Scotland's cricket team before a 2014 match against England. Photo: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
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“Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it”: in search of Scotland's willow

Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support the national game.

My two Scots boys are a great credit to my Scots grandfather. In the 1920s, he wooed my English grandmother with raw herring, porridge and whisky on Eilean nan Ròn, a now uninhabited island off the northern coast of Scotland. My half-Scottish mother was delighted with the SNP’s showing in the recent elections and occasionally I wear the Mackay tartan of my grandfather’s clan. I live in Glasgow but I’m English. I am also addicted to cricket.

Before coming here in 1996, I was worried that I would be bereft of the game. Cricket is not widely appreciated in Scotland. However, in 2005, captivated by the wonderful Ashes series, my elder son, Tom, then aged five, started to play and his brother, Angus, soon followed. Cricket is now perhaps a bigger part of my life than it ever was.

Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland, set in New York after the 9/11 attacks, is about a Dutch banker seeking a sense of society among a group of Asian, Caribbean and other outsiders who comprise a cricket-playing underworld. In Scotland, too, the cricketing fraternity is rather eclectic. Several times a week, we’ll drive anywhere in the radius of 30 miles or so that encompasses the Western District Cricket Union. Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support and play Scotland’s national game – as Richard “Siggy” Young describes it in the recent book As the Willow Vanishes.

Young traces the origins of cricket’s decline north of the border to the rise of Glasgow as an urban centre in the 1870s, when the city’s extensive parkland gave way to housing. Clubs had flourished in the mid-Victorian period. Association football arrived to provide winter recreation for the nation’s cricketers but, needing less space and being more resilient to the weather, it soon took off. The world’s first international football match, a goalless draw between Scotland and England, was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground in Partick in 1872. Even Hampden Park was initially a cricket pitch.

Cricket remained popular for much of the first part of the 20th century. Douglas Jardine, England’s “bodyline” captain who captured the Ashes in Australia in the 1930s, was born to Scottish parents; the great Tony Greig’s father was also Scottish. Greig was preceded as England captain by Mike Denness, another west-of-Scotlander, in the 1970s.

On a Friday evening, it is wonderful to be here in Scotland and still reminisce with other cricket enthusiasts about great Test matches of the past. I can sit with people who will laugh spontaneously on hearing that, say, reviled umpire Shakoor Rana had invited Mike Gatting to stay at his house whenever he liked.

The sepia-tinged photos in the clubhouses, too, show the ghosts of Scotland’s cricketing past walking the meadows of its history. I know of few views more attractive than that across the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground to Partick Burgh Hall, or the quaint, whitewash-walled splendour of Greenock’s ground at Glenpark. Gordon Greenidge, a star of the West Indian teams that dominated world cricket, played at Glenpark for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s. It was my friend Kenny Godsman, a former club captain at Greenock and a member of the board of Cricket Scotland, who told me that. And it was again Kenny who once proclaimed, “Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

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Brexit confusion is scuppering my show – what next?

My week, from spinning records with Baconface, Brexit block and visiting comedy graves.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I am in the process of previewing a new live show, which I hope to tour until early 2018. It was supposed to be about how the digital, free-market society is reshaping the idea of the individual, but we are in the pre-Brexit events whirlpool, and there has never been a worse time to try to assemble a show that will still mean anything in 18 months’ time.



A joke written six weeks ago about dep­orting eastern Europeans, intended to be an exaggeration for comic effect, suddenly just reads like an Amber Rudd speech – or, as James O’Brien pointed out on LBC, an extract from Mein Kampf.

A rude riff on Sarah Vine and 2 Girls 1 Cup runs aground because there are fewer people now who remember Vine than recall the briefly notorious Brazilian video clip. I realise that something that gets a cheer on a Tuesday in Harrogate, or Glasgow, or Oxford, could get me lynched the next night in Lincoln. Perhaps I’ll go into the fruit-picking business. I hear there’s about to be some vacancies.



I sit and stare at blocks of text, wondering how to knit them into a homogeneous whole. But it’s Sunday afternoon, a time for supervising homework and finding sports kit. My 11-year-old daughter has a school project on the Victorians and she has decided to do it on dead 19th-century comedians, as we had recently been on a Music Hall Guild tour of their graves at the local cemetery. I wonder if, secretly, she wished I would join them.

I have found living with the background noise of this project depressing. The headstones that she photographed show that most of the performers – even the well-known Champagne Charlie – barely made it past 40, while the owners of the halls outlived them. Herbert Campbell’s obelisk is vast and has the word “comedian” written on it in gold leaf, but it’s in the bushes and he is no longer remembered. Neither are many of the acts I loved in the 1980s – Johnny Immaterial, Paul Ramone, the Iceman.



I would have liked to do some more work on the live show but, one Monday a month, I go to the studios of the largely volunteer-run arts radio station Resonance FM in Borough, south London. Each Wednesday night at 11pm, the masked Canadian stand-up comedian Baconface presents selections from his late brother’s collection of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s jazz, psychedelia, folk, blues and experimental music. I go in to help him pre-record the programmes.

Baconface is a fascinating character, whom I first met at the Cantaloupes Comedy Club in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1994. He sees the radio show as an attempt to atone for his part in his brother’s death, which was the result of a prank gone wrong involving nudity and bacon, though he is often unable to conceal his contempt for the music that he is compelled to play.

The show is recorded in a small, hot room and Baconface doesn’t change the bacon that his mask is made of very often, so the experience can be quite claustrophobic. Whenever we lose tapes or the old vinyl is too warped to play, he just sits back and utters his resigned, philosophical catchphrase, “It’s all bacon!” – which I now find myself using, as I watch the news, with ­depressing regularity.



After the kids go to sleep, I sit up alone and finally watch The Lady in the Van. Last year, I walked along the street in Camden where it was being filmed, and Alan Bennett talked to me, which was amazing.

About a month later, on the same street, we saw Jonathan Miller skirting some dog’s mess and he told me and the kids how annoyed it made him. I tried to explain to them afterwards who Jonathan Miller was, but to the five-year-old the satire pioneer will always be the Shouting Dog’s Mess Man.



I have the second of the final three preview shows at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre in London before the new show, Content Provider, does a week in big rooms around the country. Today, I was supposed to do a BBC Radio 3 show about improvised music but both of the kids were off school with a bug and I had to stay home mopping up. In between the vomiting, in the psychic shadow of the improvisers, I had something of a breakthrough. The guitarist Derek Bailey, for example, would embrace his problems and make them part of the performance.



I drank half a bottle of wine before going on stage, to give me the guts to take some risks. It’s not a long-term strategy for creative problem-solving, and that way lies wandering around Southend with a pet chicken. But by binning the words that I’d written and trying to repoint them, in the moment, to be about how the Brexit confusion is blocking my route to the show I wanted to write, I can suddenly see a way forward. The designer is in, with samples of a nice coat that she is making for me, intended to replicate the clothing of the central figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 German masterpiece Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.



Richard Branson is on the internet and, just as I’d problem-solved my way around writing about it, he’s suggesting that Brexit might not happen. I drop the kids off and sit in a café reading Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. I am interviewing him about it for the Guardian in two weeks’ time. It’s 1,174 pages long, but what with the show falling apart I have read only 293 pages. Next week is half-term. I’ll nail it. It’s great, by the way, and seems to be about the small lives of undocumented individuals, buffeted by the random events of their times.

Stewart Lee’s show “Content Provider” will be on in London from 8 November. For more details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage