Friday, 14 January 2011

Farewell My Googly

Fantasy Bob suspects that most of his readers take the great detective writer Raymond Chandler as an American through and through.  However a significant part of his growing up was spent in the UK and he served in the Gordon Highlanders during World War 1.  He attended school at Dulwich where a class mate was PG Wodehouse.  That schooling gave him a familiarity with cricket which is sadly suppressed in his most celebrated work.  Here his early masterpiece Farewell my Googly shows his intuitive grasp of the dramatic possibilities of the cricket match.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was asking the umpire for leg stump.

As I scraped my mark, I reviewed the scrambled chain of coincidence that brought me there. The dame had been a looker, a blonde that would make a bishop kick a stained glass window. Once seen, never forgotten.  Most days though I am just in the mood to remember. She gave me some dumb story about a follow on and reverse swing. Some dead guy’s ashes could be lost for ever. She must have called me as a sucker for that kind of talk. The two bottomless black pools that she had where other dames had eyes blinked at me and I fell right in. I told her my expenses and she gave me a smile that gave me that warm feeling in my hip pocket.

Now I looked around the field. I could see the problem. Four slips and two gullies were as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel cake. As a welcoming party, it had all the warmth of the morgue. The Gray Nichols Nitro in my hand suddenly felt small enough to pick my teeth with. I hoped it was loaded.

Twenty two yards away a big angry guy held a red ball in his paws like a lump of raw meat. He didn’t curl his lip because it has been curled for him at birth. We sneered at each other for a moment. He sneered better than I did. He paced slowly back. He turned and charged in, his arm came over hard like the piston on a 34 Studebaker.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was pads, gloves and a bat. Then the dame’s whisky tones came back to me, ‘Remember his first ball will be the bouncer.’ I had to hand it to the dame. She called it dead right. I leaned back and flicked the ball over the mid-wicket boundary.

Batting is like love: the first stroke is magic, the second is intimate, the third routine. After that  things become less complicated. I didn't feel too much older when I saw the umpire lift the bails and call stumps. I guessed the old guy’s ashes were safe. I thought the dame might be pleased.  I looked forward to a long evening bathing in those two black pools.  I had no other plans.

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

I looked for the dame as I came off the field. There were nothing but old guys in striped ties. It looked like it would have to be that glass of beer instead.

Bogart as ace batsman Philip Marlowe
 in the lost film of Farewell My Googly

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