some media report that it gave the Afghan Cricket Board its full allocation of the shared revenues from international cricket (a considerable uplift from the last such allocation) and also offered technical help in the training of male coaches. No conditions were attached. Is this correct?
2) If any conditions were attached, how is the ACB’s compliance being monitored?
3) Have there been any amendments to the ICC’s decisions since then?
4) It was also reported in several sources that the ICC had rejected proposals to allocate part of these revenues to Afghan women in exile, on the grounds that only national boards are entitled to spend money on any aspect of their country’s cricket. Is this correct?
5) The ICC set up a Working Party on Afghanistan in November 2021. How many times has it visited the country since then?
6) The Working Party had no women members. Did it include any female staff? If not, was this a deliberate decision by the ICC and if so, what were its motives?
7) The absence of women in the Working Party would have inhibited its ability to speak to any Afghan women in the country. Did it make any efforts to achieve this and did they have any success?
8) Did the Working Party provide any means for women and other persecuted groups to give evidence to it in secret?
9) Did the Working Party contain anyone with knowledge of the principal languages of Afghanistan, who was able to read a document and understand a conversation in them?
10) The website and annual report of the Afghan Cricket Board show no female members or staff. Did the Working Party see any female influence on the work of the Board?
11) The website and annual report show no cricket of any kind by women or girls in Afghanistan in 2022. Did the Working Party observe any?
12) What impression did the Working Party receive of the actual control over cricket exercised by the Board in all parts of the country (and indeed of the authority of the central government)?
13) Did the Working Party observe any male cricket matches in Afghanistan? If so, were women among the spectators and what conditions were imposed upon them? How and by whom were these matches policed?
14) Did the Working Party understand the public order régime under which cricket matches are played in Afghanistan?
15) Is cricket broadcast and televised in Afghanistan? If so, by whom and under what conditions imposed by the Taliban government or local leaders?
16) In relation to questions 12 to 15, did the Working Party detect any influence by the restored Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Restoration of Virtue? This body made itself detested in the first period of Taliban rule for its cruelty, fanaticism and extortion.
17) Did the Working Party receive any information from male cricketers about the conditions under which they play inside the country? For many reasons they and their families may be especially vulnerable to duress from the Taliban nationally or locally.
18) Many of those male cricketers will have sisters or other female relatives who want to play cricket or at least watch it. Were they asked about them and their ambitions? If so, what responses did they receive? Negative ones would be as instructive as positive.
19) Media reports indicate constantly that living conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating, especially for women and persecuted minorities. The already exiguous prospects for women cricketers in the country were hit still further by Taliban decrees banning women from public parks, schools and universities and unaccompanied journeys. Stonings have been restored as punishments (possibly in stadiums used for cricket.) Has the ICC sought or received any information on these matters from the remaining NGOs working in Afghanistan?
20) What is the rationale behind the ICC’s decision to maintain Afghanistan’s full member status? What steps has the ICC taken to ensure that the benefits of this status flow to Afghanistan’s cricketers and cricket lovers of all genders, faiths and ethnic origins and are not appropriated by national or local Taliban leaders?

I hope you would agree that these are reasonable questions and that the ICC would find it beneficial to publish a response.

Richard Heller

03. November 2023 by rkh
Categories: Journalism, Politics | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on What has the ICC done for Afghanistan’s women cricketers?

Hands Off Private Eye!

David Wolfe Esq QC
Press Recognition Panel   17 October 2018

Dear Mr Wolfe,

I would be grateful if you could confirm, clarify or deny the report in Private Eye that the Panel intends to carry out “a high-level assessment” of that publication as part of consideration “of how far the public is currently protected from potential harm.” I could find no mention of this assessment on the Panel’s website.

Private Eye quoted the Panel as saying “we are often asked to give a view” on the subject, although it is not clear what subject is referred to. How many requests has it has received for an inquiry into Private Eye, and if there are any at all, has the Panel made any check into their origin? Were they from disinterested members of the public, or did they emanate from any of the powerful people and businesses which have sought to suppress Private Eye over the years?

As you should well know, Private Eye has never carried out any of the practices against members of the general public which prompted the Leveson Inquiry and the ensuing creation of the Panel. On the contrary, it has regularly championed “ordinary people” who have been victimized by incompetents or wrongdoers in high places. The latter will be the only beneficiaries of any inquiry into Private Eye, and this is therefore likely to bring the Panel into contempt.

If the Panel wants a worthwhile subject to investigate, it might turn to the media which have sold themselves to Saudi Arabia, or indeed other interests which have used their power over their content.

For clarity: I occasionally submit proposals to Private Eye but have never been paid by them.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller

17. October 2018 by rkh
Categories: Journalism, Politics | Tags: | Comments Off on Hands Off Private Eye!

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