All the Time in the World

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) :

Wantage Road sundial

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Season

Nottinghamshire v Leicestershire, Trent Bridge, 1st April 2016 & Warwickshire v Worcestershire, 5th April 2016 (both pre-season friendlies)

Some lines that have often come to mind, as I have looked around at my companions while watching County cricket, are Larkin’s “I know this is paradise / Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives” (from ‘High Windows’).  Not, as for Larkin, unlimited, guilt-free sexual congress (far from it), but the ability, after too many years tethered to a workplace, to watch cricket every Summer’s day for the rest of their lives.

I now find that I have, not unexpectedly, if a little prematurely, attained that paradise, having retired (or, strictly speaking, having been retired, like David Beckham’s football shirt).  Having reached it, though, I am slightly wary that it will turn out to be something of a fool’s paradise.  Part of the attraction of a day at the cricket for me has always been the feeling that I am on holiday, and, recently in particular, that I am on holiday when I ought to be at work, and now, of course, I have no work.

I can assuage this feeling a little by assiduously catching up on the gardening (or, for that matter, by writing this) on the days when I am not at the cricket, and suspect it is probably wise to build up slowly from two or three days a week, but, no doubt, by the end of the season, I shall have attained full badgerhood, and will find myself eagerly scanning the internet for news of one last Notts Academy game at Wellbeck Colliery before the Autumn sets in.

One sign that I haven’t yet fully transitioned is that I’ve passed up the opportunity to watch all but two days of this season’s pre-season friendlies, one at Trent Bridge and one at Edgbaston (the real hardcore will have already put in a solid three weeks cocooned in Gore-Tex and fleece by the time the County Championship begins next week).

Trent Bridge is a venue that I have often visited and have often written about in glowing terms.  Of all the Test-hosting grounds I’ve visited it best pulls off the difficult trick of being both grand and homely, of combining the traditional and the contemporary and of feeling as well-suited to County cricket as the bigger occasions.  It has about the best place I know to watch cricket on a fine day (the Radcliffe Road stand) and one of the best on a cold one – the interior of the Pavilion, which is cosy without being stuffy and has a sense of history, without allowing that history to become too much of a weight.

Trent Bridge Pavilion

(While there, I managed inadvertently to photograph, and later made the acquaintance of, Tony Hutton, a stalwart of the Northern circuit and one of the authors of the excellent blog “Cricket History of Calderdale and Kirklees“, which I would advise you to seek out and follow.  He is not the Rastafarian in the foreground, by the way.)

Edgbaston is as near to my home as Nottingham, but I had never been there before Tuesday, and I’m not sure I’m in any great hurry to go back, unless, perhaps, it was for a Test Match.  Whereas Trent Bridge seems to belong to Nottinghamshire CCC, who allow it to be used for Tests, Edgbaston makes no bones about primarily a Test Match stadium, with the Birmingham Bears a close second and Warwickshire a poor third.

Its architect seems to have been a man with one big idea – that you can never have too much reinforced concrete – and that, if you don’t like naked concrete, you can always paint it bright blue.

Edgbaston

Whereas Trent Bridge has kept its venerable pavilion and built the ground in harmony around it, Edgbaston seems to have erased any trace of its past, except for its “iconic” score box and, perhaps, this bear, clinging for dear life to its ragged staff to avoid getting swept away by the Winds of Change howling around the ground.

Bear and Ragged Staff

They are, I’m told, in the process of developing the ground (presumably to make it even bigger and more packed with reinforced concrete) and, perhaps as a result of this, the concourse around the ground is currently an extraordinary shantytown of tumbledown bars and fast food outlets, weedy waste ground and, in an unusual touch, a small evangelical church around the back of the R.E.S. Wyatt Stand.  In fact, the whole place is such a mixture of brutalism and edgelands that I wouldn’t have been too surprised to have spotted some earnest young man with a beard and tattoos tapping out a Tumblr about it.

But this is, I confess, a superficial impression, formed in unpropitious circumstances.  County cricket supporters are hardy organisms who, like lichen, can thrive in apparently inhospitable terrain and, if I became used to the ground, I’m sure I could, in time, carve out some homely niche for myself there.   In fact, when the sun came out briefly in the late afternoon I could picture the particular concrete terrace I was sitting in as the surrounds of a seaside lido, and the executive boxes as beach huts, the Members picking their way gingerly down to the pitch in their swimming costumes, shoes and towels in hand.  But that would have to be much later in the Summer, when Gore-Tex and fleece are but a distant memory.

As is usually the case in these games, the cricket itself was fairly negligible (their main purpose seems to be to reacclimatise the players to the English weather after their earlier pre-season warm-ups in Barbados or Dubai).  Both Bell and Trott (whom I had been wanting to see) were out before I arrived at Edgbaston, and it is no news that batsmen of the quality of James Taylor (seen here sizing up the opposition),

Taylor and Wells

Sam Hain or even Laurie Evans are not likely to be troubled by the second string attacks of Second Division Counties. The regulations allowed them to retire when they reached around 55 and they all seized the opportunity with some alacrity.  We should all be so lucky, eh readers?

A feature of Trent Bridge is that the doors to the pavilion have small portholes cut into them, to allow the gatemen to see when a player needs to be let back in.  I thought I would try to record the view through one, but all I seem to have photographed is air and light.

Window at Trent Bridge

How did that Larkin poem end again?

………………………… and immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:

The sun-comprehending glass,

And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows

Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.