Winter cricket starts here…..

Hello. Well it was my first stint of indoor umpiring in my local league for a few years. I was a little nervous and apprehensive, but once I was behind those stumps, all the focus and concentration that I’ve built up over 32 years came into play.

As it happened, it was a fairly easy morning for all three of us. All the games were fairly one sided and incident free, and I had two of my trusted colleagues with me today, who I’ve known for a long time. That helps build up a rapport and trust, and the players respect and understand that.

The only difficulty I had was using a metallic ball counter that I purchased at great cost earlier in the week. Halfway during the first match, it disintegrated, leaving me clutching various pieces of loose metal. Luckily my colleague had a spare one, so problem solved.

Decisions wise? One leg before wicket decision, which was made easier by the batsman tucking has bat under his arm, knowing he was out. I just completed the formalities. In fact, I felt calm and composed and was enjoying the banter with the players. If only it was like that all the time!!

So a decent return. Onto the next session next weekend and a chance to do well again. And no need to feel nervous and apprehensive!!

A.S.D Brooks

Calmness amongst the turbulence…

Turbulent day weather wise here in London. Lashing rain showers, angry dark skies and a cold, strong wind. Autumn is here folks! While standing at the bus stop watching the leaves being blown about in various directions, I thought it was time to reflect.

Reflect on the turbulence that has tried to throw me completely off course in 2019. But here I still am, despite that. In the last month, I have felt much better and calmer, more relaxed and enjoying life again. I’ve had a great and revitalising holiday. I’ve enjoyed my volunteering stints and being involved once again with spreading the word on mental health. I’ve enjoyed the end of the cricket season, especially watching Essex, my home county, winning the County Championship and the T20 competitions in the space of a week.

It was good to see my CBT counsellor today and explained why I feel so different. Then I went out and about, in the not so glorious weather, bought a book and a warm jumper for winter and then had a bite of lunch.

I feel so good that I am really looking forward to umpiring indoor cricket tomorrow morning. I haven’t umpired indoors for a few years now but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think back to that day on Praia Da Oura beach in Portugal when all the upset and stress ebbed away and into the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Amazing difference in that space of time.

Yep, looking forward to having a good and productive winter where I can get back to doing the things I enjoy, and that I can ignore the darkness and the cold of the season. It won’t be easy, but I’m ready for the challenge.

A.S.D Brooks

Farewell to a cricket legend…thanks for the memories Tres

This is Marcus Trescothick, former England and Somerset cricketer who retired from the game yesterday, aged 43.

Trescothick was a superb left handed opening batsman who reduced opposing bowlers to a quivering wreck. His aggressive approach garnered him a huge amount of success at the top level and he had a run of six years at the top of the England batting.

What secures Trescothick’s place as a legend in my eyes was his admission, around 2006, that he was suffering from anxiety and depression. He made it ok to talk about mental illness. His story is documented in his superb autobiography, Coming Back to Me, where his daily battles melted the hardest of hearts with it’s honesty and candour.

I remember watching Trescothick playing for Somerset, soon after his admission of mental illness, in a game versus Surrey at The Oval. He scored a great century and the crowd rose as one to applaud not only the innings, but the man as well. Trescothick comes over well on TV as a decent, honest, pleasant human being who gave great service to the game of cricket.

Yesterday, as my home county, Essex, were nearing the County Championship title at Taunton versus Somerset, Trescothick came on as a substitute on his valedictory farewell appearance. He was applauded all the way to the centre, was applauded all the way off and both sides honoured his superb contribution to the game of cricket. It’s something I believe that cricket does well, saying thank you and farewell to it’s great servants and heroes down the years.

But above all, Trescothick brought home the reality that sportsmen are not robots, but human beings with frailties and qualities. He made it ok for other cricketers like Mike Yardy, Andrew Flintoff, Monty Panesar, Sarah Taylor and Jonathan Trott to speak out about their private battles.

Marcus Trescothick, a true legend of cricket, goodbye and thanks for the memories, especially beating the Australians in 2005!!

A.S.D Brooks

Flattery?

Everybody that has met up with me in recent weeks have said one of two things. One – “You’re looking well” or “You’ve got a good suntan”.

Looking well for me can cover a multitude of sins. It’s what’s on the inside that matters. This time, since I achieved that wellness or “suntan”, things are looking ok, as it goes. That holiday to Portugal seems to have done me the world of good, in mind as well as body. Remember I alluded to the fact that laying on the sunbed on the beach, saw all the stresses and strains ebb away from me and out into the vast expanse of the Atlantic? Well, I do seem to be a bit more relaxed and hopeful of better times around the corner.

Of course, there will be the odd bump in the road. Today being a case in point. I had a volunteering stint at SANE to do and I dragged myself out of bed and out of the door. It was a little bit more of an effort than has been the case over the last fortnight. The weather here in the UK has helped, warm Autumn days and clear blue skies. But I needed that push today. And I did the volunteering and feel better for it.

So I’m impressed by the flattering remarks, but it doesn’t always hold true that looking well means a good mindset. But I’m back to doing some stuff around mental health, volunteering, peer support and maybe some presentations….I feel relaxed and able to approach this with more confidence. That’s good for the mind, too, and I like networking with like minded people.

Anyway, this suntan will turn to rust in a few weeks when Autumn turns into Winter. Glad to have some backup Vitamin D to help me on those short and drab days. Also planning another trip away next Spring too. So onwards and upwards….

A.S.D Brooks

In affectionate remembrance….

These are the famous Ashes, competed for by England and Australia since 1885. The Ashes are actually the remains of a bail and the trophy is on display at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

What a summer this has been. England won the Cricket World Cup in extraordinary circumstances in chaotic scenes at Lord’s. Next up it was the old foe, Australia. Nothing stirs the blood of England and Aussie cricket fans quite like the Ashes battles.

This year’s edition was one of the most compelling, exciting and dramatic to be played so far. For the most part, England were outplayed, mainly because of a malfunctioning top order and a very well honed Australian fast bowling attack, and of course, Steve Smith!

But the final result was 2-2. The bowlers were mainly on top, but what most cricket fans will be talking about was the third match of the series, at Headingley. England were seemingly dead and buried after being bowled out for a dismal 67 in their first innings. But the Aussies failed to reckon on one incredible innings from Ben Stokes. Stokes played the innings of his career to fire England towards one of the most amazing wins of all time. The crowd were beside themselves as Stokes singlehandedly guided England home, against all the odds.

Other great moments from the series? The discovery of a powerful England fast bowler, Jofra Archer. His lightning pace and fire put Steve Smith out of action for that third Test and also hit his replacement, Marnus Labuschagne a fearful blow on the head as well. Archer is a fearsome sight, with his easy, graceful run up and explosive pace. The series turned on that rain hit second Test at Lord’s.

Stuart Broad dismissed Aussie opener David Warner seven times in the series. Warner, like Smith and Cameron Bancroft, were constantly reminded of their role in the ball tampering scandal that rocked Australian cricket. Warner was given a torrid time by Broad and the crowd were unsympathetic. Broad was magnificent throughout the series after the injury suffered by England’s finest, Jimmy Anderson.

And then onto Steve Smith. In an Australian line up that looked as fragile as England’s, Smith was outstanding. He fidgets, shuffles around and looks throughly ugly at the crease. But his temperament and quality was unquestioned and he was the leading run scorer on either side, by a mile. The Oval crowd gave him a great ovation in the last Test, that finished today. We will see a lot more of him and have to figure out ways to dismiss him. England couldn’t.

Another Aussie hero was fast bowler Pat Cummins. Cummins had a very bad injury some while ago that threatened to end his career. But by sheer willpower and determination, he has risen to the top. He spearheaded the Aussie attack by being constantly hostile, at the England batsmen all the time and commanded respect.

Tim Paine, Australian captain, had a mixed series and couldn’t get his umpire reviews correct very often (of which more later). Joe Root was glad to draw the series 2-2, but England have plenty of problems in their top order. They’ve tried plenty of options but none of them seem to have worked. A better emphasis on four day cricket and the Test side would see players more equipped to play the longer innings required. That won’t happen overnight, of course. But to compete and hopefully beat the Australians on their own patch next time round must be an achievable goal.

And finally, a look at how the umpires performed. From a trained eye, not brilliantly would be an apt description. There were many mistakes on the field, and the ICC have to start looking and training up officials of Test match standard in the next few years. Joel Wilson from the West Indies is not up to scratch, and quite how he has been promoted to the top table is beyond me. Chris Gaffaney and Aleem Dar, though more experienced, also had matches to forget. And even mistakes were not confined to on field. Sri Lankan Ruchira Palliyguruge made two decisions as third umpire where lbw calls indicated bat on ball, but this was ignored by Palliyguruge.

It is difficult for the Test match officials, it is granted, but outside of England and Australia, the umpiring isn’t all that great. And that needs to change. That is a fact.

Anyway, a captivating series ended 2-2, and put Test match cricket where it belongs, at the top. Better than T20 cricket and these ten over leagues that are sprouting up everywhere. The pinnacle of the game, Test cricket. As it should be, always.

A.S.D Brooks

Professional makeover?

This is Viv Groskop. She is a well known journalist, writer, broadcaster and stand up comedian. Also she helps people from all walks of life to try to improve their public speaking skills.

Now as I’ve said many times, I used to run a mile from any kind of public speaking. But in the last few years, through practice and I hope some interest from people, I’ve managed to get by in the art of public speaking. I’m not perfect by any means (who is?) but I’ve conquered those nerves about getting up in front of an audience and speaking.

This is where Viv Groskop comes in. Today, via a mental health organisation in London called Thrive LDN and the Sheila McKechnie foundation, I attended a workshop in improving public speaking skills. There were about 12 of us there and it was a tremendously rewarding and fun afternoon.

Viv is very good at what she does and her confidence and enjoyment shone through. She critiqued a short talk from me, referring to the tone of my voice and trying to change it. I’ve never heard anybody referring to the tone of my voice before but it made for interesting listening, so to speak.

Viv also referred to my warmth, engaging personality (shurely some mistake, ed) and said that I sell myself short. How did she come to that conclusion?! Because I’m my own self critic, and try to be a perfectionist. I beat myself up too much, and that’s probably why I haven’t achieved as much as I might have done. Making myself look foolish is a number one reason for that.

I know I can do it, be it public speaking, umpiring cricket, tutoring umpires etc, but those inner demons always make an appearance. But it was excellent to have a highly thought of professional person to look at various bits of my body language and how I speak to give me some top feedback.

It was like being out of my comfort zone. But Viv put us all at our ease and it was a rewarding, and enlightening afternoon. Something different.

While I’m on the subject, check out Viv Groskop on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and also download a book from her about public speaking called “How To Own The Room”. Wonderful to meet people like this and I hope our paths cross at some point in the future.

A.S.D Brooks

So near and yet so Faro….(A Holiday Chronicle – Day 2)

After a long sleep on the Sunday night, it was time for breakfast. Just some cold stuff, cheeses and hams were the order of the day for me as my stomach was recovering from being full from Sunday.

Then it was time to sit round the pool:-

Blue sky, barely a puff of wind, hot but comfortably so. Time for the sun tan lotion, some reading matter and some liquid refreshment. The time certainly moved fast. A good, friendly and convivial atmosphere at the poolside and the pair of us could just relax.

I even had a dip in the pool, but being a non swimmer, I just took to paddling about. A good cooling feeling as the tepid temperature took the edge off the rather warm conditions.

Nice…….just calming and relaxing. If only life could be like this all the time. Sadly not, in my case. But a respite from all the stresses of 2019 was welcoming and much needed. A good day here on the Monday.

A pleasant evening meal followed by a few long, cold beers was the order of the day come 8.00 or so. Plenty of chat from the pair of us, mainly about cricket, with the events of the excitement of Headingley still uppermost in our minds. Of course, being umpires, we saw the closing stages through our adjudicating rose tinted spectacles.

Abrigado. Day 3 on the beach methinks tomorrow, where this stress free existence continues. Time to hit the hay.

A.S.D Brooks

So near and yet so Faro….. (A Holiday Chronicle)

Good evening. The last dregs of summer here in Britain are ebbing away, and darkness falls early now, as autumn and it’s mellow nature makes it’s presence felt.

As the blog title implies, I’ve been on holiday to Portugal with a very good cricketing buddy of mine. We stayed in Albufeira, about 40 minutes west along the Algarve coast in the southern part of the country. After having been to Portugal last Autumn, I really love the way of life and the gorgeous weather, of which more later.

We start with Day One, and an early start….

Day One – Sunday 25th August

It’s Bank Holiday here in the UK. It’s a warm and humid night, and I wake up at 3.00 am to go round to my mate’s house to catch the taxi to the airport. My stomach is churning with anticipation and excitement, but with that trepidation of getting on the plane.

We arrive at Southend Airport at 4.40 am. Our flight is at 6.30. Through all the processes, and then we have a decent breakfast in the airport pub. The only slight downer was a child screaming her head off at the security checkpoint and then her bellowing screams could be heard at the other end of the airport.

I’ve never flown from Southend before. It’s a smaller, provincial airport but I’m most impressed at the economical layout, and lack of stress getting through the processes.

Then it’s time. The EasyJet staff member calls the passengers to the gate and then we walk through the alleyway onto the tarmac. It’s a warm, humid, misty morning and the Airbus A319 is there in all it’s pristine glory. I watch a Ryanair flight roar off to a far away place, and then up the steps we go, get our seats and settle in.

The nerves then really kick in. My stomach is churning. I don’t like flying particularly but it has to be done I suppose. The safety briefing finishes and the Airbus taxis into position, down the end of the runway ready to get us away.

I can still never understand how a thin metal tube with seats, cargo, passengers and fuel takes off and stays in the air for long periods. It’s a feat of incredible engineering that we all take for granted.

Then, the captain applies the power and the craft whizzes along at a fair lick to get us airborne. I’m nervous throughout the flight but the takeoff and landing are not two of my favourite things ever. The flight took 2 hours and 45 minutes and we had two reassuring guys flying the plane. They kept us informed of any turbulence, any thunderstorms (which there were), and did so in that calming way that pilots have.

Uneventful flight to be honest. A few slight bumps, not even disturbing my mate who was asleep for most of the journey. Then we banked our over the Atlantic for the final approach into Faro. What wonderful views. Green space, golf courses, sandy beaches, sun drenched water. Perfect.

We landed and then getting through Portuguese immigration was chaotic. With several flights from the UK landing virtually within 20 minutes of each other, the arrivals hall was crawling with holidaymakers. This was a welcome sight:-

And it was really hot too, up in the high twenties Celsius. We got a connecting bus to the resort and what a resort it was. Fantastic four star luxury, five minutes from Albufeira beach.

We had a spot of lunch first after settling in, and we had a short walk to the local main road which contained some fine eateries and bars for later.

Lunch done, then time to settle around the fabulous pool with the sun beating down. The 3rd Ashes cricket test was reaching an incredible climax, and we both watched the amazing England win on my phone. I couldn’t help but let out a whoop of delight when England’s Ben Stokes hit the winning runs.

Off to the local restaurant where you could have a three course meal with a drink for 14 Euros. Pretty good eh? I had a fantastic tuna steak and followed that up with a lime cheesecake. My waistline was about to suffer but who cares. This was just what both of us needed, a relaxing environment where there was no fuss, no stress, no bother. And I do like the way of life in Portugal.

After a long day, it was time to head back. Sleep was long and very relaxing, for a change. Day 2 tomorrow!

Abrigado!

A.S.D Brooks

Birthday reflections…..

Evening. Today I advanced another year, to 47. Getting closer to that half century. Every birthday, I reflect on the year past.

Ever since late November/early December 2018, it’s been traumatic to say the least. Suffice it to say that my health, mental and physical, has not been good. Of course, there have been some brighter moments, but these have been few and far between. It’s been a constant battle to stay afloat.

Last November, I went through one of these government ordered Work Capability Assessments, and as usual, the whole experience was cold, demeaning and hugely humiliating. But more of that in a minute.

A few weeks later, I attended a Christmas party at SANE, the UK mental health charity that I volunteer for. The whole evening I found a struggle, I felt claustrophobic and succumbing to a panic attack, I headed for home.

Christmas wasn’t that inspiring and then the start of 2019 was desperate. The Work Capability Assessment found me fit to work and removed one of my financial lifelines, in a trice. That sent me into a mental tailspin and thought dark, sinister thoughts about what the future might hold for me.

I appealed this decision via something called a Mandatory Reconsideration. The reply was best described as arrogant nonsense, as though I’m making up all my issues and I know precious little. I had no money for 2 months or so, and the little money I had saved was dwindling. I decided to go to my doctors to get him to help. I was paid some backdated money while the appeal was being considered, and I was provided some help in going to a tribunal.

For the previous few months, my brother in law was ill with cancer. He seemed to be making good progress until he became very unwell in February. This was putting an enormous strain on me and my sister’s immediate family, and all thoughts were with brother in law as a rapid deterioration started to set in. I made it to the hospital to see him for one last time in late February and it wasn’t good. That’s how I don’t want to remember him. A very distressing time.

Come March, which should be a time for hope and optimism, my brother in law passed away. Even now as I type, I can’t quite believe it. My sister has borne the brunt of the strain for a while and is the strongest person I know or am likely to know.

The funeral was delayed while I, reluctantly, took a few days away to gather my thoughts. When I returned, the problems were still there. Three brown envelopes on the doormat – YOUR MONEY HAS BEEN STOPPED. Crushed, I had to carry on and try and be strong for the family. An awful time for all of us.

Then cricket season came along in April. Typically it was cold and dank, reflecting my mood. All of a sudden, I started to settle into scoring and some umpiring, albeit on a limited basis via my club. But if there wasn’t enough issues casting this dark cloud over me, another one cropped up where I felt unappreciated and undervalued. There were some brighter moments but overall, I’ve just run out of energy and enthusiasm. The cricket I’ve done recently has been sporadic and some of the fun has gone out of it, because that’s what some people actually want it seems. Not interested I’m afraid.

And then to the appeal tribunal last Friday. My sister came with me, and the wait to defend myself was like waiting to face a firing squad. It would have been more humane. Armed with a wad of papers as big as an encyclopaedia, I had some help from a local advocacy service. The lady dealing with my caseload has written a powerful and informed letter.

I sat down, terribly anxious as one might expect. I answered the questions as truthfully as I could muster, and before I could say any more, the presiding judge announced “YOU HAVE WON YOUR APPEAL”. The original and factually incorrect initial decision had been reversed. When those words were uttered I broke down, partly in relief, but partly of upset and anger about the distress that has been part of my life for the last year.

I still cannot bring myself to feel elated or joyous. I feel it’s vindication and a confirmation of what my issues are and how they dominate my life. I also feel it’s justice. My sister said the initial decision was wrong and we stuck with the whole process until the bitter end. I could have given up and there were times when that was the better option. But I have amazing support and the tribunal judge and doctor were utterly fair and impartial, asking me relevant questions, not a standard tick box exercise to satisfy quotas and ideology. That advocacy letter swayed their decision and the judge recommended that I have a two year moratorium from being assessed. I know that this will crop up again in the future but for now, justice has been done and seen to be done.

And I have faith in the UK judicial system too. And that’s the second time I’ve won an appeal. The last time was in 2012. The weight of evidence was not dismissed out of hand as historical and irrelevant (the State’s words, not mine). It was carefully considered and the right outcome has been achieved.

So here we are today. 12th August 2019. I’m 47 years old, hoping the next twelve months will be a lot better. They can’t be a lot worse. One thing hasn’t changed however, the weather is rubbish and it hasn’t stopped raining for two weeks. But on the day of the tribunal appeal, the sun shone briefly for A.S.D Brooks. Hoping for more sunshine in the next year.

Thanks for listening.

A.S.D Brooks

Anxiety back with a vengeance….

Hi. Not been brilliant the last few days. Going through a very anxious spell. Today I was due to umpire a game of cricket, and I’ve had to pull out. Just not in the frame of mind to officiate and I just cannot face standing there, riddled with nerves, unable to concentrate.

My sleep has been all over the place too. And for people to say, what are you anxious about, well sometimes there isn’t a trigger. And I can’t just put it to one side and carry on. Once my mind is down that anxious path, it’s hard to come back from.

I say that sometimes there isn’t a trigger. Well I’ve had a lot going on this year, some of it not good. And I’ve got a major appointment coming up next Friday that is also playing on my mind. Feel very unsettled and with a feeling of fear and uncertainty. Woke up this morning and the feeling of fear and uncertainty is there. And if I’m not 100% right, I don’t go out and umpire or do anything that might compromise my well being. Simple as that.

I had to go and see my doctor on Friday. I was even anxious about seeing him. And he’s been my doctor for well over 25 years or so! Crazy, but when the mind is worrying about events past and present, even visits to the doctor can seem like scaling a mountain.

So, I’m staying in today. In bed. Don’t want to go out and face the world today, because of the fear I’ll make a fool of myself. 46 year old single man, fearful and anxious. The umpiring was going so well. But this has been the case for several years now. I start off ok, then it all goes wrong. The what if scenarios play in my head. It’s scary and unsettling.

Anxiety – don’t you just love it?

A.S.D Brooks