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Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World
by Harry Thompson
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Reviewed by: John Walsh

It was a curious experience to be reading this book. I must have picked it up ten or a dozen times thinking that I would just read a few more pages and then give it up altogether - not because of its inordinate length (my version runs to just over 230 pages) or because of impenetrable style (it is amiable enough, although not the hilarious reading experience that numerous blurbs have claimed). Instead, it was the irritating nature of so many of the characters described: the basic premise is that the author, well-known media person, author, and comedy writer Harry Thompson, was the captain of an amateur cricket team who enjoyed playing not just across the playing fields of Britain - mostly southern England, in fact - but also across the world. Indeed, it was the idea of traveling around the world and playing a game on every continent that provides the framework for the book.

The first part, therefore, provides an introduction to the team, named after heroic British failure Captain Scott, whose attempt to reach the South Pole ended up in a total party kill but who is thought to be a particularly British or perhaps English inspiration. This segues into the assembling of the cast and then the second part, the bulk of the book, portrays the various adventures involved and the games played. This part is less irritating than the first part, which contains so many 'English eccentrics' or, as they are also known, disreputable or discredited individuals who let down the team in one way or another. As a rogue's gallery of people, this is fair enough but what is irritating to me is that so many of these people are able to hold down highly-paid and high-status work as bankers, lawyers, and so forth purely through the working of the class system. I don't suppose this will bother most people but it does annoy me and it is the principal reason why I came so close to abandoning the book altogether.

That I persisted with it is partly due to the fact that it was a gift and I felt obligated to finish it as a result (that is not rational, of course but I have never claimed to be totally rational) and to the more important reason that I had overheard on a radio programme some time ago that revealed that the final (i.e. third) part of the novel follows the discovery by the author of his cancer and, therefore, takes a somewhat different tone. In fact, this third part is collected into a small number of pages presented almost as an epilogue (and in fact as an epilogue provided by partner Lisa Thompson) and is rather devastating: within a page, advanced and inoperable cancer is diagnosed and in another the author is dead. It is quite a shock - I have lived away from Britain for many years and perhaps residents would have been aware of this from news coverage at the time.

Anyway, as a whole, the book is a humourous account of a round-the-world cricket tour with the usual bad luck and misfortune thrown in - e.g. continual rain and the apparently endless and possibly maliciously bad service provided by British Airways and various customs services. To make every episode amusing, or hilarious if you prefer, just about every person encountered has to become larger-than-life, either in a grotesque or saintly way. People who like this kind of thing will, in other words, find things that they like here. It would probably not be a good idea for people who know nothing about cricket or who dislike it to try to read the book. Those who do, though, especially if they have not travelled very widely, will find much to enjoy here.

Purchase Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World from
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