Comfort-break songs

Those who come here regularly know that I’m stuck in a time-warp when it comes to music. Early sixties to mid seventies. 99% of the music I listen to was made then. It’s not that I dislike the music made before or after; it’s more to do with the fact that so much great music was made during that time that I feel no need to travel beyond those bounds.

Just look at this list. Maybe 1500 albums produced by them. There isn’t enough time left in my life to do them justice.

Allman Brothers. America. The Animals. The Band. Joan Baez. Beatles. Bee Gees. Chuck Berry. Blind Faith. Blood Sweat and Tears. Bob Marley and the Wailers. Booker T and the MGs. David Bowie. Dave Brubeck. Buffalo Springfield. Byrds. Carpenters. Ray Charles. Chicago. Joe Cocker. Leonard Cohen. Elvis Costello. Cream. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Jim Croce. Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Miles Davis. Deep Purple. John Denver. Neil Diamond. Donovan. Doobie Brothers. Doors. Bob Dylan. The Eagles. Elvis. Emerson Lake and Palmer. Fairport Convention. Jose Feliciano. Fotheringay. Fleetwood Mac. Aretha Franklin. Grand Funk Railroad. Grateful Dead. Guess Who. Jimi Hendrix. Herman’s Hermits. John Lee Hooker. Iron Butterfly. Michael Jackson. Jefferson Airplane. Jethro Tull. Janis Joplin. BB King. Carole King. King Crimson. The Kinks. Led Zeppelin. Lindisfarne. Gordon Lightfoot. Loggins and Messina. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Magna Carta. Mamas and Papas. John Martyn. Matthews Southern Comfort. John Mayall. Don Mclean. Melanie. Joni Mitchell. Wes Montgomery. Moody Blues. Van Morrison. Nana Mouskouri. New Riders of the Purple Sage.  Pentangle. Peter Paul and Mary. Pink Floyd. Queen. Otis Redding. Rolling Stones. Roxy Music. Carlos Santana. Seals and Croft. Simon and Garfunkel. Sly and the Family Stone. Steely Dan. Steppenwolf. Cat Stevens. Supertramp. James Taylor. Temptations. Ten Years After. Traffic. Velvet Underground. Ventures. Tom Waits.  The Who. Stevie Wonder. Yes.

The hundred acts above, in their multiple incarnations. With their associated acts that I haven’t bothered to list, of the Derek/Dominos class. There’s a male/white bias I guess, but not a conscious one. It’s what came down the funnel I had my ear to in those days.

One of the odd things this list did was to play long songs. I used to wonder why they were so popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Quite by chance, re-reading a Graham Nash interview, I came across a then-DJ’s comment on this and it all made sense. Long songs were the saviour the DJs were looking for, so that they could take a cigarette break.

“Cigarette breaks” are probably not in vogue any more, they’ve been replaced by other things that are antisocial, keep your hands busy, are rumoured to cause cancer and form pinpricks of light dotting the audience in modern concerts. Mobile phones.

At work we used to have cigarette breaks. Then , in the early nineties, we started calling them loo breaks in order not to point fingers at smokers. More recently, we’re calling them comfort breaks, even though many people don’t use them to go to the loo. That way the mobile phone addict doesn’t feel victimised.

I don’t listen to modern music and have no idea what modern DJs do. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the return of vinyl is accompanied by the return of Long Songs, so that the DJs squeeze in some “social media interaction” time.

Comfort-break songs.

Here are a few more from my favourite time, to add to the ones I posted about years ago.





Going to the match: more thoughts on tolerance




I wonder what LS Lowry would have made of it. As a teenager in Calcutta during the 1960s and 1970s, I never quite experienced the sensation of “going to the match” the way that Lowry had portrayed.


We went to the matches.

Matches, plural. Not match. Because all the stadia were in the same area. To borrow a simile from the world of horse-racing, they were so close you could have covered all of them with a blanket.

In those days there were three main teams, East Bengal, Mohan Began and Mohammedan Sporting. The league only consisted of ten or twelve teams, so they played each other quite a few times. The sporting schedule had not been destroyed by the ravages of TV scheduling, so all matches took place at the same time on the same day.

And we all went to the matches. One stream of people, comprised of supporters of all the clubs. Intermingled. Unsegregated.


There was occasional violence, but it was rare. Keeping the peace was seen as a collective responsibility, a social responsibility. It worked. Because there were social brakes. We even called that violence “anti-social behaviour”.

When I came to England in 1980 I lived in Blundellsands, near Liverpool, for a while. It was only a matter of time before I made my way to Stanley Park for the first time and chose one of the clubs there as “my” club. I happened to choose Liverpool FC because the story of Bill Shankly had travelled as far as Calcutta, and because I’d heard of Keegan and Dalglish et al.


When I went for my first “derby”, I felt at home. It felt like Calcutta again. For sure Anfield was full of Liverpool fans, but there was a considerable number of Everton fans as well. And for the most part they sat together, unsegregated.

I have good friends who are Everton supporters, and I treasure the friendship. These things are important.

It’s not always perfect. I have seen violence at Merseyside derbies, it’s been there before and it will be there again. Despite those forays into uncivil behaviour, I think it remains largely true that Everton and Liverpool supporters heave learnt to live with each other, able to compete without the need for contempt.

If not for this, households and families would otherwise be riven beyond redemption. And that’s not a good thing.

This year, we’ve had one or two fairly significant “polarising” events: the “Brexit” referendum in the UK, the US Presidential election. Once again, households and families had the risk of being riven. If we allowed them to be.

We cannot allow that. We must not allow that.

I live with people who voted to leave and with people who voted to remain. I count both sets among my friends.

I work with people who voted Republican and with people who voted Democrat. I count both sets among my friends.

Democracy is about the 100% rather than about the 51% or the 49%. Or whatever other split you care to come up with.

There was a time when ballots were open, often oral. But that created the risk of corruption using force or finance or fear. The move to secret ballots was a partial response. It came with its weaknesses and corruptions as well. More recently, as ballots are often numbered and associated with registered voter numbers, the secrecy of the ballot is threatened.

What matters is not the secrecy of the ballot. What matters is the right and ability to cast one’s vote without fear or favour. If we lose that we lose some key aspects of civilisation.

I am not a deep student of politics, but I do get the sense that of late, politicians appear to be more interested in being re-elected, in ensuring their party stays in power, to the detriment of actually serving the electorate, which by the way is the 100% and not one side or another. So we see gerrymandering, the creation of landslide returning districts and constituencies, the concentration of neighbourhoods into homogeneous single-party voter groups.

Sustaining power that way comes with an ugly consequence, 21st century tribalism at its worst. I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better. More on that specific thread in the months to come, if I can bring myself to write in depth about it.

Today’s a day when tradition calls for wishing all of you peace on earth and goodwill to all. Whatever you believe in, I wish you peace. Peace and the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with.

I have read reports that the ancient civilisations of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa showed no trace of weapons or warlike behaviour. That’s yet to be proven, the jury is still out. Cynics would say “and besides, the civilisations aren’t around any more”.

I wish you peace. And the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with. That includes giving them the right to have their opinion.


Highs and lows

Yup, it’s another cricket statistics post. Continue at your peril.

Last week England lost a Test match (the 5th Test in Chennai) by an innings, after scoring 477 in the 1st innings, that too after winning the toss and choosing to bat first. The defeat followed on the heels of a similar defeat in the previous Test match, where England had scored 400 in the 1st innings.

That made me think. What are the highest 1st innings scores where the side batting first has gone on to lose the match? And as a corollary, what are the lowest 1st innings scores where the side batting first has gone on to win the match?

Here they are:

Highest first innings total for a team batting first that went on to lose the match:

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That’s right, the recent England loss doesn’t even make it into the top ten.

And here’s the corollary. Lowest first innings total for a team batting first that went on to win the match:

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 22.25.54.png

Score 586 and lose. Score 45 and win.


Joi Bangla



Growing up in Calcutta was an interesting experience. I was there from late 1957 to late 1980. Twenty-three whole years and a little bit more. Never lived anywhere else during that time, though I visited most of the usual places, not just the Delhi, Bombay, Madras “presidencies”, not just the Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Nagpur “satellites” but including the Durgapurs and the Dindiguls, the Asansols and the Agras, the Puris and the Pondicherrys, the Kanpurs and Kharagpurs and Kodaikanals, the Bhopals and the Burdwans.

But I never lived anywhere else. Just Calcutta. Formative years, formative times. Times where there were relatively few real influences on me, few that had a lasting impact: my family; my friends; the school and college I went to; and the city of Calcutta.


Since leaving Calcutta, I’ve spent the next 36 years living in and around London, particularly west London and west of London. Nearly thirty of those years have been in one place, Windsor.

On my next birthday I shall complete six decades on earth. By then I hope to have become a grandfather for the second time.

I love walking. Not just in order to go somewhere. Sometimes the somewhere I want to go is not a somewhere at all, the reason for the walk is the walk. When I go for a walk walk, I think about many things. One of those things is to understand my influences, what makes me do what I do, how long I’ve been doing it, why it matters.

Of late much of my soul-searching has been on the topic of tolerance. Sometimes I think of it as a sense of inclusiveness, as an avoidance of disenfranchisement. But most of the time it’s about not being judgmental. It’s something deep in me, something I can remember as being part of me for a very long time. It made me treat emotions like malice and jealousy as anathema. I could see that my family had a lot to do with my feeling that way, we were a tolerant and inclusive lot. We still are. I could see that my friends and neighbours clearly added to that influence. The school and college I went to definitely played their part. All this seems clear to me.

But there had to be something more. And the more I think about it, I come to the conclusion that that something more was Calcutta. The city of Calcutta. Its people. The ambience and atmosphere. Whatever was in the water.


When I was there it was the capital of tolerance. Passionate argument about anything and everything, but rarely coming to blows. It was normal for me to be in a class with Hindus and Christians, Parsis and Sikhs, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and atheists. It was normal for me to go one week to a Navjote and the next to a Punjabi wedding. It was normal for me to go get intrinsically Jewish food from Nahoums one evening and then to go to Nizams for an as intrinsically Muslim a dish as a beef kati roll.


The city had clear quarters and districts along cultural, even race, lines. You knew when you were in a Bengali part of town, a Marwari area, an Anglo-Indian locality or the ubiquitous Chinatown. Yet you were never an interloper when you went to any and all of them.

You knew when you were in a rich part of the city; you knew when you were deep in the slums; sometimes they were so close they nearly overlapped. But you could move from one to the other without let or hindrance.

There was always something “political” going on. The shadow of the Naxalite movement was strong during my teens, though I’d been too young to really experience it at its peak. And there was always a “democratically elected Communist party” doing what it could, niggling forever at the central “Congress”. [My father had brought me up reading, and enjoying reading, the Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. I tend to think we had our own little Po valley village in Bengal, with our own Don Camillo and our own Peppone.]


The last time I visited Calcutta with my family was six years ago, Christmas 2010. [I have been since, but on my own]. We had our Christmas meal as an extended family, the Rangaswamis and the Subramaniams (our cousins) with the Sillimans and the Kapoors (neighbours we’ve known since the late 1960s). South Indians and Punjabis and Baghdadis, Christians and Hindus and Jews, Calcuttans to the core, friends for over fifty years, breaking bread together. [Flower Silliman, who hosted us, could have served me cardboard and not only would I have eaten it, I’d probably have asked for the recipe. An amazing cook].

Maybe I’m looking back at that past, at those formative years in Calcutta, with spectacles tinted deep rose. Maybe.

But I think it’s something else. I really do think that there was something unjudgmental, inclusive, tolerant about the place, something in the very ethos of Calcutta.

I’ve often wondered as to where that ethos came from, what that communal spirit was founded on.

I have a hypothesis.

That very tolerance, the love that characterises Calcutta, is actually the consequence of of dealing with the victims of hate.

There was an attempt at partitioning Bengal in 1905, with all kinds of political reasons, but with the consequence of fomenting hate on sectarian lines. The attempt didn’t last long. But it was resuscitated forty years later, with terrible consequences. Man being very inhuman to man. The Partition Riots scarred everyone who was alive then.

The house I was born in had this unusual sculpture in the driveway. if you looked at it from the right angle, the fused mess of metal pottage resembled an old car. For good reason. It used to be a car. Until it was set alight during the riots, a decade before I was born. The doors of that house (and they seem massive in my memory) bore partition riot scars as well, the marks of battering rams as Hindu hunted Muslim and vice versa.

Whenever I tried to speak to my father about those days, there was silence. And a thousand-yard stare.

That was before I was born.

When I was a teenager, something else happened, tangentially rooted in the same Partition. East Pakistan decided that enough was enough, that it no longer wanted to be connected to West Pakistan, separated as they were by the breadth of India. And Bangladesh was born.

For the third time in Bengal history, for the third time in Calcutta history, we had visitors arriving suddenly and at scale. Millions of visitors.

Millions of visitors, taking refuge from the bloodshed of politics and religion.


When people pour over open land “borders”, men, women and children, carrying what little they can, it’s hard to keep count. When people literally run away from death, it’s hard to stop them.

All I know about the 1905 and 1946-47 Partitions I know from book-learning and from a few rare conversations with eyewitnesses. Estimates vary, but it appears that three or four million people came over the border. And stayed.

I was 13 when the war for Bangladesh took place. When over 10 million people fled the war and crossed over into India. When at least three million of them came to Calcutta (though it felt like thirty).

Everyone mobilised. Refugee camps all over the city. Collections in schools and neighbourhoods. This was a large scale operation. The city was literally overrun.

A crisis. But no drama.

Calcutta just took it in its stride.

That’s how it felt, anyway. Rose-tinted spectacles or not.

The best way I can describe how Calcutta reacted is to tell this story:

Millions of refugees. A city overrun. There are many things that happen during such an event, to do with shortages in food, clothing, shelter and well-being.

One such thing was an outbreak of conjunctivitis.

Suddenly everyone had extremely itchy, streaming, red eyes, crusting over with goo. Very uncomfortable, often quite painful.

And what did Calcutta do?

The conjunctivitis outbreak was named “Joi Bangla”. Humorously, with just a hint of sardonic. After the slogan and war cry of the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi freedom fighters.

Joi Bangla.

Where I learnt about tolerance and about not being judgmental and about seeking to act inclusive to all and disenfranchising of none.

I’m still learning. Events over the past 15 years, ever since the lead-up to the Bush/Blair Iraq War and the various elections held on either side of the Atlantic, these events have tested my resolve. I’ve had to learn not to be judgmental about people being judgmental. Easier said than done. But I’m learning.

We live in interesting times. Whatever your politics, one thing’s for sure. There are problems the world faces that need us to act as one, united, humankind. People can decide that globalisation has had its day and needs to be rolled back. People can decide that the politics of liberals have become irrelevant. People can decide that it’s time to start a second Cold War.

People can decide many things.

But issues to do with climate change aren’t going to go away. Challenges to do with fresh water aren’t going to go away. Challenges to do with nutrition and illness, obesity and immune system deficiencies, aren’t going to go away. Challenges to do with what we’ve done to our food chain aren’t going to go away.

People can decide many things. Yet many critical issues that affect all of us aren’t going to go away.

We’re going to have to work on these issues together. Together.

Without being judgmental of each other, while being tolerant of each other. While making sure we listen to everyone. Not just the 48% or the 52% or the 1% or the 99%. Everyone.

Joi Bangla.


The stories behind the numbers

I went to a Jesuit school and college in Calcutta; I was with them from 1966 to 1979. Wonderful times, times I look back upon with joy.

By the time I was in my early teens, I’d heard the story of Pheidippides many times. The literary/historical rites of passage embedded in Jesuit education in India. Pheidippides was firmly tucked in somewhere between Ghent to Aix and O Captain My Captain.

The first modern Olympics I experienced, vicariously and from afar, was the one held in Mexico City in 1968. We had no television at home, or for that matter anywhere in India. [It would be at least a decade before small black-and-white sets invaded, carrying, of all things, I Love Lucy. Hmmm. I passed].

Bob Beamon, Dick Fosbury, Jim Hines, Tommie Smith (and his Black Power salute), these were the names I remember from the Olympics in 1968. [I had fledgling ambitions to become a sprinter in those days. The less said of that the better. We all choose our heroes to suit ourselves].

By 1972 I was a glutton for things Olympic, aided and abetted by our class teacher, Mr Redden (otherwise known to us as Lalmurgi). He got us to make scrapbooks about the event. I remember marvelling at the standardised icons that began to appear that year for each event.

The tragic events of the massacre at the Olympic village overshadowed everything else about those Olympics, and the scrapbook projects were soon forgotten.

Before that, while working on the scrapbook, I was intrigued by how the Marathon was going to be run there. Apparently they’d designed the course to resemble that year’s Olympic mascot, Waldi.


That caught my eye. Odd and interesting. But not as odd and interesting as the distance the athletes were meant to run. 26 miles 385 yards. 385 yards. Really? That kind of false precision bugged me, even as a teenager. So we were asked to believe that someone had measured the precise distance run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens some 2500 years ago and set it down to 26 miles and 385 yards. Pull the other one.

It continued to bug me. Therein lies a tale. Turns out that he wasn’t called Pheidippides, but might have been called Thersippus or Eukles, according to Wikipedia. [If you enjoy using Wikipedia please donate to them here]. Turns out that the non-Pheidippides person never ran from Marathon to Athens around the battle of Marathon, but may have been confused with a Phillipides who may have done that run — but not during the battle.

Trivia contests used to ask about the origins of the 385 yards, and the accepted answer was that the modern marathon used to be 26 miles, until the 1908 Olympics. That year, the marathon started at Windsor Castle (a stone’s throw from where I write this now) and ended at White City Stadium. [That marathon route remains popular with people living near Windsor Castle: they get into their cars and prepare to join athletic “battle” as they shop at Westfield, standing on the ruins of White City Stadium.]

Legend had it that the route designers made a classic mistake, and that the additional 385 yards were added very late on, to ensure that the race ended in front of the Royal Box. A case of droit du roi?

Turns out that isn’t quite true either. Apparently modern marathons used to be around 40km, give or take variations imposed by the route chosen, to try and model the distance between Marathon and Athens. The IAAF only standardised the distance in May 1921, and happened to use the exact distance of the 1908 London Olympics, 42.195km … or 26 miles 385 yards.

26 miles and 385 yards. Just a number. But with so many stories.

This week, I had the opportunity to delve into another number-story. During the India v England Fifth Test in Chennai, I noticed that the first five wickets to fall during the England 1st innings were all “caught”. So I went down one of my usual rabbit holes and meandered about, reading about concentrations and dispersions in ways to get out in a single innings. I’d grown up believing that there were only ten ways for a batsman to be given out while playing cricket.    The first five are easy and common: bowled, caught, leg before wicket, stumped, run out. The next five are harder and rarer: hit wicket, handled the ball, hit the ball twice, obstructing the field and timed out.

Turns out I was wrong. There is an eleventh. Retired out. Law 2.9(b). When we played cricket in school, “retired” used to mean “retired hurt” and was treated as a “not out”. The runs scored formed part of the batsman’s average, but the innings was considered complete but not out. That changed in 2001; I remember the match but missed the significance. Two Sri Lankan batsman, Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene, both “retired out” in a Test match against Bangladesh. That is, they walked off the pitch without being injured, without formal leave to depart from the field of play. Which meant that Law 2.9 (b) came into effect for the first time, rather than the usual 2.9(a).

Or so I thought.

Not true. It looks like Law 2.9(b) had been invoked, albeit very briefly, during the 5th Test between West Indies and India in April-May 1983. Gordon Greenidge, batting on 154, left the field at close of play on 30th April, and did not return on Sunday 1st May. He had not been injured, which meant that, technically, he could be considered “retired out”.

He hadn’t returned for a tragic reason. His young daughter Ria had been taken very ill with a kidney infection, and he’d gone to be with her. She died a few days later.

It is not clear what the scorers originally put down against his name; the scarce evidence suggests he may have been recorded as “retired hurt”. What is clear is that as a mark of respect, given the tragic circumstances, what finally went down on the scorecard was “retired not out”. According to ESPNCricinfo that’s the only known occurrence of that term on a Test scorecard.

The stories behind the numbers.

We live in times when terms like “post-truth” and “truthiness” are bandied about without a thought. That’s when the stories behind the numbers matter. Context matters. The provenance of the context matters.

So I’m going to be spending time over the Christmas break reading people like John Allen Paulos again, particularly his books Innumeracy and Beyond Numeracy. Similarly, I’m going to be retracing my steps around the works of Howard Rheingold on Crap Detection.

More to follow.