I think I have mentioned before the man whom I, apparently disrespectfully, but in fact, as anyone familiar with the works of the children’s writer and naturalist “BB” will recognise, most respectfully, refer to as “The Last Gnome”. He is a small man, I’d estimate in his early seventies, whom I often see at Grace Road, and not only there but at Fairfield Road (home of Market Harborough CC) and further afield at Wantage Road, Loughborough, Kibworth, Leicester Ivanhoe, Trent Bridge and anywhere else where cricket is played (I think I once even glimpsed him at the Oval).
He is one of that small but happy band who, in full possession of their faculties and a bus pass, spends as close to every day of the season watching cricket as makes no difference. He knows everything there is worth knowing, from where to get off the bus for Ivanhoe’s ground to the fact that the lower reaches of the Northamptonshire Leagues continue playing on well into September. A thesaurus of useful memories (old enough to remember, for instance, the days when Grace Road would fill up after tea when the nearby factories finished for the day), he is full of surprises (once pulling from his over-stuffed rucksack an early edition of “Lillywhite’s Scores and Biographies” that, he said casually, he had just picked up at auction in Sotheby’s).
Anyway, the point of this story is that, late last season, I turned up at Kibworth’s ground to watch them play Harborough. Now this, by local standards, is an Important Match (I think Aadil Ali, who is now attracting a little attention with Leicestershire, made some attractive runs) and I was surprised not to see the Gnome there. Kibworth are lucky enough to have two pitches and, during a break in play, I strolled over to have a look at what turned out to be their 3s (or possibly 4s) playing some Northamptonshire village team. And there, sitting in front of the small secondary pavilion, was a full complement of Last Gnomes (he is only the most prominent of their kind).
We exchanged pleasantries on the subject of the exodus of players from Grace Road (“I’m surprised anyone wants ’em” and “they’ll just get some more in”) being his sanguine views and I enquired why he was watching this match of no importance instead of the more skillful and significant one on which he had his back turned. “Oh, I’ve found nice little sun trap here, you know. At my age that’s what matters.”.
I thought of this when I looked back at the photographs I’ve taken of the matches I’ve seen this Summer. Through circumstances (both personal and to do with this year’s County schedule) I’ve seen very few matches of any real importance since May, but I have found an awful lot of sun traps at Geddington, Rothwell, Harpenden, Finedon, Luton, Belper Meadows, Lady Bay and wherever minor cricket is played. I’ve yet to feel myself shrinking, but if you ever need to know where to get off the bus for the Ivanhoe, I’m your gnome … I mean man.
(Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the LG quite so often this season but then nor has he, I suppose, seen as much of me. Perhaps one, or both, of us may have started slip slidin’ away?)