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Posts Tagged ‘Cricket’


One of the iconic images of the great British seaside holiday of the fifties and sixties is of happy families playing beach cricket.  Everyone joined in, playing with children’s bats, balls and stumps that reduced fathers who fancied themselves as Dexter or Sobers to the same level of competence as their seven year old sons, non-sporting wives and even the family dog (when they were still allowed on the beach between May and September). Truly, we had “never had it so good”.

Sadly, the advent of the foreign package holiday, breakdown in traditional family structures and expansion of alternative leisure pursuits, all contrived to render such a scene virtually obsolete.  Over the past weekend, therefore, I embarked upon a one man (at least for now) campaign to revive this venerable but floundering tradition, pitching up on Ramsgate Main Sands with my wife at 2pm on Sunday for an impromptu game.

I say impromptu because my planning had left something to be desired – a brief glance at the tide times beforehand would have revealed that this was the worst time of the day to start.  Nevertheless, after twenty minutes inspecting the fast diminishing slither of sand along the bay, I found a strip that was marginally more playable than the Rose Bowl.  It quickly became clear, however, that if the game was to be remotely watchable, or attract other participants, it was pointless bowling anything other than full tosses because once the ball had pitched, it was firmly plugged into the sand.

“Sticky dog” wicket aside, it proved a batsman’s paradise as the leg side boundary shortened sharply with the onrushing scum brown tide, ensuring that the merest of flicks resulted in a boundary.  That said, the smacking of  my extra cover drives against the sea wall was more satisfying.  Frank Keating once wrote that Ian Botham played a net “as if he is on Weston-super-Mare beach and the tide is coming in fast”.  I’d like to think that if you substituted Broadstairs for Weston, that might accurately describe my batting on this day.

Public interest was negligible, evidenced by a succession of families, oblivious of the sacred nature of my work, plodding across the wicket at regular intervals.  It reminded me of my primary school football pitch which had a concrete public footpath running diagonally across it, constantly trodden by young mothers with prams during vital matches against our bitter rivals from the adjoining parishes of Luton, Delce and Arden.  Understandably, dribbling was a skill particularly valued at Glencoe Road.

But back to the summer game.

Human indifference was not mirrored in the reaction of the indigenous bird population. An improbable infield of gulls occupyied short square leg, silly mid on and extra cover loitered, more, I suspect, in anticipation of the next tasty titbit thrown up by the thrashing waves than hovering in hope of a bat pad.  Their noisy sledging would have done justice to any Australian test team in history. Eventually, with the wicket completely submerged, the players were forced to dash from the square to the nearest ice cream van.

Undaunted, I resumed my missionary work two days later with a game on the much larger and more suitable Viking Bay beach in Broadstairs.  Low tide was scheduled for 2.04pm but, conscious that the tide came in a lot quicker than it went out, I decided that play should get underway an hour earlier.

An early inspection of prospective wickets revealed not only a soft, dune-like sand texture inconducive to a meaningful contest, but also an unmanageable abundance of people, deckchairs, windbreaks and bouncy castles, along with the ubiquitous volleyball court, populated by hordes of young Latino youths, led me to cancel plans to play there.  However, we rounded the bend at the end of the beach to enter Louisa Bay which, a full hour before the scheduled start of play,  sported a vast expanse of dark, compacted sand. Only sporadic handfuls of spectators scattered around what would serve as the boundary.

My excitement was heightened by the sight of  TWO sets of wickets already pitched further along the beach.  This was promising.  Our game got underway and soon acted as a magnet for every bored child on the beach.  Questions such as “can I play?” and “can my brother / sister join in?” (only the absence of the suffix “mister” reminded me I had not been transported back to 1960) were music to my ears as I suddenly found I was setting fields for TEN kids of assorted ages and having to remember in what order they all batted and bowled to avert tantrums.

The majority displayed more willing than competence, all wanting to field at mid wicket for some unaccountable reason (maybe the proximity of the tea hut and toilets had something to do with that), but uncomplainingly hared after every ball, regardless of how far and in what direction it had been despatched.  Falling into a rock pool or getting entangled in the profusion of seaweed were no barriers to their enthusiasm.

On a more serious note, it was heartening to learn that you could still play an innocent game in public with a group of children that you had never met before, without being accused of wanting to take salacious photographs of or, worse still, interfere with, them.  In fact, the parents seemed content to allow them to play, even the mother who was called upon to console her ten year old when he retired hurt after being struck on the left thigh by one of my rising eighty mile per hour inswingers.

The most poignant moment arose when one small boy advised me, with evident pride, and in hushed tones, that the reason his brother was scoring so freely with quasi-classical strokeplay and bowling off a run up that appeared to start just to the left of the Goodwin Sands, was because “he PLAYS cricket”.

The game lasted nearly three hours, interrupted only by obligatory lunch and tea intervals, dictated more by my need for regular rest than by the tyranny of the clock.  Each succeeding resumption of play appeared to draw even more players until the relentless waves washed the wicket away completely.

So beach cricket is alive and flourishing in the cradle of the game, not quite the High Weald, but still in God’s own county.  It can be no coincidence that shortly after this pilgrimage, I moved to Folkestone which boasts one of the firmest wickets on the coast at Sunny Sands.

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Life was never better
Than in Nineteen Sixty Three
Between the end of the snowbound winter
And Freddie’s You Were Made For Me.

On a cool August morning in Foord Road
A blue Vauxhall Victor groans to a stop,
Disgorging two pairs of flustered parents
And three kids chock full of crisps and pop.

No sooner the guest book’s been signed
The kids clamour to go to East Cliff Sands;
With the tide far out the beach is ripe
For making castles and handstands.

But it’s for cricket the boy yearns the most,
Pitching stumps and bails he scans the beach
For willing, smaller boys to do the fielding
While he smashed the ball out of their reach.

As sand recedes beneath insistent waves,
Cricket gives way to crazy golf with slides,
To amusement arcade and boating lake,
Rollercoasters and Rotunda rides.

He plays for plastic racing cars
And pinball machine high scores,
While parents play bingo for household goods
They could buy much cheaper in the stores.

And then there’s that first trip abroad
On a ferry bound for Boulogne-Sur-Mer,
The boy spends his time bent overboard,
In bitter tears and silent prayer.

But he brightens at promise of fish and chips,
White bread and butter, mugs of tea;
And climbing the crooked, sloping street
To Rock Shop’s window wide and free.

Life was never better
Than in Nineteen Sixty Three
Between the end of the snowbound winter
And Freddie’s You Were Made For Me.

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I was born with cricket in my blood. My father was an enthusiastic if modest club performer who played for a team that, where once it had consisted largely of doctors from the local hospital from which it derived its name, and had been one of the strongest in the Medway area, had declined by the early sixties into a dad’s army of clerks, TV repair men and shipwrights (not to denigrate those trades but rather to demonstrate the disconnection over time from the medical profession).

My father’s skills were confined to a stubborn resistance to giving his wicket away easily (though, despite himself, he invariably did), and an aptitude for both pocketing slip catches himself, and occasionally by redirecting the ball from his commodious stomach into the hands of more agile teammates in the vicinity.

The team was my extended family – every player was an “uncle”, though not in the biological sense of the word, and I revered them, despite their limitations on the field. At the age of ten I graduated from mascot and scoreboard operator to become its official scorer. I fulfilled this role for the next five years, spending summer afternoons in cramped, rotting wooden sheds, invariably sat alongside grizzled, gap-toothed septuagenarians with a life long chain smoking habit.

But I loved it.

It wasn’t just the game that captured my young heart, but the environment surrounding it – the rickety double decker bus journeys through the Kent countryside, the team being forced to change on the bus if it was behind time, the sing-songs on the journey back (my party piece for some reason was Wouldn’t It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady) and the regular stops at pubs such as the Chequers at Loose and the Five Bells in Snodland. “Home” games at the Civil Service Sports Ground and Langton Playing Fields in Gillingham did not generate the same romance but were, nonetheless, events to be savoured. And then there was Tuesday night net practice, when I spent two hours building up a fearful sweat scurrying to retrieve balls that had been clubbed hither and thither (funny how they never managed it at weekends), was bliss.

At fifteen I made my own “first class” debut at Blue House Marden, a short walk from the Stile Bridge Inn and, “batting” at number eleven, notched a magisterial 0 not out in the customary crushing defeat. My other memory of that game was landing in a jungle of nettles, vainly chasing an edge down to third man. I could not sit down at school for the next three days.

And then there was the county side, on the cusp of its glory years of the seventies. Club commitments limited our outings to the Nevill, Garrison, Mote, Crabble, St Lawrence and Bat and Ball grounds, but my father and I managed a handful of days each season, courtesy of his Association of Kent Cricket Clubs pass.

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My greatest thrill came when our annual holiday to Folkestone in August coincided with the traditional Cricket Week. My parents would deposit me at the Cheriton Ground around ten o’clock in the morning and went off for a day of beach, bingo and Bobby’s shopping, allowing me to indulge in my busman’s holiday of scoring every ball of both matches and haring after Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood for their autographs as they left the field at lunch, tea and close. It was an era when, aside from newspaper photographs and occasionally black and white television coverage, we only saw our sporting idols “in the flesh” – yet they were more accessible for that.

Of course, I was playing cricket too at school, on both playground concrete and playing field grass. At Glencoe Road primary school I was the proud custodian of the chalk required to repaint the wicket on the wall at each break, lunchtime and long after the bell sounded to send us home. The only spectator sport that could compare were the regular fights outside the school gates at home time.

Although, unlike football, we did not play against other schools, I opened the batting in games at the Maidstone Road recreation ground in Chatham. My finest cricketing hour in those pre-eleven plus days was, however, imbued with tragedy when having, like Hutton at the Oval in 1948, carried my bat in a pathetically low team total, I arrived home to be informed by my mother that my pet dog, Patch, had been put down. I suppose the events of that afternoon taught me the value of treating those “twin imposters” of triumph and disaster equally.

Moving to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School I was converted in my first year from an opening bat into a medium quick (for a twelve year old) bowler with a capacity for late swing – an pubescent Jimmy Anderson if you like. After flirting with the styles of Fred Trueman, Wes Hall and the mercurial Alan Brown, I began to model both my bowling action and fielding demeanour, if not my batting, which suffered in the process, on the mighty John Shepherd (though there was still the occasional Wes Hall whirl of the arms for variety).

My school had always been strong at cricket, competing successfully with teams from the Judd School, Skinner’s, King’s School Rochester and Dartford and Maidstone Grammar Schools to name but a few. At under twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen levels I was a prolific wicket taker, with regular six and seven wicket hauls. My proudest moment, and I suspect my father’s too, was when he slipped away from work early in London one evening to watch me play for the under fourteens against Chatham South Technical School. I took eight wickets for three runs in eight overs and we won by ten wickets. I don’t recall him coming again – perhaps he just wanted to cherish that moment always.

The most publicly acclaimed performance was seven for fifteen against Faversham Grammar School. The school headmaster, a fine club cricketer himself for, I believe, Linton Park, who umpired a number of the age group games, announced at the school assembly on the following Monday morning that my spell had been the finest he had ever witnessed by a schoolboy of my age.

My exploits caught the eye of the Kent under fifteen selectors and I played in a handful of trial games, including the final eliminator for the county team. Playing for East against West Kent, I chose that match, however, to misplace my customary accuracy and spray the ball continually down the leg side of Graham Clinton who, when he managed to reach it, clipped it to fine leg for four. He made the Kent team, and forged a strong county career – I did not.

But I didn’t fade into cricketing obscurity – yet. In the second of three years in the First XI at “the Math” I took forty nine wickets, falling just three short of the all-time record. I followed this with a couple of highly successful seasons at university, and subsequently – albeit briefly – played at a decent level in both Yorkshire club cricket and around south east London in the late seventies and early eighties, where, oddly, I reverted to being a middle order batsman who bowled a little.

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My playing is now limited to fielding the occasional ball on the boundary at the St Lawrence or Nevill Ground, and the beach (I recommend Sunny Sands in Folkestone and Viking Bay at Broadstairs). I wonder too if I’m alone in strolling around the ground in the breaks between innings or along the seashore in the hope of being called upon to pouch a skier or pounce on a straight drive from one of the ever diminishing number of impromptu games.

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“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.

However.

(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.

Folkestone.

My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

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It is now four months since my father passed away.

With the initial practical issues now largely dealt with, apart from the small matter of selling his house, my thoughts turn more to him as a man and parent. And with Christmas approaching, a time of year when he was in his element, I feel his absence more acutely.

Dad was born on Valentine’s Day eighty eight years ago, the eldest of four brothers, and a sister who died in childhood. After attending the local primary school, he gained a place at the most prestigious secondary school in the area. He proudly recalled that he also spent a term at the neighbouring girls’ school due to his buildings being requisitioned for the war effort.

He joined the Army in 1945, claiming that his arrival precipitated Hitler’s departure, a theory at least corroborated by the calendar, and was based in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar for four years. His duties included recording the births and deaths of the island apes! One of the happiest moments of his later years was revisiting the “Rock” on his eightieth birthday with my wife and I, though he was mortified to discover that his barracks was now a particularly dowdy branch of Marks and Spencer!

Returning home, he met the love of his life, Betty, and they were married in August 1950. I joined the party two years later. Most of his working life was spent in the administration of education in the London area, including County Hall which sits beneath the iconic London Eye. It is one of my regrets that he didn’t get to take a “flight” on it before he died. He took early retirement in 1986, giving him the opportunity to play golf and tend his garden more often, as well as travel around the country with my mother.

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His life was turned upside down in 2004 when Mum died of cancer. In fifty four years of marriage, they had only spent one night apart. I had always thought that my mother would survive her husband’s death more successfully than the other way round.

But he surprised me.

Though her passing left him bereft and desperately lonely most of the time, he returned within months to his former social life, including playing bingo and dancing, which they had so enjoyed together. He even took his first flight in visiting his surviving brothers in Spain. For nearly four years, he continued to maintain an active social life, looking forward in particular to Thursday evenings when he kept up a tradition of nearly sixty years by meeting up with his closest friends to play snooker at a local working men’s club. There may not have been many breaks of 147, or even 14 for that matter, made on those occasions, but they were filled with laughter and much non-politically correct ranting but, above all, affection.

But then in August 2008, he suffered a stroke which was followed quickly by a heart attack and kidney failure. Though he recovered after several days in critical care, his mobility was progressively restricted thereafter and his self-confidence was shattered virtually overnight.

He was never the same man afterwards.

Although he remained in his home, he was no longer capable of carrying out everyday chores such as cleaning, shopping (other than at the corner store) and clothes washing/ironing  all of which fell to my wife and I. Carers visited him two or three times a days to cook the meals I had bought for him and check on his wellbeing.

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While Janet and I took him out for meals and to the theatre from time to time, he became increasingly disinclined to leave his home, content to watch Sky Sports from dawn to dusk on his new flat screen television. Living close by I was able to visit him two or three times a week and speak to him on the telephone every day.

He became increasingly negative about life in his last few years. For all that I and the health professionals did for him to make life comfortable, we could not do the one thing that he craved above every other thing.

Bring my mother back.

Comments like “throw me in a corner and leave me to die”, supplemented by ” you won’t have to worry about me anymore and can get on with your own life” became more frequent. His trips to hospital were a relief for him because he wasn’t surrounded by memories, and was attended to constantly rather than for half an hour a couple of times a day.

A particularly nasty fall in early 2013 led him to become virtually housebound. Intermittent falls in the home and a succession of infections meant periodic stays in hospital or respite care for the remainder of his life. The “final straw” came when he choked on a drink at the nursing home in March 2015, leading to an aspiration pneumonia diagnosis, a condition that just could not be beaten and which ultimately led to heart failure and death five months later.

During that period, and on previous occasions, he was deprived of the one real, enduring pleasure he still had – food. Nil by mouth or mashed up potatoes and carrots were no substitute for a hearty roast dinner or fish and chips. The last time I saw him genuinely enjoying himself was when he was tucking into the mountainous Christmas dinner Janet had prepared for him at his home last year. The turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips and stuffing, followed by Christmas pudding and custard, must have weighed three or four times that of the microwaved meals he was accustomed, yet he cleared every scrap. And then had cheese board and biscuits a few hours later!

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Just prior to the choking attack that triggered his ultimate demise, I had sneaked in a bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut chocolate to the nursing home. Despite the fact that, but an hour before, he had eaten a three course lunch, he devoured most of it within minutes!  He did have the good grace, however, to offer me a couple of squares!

He had been an enthusiastic sportsman, playing tennis in his early married days before becoming a reliable and popular member of a local cricket team. An average batsman and occasional bowler, it was in fielding that he excelled. It wasn’t just that he was a “safe pair of hands”, but he was able to use another part of his anatomy to great effect. Being amply proportioned, he perfected the art of bouncing the ball off his stomach to waiting team mates who would then catch it!

Though he rarely reached double figures, he played the occasional memorable innings, no more so than at a game in Faversham on a Bank Holiday Monday when, having been knockrd momentarily unconscious during the first innings by the home team’s fearsome West Indian fast bowler, and having his glasses shattered in the process, he returned in the second innings to win the match almost single-handed in the fading ligh with a score of 36, his second highest ever score.

It was through cricket that he taught me not only my love of the game but my affection for my home county of Kent. Summer weekends between the age of eight and sixteen were spent visiting delightful Wealden villages such as Goudhurst, Nursed, Hadlow and Addington, invariably on a bone-shaking double decker bus or in the back of a team member’s Morris Minor. And during the week in the school holidays we would take long rambling walks to exotic places such as Pig’s Hole Bottom.

Dad was afflicted, as, of course, was I, at an early age with the family curse of supporting Gillingham Football Club, always claiming, even when the club had risen to the second tier of English football in 2000, that the team of the late nineteen forties, which plied its trade in non-league, was the best.

He loved to tell the story of the game when, shortly after they were married, he and my mother were sat in the old Gordon Road Stand, and one of the crowd repeatedly yelled at an opposition player, calling him a “sod”. When the local vicar, sat a few rows behind, protested, Dad jumped to the man’s defence by exclaiming “it’s in the Bible you know”!

He would have been so thrilled to learn that “the Gills” were top of the league at the time of his death, though he would have added that “it won’t last”!

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Above all, he was a highly sociable man, the veritable “life and soul of the party”. One story that epitomised this occurred on the family’s first holiday abroad to Ireland in 1968.

On the first Saturday evening a timid group of six adults and three teenagers made its way to the local bar where they were forced to endure two hours of Irish rebel songs, bellowed out passionately by the local menfolk.

Eventually, one of the men turned to their “guests” and proclaimed it was now their turn to sing. Undeterred, and fuelled by several libations from the well of Arthur Guinness, Dad leapt to his feet and delivered to a bewildered but ecstatic audience his party piece of The Winkle Song with its immortal chorus, of “my old woman and ‘er seven kids were a-pickin’ all the big ones out”!

The English family holidaying in the former jailhouse were local celebrities overnight, so much so that we were given the keys to another local bar for our exclusive use any time, and told to close up when we’d finished!

He could deliver word perfect renditions of the famous monologues, Gunga Din and There’s a Green Eyed Yellow Idol to the North of Kathmandu. And, at this time of year, he and his eldest brother would bring the house down at social events with their heartfelt singing of See Amid the Winter’s Snow.

He was never a “dad dancer” (indeed, he and Mum were extremely competent ballroom dancers), but he could embarrass my teenage self by  being the loudest, and admittedly, the most tuneful voice in church or other venue where communal singing was required.

It was all this which made his last years in which he was almost afraid to mix with people all the more heartbreaking. Every health professional – nurse, doctor, carer, health visitor –  remarked that he was a “lovely man”,  always smiling and grateful for whatever service they provided. Whilst I often saw the other side when we quarrelled about his negativity – when I often reminded him that his wife would not have stood for any self-pity had she been alive – there is no question that he was all of those things.

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As father and son, we shared few genuinely intimate moments – for example, I don’t ever recall anything approaching the “birds and bees” conversation – but we did share hundreds of occasions together of elation and despair, mostly the latter, on the football terraces.

According to my mother, his first words on seeing his son and heir were “if he doesn’t like sport, I’ll have nothing to do with him”. I’m sure it was meant in jest, but there was real feeling in it. He needn’t have worried. In fact, my obsession with cricket and football in particular drove him to distraction during my childhood, especially when I returned home from school at the end of each term with a report that referred to my preference for Gillingham Football Club over my studies.

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I know he was proud of me, even though there were times when I tested his loyalty.  We had fallen out periodically over my life choices, and we would argue constantly but good-naturedly about politics and sport. But there was mutual respect, admiration and, yes, love, in those exchanges.

He did enjoy introducing me to friends and acquaintances as his daughter during the years when my hair was exceedingly long, but it was done with a characteristic twinkle in his eye.

Until the last few months when he was incapable of doing so, we had spoken almost every day. There have been few days  since he died when I haven’t gone to pick up the telephone to call him to discuss the previous night’s live televised football game or give him some juicy sporting gossip that he would not have otherwise been aware of.

Or just to check that he was Ok.

Which he is now, of course.

Though I’m not sure I can say the same.

 

 

 

(more…)

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I first met Martin at the T20 Quarter-Final between Leicestershire and Kent at Grace Road in 2011. This was to be the venue for the inaugural meeting of the Kent Reform Group whose stated aims were to bring greater transparency and accountability to the county club than was felt to be evident at the time.

I arrived first and parked myself at an empty table in the corner of the bar. I was shortly followed by Graham Holland, senior civil servant, former Mayor and prospective Kent County Cricket Club committee member. Graham and I exchanged pleasantries over a glass of sauvignon blanc while we awaited the arrival of the other two core members of the group.

After a quarter of an hour, the double doors swung open to reveal a tall, imposing figure dressed in a green and blue striped blazer with matching tie on a salmon coloured shirt, red slacks, scrubbed brown brogues and a boater sporting the black and Kentish grey colours of the Band of Brothers Cricket Club. He carried over his shoulder a faded brown leather satchel that looked at any moment about to spill its hefty contents. A crumpled packet of cigarettes protruded from the top pocket of the blazer. The only thing that would have completed this curiously Western scene (the meagre population of the bar to a man and woman had turned in his direction), would have been for the stranger to brandish a brace of six shooters from his hip.

Martin Moseling was in the building!

Graham introduced us and we got down to business, though not before Martin had dropped the satchel to the floor and sent the first of what seemed dozens of text messages to the fourth member of the group who had decided at the last minute to remain in Kent.

Throughout that ultimately depressing afternoon, in which Kent contrived to throw away a winning position in intermittent drizzle, he paced up and down replaying every boundary and dismissal by text with the absent colleague watching the game on TV back in his Wealden retreat.

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We met occasionally at cricket over the next twelve months, standing and chatting aimlessly on the Old Dover Road banking or in the Chiesman pavilion for hours on end, only partly conscious of the performance of the “flannelled fools” out in the middle. With that heavy, faded satchel still hanging from one shoulder, Martin would hold court, offering a wealth of historical and technical insights on the game while a growing audience of his peers nodded sagely in response.

It became clear that, despite our political and social differences – he revered Margaret Thatcher and was at home at hunt balls, whereas my political hero was Dennis Skinner and I was more comfortable in tie-dye at a Grateful Dead concert – we still had a lot in common, notably a mutual affection for Kent cricketing history and the “Golden Age” immediately before the Great War in particular. But there was something else we shared, an ambition that had been unfulfilled for more than half a century – that of writing at least one book and getting it published.

But the 2012 season ended and we went our separate ways.

Until, on one dank, dismal December morning, he rang me to ask whether I was interested in writing a book with him on Kent’s 1913 County Championship winning side to commemorate the upcoming centenary. My response – something along the lines of “yeah, why not” – was hardly enthusiastic, but enough for us to spend the next hour scoping out structure, style and themes. We were off and running before my customary eleven o’clock coffee break.

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What had we let ourselves in for? It is difficult enough to write a book on one’s own, but to do it with someone else whom they still barely knew and who lived a hundred and twenty miles away, and had, as we soon discovered, a different writing style, would surely be impossible. But, having agreed a workable division of labour at the outset, we spent the next six months working separately on different chapters and sending drafts to each other before picking up the telephone and painstakingly working through every letter and punctuation mark. We didn’t always see eye to eye, of course – he was over fond of words like “rather” and “somewhat” and I drove him to distraction with my obsession with punctuation – but the system worked.

We spoke many times a day. Martin invariably initiated the discussions, telephoning to urge me to peruse a new draft chapter or an alteration in the design that he had been working on during the night while I was asleep! In fact, he often rang at the most inconvenient times, either just before I was leaving the house or about to cook my wife’s dinner. It became a standing joke between us, rather like the one my wife and I shared when we listened to our daily answerphone messages and heard the immortal phrase “hello Tony, it’s Martin, give me a call”.

We met only three times over that period, twice when I travelled down to the Cotswolds for a couple of days each time and when we made a joint visit to the MCC library at Lord’s from which we witnessed a spectacular snow blizzard envelopping the hallowed ground. I also visited the principal libraries around the county to research the newspapers of the day. This provided us with a great deal of reportage to supplement the official scorecards for each game that were available on the Cricinfo website. But the feature of the published book that received the most plaudits were the contemporary photographs, many of which had not seen the light of day since that fateful final full season before the Great War, that he had sourced from both his own impressive collection and other publications. His contacts in the game, not least in his adopted county of Gloucestershire, provided many priceless images too.  

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Had he not been so persistent, we may never have finished the book. I am eternally grateful to him for not only coming up with the idea but motivating me along the way when my natural indolence took hold (and I like to think I did the same for him).

With the demise of the Kent Reform Group in early 2012, it was clear that the county club was not going to trust offers of assistance or criticism from individuals or members’ groups for the foreseeable future. However, by quiet diplomacy and patient relationship building, Martin was able to extract a number of concessions over the next three years, for example in overturning a ban on fans bringing even a modest amount of alcohol into the grounds for forty over games.

His legacy, however, will be the pivotal role he played in the establishment of the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust. Firstly, virtually single-handedly, he persuaded the Club of the value of creating a trust to protect and promote its proud heritage, and then drove through the implementation. His stunning timeline of the Great War which was displayed in the Chiesman Pavilion during the 2014 Canterbury Week, and the photographic montages of two historic run chases against Gloucestershire and Lancashire, were praised widely. Both were produced at his own expense. He also gave of his own time in keeping a watching eye on cricket auctions around the country, identifying items that the Club might be interested in purchasing.

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The fact that the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust is now established, and there are visible signs around the ground of its work, notably the new display cases in the Chiesman Pavilion, is largely attributable to Martin.

Any doubts that the Club might not have fully appreciated his contribution were quickly dispelled when they flew the official flag (white horse on red background) at half mast at the St Lawrence Ground on the day following his death. I cannot recall this being done for someone who neither played in the first XI (and oh how he wished he could have), nor served on the committee before. Martin would have been humbled and hugely proud of such a gesture.

As testimonials since his untimely passing have illustrated, he was admired and respected for his detailed knowledge of cricketing history, especially during the era covered by A-Half Forgotten Triumph. 

He had a patrician but nonetheless kindly demeanour which gave his utterances on the game an almost Swanton-like character, an impression reinforced by a build that resembled in later years that of the former journalist and president of the county club.

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As “Kentish Exile” he was prolific and authoritative. It was his opinion that many of his fellow posters looked for first on all cricketing issues for a combination of insider understanding and common sense. His style was measured, urbane and often sprayed with references and quotes from history, literature and music. It was this that led one wag from Chatham on the Old Dover Road seating at Canterbury one afternoon to declaim:

That Kentish Exile, ‘e’s a bit upmarket ‘e is.

Martin’s reaction to this statement when I relayed it to him that evening was a customary chuckle. I think he was rather flattered.

Despite his achievements – he was a fine horseman, golfer and guitar player, amongst other talents I may not have discovered in the short time I knew him, in addition to being a good enough cricketer to play not only for the MCC for many years, but also the Band of Brothers, Cross Arrows and a variety of teams in Gloucestershire – he was essentially a modest man. Few of his cricketing acquaintances will be aware that he maintained a blog – entitled A Cricket Sort of Chap: A sideways look at all kinds of cricket but especially the cricket of Kent – in which he brought his wit, wisdom and experience to bear on cricketing issues as diverse as being taken to the Bat and Ball Ground in Gravesend as a small boy by his father, the history of round arm bowling and a series of articles on Kevin Pieterson. I urged him constantly to notify his fellow Kent followers when he had published a new piece, but he preferred to manage it for his own amusement.

I’m afraid I’ve now let the cat out of the bag, but I’m sure he would forgive me as the articles are as good examples of cricket writing as you would find anywhere today,  and cry out to be be read by a wider audience.

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We had spoken of collaborating again in the future and mulled over the worth of writing reappraisals of the life and career of three of the most influential figures of Kent cricket – Frank Woolley, Les Ames and Lord Harris. But I wanted to take a break from cricket writing, not sharing his all-consuming passion for the sport. Before his illness cruelly began to affect his capacity to concentrate, he was working on a book about James Seymour, one of the powerful top order in Kent’s first period of glory. During the writing of our book he had met with the Seymour family who had kindly made a voluminous scrapbook of cuttings, photographs and scorecards available to him. He spoke enthusiastically too of writing a book about the seasons in which Kent finished second in the County Championship (of which there are too many).

On the all too rare days that we watched Kent play together (Martin tended, understandably, to visit the Midlands away grounds more than Kent), he was invariably accompanied by his beloved flat coated retriever, Bear, who he had had for nearly nine years (“the best friend I could ever want”). Bear sadly died in February of last year when Martin wrote “I do not know what I will do without him”. Shortly after, however, he acquired Bear’s nephew, Alfie, and was still in the process of breaking him in and preparing to introduce him to the world of cricket in the near future.

He was immensely proud of his son and daughter, and the successful careers they had carved out for each other, and despite the rapid deterioration in his health, it must have been a joyous occasion to have Emma and Mark and his grandchildren all together at his home.

It is difficult to know how to finish this piece other than to say that I accounted him a friend, not only for his rich well of cricketing anecdotes and knowledge, but also for his wise counsel (something others commented upon in the days following his death). He was not just “a cricket sort of chap”, but someone whose intelligence, humour and understanding ranged across every imaginable subject. He even helped me to make (some) sense of the San Francisco rental market!

But I’ll leave the final words to the man himself:

I have become resigned to the fact that Kent cricket was always in my blood. Although the past few years have been endlessly frustrating, they have also been rewarding. Friendships made within cricket are necessarily transitory but they are enduring. I have re-established contact with people I played with and against 30/40 years ago and I have made new friends. The really great thing about it is that those friends share my love of the greatest game of all – cricket and, in particular, the love of the cricket of the county of Kent.

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A little under two thousand days ago (is it really that many?), I snapped my wage slave chains and took early retirement from the public service. It hadn’t been planned, though I was of an age to leave, but it was a sudden opportunity that presented itself that was just too good to ignore.

Even on that last day in service, as I strolled the streets of Paris with my birthday girl of a wife on a balmy spring day, I gave little thought to what I might do next, to what my “second career” might be. After all, I was only fifty six – “nobbut a bairn” as they’d say in Yorkshire.

Cue excuse to post a gratuitous photograph of myself on that fateful day.

Do I look happy?

Relieved?

Too young to retire? (Don’t answer that one).

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And now I am about to return to gainful employment for the first time since.

But more of that later.

There was no rush to find alternative employment at the time – I had a decent occupational pension, though hardly the golden handshake that many believe awaits anyone, irrespective of finishing grade or length of tenure, that leaves the civil service. And it would be another eight and a half years before I was eligible for my state retirement pension.

But I received an income that supplemented my wife’s continued full-time salary (she would have, barring a lottery win, another eight years before she could follow suit). Once a handful of debts had been paid, the residual lump sum could sit in a savings account growing ever fatter with a 0.5% interest rate.

Although the process of offer, acceptance and departure was a swift and painless one, there were sound personal and professional reasons for my decision. I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the commercial and less caring direction in which the organisation was moving, and felt unappreciated by immediate line management and employer alike. When I added in twenty three years of long distance commuting, I’d had enough.

It “helped”, if that’s the right word, that my father was not in the best of health, and I could now devote more time to his care. And my wife would have her dinner on the table every night when she got home from a ten hour day.

But back to the question of what to “do” next (as if caring and maintaining a home were “doing” nothing).

My preferred part-time job would have been working in a bookshop, but they were already dropping by the wayside in the face of the economic downturn and e-book onslaught.

Book selling had been a long shot anyway, but surely, working in travel and tourism, for which people told me I had a passion and aptitude, would be a better bet?

So I wrote to around twenty travel agents in the area, extolling the inestimable benefits I could bring to their company.

No response.

My education in what happened in the brave new, recession-ridden, non-governmental world of work was expanding daily as my letter box grew rusty with misuse.

I soon realised that, in order to compete for a career in tourism at any level, especially given my age, I would need to “go back to school” and acquire some vocational qualifications. Time was too short to embark on a three year degree course to become a tour guide – for which there were few openings anyway – so I plumped for working towards a prestigious professional diploma from the Home Learning College.

Within a year, I had passed with distinctions in all three elements of the course.

But jobs were still at a premium.

And, by then, having prepared fourteen dissertations, I had rediscovered a long term itch that screamed to be scratched – writing.

There was nothing else I wanted to do. It wasn’t going to pay, at least in the short term, or possibly ever, but it would be the most fulfilling and satisfying thing I could do with my time. I started a blog on New Year’s Eve 2010, focusing principally on my affection for San Francisco, which I maintain to this day – the blog and the affection of course.

In 2013 I published, along with Martin Moseling, my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, which received critical acclaim, but modest sales, in the admittedly niche world of cricket writing. My next book, Smiling on a Cloudy Day, which will attempt to articulate my love for the City by the Bay, is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2015.

I believe that, on the whole, I have managed my time away from the world of “working for the man / woman” over the past five and a half years fairly effectively. And I have certainly never been bored. In fact, how did I ever find the time to go to work?

Do I regret having “retired” when I did?

No.

Have I missed the social interaction, the camaraderie of working in a team, the sometimes unbearable stress?

Maybe, sometimes.

But now an opportunity has arisen that has made me reconsider whether my fierce commitment to customer service, a trait known only too well by my wife as she listens to yet another Victor Meldrew-like rant on the subject, might yet have an avenue of expression outside the home.

Which brings me neatly back to the new job.

A high-end, award-winning cookware company is opening its new state-of-the-art branch in Bluewater, Europe’s largest shopping centre, in October, and I have been successful in securing a part-time position as a sales assistant. As with my early retirement, the process of sending my CV, being interviewed and offered the job took just three working days.

It’s not my first venture into retail – I worked for six months in a local charity shop in 2010 which I enjoyed immensely, though I acknowledge that this will be a far more intense working environment.

Although I had essentially given up on returning to such work, I find myself intrigued and not a little excited at the prospect.

It will mean, of course, managing my writing and other responsibilities more rigorously. And spending less time on Facebook can be no bad thing can it?

But my wife will have to make her own dinner when I’m on an evening shift.

But oh to be back in Paris in 2009! (Another gratuitous photograph).

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