Sunday, 18 May 2014

An epidemic (Part 2)

FB returns to the gripping story of Aberdeen's 1964 typhoid epidemic.  Readers who missed the first posting on this subject may consider themselves fortunate, but they can catch up with it through this link.

As the crisis continued, schools were closed for several weeks.  A source of glee to most of the City's children, although many grieved for the daily handwashing sessions which had been mandated in all schools by the authorities.  FB would have missed some school cricket, for in those far off days state primary schools were still active in providing sporting opportunities for their charges.  Hard to imagine, but true.

FB's sporting prowess was nurtured under the watchful eye of Mr Pirie - otherwise known as Sir - and several away trips across the City were made in the teacher's Baby Austin.  FB is sure that Mr Pirie still holds the record for the number of primary school cricketers crammed into a Baby Austin.
Luxury travel for sportsmen 1964 style

Mr Pirie was also FB's class teacher and he inspired FB to high intellectual endeavour.  In fact, FB would not be where he is today were it not for Mr Pirie's efforts.  But that is not a reason to condemn him.  He was Test Match quality.

Once FB had emerged from the Baby Austin,  he was a lynch-pin of the Broomhill PS XI for whom he performed the vital but highly specialised role of returning the ball from the wicketkeeper to the bowler. Prior to the epidemic, the team had reached the final of the Aberdeen's school cup competition. Assorted parents and loved ones fringed the boundary on the big day. Regrettably FB's heroic performance in returning the ball to the bowler was not enough to carry his team to victory, and they succumbed to a heavy but character forming defeat.

That year must have been Broomhill's golden sporting year, for FB kept goal in the football team which also reached the final of the local competition which was played at the holy ground of Pittodrie Park.  Sadly, they came off second best in that contest too. More character forming experience.

Little did FB know then how humiliation on the cricket field would become such a repeated and dominant part of his life - after all at that stage he had yet to encounter leg spin bowling.  Had he known that such terrors lay ahead, would he have paid more heed to Mr Pirie's exhortations to pay more attention to the wonders of long division rather than dream of sporting glory?  There must be something here for FB's biographers to work on - need FB have sacrificed so much of his life toiling up the hill against the wind? Could the eventual horrors of FB's blogging have been averted by prompt action at this stage in his development?

Maybe it was the epidemic-enforced leisure or maybe it was the fact that the sun seemed to shine ceaselessly or maybe it was a quirk of FB's genetic inheritance, but that period saw FB's first serious interest in the mysteries of doughty groundsmanship.

FB's residence at the time was a new build.  His Dad, under FB's close supervision, had worked hard to create something garden-like out of the building site that had at first surrounded the property. When FB became weary of the tarmac of the drive way as a surface for the endless games of cricket he played with his chums, he began to eye the newly laid grass.  A plank, a brush and a paintpot later he had marked a crease, carefully measured to exacting MCC specifications as laid out in his Book of Doughty Groundsmanship for Boys.  He even got the roller out - well that little roller thing that was on the back of the lawn mower at least.

As he proudly looked at his work, a prime batting surface if ever his young eyes had seen such, he gradually became aware of a small limitation.  One crease was fine, but he needed a second. Unfortunately the garden wall was a mere 12 yards away.

There was nothing else for it, the other crease would have to be at right angles. Thus did FB create the first L shaped wicket in the history of cricket - a feat which so far has gone unrecorded in cricket's annals.  But perhaps it explains the look of scepticism, if not fear, in the eyes of Carlton's world famous Doughty Groundsman whenever FB offers assistance.

A more significant limitation on FB's cricket pitch was the large living room window at square leg which was duly pierced soon after by one of FB's better shots.  Cricket was banned to the drive and FB's burgeoning career as Doughty Groundsman put on hold.

As the epidemic wore on, it was eventually determined that the germs originated in a can of corned beef sold at a prominent local grocer. It was believed that pollution from the waters of the Uruguay River had entered a defective tin. The infected meat then contaminated a slicing machine within the shop, leading to the spread of the disease. It was the end for that business in the City, but also an explanation why FB will give a big body swerve to a corned beef sandwich should it be presented on the cricket tea table.  He is sure no empire biscuit has ever been the source of such disease.

When The Queen visited Aberdeen at the end of June it was taken as a sign that the City was safe again and the epidemic was over.  FB understands that she was not offered a corned beef sandwich during the Civic Reception.

Trent Bridge June 1964 -
Boycott walks to the wicket
as an England player for the first time
The epidemic over, the summer holidays started and the world went on its merry way.  Handwashing rituals were abandoned.

1964 was an Ashes summer and the Test cricket was beamed into FB's home in flickering black and white. A disappointing series was heavily affected by rain and saw England lose the trophy, but it was memorable for 2 things.

1964 saw the start of the Test career of the then bespectacled Geoffrey Boycott.  In his first Test innings he top scored with 48, apparently unaffected by the impact of the epidemic on FB's hometown.

At the Oval Test later in the summer Boycott made his first Test century and the rest is history.

The Oval Test was also where Fred Trueman took his 300th Test wicket, also oblivious to the epidemic and its impact in Aberdeen.  Listen to it here described by the immaculate  John Arlott - 'Trueman with a bit of a scowl at the batsman, doesn't even look friendly towards his fieldsmen at the moment.'
Hawke c Cowdrey b Trueman

At the time it seemed an unrepeatable achievement: as Trueman remarked in response to the question as to whether his record could be broken, 'Whoever does it will be bloody tired.'

There are now 26 bloody tired bowlers as the amount of Test cricket has increased hugely since Fred's day.  It's an epidemic.

At the end of that summer FB returned to his final term under Mr Pirie's tutelage, and sat the 11+  before leaving at Christmas.  This was part of the structure of Scottish education at the time when pupils would have 6 months filling in before starting their proper secondary education the following August.

With thoughts of the epidemic long behind him, he left a glittering sporting career in his wake and took with him an extensive knowledge of handwashing that has served him well right up until the present.

Readers wishing to learn more about Fantasy Bob's completely uninteresting childhood  and his emerging interest in cricket can do so at this link and this link.


  1. I well remember the famous 1964 epidemic in Aberdeen and the demise of the grocer's business deemed responsible for it, being imprisoned in the relative safety of boarding school at the time. 1964 was also the year that I first followed a Test Series, picking up the action on a newly acquired television during the 4th Test at Old Trafford. This was a slow contest, ground out on a perfect batting wicket, in which 1271 runs were scored for the loss of only 18 wickets and featured innings of 311 and 256 by Bobby Simpson and Ken Barrington respectively. It might not have been an exciting match but the batting was magnificent throughout and inspired me to further interest in Test cricket. Eventually a debut in a representative match followed, the annual fixture against St Mary's Melrose. I managed to bowl only one over and the keeper dropped a catch off the second ball of it. The next delivery was inevitably despatched to the boundary but history had been made. Luckily for me a heavy thunderstorm broke during the tea break and our innings never got under way. Incidentally it was on this trip to Melrose that our headmaster may have set the record for the number of boys crammed into a Renault 4.

    1. Many thanks. A Renault 4 seems a very luxurious if not exotic transport compared to a Baby Austin. FB hopes it did not turn your head.

  2. The Austin A35 to which FB refers was the Mini of its day. Like the later Renault4, its Tardis-like qualities were useful for transporting large numbers of small people (or small numbers of large people) over moderate distances, though whether they were capable of playing cricket at the other end was possibly a moot point. The Renault 4 famously cornered on its door handles, which made for an interesting ride, especially when seated in the back.