THIS ( CRICKET- LOVING) LIFE
HE gazes at me from the sideboard, my dad. He stands self- consciously in front of a rustic scoreboard. The tops of his grey canvas pads sag limply over their bulging knee rolls. His baggy cricket creams look dull against the bright white of his thick flannelette shirt. His club cap perches awkwardly on his head, shadowing one eye. The rusty hanging number plates broadcast his team have scored 170- 9, with the last man — presumably my dad, by the awkward way he leans on his bat — scoring 110. He must have been so very proud.
I found the photograph after his death, among the flotsam and jetsam of his 80 years. Long- lost memories flooded back: memories of neverending childhood summer days after his return from the war, as he played on village greens across the Weald of Kent and Sussex. Memories of laughter- filled team charabanc rides each weekend with Mum and him to cricket matches on village greens.
Of creosoted, weather- boarded pavilions smelling of the tar of cricket nets stored during long winter months. Of afternoon teas celebrated on long trestle tables, swaying under the weight of cucumber and cress sandwiches and fat enamel teapots. Of twittering young women in bright floral dresses, fussing and waiting on their men as they animatedly renewed long- standing friendships with the opposing players, cradling their steaming mugs of tea.
My finger traces the edge of the silver frame and I relive my childhood joy in those magical times, hauntingly reflected in Dad’s eyes.
In the wake of his death from bowel cancer I had trawled the yellowed papers in his old brown suitcase and found his autobiography, dedicated to my mother on her 77th birthday. It recounted a grim childhood of poverty and lost opportunity. The plastic folder of painstakingly typed foolscap paper told how he survived the Spanish influenza pandemic after World War I, thanks to the dedication of my long- forgotten maiden great aunt. It told of his inspirational schoolteachers — many shell- shocked, deformed and traumatised by the fields of Flanders — who recognised and encouraged his academic potential. These men inspired him to win two valuable local grammar school scholarships, both of which were spurned by my grandparents, who would not make the effort to fund the necessary school uniforms.
Dad’s mother was a laundry maid at an orphanage and my grandfather drove a horsedrawn brewer’s dray, delivering kegs to public houses. He supped freely at every stop and was a hopeless drunk. In their poverty they had fostered out my father’s elder brother and it was no surprise to discover that Dad was taken away from school at 14. He was apprenticed in the printing trade to earn his family’s keep.
Despite feeling unwanted and unloved by his parents, Dad’s early life was softened by his love of all things cricket. At eight he was overjoyed to be allowed to keep the scorebook for a village second team and glad to whiten the cricket boots of the firsts. Away from the misery of home, he delighted in his role of club mascot, helping prepare cricket pitches until he was old enough to play in a team.
It is 40 years since I left the Weald for these shores. Dad’s repeated wish from afar was to see his young Australian cricketing grandson one day marking out his run- up at Lord’s and putting it to the Poms. Sadly for him, it didn’t happen. Cricket is like that.