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Machote leans his elbows onto the bar and nudges his small glass of brandy a little further towards the red, plastic box of serviettes. He looks at the serviettes with rheumy eyes as though trying to decide whether or not to take one.

“I thought cricket was knocking wooden balls through hoops,” he says.

“No,” you reply patiently. “That’s croquet.” It is surprising how many Spaniards think the same.

“Then it’s that game that’s like baseball,” he nods slowly, tentatively. He shifts his weight a little on the barstool and turns his unshaven face towards the sunlight streaming in through the finger-smudged glass doors. The air-conditioning unit groans and rattles above the window, dripping water into the street.

“Not as such,” you say. “Not really like baseball at all.”

Machote frowns at his glass, brandy yielding little pleasure these days. He sniffs and takes one of your cigarettes without asking. “I’m stopping smoking,” he says. He rubs a grimy hand over his chin. It is an unforgiving, red rash of raw skin.

“You’ve shaved off your beard,” you say.

He shakes his head and turns away now from the sunlight. “I lost it,” he says, “in a bet. I bet it against a glass of brandy and lost.” He tries to smile but his face is unable to produce the gesture. Maybe it’s not his face but something unrelenting, deeper inside. “I bet my beard that Spain would lose this morning,” he said. “And, of course, they didn’t.”

“You see, the difference between cricket and baseball…,” you begin, but Machote interrupts sadly.

“I don’t know how you play baseball either,” he says.

So, where to start? What to tell him?

“The game starts in the morning and goes on till half past six in the evening. They stop for lunch and tea. If it’s an International it lasts for five days.”

“That’s bollocks!” he says, reaching for another of your cigarettes, which he slips behind his ear for later. He looks up at the television. Japanese cartoons and a news flash flickering across the bottom of the screen. Artillery fire across the Cashmere border between India and Pakistan.

“They’re dangerous bastards,” grunts Beef Tea from further down the bar, flicking his newspaper, annoyed at being taken half way across the world and into a situation he doesn’t understand. And then, “Give me a beef tea.” Suddenly he stops, glances at the clock and rectifies quickly, “No time…., better make it a Nesquik.” A boiled sweet is placed strategically into the corner of one of his hollow cheeks.

And you wonder what he could possibly have to do that was so pressing.

 “Imagine football lasting for five days,” Machote grins into the brandy you are going to have to buy for him, “You’d die of boredom.”

“You sometimes do in cricket,” you admit.

“That game with hoops?” Beef Tea pipes up, uninvited, from behind you, top lip curled away from the scalding surface of his hot chocolate. He’d have been quicker having a luke-warm beef tea.

“That’s croquet,” Machote informs him knowledgably.

Beef Tea stands, or rather sits, corrected.

“Is it?” he says, more interested now in savouring his sweet, milky drink than entering into a discussion with the likes of Machote. Or, you fear, you. He begins to stir the hot chocolate rhythmically, his bony hand stiff, the movement made by the flexing of his wrist alone.

“Look,” you say to Machote, “Do you want me to tell you about cricket or not?”

Machote looks up at you as though seeing you for the first time. “Not really, no,” he says. “Fuck that!”

So you are left alone with your memories of Sobers, Kanhai, Gibbs, Hall, Hunte, Butcher and you think what wonderful names they had: Garfield, Rohan, Wesley, Lance, Conrad, Basil Fitzpatrick… No wonder that with a simple name like Paul you had been such a useless opening bat. Mind you, at that time, the English team had been made up of pretty common names, all things considered: Geoff Boycott, Kens Barrington and Higgs, Ted Dexter, Jim Parks, Fred Titmus. Maybe Paul was too posh for the times. Strange. It’s like the Colombians in bullfighting. They always have weird names too, names like Washington Rodríguez, Wellington López, Emerson Gutierrez, whereas the Spaniards are called José, Miguel or Julián. You think of sharing this with Machote, but only for a moment. He is smoking seriously, like someone who is not sure when they will get the chance to smoke again. Then suddenly he looks back towards you, takes the cigarette from his mouth and holds it between his thumb and his forefinger, the end cupped in his hand. He looks at you, his face sad and apologetic.

“So what do they use the hoops for?” he says. 

16 May 2010
Keywords: Laughing Fish (2)
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I wrote this some time ago for a project about cricket that didn't make it off the ground. It seemed relevant following José Tomás's recent goring in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (More Laughing Fish from the same project are likely to follow)


You walk down to the bar at about six-thirty to get a good seat to watch the bullfight. It’s the beginning of San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, and the most important sequence of bullfights in the world. Every day for four weeks. When you were eleven years old, your Dad took you to Trent Bridge to see England against the West Indies. Gary (then still Garfield) Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lance Gibbs – Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, John Snow, Ken Higgs (with that silly movement of his bottom before he began his run up). Like today, Sunday 19th May, 2002, it was a sunny day. England were soundly beaten and you returned home chastened, to have nightmares about having to face Wes Hall. Nightmares are different now. They’re more like thinking you still look like Bob Dylan on the cover of The Times They Are A-Changiin’ when you really look like the cover of Time Out Of Mind. So, you look through the window of the bar, Palentino, and think that it’s a long way from Trent Bridge to Madrid, the smell of freshly cut grass to the smell of sand and cigars, the whites to the brilliant colours, the slow playing out of the day to an instant of black, storming power and adrenaline. And the dreams are different too…

“When you’re gored by a bull, it’s not like they tell you it is – a feeling of heat, like you’re burning, on fire. The pain is never the same when you’re gored. Each time is different. I remember, once, in Mexico: I was gored by a bull. Right between the legs. It hurt so much I thought the horn had gone all the way up into my stomach. My whole body was in pain at the same time. I thought it was the end. My eyes clouded over, I couldn’t see, and all I could think was that I wanted to die, just to make the pain stop. Sometimes, though, you don’t feel anything, It’s like nothing’s happened. You carry on fighting. You hear the crowd cheering and they sort of bear you up. Then, when they take you to the infirmary, there’s this fucking great hole in your leg, the blood sucking and bubbling out as your heart beats. But you’ve got to be prepared to let the bull kill you…..

“Of course, you’re frightened. Sometimes, when you wake up in the hotel room on the day of a big fight. And it suddenly comes back to you. You realise where you are and why you are there. And you just want to disappear. Come back to life the next day, when it’s all over. You lie in bed, looking through the window as the tops of the trees are blown in the wind, the undersides of the leaves shimmering almost silver, and you hear the birds singing. You can hear some kids out in the park playing football, their feet scuffing across the ground, the ball scudding and bouncing. That’s when you start to cling to life. When it’s all so simple. You want to see, to smell and to listen to everything… all at the same time. You cling to life because you know you might lose it in a few hours time. But you need to feel bad. It’s all part of it. It’s like a drug which changes your whole personality and leaves you silent for hours. You’re not hungry, you’re not thirsty. But your stomach’s empty and your mouth is dry….”

A quarter to seven and the bar is filling up. You look round, and they’re all there: Beef Tea, Machote, Father Christmas, Casto and then you look up at the television. The camera is focussing on the weather-vane at Las Ventas, the Madrid bullring. Instead of a cock it is a bull and you think that it would be good if that was where “cock and bull story” came from. 


11 May 2010
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England was good. No rain fell. Even London looked fine in the sun, blossom on the trees and the buses clean and shiny. I made friends in The Caxton with a BNP supporter, but he bought me drinks so I forgave him. 'Selling lots of books?' he asked one night. 'Sadly not,' I told him. Then back to Anerley with TP to listen to miserable songs and to think about what might have been, the whisky bottle as sternly present as the memories. One day I walked from Tower Hill to Holburn, read with MD, HH and GvdR, but MMB was sadly sick and didn't make it, which was a shame. Back in Spain now and it is surprisingly cold and wet. It won't last. But then, what does?

8 May 2010
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New Site, New Blog

After dabbling in MySpace and FaceBook, I now have a proper website which was designed by Keith Williamson ( and this blog is part of it. I've not quite decided what to do with it, but I'm sure I'll think of something, although I do not intend to turn into a traditional blogger as I can't really see myself having time for that. I have been told that if you know anything about RSS, you can subscribe to the blog to receive updates as they happen.

8 April 2010
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