Tonight Grassy Noel saved my life

So, I died on stage tonight. That was to be expected, considering I was reading poetry in the public bar of a Brixton pub.

People were coming in. Saying hello to friends. Ordering drinks. Going for a piss. Whatever.

What they were not doing was listening to my tender words. It’s hard to keep going when only the promoter of the night, the estimable Dennis Just Dennis, is watching you. No one else, not even your mates, could give a shit.

Up there on stage, without some sort of human response, you have that feeling perhaps akin to being in purgatory. Someone is going to send you to hell in a minute, but not before they smoke a rollie out back in the beer garden.

It was a truly horrible experience. It wasn’t Dennis’s fault. He usually has the room upstairs, where people are up there if they want to be there. But tonight, there was some sort of party and we got moved to the public bar.

Dennis put a positive spin on it. ‘It’s a chance to get people from off the street, win over the crowd down here.’ He and I knew that was small talk. It was going to be a hard night.

After I’d done my slot, I fucked off to the back of the bar and drank Guinness for a bit.

But then Paul Birtill was on. He is one of my favourite poets. A scouser living down south. Bone dry wit. Micro-poems. The kind of poetry I’d never produce but love to hear.

I encourage my mates to come up the front and listen to the man. He reeled off his set, battling against the woman with the machine gun laugh at the back of the bar.

He got some laughs. Less than usual, but still, he’s a pro. He did well. Much better than me.

Then it was time for a break and after that was Grassy Noel and his band, Ape. Grassy had witnessed proceedings, sipping orange juice in the wings (he’s teetotal).

His band I had seen at Kid, I wrote back. They were absolutely incredible, and went down a storm.

This time, Grassy, in trademark black trilby and black jacket, was in full attack mode. I liked to think that he’d seen the way his fellow poets had suffered up on stage, and with his band behind him, was meting out some justice.

He started off not using words. Just noises, bellowed into the mike. It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty effective. Quite a few people left the bar.

The band started firing up, the stand-up double-bass with bulldog clip on the strings, the better for producing harsh clipped basslines. One of his colleagues was playing the vuvuzela, the instrument of choice at the last World Cup in South Africa. The other fellow was producing strange sounds from a lap top.

And then Grassy started naming wartorn countries. Libya…Afghanistan…Pakistan. For ages, not looking at the crowd, down in the microphone, juddering, shuddering.

Then he got onto Humpty Dumpty, in his preacher-like Irish tones, got down, deep down into the nursery rhyme, which, by christ, has never sounded more sinister.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…

One of the band started clanging two ancient fire extinguishers together.

More people left. Beer garden, out front, whatever. Just out. Fucking brilliant.

His band got the horns out, the cornet and the alto sax. This is where they sound all Radiohead, in the Amnesiac era. Freaky as fuck. Really really good.

Now Grassy’s going on about the Seventh Seal. Who know what he’s talking about, but it’s dark. Dark and incomprehensible. But I understand. This is punk. This is brutal attack music and poetry. This is living without compromise. This is G-Force poetry. If My Bloody Valentine did poetry, it would sound like this.

By the end of the set, it was just me, my two friends, Dennis, a few more freaks, and the band. Everyone had wisely got the fuck out.

People have the right to enjoy a drink without being assaulted by poetry. And poets have the right to bring their words into pubs and carry out assaults. Everyone is right. And not everyone can be happy all the time.

I died on stage tonight. And tonight Grassy Noel saved my life.

Justice 4 Ashley

In this video, I make an impassioned defence of the human rights of Chelsea and England footballer, Ashley Cole. My speech, while being rather rambling, covers off most of the salient criticisms made of this most misunderstood of Premier League stars – the move from Arsenal to Chelsea, the lovemaking, the gun incident.

Please do watch and let me know what you think. I want to hear all sides of this most pertinent debate. However, ultimately, what I am looking for is greater tolerance and understanding of our well-paid footballers, particularly Ashley.

There were, however, some remarkably arguments in opposition to Ashley. This video below shows how it is only through going out into the community and talking to people face to face that you really get to understand where some of this dislike stems from

An open letter to Ashley Cole

Dear Ashley,

There have been so many malicious words written about you in the media that it is time to set the record straight. There are a lot of sad people who take pleasure in other people’s troubles. They have a name. They are called haters and this letter is my chance to help fight these evil folk who try to destroy your good reputation. While I have only seen you on telly, I believe I know the real Ashley Cole. I can see beyond the lurid headlines to the good person you really are.

Ashley Cole – misunderstood

Of course, you have had your problems in life, just like all of us have.

Yes, you had to walk out on Arsenal when they only offered you £56,000 a week to play football for them.
Yes, you fell in love with and married a foul-mouthed Geordie woman notorious for beating a cleaner in a nightclub.
Yes, you cheated on that same wife with several women.
Yes, when you had sex with one of those women you had to stop having sex to vomit on her cream rug, before finishing having sex with her.
Yes, you texted other women pictures of your erect penis as a way to seduce them.
And yes, you shot a work experience boy at Chelsea’s training ground at point blank range with an air rifle.

What infuriates me is how people are so quick to judge you on the basis of these incidents. Who stops to ask what Ashley Cole’s side of the story is?

So you left Arsenal for Chelsea because they weren’t prepared to give you enough money. This is a simple wage dispute, like any other. People, hurtfully, called you Cashley.


They ignore how hard you work.  You train for two hours every day, and play in matches once or even twice a week. In those matches you run up and down the left flank, making tackles as well as finding time to swear at referees. This is not easy. Not easy at all. Those sanctimonious, Guardian-reading nurses and teachers should try it some time. Then they will realise you are well-paid but not unfairly so.

So you married Geordie lass Cheryl Cole, a woman primarily known for lip-synching on telly and getting slutty tattoos more often than she eats. Well, the path of love is not something we can predict or do anything about. Yes, I would have preferred it if you had met someone more appropriate to your intellect. Kerry Katona, perhaps. But no man can criticise another’s love matches. You loved her, she loved you and you sealed your love in a well-publicised photo shoot for OK! magazine. Those pictures, in front of the white Bentley, truly showed that love is blind.

A lot of love to give – Ashley Cole

After time, you ‘cheated’ on her. Well, I say this. You, Ashley Cole, are a young man with a lot of love to give. I don’t think you should be criticised for spreading that love around. Christians spread the word of the Lord. You spread your semen. There’s surely not much difference. It’s all love and if the haters can’t understand that, that’s their problem, not yours.

You texted pictures of your penis to women. The old-fashioned romantic in me does wonder whether dinner and a movie is not a more appropriate seduction method. There again, I am not as busy as you are. We live in a digital age and in 50 years’ time, people might look back on your texting your erect knob to a bird with a message saying ‘want some?’as the height of chivalry. We should leave that for history to judge.

Most recently, there has been this gun incident. Yes, you shot a student. He was hurt. However, you explained you were only ‘larking about’ and apologised afterwards. You made a mistake but got the matter sorted. I hope the police desist from their unseemly investigation of this perfectly explicable event.


In conclusion, Ashley, I would say this. You are a man. A great man. And like all great men, you rightly refuse to kowtow to society’s expectations. Other Premier League footballers would have sought gagging orders to stem the flow of kiss’n’tell stories, or embarked on a PR campaign to show the public a more sympathetic side to their character, perhaps building schools in Africa or something. You could have stayed faithful to your trophy wife, or at least not cheated on her in a manner that necessitated the co-operation and silence of several poorly-paid underlings. But you don’t because you know this:

You, Ashley, are really good at football, which means you have an absolute right to do whatever you please.

Peace, love and understanding,

Richard Purnell


Can romance survive the National Wedding Show?

‘We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true’
Joni Mitchell, My Old Man, 1971

I think we can say conclusively that Joni Mitchell, when she wrote the above song at the back-end of the hippy era, had not been to the National Wedding Show. Because if she had done, her lyric, if accurately rendered, would read something more like:

We need a piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true, and we also need a fantastically expensive wedding, reception and honeymoon which will cost a small fortune, to show that we love each other.

Yes, I took a trip to the National Wedding Show at Olympia at the weekend. This is the place where that proposal, that down on one knee burbling of, ‘will you, my dear?’ turns into reality. The place where romance morphs into budgets and colour schemes and timelines. Where men realise what they have let themselves in for, and the women say, ‘don’t worry, just organise the music at the reception, and leave the rest to me.’

I wasn’t there because of any upcoming nuptials on my part. I was volunteering for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, for whom I also work. The people who organise the thing had generously given the charity a stand to promote our good cause. We spent our time chatting to the people about the various pins we had on offer which could be alternative wedding favours.

To give you some understanding of my level of innocence before attending on Sunday, I didn’t even know what a wedding favour was. For the unenlightened, they are the sugared almonds, or similar, that you get on the table when you sit down to a meal at a wedding. In the weddings I have attended, I have clearly scoffed the little blighters long before ascertaining that they are a traditional gesture of friendship from the happy couple.

The Wedding Fair was a bustling place, mostly with business-like mothers dragging their daughter and groom-to-be around, looking at dresses, places to get married, places to have receptions, caterers, the lot. It’s a place to gather ideas and start to scope out what’s out there.

Some were floating around the place, excited by the possibilities of it all. Others were utterly bewildered, finding out that, yes, even trifling things like confetti and cup cakes have got to be bought. And if you think you might struggle into the wedding dress of your dreams, there was even a Boot Camp to get you into shape.

There was some wonderfully novel sights to be seen down at the show. Opposite us was a heavy-set fellow from Scunthorpe who had a stand called Amazing Smile. This was offering a kind UV light treatment to the teeth, to whiten them, with prices starting at £89.99. I never knew such a product existed, and thought it preposterously expensive. But apparently this was very cheap and prices are usually in the hundreds of pounds. He did a roaring trade.

The Amazing Smile stand drew some interesting characters to it. Some of the ladies getting their gnashers done were in what you might call the Silvio Berlusconi class. But the biggest (in every way) customers were the Dream Boys. These are hen party specialists, appearing at various locations across the UK to do their show. Needless to say, they were all getting their teeth done, some quite possibly twice. It appears that the dream these boys were peddling was that of a group of men, quite possibly from Essex, with gym-built physiques and unnaturally whitened teeth, stripping down to the posing pouch. The show has been running for years, so it clearly works.

One of the blokes told us they support a different cancer charity each year, and have given tens of thousands to charity, including Breakthrough. So it appears that everyone is a winner.

By the end of Sunday, it had been a hard few days for many of the people working there. I saw models who had been doing the catwalk show hobbling about. Some of the stallholders were on autopilot – dreaming of being at home with their feet up.

When we tottered out of there, I wondered whether this modern obsession with highly elaborate, highly expensive weddings kills romance stone dead. I needed some sort of affirmation that people who get married aren’t just burdened by societal pressure and financial strain. On the cab back to the office, I prattled to the driver about the wedding show. He told me that it was the day of his ninth wedding anniversary, and he was out working.

Economics conquering love? Not a bit of it. He was taking his wife out for a meal the following day, he told me with a smile. A heartwarming tale to end a good, but rather unromantic day.

Short man Gattuso blows his fuse!!!

Last night’s display by Gennaro Gattuso was possibly the best example of a short man going on the rampage since Joe Pesci went at that poor unfortunate with the telephone in Goodfellas.

Infuriated by the beanpole striker, short man Gattuso goes after Crouch

Not only did he hand out this finger-wagging attack on Peter Crouch, probably just on account of Crouch’s preposterous size, but he sought out Joe Jordan, a jock known as hard even amongst his own rugged people, and dealt him a headbutt.

(A note on this headutt: while I fully admire the handing out of a headbutt by Gattuso on Joe Jordan, I cannot admire the execution. It was one of those half-hearted push-headed efforts which suggests that even this volcanic footballer was holding himself in somewhat. It reminds me of Zidane in the World Cup Final. I still can’t understand why he didn’t deal him the blow to the bridge of the nose rather than the breast bone. My philosophy – you should never waste a good headbutt.)

This takes me back to my own football-playing heyday when my pragmatic manager sent me out, week after week, to man-mark the tallest player on the field. There I would be, all furious because of the brevity of my physique, and take great pride in pulling this week’s giant to the ground with a succession of, shall we say, ‘committed’ challenges.

Occasionally, when it looked my nascent short man syndrome was not quite to the fore, he would suggest amiably that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’. That, it’s safe to say, was all that was needed to fire up the old Napoleon Complex and leave some poor gentle giant wondering why short men had such aggressive streaks.

Well, as Gattuso or Pesci would testify, there really is no explaining it. There is no saying why when I see a tall man I boil up in some sort of apoplectic rage. Is it genetic? Is it environment? Is it a complex mix of both? Hard to tell. It’s just the way it is.

And football is all the better for it. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Xavi suggested that Barcelona’s style of play was the most beautiful and, almost, that the result was secondary. Well, after we had watched the tedium of Spain’s succession of 1-0s winning the World Cup, I think the football fraternity is ready for a taste of an older style, that style of football where no one can be quite sure they are going to leave the field of play with all four limbs still attached.

Because, on the night that Arsenal play Barcelona, in what the aesthetes are calling a meeting of philosophers and artists, we should remember this: football began as a game being played with a pig’s bladder between working men who wanted to thrash a ball about and hurt each other after a hard day working in the fields. In an age when the two-footed, studs-up challege is anathema to many, we should rejoice in the behaviour of players such as Gattuso who are in it for the physical battle and as a legal way to unleash their psychotic tendencies.

From one short man to another: Gattuso, I salute you.

Notes: Gattuso is about 5ft 9ins. This is not short when it comes to the general population but in the world of sport people who are usually six feet or above, he certainly is. And what I always say when people are unsure if a man is truly short or not – you will be able to tell. With Gattuso, I think we can rest assured, in his heart of hearts, he is a short man and proud.

Joe Pesci keeping his short man syndrome nicely under control

A poem in honour of President Mubarak and other friends of the west

Mubarak and Barack Obama, the best of friends

President Mubarak has gone, despite the very generous $1.5 billion each year he received from the US to keep his people in the state to which they had become accustomed. Throughout the 18 days of protests the west remained unwilling to speak out too strongly against their friend and ally. Like Pinochet, he was a man with whom the west could conduct business.

So here is a poem in honour of

A good despot
People called him a dictator, a tyrant, a despot
I say: that is not the man I know
I know a man of learning, culture, principles
And say this world must have gone mad when
A man, a military man, can give 60 years
Of unswerving service to his nation
And be treated like a common or garden criminal

It was laughable to me, seeing those unwashed beasts
filling the streets with their tatty flags and odours –
Couldn’t you almost smell them through the flat screen tv? –
Bearing their rotting cavitied teeth,
and demanding, what? Some kind of idiot justice
and an end to the rule of a man, a friend to the west
A man who had done his duty and his exceptional best

They said he had feathered his nest a little bit
Well, did he not deserve that for playing such a
calm, considered role in the realm of geopolitics?
We are not talking about anything insidious,
We are talking about a man who
was steadfast in doing the right thing,
A man whose farthest thought was abandoning ship
He has gone now, sating the shameful need of
A nation’s children to be rid of their grandfather.
The next days will be hard, yet I feel sure
he will be wise enough to reflect that
He is merely the latest in a line of great leaders
who leave power quietly admired by the many
while loudly decried by the hotheaded few

Quotes from Mark Twain autobiography

My dad was given the Mark Twain autobiography for Christmas. Great big thing, about a thousand pages long, of such formidable size you could never get it on the tube or bus. It’s the kind of awesome volume which you can only read if you are a scholar, or retired. I am neither; fortunately CW Purnell is both. Happily he has pulled out some of the juiciest quotes from the first third of the book from the inestimable writer of Huckleberry Finn.

So, in page order, here they are. Thanks daddio. For all Twain fans – enjoy!

Selected quotations from Mark Twain’s Autobiography 

On James W Paige, a failed businessman who cost Twain $170,000 (p102)

(He) is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and – but there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone, sky piercing as an Egyptian monolith.

 On Countess Massiglia, landlady of Villa di Quarto (p241)

She is excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward. Her lips are familiar with lies, deceptions, swindles and treacheries as are her nostrils with breath.

On his discussion club (p273)

The Club was founded by a great clergyman: it always had more clergymen in it than good people.

Twain’s quote from Bill Nye about Wagner (p288)

I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

On Duelling (p294) 

In those early days duelling suddenly became a fashion in the new Territory of Nevada and by 1864 everybody was anxious to have a chance in the new sport, mainly for the reason that he was not able to thoroughly respect himself so long as he had not killed or crippled somebody in a duel or been killed or crippled in one himself… I was ambitious in several ways, but I had entirely escaped the seductions of that particular craze. I had no desire to fight a duel; I had no intention of provoking one. I did not feel respectable, but I got certain amount of satisfaction out of feeling safe.

The Character of Man (p312)

 … of all the creatures that were made he is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one – the solitary one – that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices – the most hateful. That one thing puts him below rats, the grubs, the trichinae. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain…. All creatures kill… but of the whole list, man is the only one that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge.

Review – Russell Brand, Booky Wook 2

Another quiet night for Russell

When I first saw Russell Brand on telly I thought he was an annoying twat.
There he was: all hair, eyeliner and belts, delivering a steady stream of innuendo-laden inanities.
My housemate at the time, Dan, put it succinctly:
‘I can’t stand that cunt,’ he said.

Dan didn’t just turn the channel over, he switched the tv off, as if to ward against Brand sneaking onto a different channel. I heartily agreed with this affirmative action. From there I cast aspersions against him at any opportunity without ever bothering to check if the fella was actually funny.

It was about this time that Russell Brand became ominpresent, what with his tv and radio shows, and daily appearances in the tabloid press. He even had a column in the sport section of the Guardian on a Saturday, and I went to great lengths to fold the newspaper in a way in which meant I could safely avoid looking at his odious fizzog.

However, there comes a time when a celebrity reaches a threshold of visibility when they simply cannot be avoided. Russell Brand, of course, achieved that point when he insulted Manuel on his radio show.

I hadn’t heard the broadcast but got the basics from the blanket media coverage seeping into my skull. I was coming home on the tube from a solid night’s boozing when my friend Alex asked me what I thought about the Brand controversy. I’m from Rainham, just a few miles away from Grays, where he’s from, so I was being consulted as a fellow Estuary Essexman.

‘I think he’s a disgrace to his county,’ I said vehemently, my views unbesmirched by any factual knowledge of the incident.

‘You can’t really think that, can you?’ said a bloke sitting opposite. ‘It’s all a storm being whipped up by the Daily Mail. It was just a joke that went wrong.’

‘I bloody well can think that. He’s a disgrace, going around abusing short men like that.’ (NB: I’m 5ft 4ins). ‘I’ve met people from Grays and he’s typical of the low-grade people you get there. He should be sent to Australia, I reckon.’

The bloke, a lily-livered liberal type, looked shaken. We glared at each other a bit, and then I got off at Victoria, and the matter was not further commented upon.

After that incident, I was intrigued enough to actually watch some footage of Brand doing stand-up on YouTube. He was okay. Not really laugh out loud funny, but intelligent, eloquent, and addictive to watch.

You could call Brand a lot of things, but you could never call him an attention-seeker

I was impressed by the fact that he had created a complete comic persona which allowed him to be confessional, surreal and a storyteller. And to pull vast hordes of women. He reminded me of my friend from school, Rob Howard, who could turn absolutely anything into innuendo, and had a sensational record with the ladies, too.

I loved the way that he cared about his audience. He managed to involve them, and allow them to share his pain and joy. That takes great skill and courage. To me, it was only moderately funny; but as a comedic journey towards truth it was brilliant. This is a man who truly knows himself and, like any great artist, can provide insights into our own lives.

A few months ago, I finally stumped up the money to buy Brand’s first autobiography, My Booky Wook. This was one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, and certainly the best modern memoir. He doesn’t allow himself to be anything less than totally honest, or totally funny.

This second book is clearly less well-written than the first installment. He’s run this off while he’s busy doing films and getting hitched to Katy Perry. So, he’s busy. Much of the text is cobbled together from his stand-up performances over the last few years, detailing appearances at various music award shows where like Ricky Gervais this week, he became notorious for telling mildly offensive jokes about famous people. Yet it says a lot for the quality of his lives shows that they stand up remarkably well when read off the page.

The original sections are mostly to the front of the book and this paragraph talking about how his pratfalls caused Kate Moss to dump him is typically briliant:

What no one realised, not Kate nor the red-top tabloid press, was that far from viewing her as a conquest, I was absolutely smitten. When I clumsily ballsed it up by flatly telling journalists who I’d not yet learned to ignore that I was ‘just larking around’, she wisely withdrew and I had enough sense to stop calling her. I didn’t delete her number from the phone though. I left it stored under ‘Grimy Tyke’, which is what I’d call her in an attempt to punctuate the endless flattery and awe.

And even when he’s got his hero, Morrissey, round at his house for filming, his mind is on other things:

Morrissey perused the house. I perused his make-up lady’s boobs; that is the miracle of big boobs, they remain interesting above all else.

This next sentence should go on his headstone:

I have stared over the shoulder of enlightenment to get a butcher’s at a cleavage.

His awareness of his own ludicrousness is what makes him so engaging. This second Booky Wook is the story of his escape from British TV and comedy, to superstardom. He’s made it. He’s got the pop star wife, the film career, and no doubt marvellous homes in LA and London. And even if he eventually loses touch with ordinary life in this country, it probably won’t matter, because as long as understands himself as acutely in the future as he does now, he’ll always be entertaining.

My mate Dan wouldn’t agree with me, though.

The demise of Ricky Ponting – Australia’s Napoleon

Ricky Ponting in happier times

I sit here, at the end of a successful Ashes series, reflecting on the demise of Ricky Ponting. A man who has scored 12,000 Test runs finished the series injured, defeated and with an average a shade over 14. This is unquestionably the end of the era of Aussie dominance in Test cricket.

As an impressionable youngster I first experienced the Australians in the 1989 series in England. Their main bowler was Merv Hughes, a frightening-looking fellow with a thick, flowing moustache and a beer gut. Coming off a long run, with his belly jiggling around, he looked more dart player than cricketer. He would deliver a venomous short ball around the throat area, and finish about six inches from the frankly terrified batsman, all bulging eyes and boozy breath. The English succumbed quickly, which seemed sensible. I had heard that England had once won an Ashes but it seemed the stuff of myth.

When it was England’s time to bowl, a friendly bloke such as Derek Pringle would lollop in and send the ball at medium pace outside off-stump. The fellow at the other end was, again, a snarling, heavy-set man with Victorian moustache. This was Hughes’s soul mate, David Boon, who would respond by carving the ball through the covers for four.

England lost that six-match series 4-0. The only person who put up much resistance was our resident South African batsman, Robin Smith, a man who had a devil-may-care attitude to short-pitched bowling.

Call me a masochist; call me an inveterate idler. I was hooked on cricket. I didn’t mind that England lost. The Ashes was something in which comforting certainties, a natural order, existed.

With Victorian moustache, bulging eyes and xxxx on the chest, Merv Hughes was the archetypal Aussie cricketer

They came back in 1993, with Shane Warne in their team, and won 4-1. David Boon bludgeoned runs, Hughes snarled his way through the England batting. In 1997, Boon and Hughes were gone, replaced by sadly clean-shaven men called Matty, Mark or Jason. It was hard to tell these identikit Aussies apart.

In 2001, I settled down to watch the series knowing that England had no chance. The new Aussie No 3 caught the eye. Small fellow, by the name of Ricky Ponting, full of bullheaded aggression, like a distilled David Boon.

In the first three Tests, he showed flourishes of brilliance, but it was in the fourth that the English public got its first proper sight of this arrogant genius. In the first innings he scored 144 off 154 balls. He did not so much bat, as slap the ball about. If you bowled short, he pulled for four. If you bowled full, he drove for four. And if you bowled wide, he cut for four.

England bowlers, by this point, had enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted failure against the Aussie. But it was only with the accession of Ponting to No 3, that Australia went from being superior to completely driving England into the dirt. Humiliating them. In frank terms, taking the piss.

In this belligerent short man, the English cricket fan heard a historical echo. Here was not simply another Aussie cricketer, over here to bolster his average and claim the Ashes. This was a short man on the rampage. Damn it, Ponting was another Napoleon.

The English were roused from their gentle slumber. They realised it was not good enough to simply turn up and lose 4-1. That was fine, before Ponting. Not now.

The England team had to try a bit harder. Central contracts were introduced. The lads went for the occasional jog. They laid off the booze and fags before matches. They did a bit of catching practice.

By 2005, England wanted to win. They knew the only way to do that was by targeting Ponting, now captain. As a cricketing Napoleon, England knew he had a short fuse. It was just a case of working out how best to help the chap ignite.

Ricky losing his rag, in fine Napoleonic fashion


Firstly, like all successful English campaigns, some foreigners were brought in to help. We got an Aussie (Troy Cooley) to whip the bowlers into shape. Crucially, we brought in a South African (Pietersen) to bolster the middle order. Ponting wouldn’t like this. Oh no.

Then the winding-up started in earnest. The schoolboy tactics. The England team, full of big lads, were encouraged by our Wellington, Michael Vaughan, to taunt Napoleon. Matthew Hoggard, a bluff Yorkshireman, was deployed in press conferences to tell Ricky they had plans for him. During the match, the England fielders had mouthfuls of wine gums to help shine the ball and make it reverse swing. Vaughan started giving bowlers ‘toilet’ or ‘injury’ breaks during the day, so they could put their feet up and get a massage before their next spell, replacing them with crack fielders.

Ponting, nonchalant at first, safe in the knowledge that the Aussie would prevail, did not react. But through a tight series, the pressure grew. The Press started asking leading questions about whether he was happy with English tactics. The fuse was ready to explode.

And then, in the fourth Test, with England dominating, Damien Martyn pushed a ball into the covers for a quick single. The substitute fielder, Gary Pratt, picked the ball up and hurled down the stumps at the striker’s end with Ponting some way from his ground.

Ponting, whose temper had been contained until this point, exploded. He flew into a rage, waving his bat at the English dressing-room like a modern-day Yosemite Sam. Vaughan laughed, and England laughed with him. From there, with Pratt as 12th man for the final Test, and our South African plundering runs, the series was won.

The template of English success against Ponting was laid. In this present series we have merely refined it. We have another South African in Jonathan Trott to further solidify the middle order. We have an even better Aussie bowling coach in David Saker. And we made smart use of the referral system which caused Ponting to go apoplectic, again in the fourth Test.

It is unlikely Ponting will be seen against England in the next Ashes series. It is unlikely the Aussie batting order will quickly recover its former strength. Drawing the Napoleonic parallel again, I can’t help but think that putting the short man in charge caused great triumphs in the short-term. But while Australia, like France, enjoyed great success with a short-tempered short man as leader, it was in that very appointment that the seeds of their humiliation were sewn.

Ponting modelled his captaincy closely on the Yosemite Sam model