Book Review - INNS and OUTS by Anthony Collis & Geoff Wellsteed

Inns and OutINNS and OUTS by Anthony Collis & Geoff Wellsteed

An ideal present for the cricket fan who has everything!

A Book Review - Chris Weston

This book about pubs and pub signs is based wholly on cricket themes and has to be a strong candidate for some sort of book award. It's very different and boy is it addictive!

It's not often that one book ticks so many different boxes. This one does. You can read it at so many different levels. You can dip in and out. You can use it purely as a reference book or, perhaps, as a source of quiz material but it’s much more fun to read it for longer periods and blissfully lose yourself in the detail as you admire the meticulous research that underpins the whole book - or you can just smile at nearly five hundred photographs of the pub signs and goggle at the sheer artistry on display.

What a collection. It puts me in mind of the epitaph to John Arlott taken from one of his own poems, "so clear you see those timeless things that, like a bird, the vision sings."

Now we've all heard of Sir Hugh Munro's list haven't we, you know, the list of Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet and the 'bagging' effect that had. I wonder if this book may produce a similarly loyal band of followers trooping around the country as they seek out these cricketing watering-holes far and wide. To be fair, the authors go to some lengths to try to prevent this happening. The book is in no way a guide to public houses, but you never know, the raw numbers are much the same and the challenge - and challenge it would be - would not be insurmountable. I was quietly amazed to see how many of the public houses I have already "ticked off" and saddened to see how many have closed.

A good number of cricket books are much of a muchness; we've all read the autobiographical tomes produced seemingly by the kilo to a formula by ghostly figures. Well here's the proof that that is a simplistic generalisation, this cricket book is not like that at all, it is written by two cricket addicts with passion and commitment which both shine through from first to last.

Curiously, given its nature, at no time does the book feel repetitive, the anecdotes are fascinating, carefully chosen and measured but it is inevitably a slightly self-overlapping and formulaic book to give readers a sense of security as they navigate within it - and speaking of navigation how about setting your sat nav to OX44 9HJ and visiting The Bat & Ball in Cuddesdon. It is described as a veritable museum of cricket memorabilia. Scores of bats cling to the rafters and the walls are dripping with photographs, prints, scorecards and sets of cigarette cards. Not many miles away in Oxford is The Cricketers in Iffley Road. As well as having a colourful sign of Lord Hawke it announces itself with a wall-mounted sandstone relievo tablet depicting a batsman ready to face the oncoming ball. Virtually opposite the pub is the running track where, in 1954, Roger Bannister set the first sub four minute mile. Surely no trip to the delightful University Parks could be considered complete without a visit to one of these hostelries?

Inn signs are part of our culture and, as the cover says, are to be seen throughout the land. They are so familiar that we tend to filter them out as we hurtle past in our jam jars largely insulated from our surroundings - which is a great if understandable pity as every pub sign tells a story and we are the richer for having this archive at our disposal; it doesn't matter if you're a cricket fan or not, there is much here to learn and to love.

For generations cricketers have gathered in public houses and this book does that tradition proud as it faithfully charts the public houses named after the who and the where and the why. A delight to have on the shelf and strongly recommended, this is a book for all seasons.

Chris Weston - October 2010

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