Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Nostalgia - it's just not what it used to be

Fantasy Bob is blessed with Test Match quality parents.  True Ashes heroes.

They recently passed the remarkable landmark of their 60th wedding anniversary which was celebrated in style.  FB was pressed into service to say a few words to the company - as if any words could ever do justice to such a milestone.

In preparing his inadequate remarks, FB had to thumb through the pages of his memory of growing up in Aberdeen during the 1950s and 60s.  In the manner of a drowning man seeing the final umpire's finger slowly moving, many of his formative cricketing experiences flashed before his eyes.  To the collective relief of the company, FB could not make his speech an extended review of his cricketing life.  But he will unashamedly share them with you.

FB remembers only an infinite sequence of gloriously sunny summer afternoons.  Rain never stopped play.  Of course this is a wholly accurate recollection of Aberdeen’s subtropical micro-climate.   And in the 50s and 60s the days were longer than they are now following the decimalisation of the currency in the 70s.  The evenings longer still. 

As a toddler, and slightly beyond, FB remembers being taken to Aberdeenshire cricket ground at Mannofield.  At that time this was not such a minority pursuit as now, and a fair gathering of spectators attended.  It is entirely possible that during those years FB saw some greats play – after all the West Indian star Rohan Kanhai was professional at Aberdeenshire at some point round about then (and FB has been frustrated in his researches at being unable to establish the exact years).  Did this master batsman's technique enter FB’s soul subliminally?  Does his cover drive not bear a passing resemblance to that of Kanhai?  Er.....................FB leaves you to answer that for yourselves.  

At that time FB’s attention was less on the quality of the on field action than on the gymnastic potential of the wooden bleachers that surrounded the boundary.  They were ideal for swinging on, sliding down and jumping off.  Skinned knees, bruised shins, torn shorts, and skelfs in just about every soft spot.  Every child’s dream.  Nor should the history of these even then decaying bleachers be underestimated, they had accommodated thousands to witness the last first class innings of Bradman in 1948.  

It may be that FB's extreme reverence for tea comes from the family visits to the tea room at Mannofield.  For the tea room at Mannofield in those days did a thriving business - there was more than one sitting and FB thinks you had to make a reservation.  Fantastic.  This was of course before brown bread had been invented, but home baking was a religion in Aberdeen so FB was hooked early and his life time addiction to scones was started.

Age 10 - Dexter to a T
Although FB never saw his father play, he was, by his own report, a decent off spinner with a keen interest in the game.   He venerated Jim Laker, which shows his impeccable judgement.  And his interest in cricket was shared with the young and impressionable FB.  Cricket books were found on the bookshelves and FB can still see in his mind's eye pictures of Bradman and Hobbs and views of Worcester CC ground, where touring sides started their programmes, with the Cathedral overlooking the action. 

In FB and his sister's dressing up box were a discarded pair of real flannels, a huge cricket bat, leather soled cricket boots and what was carefully described to FB's young ears as an abdominal protector.  Not your modern plastic cod-piece but a strap-on piece of apparatus with a ribbed protection for the area immediately above the crown jewels.  FB has no idea of whether this is standard period issue or whether there is something more he needs to know about his father.  But this abdominal protector was pressed regularly into service in childhood games.  Its straps could be tied nicely under the chin and it therefore took on all manner of roles as a helmet, a hat, or even passing off as a rhino horn when zoos were played.  What unsuspecting Mums, coming to collect their darling infants from a vigorous play session, made of it when their little darling entered with this apparatus strapped to his or her head, history does not record.

The discarded cricket bat still seems huge and, in FB's memory, larger than any contemporary weapon.  But this cannot be, since the laws have not changed on bat dimensions since the time of the Romans.  One period feature of the bat (and FB dimly recalls the name of Herbert Sutcliffe being on it, and Grays of Cambridge) was whipping.  Your modern bat has some pathetic sellotapey stuff here and there pretending to bind cracks.  But this bat had thin cord tightly bound round its presumably damaged areas – a highly professional job.   No crack would dare widen when bound so tight.

That bat would suffer some years later by being cut down so that it could be used by sister number 2 in games of garden cricket.  She was keen for a while, but only to bat and insisted on wearing improvised pads made of newspaper.   Luckily for her, camera phones were not available so no photographic evidence is available.  Sadly, her early interest did not continue - a great loss to the development of women's cricket in Scotland.

Just as they are now bats were special things for FB.  As he grew up, FB remembers the thrill of acquiring bats of different sizes, 3, 4, 6.  SIX!    Size 6, now that was almost grown up because the next size was full size.  And it had 2 springs in the handle rather than the single spring in the baby bats. Harrows were mythical weapons and had to be ordered specially, presumably from Harrow.  The academy size didn't exist.  Now, these bats might have been purchased in the  toy shop – a fantastical Aladdin’s cave known as the Toy Bazaar – but they were real willow cricket bats and made in Pakistan.   They required oiling and all the rest - even though they rarely hit anything other than a tennis ball  - or, in FB's case, rarely hit anything at all. 

At FB’s primary school – Ashley Road at first and subsequently Broomhill - there were stumps painted on the playground wall.  Any morning in the summer term there would be several games of something approximating cricket going on with various centurions showing the effectiveness of the flat bat smack back over the bowler's head as a means both of scoring runs and disturbing the girls' skipping games at the other end of the playground. 

At Broomhill there was a cricket team in P6&7, although there was no coaching.  The team was basically the same boys as in the football team because most of them could catch and run without falling over.  (Now of course footballers are encouraged to fall over any time they are near another player, but things were different then).  Catching was certainly FB's reason for selection and he recalls fielding at suicidally silly point - not a great position if you think that the probability of the ball being dropped short, wide of the off stump was pretty high.  And it was.  FB's survival was due to the fact that he was blessed with quick reflexes.

Batsmen were allowed one leather-buckled pad on the front leg, and the gloves had rubber spines as finger protectors, which were about as effective as pieces of toast.  Bats in the school bag were Gunn and Moore Cannons (size 6 of course) of an uncertain antiquity.   This is a classic brand that FB understands G&M have just updated and relaunched.

No one was expected to bring their own equipment.   Gym shoes and shorts and aertex shirts were worn.  FB was regarded as one of the more serious players because his Mum had knitted a white sweater with cables and a V-neck.  Other, obviously lesser, players just wore their grey school pullovers.  

Balls were mostly cork with some kind of impregnation to masquerade as a seam.  Kwik Cricket had not been devised, so games were on conventional lines, but long innings were rare - only made possible by the collective inability of the bowlers to bowl anything like straight.  FB remembers that Broomhill had one decent player who probably went on to play for Aberdeenshire as an adult.  He seemed, as an accident of birth, to be able to bowl straight and bat more or less straight.  But he wasn't in the football team on grounds of fatness - which makes FB think that there is something unreliable in his recollection of his name being Alan Milburn - since Colin Milburn was a rotund England great of about that time.  FB is pretty sure he never played with Colin Milburn.

Whether through Master Milburn's efforts or the collective will of the rest of the team they got to the final of the local school trophy that year.  They must have lost the toss because they were all out for 23 (FB a highly creditable 0) which the opposition easily knocked off.   So FB learned young of the impacts of having glory plucked from your grasp.  FB recalls he generally batted 6 in this team, but he cannot recall scoring very much.  so some things don't change. He just remembers wearing the single pad with leather buckles and thinking that things would be so much better and easier when he got to wear pads on both legs. 

Ah, the sweet innocence of youth.

To be continued - what happened when 2 pads were allowed.

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