The end of the affair

For those tiny handful among you unaware of my passion for the game, I should probably give you some context. Since around 2008, on and off, I have had the pleasure of playing cricket for Bells Yew Green CC. This tiny village, invisible on most maps, somehow manages to field four competitive teams on a Saturday afternoon in the county league.

Having not played cricket since school (Marlborough, where cricket was in some form more or less mandatory), I initially chose to play the game on the flimsy pretext of being part of a “dads and lads” team, Ready to pass on the fruits of my wisdom to young Jacob. I don’t suppose I fooled anybody and, like many of the dads, we soon found that our own penchant for the game exceeded that of our offspring, despite the reverse being the case in terms of talent. My own scratchy efforts in the field, typically somewhere between slip and point, bore no comparison with my sons efforts with the ball, bowling beautiful late outswingers to the chagrin of senior batters throughout the league.

While he matured into a decent enough fast bowler, my own contributions to each game withered on the vine. Each season, my productivity, already marginal, diminished but never more so than this. I think I believed, following my recent neurosurgery, implanting electrodes deep into my brain, that I could turn back the clock and somehow be a productive member of the team. I was wrong.

Like ageing boxers, unable to accept the reality of events, and the slowing of their reactions, I thought I could make a contribution. I even went so far as to have a couple of net sessions. Vish gave me a bag of balls from the bowling machine. I should have taken note of the evidence but instead, optimistically asked Vish for his opinion. He was honest. And I thank and respect him for that. Whereas I ignored the evidence, when asked whether I would be able to bat properly, he told me that he was worried I would get hurt.

Needless to say, I felt otherwise. 2022 was going to be the season where I vindicated my own erroneous perception of my ability and rolled along on a wave of increasing scores, culminating in a 50 at the end of the season. Plain and simple.

But cricket has a way of finding you out, its own stark reality triumphing over your own delusions. Ultimately, there is nowhere to hide and the chances of the season panning out like that were negligible. This year, despite the long-suffering patience of my captain, Andy, and my teammates, cricket has (finally and correctly – let’s be honest) shown me the door. I am a liability in the field, stopping next to nothing and catching even less. My batting has reached a kind of nirvana, almost the sound of one hand clapping. I know I’ve said it before but this time really is for good. It’s time to go. The rest of my team can get on with the business of winning games instead of having to hide me somewhere in the field.

Cricket is difficult enough when played with 11. Playing with 10 is asking way too much. Cricket is a beautiful game and it will be all the more beautiful without my fumblings in the field.

Do I regret anything? Yes of course I do.. I regret every century I didn’t make, cut short achingly close on five. I regret every catch I dropped, every throw that trickled feebly to the wicket-keeper, every lumbering run in pursuit of the ball. But these are not cricket regrets so much as my ranting against my own health and the dying of the light.

In small mitigation, if I may, I offer this. I have had Parkinson’s for nearly 17 years, type II diabetes for five, a heart condition for three and neurosurgery to implant electrodes in my brain and battery packs in my chest. Now I can add cataracts to that list. None of it helps. I take more than 7000 tablets a year just to move. It’s mainly successful. I time my tablets to get the best benefits during the games. On a good day you would struggle to see my difficulties. But some days the drugs don’t work. And over the years, the number of bad days has begun to exceed the good. Perhaps you’ve noticed my foot dragging, return of my tremor or blank expressionless face. These are my bad days.

But Vish was right. The cataracts, minor in terms of day-to-day activities, have huge implication for cricket. I simply don’t see the ball quickly or early enough. I don’t see it leaving the bowlers hand or the batsmen’s bat. And if you see the ball late, your reaction will be late. More than once I have failed to see the ball until past me. If you can’t see it you can’t play it. Eyesight is everything and, although hesitating to draw parallels with the master blaster himself, even Vivian Richards struggled when his eyesight began to fail. And I’m sure as hell no Vivian Richards.

Cricket has always been a love affair for me. I’ve had the privilege of playing with pretty much everyone at this club. I’ve played with county level players, even on one occasion with internationals. I have memories and stories by the hatful. One day there will be a book. Who knows – maybe a TV series. Thank you all. It’s been a blast.

*For the record my last match was for BYG 4th XI against Isfield CC 2nd XI. They batted first and scored 239 for 9 off their 40 overs despite a spell of 4 for 26 off 6 by our skipper. Our reply faltered at 173 with only Andy (44) and Petrus (61) offering serious resistance. I scored 1, in doing so equalling my highest score of the season and taking my total to a whopping 2 at an average of 0.5.

Like I said, it’s time to go.

Ghosts of Montmartre

In the heart of Montmartre, it all came flooding back to me the moment I saw the restaurant. It hadn’t changed. Or perhaps, if it had, it was in no more than trivial detail. Le Relais de la Butte, a true staging point halfway up Rue Ravignan, where it opened out, since 1911 upon Place Émile Goudeau. Poulet a l’estragon, chicken breast,pan-fried with tarragon and served in its copper skillet. We ate as though the meal was our last. It was. Conversation was stilted. We thought it was love at the time. It wasn’t and because it wasn’t, I would never again recognise it’s like. In the tiny square, bounded on two of the sides by the restaurant and by the hotel in which we had stayed, love faltered.

The old man, coughing and spluttering periodically on his Gauloise, saw you twirl and my camera flash. Tres jolie he called out. You smiled, and although I could not see it in the dark, I know you blushed. The old man knew it. You looked a million dollars and if I remember nothing else of you any more, I shall never forget that image. Your silk dress, the colour of lobelia, hugging your body, achingly slim and pale. The old man knew it. And this young man, too stupid and gauche, let you slip through his fingers.

In these buildings, Le Bateau-Lavoir,a creaking artists garret, Picasso, Matisse, Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein had painted and written. A wooden clatter that echoed along the street, I threw back the shutters, letting in the moonlight. A dog barked. I can remember the sound of your dress as I stood behind you and loosened the clasp. It slid down in a crinoline cascade and I cupped your breasts in my hands as it fell away. You turned to me, shoulders curved into feline submission. Your pale body phosphorescent in the moonlight, shivering, each breath fast and shallow, nipples like thimbles.

Something passed between us that night. Or wrote, like a blunt red wax crayon, through our hopes. A fleeting moment I cannot forget.