Caught at gully: or not caught at gully…

Those of you who know me well will know that it speaks volumes for me just to be able to say “I played cricket last Saturday”. But what a game! It had everything. Drama, flair and courage. This was my comeback game after maybe six years or something like that. And it was all made possible by the neurosurgery and implantation of electrodes deep in my brain in November. Not all of you follow my Parkinson’s ‘exploits’ but my Parky pals will know how much it meant to me.

Cricket is a metaphor for life. A metaphor for the twists and turns of life, its myriad subtleties and nuances. There is a rugged poetry about the game of cricket, its ebb and flow, it’s embodiment of courage, loneliness, concentration and panache. As any cricketer will gladly quote to you “cricket is a team game played by individuals”. Games are won and lost on that elusive combination of individual moments. That moment when a huge strike lands just over the boundary rope when it could, just as easily, have fallen into the waiting fielder’s hands, thereby annulling what went on to be a huge half-century. This is cricket.

But yesterday’s game however was different. Brooksy, the skipper, had let it be known, via the club’s Facebook page, that this was my ‘comeback’ game. That in itself was amazing and I was overwhelmed by the kind wishes from so many of the best cricketers I know. Some simply wished me the best of luck. Others reminisced about games we had played together in the past. We had legends visit us at Cousley Wood – Mick ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, lethal fast bowler from years gone by, Steve Dunkerley, my first captain all those years back and still one of the best cricketers I’ve met, Fudgie Maynard, mother of Charlie, whom I played alongside and saw develop into a very good whippy fast bowler. Charlie not Fudgie! And so on.

It was that kind of day. And if Heathfield Park cricket club had played its part correctly would have been an epic victory by a handful of runs. But fairytales rarely happen and the cold dark statistics tell the tale. We lost by one wicket. After several hours of ebb and flow, cut and thrust, something and something else, they won by one wicket.

To be honest that’s the way you want it, to go down to the wire with everything still to play for. The formula is simple nowadays – win or lose. No subtle draws, battled out over hours of grim self-denial. Only swashbuckling wins and desperate defeats.

Cricket is a game full of maybes. Maybe we could have got off to a better start. Maybe we could have held more catches. Maybe, just maybe. And when you come to talk about a game, it’s turning those maybes into realities that define the sport.

And I had my chance later on, as an individual, to win the game for my team. A sharp low chance diving to my right. Got a hand to it but couldn’t hold on. Maybe I could have seen the chance marginally sooner against the sunlight. Maybe I could have extended my fingers those few inches to take the catch. But I didn’t. And a few overs later, the game was lost.

If you had asked me before the game whether I would settle for one moment, one chance of glory, of course I would. And that’s what I got. That one chance. In the fairytale version, the way it was scripted, I would have held the catch, been a hero and had more beer bought for me than I could possibly drink. Another day.

Cricket is truly a metaphor for life. And you will never hear me complain. To be able to play club cricket, at however low a level, has been one of the great pleasures of my adult life. And the friends I have made along the way will, one day I hope, become the cornerstones of a cricketing novel.

Well, maybe.

My first Jaaaaaag!

When I was around three years old, perhaps four, we lived in flat in Denham. My father, my mother and me. My father was a doctor and my mother previously a nurse. Each morning we would finish our breakfast, my father would give my mother apeck on the cheek and head off to surgery. Mum and I would wave him goodbye. Once out of sight, my mother would start on her chores. I on the other hand, waited until I had seen Mr Potts, the bank manager leave for work. He would wave to me and I would, in return, wave back.

On one occasion, meeting in the street, Mr Potts had said to my mother how friendly and cheerful a boy she had. This made me laugh. I had no particular interest in Mr Potts as a human being. A rather dull man if truth be told, with a Bobby Charlton combover, tortoiseshell glasses and weedy moustache, lugging his briefcase into his car.

Not just any car though. Despite his Walter Mitty, digestive biscuit kind of persona, Mr Potts drove a Jag. No car has ever been less well matched to its owner. This was the 1960s. Jags were driven by villains. Ronnie and Reggie drove Mark 10 Jags. Buster Edwards drove a Mark 2. No self-respecting villain would drive anything else. I suppose you could argue that both Buster Edwards and Mr Potts were, in their own different ways, interested in the contents of banks. But these were not ideological similarities in any way.

Despite Mr Potts, Jaguars were and always have been aspirational cars. Ask any young boy of that age what car they most wanted and the answer was always a Jaguar. Not a BMW. Not a Mercedes even. No, every boy wanted a Jag. And if your dad had a Jag you were king of the playground at school. “My daddy’s car is a Jag-you-are.”

Those boys grew up, as little boys do, compromising with Fords, Vauxhalls, Seats, Volkswagens and so on. Cars that went from A to B. Functional cars. Practical cars. With drivers that bored with their talk of fuel economy, luggage space and cheap leatherette seats. Cars that, bit by bit, squeezed the life force out of their owners.

And then there were Jags. Driven, Mr Potts excepting, by the kind of people your parents told you not to talk to. The kind of people who wore sunglasses (this was the 1960s) with names like Ray Ban, Aviator and Lacoste. Sunglasses that spoke of the Monte Carlo and the Bay of Naples rather than Timothy White’s or Boots. Perhaps not gangsters, but definitely edgy. The kind of people who made me cling to my mother’s legs in their presence. Alpha males.

I was no different. I wanted a Jag for as long as I could remember. And I too compromised. What should have been transports of delight were little more than emblems of servitude. My first car was a Ford Fiesta. I’ve had Golfs, Sierras, Minis and so on. Some fun, some less. All falling short of my motoring ideal, my Nirvana. That never changed. As months became years, years became decades, I began to recognise that gnawing lack of motoring fulfilment for what it was. I needed a Jag. No matter how I thought the problem through, rationalised reasons against it, or examined my fragile finances, I had to have a Jag.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and, facing the very real possibility that my motoring days might end abruptly three years later, I decided it was Jag time. Others in the family concluded differently. I had intended to buy one upon retirement but since that was a good decade or more in the future, I had to agree that, even through my rose tinted spectacles, it was unlikely I would still be driving then.

Thought through, this had a very salutary effect of bringing the decision forward. If I was going to ever have a Jag it needed to be now. That is at least one of the more attractive aspects of Parkinson’s – it encourages swift and decisive decision-making. Others might call it impulsive. Probably.

Of course, a Jaguar is, to any true enthusiast,an old car. As James May of Top Gear famously asked of the newest, lengthened teardrop XJ design “but is it a Jaaaaag?” In these days of androgynous, angular design, Jaguars look like BMWs which in turn look like Mercedes. Such is the investment in Jaguar that it must now compete for the fleet market with 3, 5 and 7 series BMWs. Individuality has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. Now you can have your BMW, that middle management symbol of servitude with either a BMW or Jaguar badge, such is now the similarity between the models.

For me, Jaguar as a saloon car marque ceased to exist around 2010 when the XF and new body XJ were released. Wonderful cars themselves but ones that did not answer positively to James May’s question. These were new Jags for a new generation. In due course, I’m sure, owners will look back on these fondly.

But, in many ways the last true Jag was probably the most retrospective looking of all – the S type, with its many stylistic nods back to the old S type and Mark 2 cars. And when I finally got air-traffic control clearance so to speak and was able to buy one, it was this Jag I went for.

A marriage made in heaven? Hardly. Within six months of ownership it had some £5000 worth of repairs and replacements done. All I have to say covered by the warranty. Rattling catalysts, squeaky steering, and the almost inevitable gearbox problems that plague these cards. And before you see this as pathognomonic of the British car industry of that time let me just say that the gearbox is made in Germany. The only German part on the car I believe! And the same one used in many BMWs of that time. It wouldn’t be a Jaguar if it didn’t breakdown! If you want soulless 100% reliability, buy a BMW. A laptop on wheels.
If you want to feel part of a living thing, breathing, pulsing and throbbing, then you know where to go.

The Jaguar S type. Love at first sight.