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Penes se esse Lords incendo

Of mice and umpires

Misunderstood match official and entertainer John the Umpire takes time out from his gruelling winter schedule to translate his new album Lab Mice - Parts I-VII into Modern English.

It is hard to understand why, but many people find John the Umpire boring. In 2006, the MCC introduced a new form of dismissal: 'bored out', when it emerged that Middlesex County Cricket League batsmen were turning down singles to avoid meeting John at the non-strikers end.

And this year he found himself at the centre of a fresh controversy when League officials handed Teddington batsman Hector Baker a two-year ban for remaining at the crease after being given out.

A sorry Baker recently explained "It was a faint nick and I thought I might get way with it if I looked nonplussed, did a bit of gardening - that sort of thing. Anyway, I was so busy with the routine that I failed to see John raise his finger.

picture of John the Umpire
Umpire and entertainer John the Umpire (right)

"By the time I looked up he was standing next to me and attempting to communicate something. I tried to listen but couldn't pay attention long enough to understand what he was saying - I just instantly turn off whenever he talks.

"Everyone - the bowler, fielders, square leg umpire, my batting partner - was keeping well away out of fear of being bored, so I was left on my own to figure out what was going on. After about ten minutes the penny dropped and I left without argument.

"Now my career is as good as over and I have had to spend my Saturdays playing snakes and ladders with my girlfriend's step children".

It is often said that the best umpires are the least liked but given his encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket laws, and desire to discuss little else, it seems more than a tad unfair that John has acquired a reputation for being a dullard.

Not that this is something that bothers him. He is very much a 'by-the-book' old-school umpire who considers criticism to be an occupational hazard and regards popularity as problematic.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to anyone who has only followed his umpiring career to learn that he is also an entertainer who shuns convention and - despite his undoubted talent (or is it due to it?) - has a penchant for self-destruction.

His recently released concept album Lab Mice - Parts I-VI might even reveal this duality of character to the most discerning of listeners. But one supposes that most of us will struggle to see behind the Brythonic Celtic façade that distracts, obstructs and tantalises in deliberate measures.

PDCC recently caught up with John during a break in rehearsal for his forthcoming Match Official Monologues tour. Unravelling Lab Mice was top of our list.


picture of Dance of the South Sea Caterpillar
John's new slide-show Dance of the South Sea Caterpillar tells the tale of sea demon with a fatal interest in a holidaying umpire.

PDCC: I understood Lab Mice but a lot of lazy people didn't. Why was that?

John the Umpire: Because it was sung in a dead language. If people had bothered learning Cumbric the record would have sold really well.

PDCC: For the benefit of the idle, could you tell the story?

John the Umpire: It's about a mouse called Reggie. He is trapped in a laboratory cage in St John's Wood, acutely aware that he will eventually be subjected to a fatal barrage of tests. Still, he is well for the time being and takes a keen interest in both escapology and laboratory proceedings.

He becomes especially interested in an experiment that is being carried out on the bench top opposite his. From this excellent vantage point he soon realises that a scientific disaster is imminent: unless he intervenes, an explosion will destroy Lord's Cricket Ground and the surrounding area.

Around about this time he discovers a way out of his cage. He heads straight to the adjacent bench and attempts to prevent impending disaster by turning off the centrifugal atomiser. It is a valiant though fruitless effort as he lacks the necessary strength. He has done his best and feels he can do no more.

As he is preparing to flee scientific internment a plan comes to him that might save his life and avert disaster: he must learn to communicate with his 'captors'.

It is a risky strategy. If he fails he will face certain death.

His survival instincts are sorely tested when experimentation commences and he is introduced to the horror of transgenic microinjection. But a sense of purpose triumphs and Reggie remains in his cell. He studies day and night and soon learns to speak, read, and write in Cumbric.

He informs his captors of the dangers he has discovered but they are unconvinced and dismissive. A battle of words commences and in the ensuing fight, the frailty of the human condition is revealed.

PDCC: It's a great story John but many people have struggled to understand the point you are making. A simple explanation might help.

John the Umpire: It's about pathos really. Reggie sought to make his 'captors' see sense through rational scientific argument. In doing so he underestimated human vanity, insecurity, and professional ambition.

Upon realising this, his tactics change. For a foe to turn protagonist you must appeal to their heart:

Before you stands a ragged creature
Good of heart and pure of nature
But it wasn't always so
My fur was once complete and white
Not so long ago my eyes would shine
Then cursed steel cut without knocking
Poison surged within my veins
Too wretched to love - it is so
Deserved of doubt - I am not
For that would be the unkindest cut of all.

PDCC: The album concludes here but seems to hint there is more to come.

John the Umpire: There are many possible resolutions, all of which sadden me. It was a difficult project both technically and personally and I think I need a bit of time before I return to it.

PDCC: Anything else in the pipeline?

John the Umpire: After Lab Mice I was drawn to folk rock. I have just finished a batch of new songs and performed Hanging Judgeat last week's Cricketers4Justice rally.

PDCC: Great title. What's it about?

John the Umpire: A man is on trial. He has committed some very serious misdemeanours and if found guilty will be sentenced to death. The trial is a lengthy affair as these things invariably are.

The Judge is a woman and over time falls in love with him. The dilemma is obvious. Does she serve justice and send the man of her dreams to the gallows? Or does she turn a blind eye and marry him?

PDCC: It sounds really sweet. Could you play it please?

John the Umpire:

picture of lawyer
Unconventional love is theme John first explored in his puppet show Coma Romeo

Hanging Judge

Verse 1

The bible says forgive and then forget
When a Christian man decides that he'll repent
I may have erred that much is true
But here I am all born anew
So the choice you have to make is very hard
Serve your conscience and the law or serve your heart

Chorus

You're the fairest judge that's living in this land
But that shouldn't stop you thinking bout your man
Cause if the punishment you give me fits the crime
I'll be sitting in a damp cell doing death row time
So if you do your job I'm going to die
You'll stay barren and you'll cry ...
The choice is yours dear
Sweet hanging Judge

Verse 2

If we marry dear I'll tell you all I've done
It might take up all the weekend so don't invite your Mom
In the meantime lend a hand
To a quite embarrassed man
You don't want to see me swinging from the trees
So be true to your female fertility needs

Chorus

You're the cutest judge that's ever held my hand
So forgive me when I'm lying on the stand
I hope you will dismiss
All the evidence that fits
But if you do your job I'm going to die
You'll stay barren and you'll cry ...
The choice is yours dear
Sweet Hanging Judge

Middle Eight

My love is petrified and moody
And reliant that you're broody

Chorus to end

You're the oldest judge that ever caught my eye
And without me you will never have a child
I'm an ex offending man
With an outstretched helping hand
But if you do your job I'm going to die
You'll stay barren and you'll cry ...
The choice is yours dear
If I die it will be your
Fault dear
Sweet hanging Judge