Recently some of those around me have taken to whistling “We have all the time in the world” in what strikes me as a rather pointed fashion. It is certainly true that I will never have as much time again ; quite how much time that will be is hard to predict (though one of the more mind-concentrating aspects of retirement is attempting, for financial reasons, to do precisely that).
At Wantage Road on Monday I found myself thinking a lot about time. There is a sundial there with an inscription on that subject that has already become half-obscured (by time, already) :
Whatever it said, if it was at all profound, is unlikely to have been both original and true ; our experience of time is so universal that it would have to be one or the other.
Trivially, I have begun to realise that I am now part of a world – that of County cricket – where time operates on a longer cycle than the strictly diurnal round of work, a fact brought home to me as I caught the bus home and realised that I was not rejoining that world of unwilling nine-to-fivers, but merely temporarily sharing a space with it.
In the past, the fact that much of the afternoon’s play had been called off through bad light and drizzle would have meant half a day’s valuable holiday wasted ; now – well there were two more days to go, no more rain on the horizon and, of course, I have all the time in the world. Young Ben Duckett, too, must have felt, on 288 not out, that it was only a matter of time before he reached a historic triple-century and could reasonably have expected to go into lunch on the third day with Northamptonshire’s highest individual score under his belt.
[Duckett, by the way, is a batsman of high talent (though, currently, a rotten wicket-keeper) who, I’m told, when younger, made Kevin Pietersen look like Therese of Lisieux in the humility stakes. When asked how he had felt about being left out of a pre-season tour for being overweight he responded “it made me feel more hungry” and has followed an unfortunate precedent set by Northamptonshire’s star batsmen of earlier epochs by crashing his car into a ditch. But, no doubt, these youthful indiscretions are behind him now.]
These may have been the particular occasions this week, but the fact is that there is nowhere that makes me more vertiginously conscious of time’s passing (and literally so, as though I were looking over the edge of a cliff) than Wantage Road. Without boring you with too much autobiography, it was the first place I watched professional cricket (what must be close to half a century ago now), with, initially, my Father and Grandfather, then my Father alone.
He was associated with Northants in various guises for most of his life : as a child he hunted the autographs of such as Freddie Brown and Vince Broderick, he played a few games for the Second XI in his ‘O’ Level year, became one of the club’s innumerable Vice-Presidents and, having taken early retirement, spent much of his time at the ground before dying, quite unexpectedly, from a heart attack, shortly after his 61st birthday, and the start of the 2001 season.
When I returned to the area from London (I now live about an equal distance from Northampton and Leicester), shortly before the start of the 2002 season, and I decided to resume watching County cricket seriously, I threw in my lot with Leicestershire instead of Northampton, and couldn’t face returning to the ground for some years afterwards. I would have had to confront too many ghosts, and worse, perhaps, would have felt like something of an unquiet spirit there myself.
One of those ghosts would have been Colin Milburn (a particularly large and spiritous Spirit of Cricket, I imagine). If you have read “About the Author” at the head of this blog you may have noticed that I say “the first cricketer to capture his imagination was Colin Milburn and the most recent James Taylor“. There are various links that could be made between those players ; they were both, for one, treated with suspicion by the selectors on the grounds, partly, of their distinctive physiques and were never chosen for England as often as their admirers would have liked.
As a child it was partly Milburn’s size that appealed, appealing to the same childish instincts as silent comedies (his nickname “Ollie” stemmed from his resemblance to Oliver Hardy, and like Hardy he could be impressively light on his feet) and there was a similar aspect to Taylor. When he took on (as I saw him do at the Oval once) great lummoxes like Andre Nel and Tremlett he might have been Chaplin outwitting Eric Campbell with a deft swish of his walking cane. In fact, one of the many things I remain hugely grateful to him for is allowing me to recapture (quite late in life) that childlike pleasure of having a favourite player, one whom I liked more than I could ever quite rationally account for.
As we learned on Tuesday, of course, the two players now have something else in common, and neither of them will now play for England as often as they should have done. I was intending to write a kind of eulogy for Taylor, until I realised that I was indeed writing as though he were dead (I was using the same tone I had used for the last genuine eulogy I wrote, which was for my Father), when he is very much alive and much more likely to remain so than he was last week.
Having read that he appreciated such messages, I tweeted to Taylor that I had taken more pleasure from his batting for Leicestershire than anything else in cricket recently, and I meant it. When I was composing the “About the Author” note I originally wrote “and the last was James Taylor“. I changed that because it sounded too final, but I think it will turn out to be true.
James Taylor began his career at about the same time I began writing the previous incarnation of this blog – the Crimson Rambler – and I wrote about him there more than any other individual, at times passionately, often merely facetiously, always happily. If you require a monument to his career from my pen, follow the link and look around.
As a trivial example of how it is best not to assume that you have all the time in the world, both Ben Duckett and I may have assumed that when we turned up at Wantage Road for the final day of the match on Wednesday he would – given that there had been no overnight rain and it was a gloriously sunny day – be completing his triple-hundred and I would be watching a decent day’s cricket. But not so. Thanks to our old friend “water under the covers“, there was no play at all (as my Dad, more inured to the ways of Wantage Road than me, might have predicted).
Of course, there will be many other days for Duckett, and for me as well. Though best not to take anything for granted, I’d say.