There were some very black looking cricket whites, and some very red cricket whites. There was Brenda with her Pimm’s and an outrageously biased (and highly amusing) commentary. There was a full-clothed, streaking Aunt Sally scarecrow. There was a young Billy doing an elaborate dance routine without music. There was the ubiquitous ‘Vicar’s Son’ who seemed to be playing several positions simultaneously. There was a lot of laughter, and the distinctive sound of cricket ball hitting bat.
On Easter Monday 2011, the village of Wray in Lancashire played host to the first twicket match. Twicket is village cricket + Twitter and started a couple of weeks earlier with tweets about cricket from Dan Slee (@danslee) and about Wray’s fast (fibre) broadband by Chris Conder (@cyberdoyle), which sparked off the idea in John Popham’s (@johnpopham) head about live-streaming a village cricket match.
I watched via the Internet. I was very glad that I did make time for it because it was enormous fun. I am not someone who spends hours watching cricket or any other sport. Cricket remains an enigma to me, but one with codes I would like to crack because it appears interesting. There is something about cricket whites that tends to bring out the derring-do hero in most men. I always feel that there is a greater likelihood of my falling in love with a man in cricket whites (although this theory remains unproven to date).
The percussive sounds of ball hitting willow and applause are sweet. I remember that my grandfather and great-great uncle regarded the cricket ground near my first home as very special because of it being one of Lancashire County Cricket’s alternative grounds. I certainly was aware from a very early age that Lancashire played cricket (and rumour had it that Yorkshire did too). Part of the game’s appeal for me probably goes back to forgotten memories of hearing cricket matches in summer.
The purpose of the twicket match at Wray on Easter Monday (other than simply to have fun) was to show just one of the ways in which a fast broadband connection in a village could enable rural areas to connect with the rest of the world. John had originally thought of it as something to show what could be done with low-cost equipment too, by using the kind of relatively cheap video camera that many people have. Julia Higginbottom (@gabysslave) of Aquila TV Ltd suggested that they could be involved with the filming, however. John realised that it was more important to stick to the original idea of demonstrating the advantages of the fast Internet connection, than to try to show what very basic video cameras could do.
On the day, Aquila TV Ltd, Event With Me and Radio Youthology provided the technical skills and equipment to enable sharing twicket with the world. John Popham did some of the talking on camera, but much of it was the commentary provided by an extraordinary double-act of Simon Cooke (@SimonMagus) and Brenda of Wray. Simon coped with manly grace at finding that he was playing the straight man to Brenda and her glass of Pimm’s. The #twicket hashtag stream on Twitter soon revealed that the remote audience was captivated by Brenda. After a while, the tech team dedicated a camera to Brenda (and Simon).
By the end of the broadcast, more events with Brenda as commentator were being proposed. Personally, I think that having both Brenda and Simon commentating together would be even better (do go and watch the video to hear why). It worked because they appeared genuine in their enjoyment of the event. The apparent danger that Brenda might reveal village secrets to the world on air added a slight edginess that made it extremely watchable.
BBC North West also appeared with cameras and tried to interview some of the main people involved with the twicket event for BBC North West Tonight. Chris (@cyberdoyle) could be heard on the livestream but she kept hiding from cameras, despite being encouraged by John Popham to talk to them. It was interesting to watch one professional televisual team livestream to the world the other team who would be broadcasting a much-edited version of what they were filming within a fixed time-slot and to a bigger but more local audience.
I did wonder what those outside the UK might think of events as a giant Aunt Sally scarecrow ‘streaked’ (fully-clothed and at a leisurely pace) across the pitch. It was an unexpected sight. The twicket match was just one event in a busy scarecrow festival week in Wray. Do take time to look at more of the scarecrows. They are wonderful sculptures with a lot of thought, effort and humour in their creation.
An interval in planned activities was enlivened for the online viewers by the appearance of a young lad who went through a very elaborate and lengthy dance routine. I was curious as to what music was playing in his head as he danced. John Popham interviewed him later, and his responses were concise.
The day ended with a tug-of-war competition, Wray versus the Rest Of The World. The live broadcast ended with the end of the tug-of-war.
By this stage, there were a few people tweeting peevishly about the quality of the cricket shown and worrying that we were showing a silly side to the British. I am not sure that they understood:
- this was about a practical demonstration of how one could livestream from a village field with fast broadband;
- this was not about showing best quality cricket, but about a fun activity on a bank holiday in an English village.
One chap complained that they were not all wearing cricket whites. Another (or perhaps the same one) seemed to expect the same kind of highly-organised, professionally-managed event that one would get at professional sports events. That is because it was not one of those kind of events. We were not showing the world how perfect we can be; we were giving the world a glimpse of a real English village at play, albeit a village that is highly unusual because of its fast broadband connection.
I have had conversations with Chris (@cyberdoyle) and others over the past couple of years about how it would be good if tourists could know more about the ordinary special events that are part of the real Britain. The scarecrow festival at Wray is one of a number of scarecrow festivals. There are village fairs that try to retain some traditional customs and pastimes, such as Ovingham Goose Fair (dating back to the 13th century). Others retain their place in the ancient calendar but are more modern in form. The ‘ordinary’ events that communities organise throughout Britain include garden fêtes, parades, games and sports, well dressing, flower festivals, lantern festivals, parades, country fairs, craft fairs, open studio days, maritime festivals, cheese-and-wine evenings, horticultural shows, bonfires, dancing or processing with fire – and even morris and clog dancing.
Most of these would not be considered exciting enough for the mainstream television broadcasters, although there is some regular brief coverage of them in regional news. British culture is not quite how it seems to appear in foreign films (and never sounds like Dick Van Dyke). It can be somewhat anarchic, decidedly creative, laced strongly with humour, and frequently embraces eccentricity. The reality of an English village on a bank holiday can look surreal to those observing (as @paul_clarke commented).
The UK is one of those unusual places in the world where many cultures come together, mix together and often create something new. It is one of the reasons why we are such a creative nation. It may seem most obvious in London, but in many respects, the whole of the UK, even in the remotest parts, are part of the cultural mash up that fertilises creativity. The British have been absorbing and reinterpreting culture from elsewhere for thousands of years. This cultural adaptability should make them Internet ‘natives,’ capable of using the technology to present creative content.
Rural British villages may be culturally distinct but they are not culturally isolated (and especially not with fast broadband). It could make the difference between whether rural communities die or thrive. Practical experience has proved to me that it is possible to work remotely with a (nowhere-near-as-fast-as-Wray’s) broadband connection, even to manage and train staff via the Internet. Fast broadband could also help to bring money to local economies both through being able to sell via the Web and through encouraging tourism in areas that have been off the London-Stonehenge-Stratford-Edinburgh map. I have already written about the idea of historic houses, heritage sites, garden centres and others providing wifi for peripatetic workers. Many people need to communicate with colleagues via the Internet as they travel around the countryside for work purposes. Many could reduce their carbon footprint whilst working by not having to commute daily if they could work wherever they were, thanks to affordable fast broadband.
By the end of that twicket match, I was already hoping that there would be another. I also thought about what fun it would be to see other events of a similar nature. The people of Wray are special, but I know that there are other villages and towns with other equally special people. A garden fête could be huge fun. An agricultural show could be fascinating. So many events could provide interesting, entertaining and enlightening views of our real culture.
As I was reading tweets by Chris, Nat, Julia, Andy, John, Simon, Ken, Dan, Bill – and MP Tom Watson and all – about the twicket event, I found my thoughts wandering to events in my region. It has seemed hard work over the years to drag people up to the North East, although visitors usually love the region and then make return visits. There are events that I would like to see livestreamed and archived online – such as the forthcoming Late Shows (museums, artists’ studios, historic sites open late in the evening for a weekend), Newcastle Fashion Week (Northumbria University’s fashion courses have been recognised for their excellence for decades), the art and design degree shows…
The more I think about the possibilities demonstrated by the first twicket match, the more impatient I am for fast broadband everywhere. In the meantime, who else already has it who might be willing to let the cameras – and Brenda – in?
And who won the world’s first live-streamed village cricket match – and the tug-of-war – at Wray on Easter Monday?
I watched the Rest Of The World team win the tug-of-war by two tugs to one. I remained a little confused about the outcome of the twicket match until the article in Wikipedia (set up by Andy Mabbett (@pigsonthewing) even before the match) confirmed that Wray had won the twicket. I think that Wray won far more than just the twicket match that day.
Wray village website – with all kinds of news and pictures
Village cricket match to broadcast live over the Internet, Lancaster University news.
Twicket sponsors included:
and none of it would have been possible without the Department of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University providing the Internet infrastructure in Wray.
More pictures of Twicket
Mike Rawlins’s #Twicket set on Flickr – photos of the Aunt Sally giant scarecrow doing the fully-clothed streak, and of Simon and Brenda commentating are on page 3.
Since I wrote and published this post, John Popham has written a detailed post on his blog about how #twicket happened – including revealing the name of ‘The Vicar’s Son’ – http://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/the-story-of-twicket/