Days merge into weeks and I receive nothing except a printed acknowledgement of my application forcing me to scan adverts for other work. ‘Need to earn some money somehow. Can’t leave you with all the bills, mum.’
And then the phone rings. I turn down Alan Freeman who’s running through the Top Twenty on the radio. Outside the sun’s broken through.
A female voice honeys down the receiver. ‘Can I speak to Mister Robert Hopebourne?’
‘It’s Francoise Le Chevalier here, secretary to the HM at Fitzrovia College.’
‘You applied for a post here. I’ve been asked to give you a ring.’
Apparently the post I’ve applied for has been filled and they’re sorry it’s short notice but am I still interested in coming for an interview for something else?
‘Or have you been offered another position?’
‘I’ll send you some directions. Do you know Buckinghamshire?’
So. I’ve got myself an interview. Miles away. Broaden my horizons. Last chance saloon.
I sit staring out of the window and can hear the croaking of my dad, close to death, years of breathing asbestos taking their toll after I’d just completed “A” levels. ‘Doors will open, lad,’ he’d said. ‘You won’t have to spend half your life in a factory like me.’
I go over to the radio and turn it up loud. Emerson, Lake and Palmer “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Oh yes.
It’s a June Sunday and I’m twelve. The radio’s on and the phone’s ringing. ‘…groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon…’ Dad’s voice cracks. ‘Get down to the ground.’ ICI’s opponents are two men short.
It’s the first time I’ll ever play in an adult cricket match.
Truth to tell, at twelve, I’m an egghead for two things; cricket and music.
My earliest memory of a Christmas present was one of those self-assembly crystal radios. Wiring and coils. ‘You need a bit more patience, lad,’ said dad when I showed him my effort. ‘Come on. I’ll show you.’
Pulling on the headphones it brought me pirate ship music, morning, noon and night. Radios Luxembourg, Caroline and London. The voices of Tony Blackburn and John Peel; the sounds of the sixties and seventies.
Mum and dad had a Roberts radio in the kitchen. The Home Service. “Listen with Mother”. Test Match Special. Occasionally on a Sunday afternoon, I’d take it up to my
bedroom and tune into the Top Twenty. Sing along to The Kinks or Simon and Garfunkel. ‘And here’s to you, Mrs Robinson…’
At the same time I was the sort of nerd who carries a spare set of “Owzthat” dice in a blazer pocket. Pores, geek-like, over the cricket county scores in the papers. A bookworm who knows every player’s initials and nickname. APE Knott. “Knotty.” DL Underwood. “Deadly Derek.”
I blame dad. He brought me up to believe that cricket was practically the most important activity in a man’s life; a crucial thread in the fabric of existence. ‘It’s a microcosm of life itself, son,’ he’d croak. ‘Great battles of will and skill between the bowler and the batsman, of tactics and bluff, where size doesn’t matter.’
From an early age I’d accompany him down to works nets, play with a rubber ball, and hold a tiny bat. His mates’d gather round and offer advice. ‘Bat ‘n pad close together, nipper.’ After school I’d take a tennis ball and fling it against a wall until my arm complained, stumps chalked on the brickwork, practising catching, or accuracy of throw.
If I wasn’t practising cricket, I was trying to listen to, and learn about music. At the local barber’s, which mum forced me to attend, there’d be battered copies of “NME” or “Melody Maker” and I’d devour articles about Led Zeppelin or Fairport Convention, read Derek Johnson’s reviews of the latest singles, laugh out loud at “The Lone Groover” cartoon, before succumbing to the scissors. ‘Don’t take too much off, please.’
Apart from dad’s ancient wind-up gramophone, there was no record player in the house. His HMV played 78’s; Glenn Miller or G and S. “…if you want to know who we are, we are gentlemen of Japan…”
So I took a winter Sunday job when I was fourteen, caddying at the local golf course. ‘I’m saving up to buy a Dansette,’ I said to mum and dad. ‘Buy some King Crimson.’ I might as well have been speaking a foreign language.
I’d stand and shiver with a few others until someone picked me. ‘Come on, lad. I’ll give you ten shillings for the round.’
I shivered for months, then gave up caddying as soon as I’d bought my Dansette, went down to the local record shop and rifled through scores of albums before buying my first LP. “In The Court of The Crimson King.”
The Dansette took pride of place in my bedroom. It was blue, padded top, shiny and seductive. I slipped the LP gingerly from its sleeve and popped it on the deck. Tried to gently place the needle on the spinning disc, dreading the crunch and splutter of a misplaced diamond tip, and let “Epitaph” wash over me. “The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams…”
Poring over the LP cover, I scanned information about track lengths and sound engineers. Looked for hidden meaning in the artwork. Learned all the lyrics to sing along.
Any presents or pocket money normally went towards a new album and I’d swap them with mates. ‘Can I borrow your copy of “Chicago Transit Authority”? I’ll lend you “Pet Sounds.”’
On that afternoon of my first big cricket match, I’m in dad’s old whites and plimsolls in a jiffy and before I’ve got time to get too nervous, find myself fielding under the shadow of the two chimneys at the ICI factory, rewarded with shouts from my new teammates. ‘Good stop, son. Sting your ‘ands a bit?’
In my head, I’m playing for England against Australia for the Ashes.
After tea in the Ashes test, I check the scorebook. Last man in. Watching the game unfold, I’m split between wanting to see dad bowl well for the Aussies – his coughing and breathing getting worse each morning – and England make a decent fist of chasing the Aussie runs. Perhaps scoring the winning runs myself. “Groovin’” still revolves in my head. “…we can be anyone we want to be…” A sign?
Eventually the game comes down to the last gasp with England desperately playing for a draw. A loud shout, ‘Owzthat!’ and any daydreams are shattered to be replaced by cold fear. Last man in. I’m pulling on green pimple backed gloves which hang from my fingers and flapping out to the wicket in bulky batting pads, straps dangling, bat heavy, heart thumping.
‘Good luck, son,’ says my England partner.
This is it. I swallow hard. ‘Middle and leg, please.’ Having taken guard from the umpire I look down the wicket. Why is my throat dry as I try to hum? “…life can be ecstasy, you and me endlessly groovin’…” The Australian bowler’s Da Doo Ron Ron, a balding slow bowler who dad says can ‘drop the ball on a sixpence.’ Please don’t let me be out first ball. He takes a few paces and sends the delivery down as I prop forward, meeting it with a straight bat. Phew! The ball plops down a few inches in front of me.
‘Well played.’ It’s the familiar voice of dad who’s standing close. The next ball Da Doo Ron Ron lobs up invitingly, and I momentarily contemplate taking a swipe at it, but I’m not to be tempted, meeting it again with the full face of the bat.
‘Over!’ says the umpire. ‘Last over now.’
The final over’s to be bowled by Tornado, a legendary fast bowler for Australia.
He’s about twenty feet tall and I realize my heart’s pumping even harder at the prospect of facing him. Six balls for England to survive for a famous draw. Surely I won’t have to face any of them? Sure enough my partner calmly plays out the first four thunderbolts before sending the fifth ball scurrying into the outfield. ‘Come one,’ he calls.
What? I flap awkwardly down the pitch, pads slipping, nerves jangling afresh. One ball left and Tornado to face. All that stands now between an Aussie victory and a famous England draw is me.
My heart slams alarmingly. What are the first signs of a heart attack? Does my voice wobble? ‘Middle and leg, please.’ I look round the field. Fielders are crowding round me like a pack of hungry Aussie dingoes. How scared am I?
‘Pitch it up, Frank,’ I hear dad croak.
For a moment the bat feels like deadweight, the handle a cucumber. I contemplate fleeing, but instead try to think of Basil D’Oliveira, my favourite England cricketer, and how he might play the mighty West Indian fast bowlers. I wish my chest would stop thudding; take a deep breath. Attempt humming again. “…couldn’t get away too soon…”
Finally I can put it off no longer. Tornado walks miles back to the end of his run, turns and sprints in. His arm’s over in a flash though I just about register the thunderbolt as I push forward with a straight bat. There’s the sound of a snick as it scorches away. I’ve hit it!
‘Come one!’ I hear from my partner and we gallop a run.
Ashes test drawn, some of dad’s teammates come up and ruffle my hair.
Meanwhile, away from cricket, some of my schoolmates played guitars round the classrooms; sang fol-de-rol songs like “Wild Rover.” ‘We’re going to the folk club next week. Wanna come?’
There I’d listen to beardies and girls with flowing hair sing modern folk; “Streets of London” and “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” bent over their guitars. A fiddler. I’d idly daydream of performing. Centre stage. But I didn’t have the patience to learn an instrument.
Once I tried to spread an octave on a piano. My hands were just too small. I also picked up a guitar at school, briefly dreaming of becoming the next Eric Clapton, but my nails were too hard bitten to pluck and my tolerance of bridging chords vanished as blisters appeared. Maybe dad was right. I had no patience.
There was one other important thing about music though. To do with cricket. When I went out to bat, I always liked to have a tune in my head. Like a mantra. An aid to concentration.
It made me patient. Be patient and I’ll score some runs. And if I score enough runs, well…
Ever since that memorable Ashes test aged twelve, I dreamt of making a living out of playing cricket.
I’d play a game at any and every opportunity, then practise in front of the mirror, dreaming of Lord’s or Trent Bridge. Minus spots. A magnet for girls. ‘That’s another hundred for young Hopebourne.’ And watch the Test matches on TV, studying technique, or glue myself to Test Match Special, becoming familiar with the voices of Arlott, Johnston and Yorkshire’s Fiery Fred Trueman. ‘Why’s the lad got a third man? ‘E wants to be at third slip.’ Instead of giving homework my undivided attention, my “Owzthat” dice were always to hand, pages of notebooks filled with imaginary games where “Hopebourne. R.” scored piles of runs.
The bottom line, however, as I gradually and painfully learned as I turned from hopeful teen to spotty youth was that I just wasn’t good enough to play professionally. Like thousands of hopefuls before and since, I was a decent enough club cricketer, but no more. I understood the theory - was a brilliant armchair test match pundit – but in practice…no.
So where did that leave me for future employment? What to do?
Holiday office jobs saw me sitting at a desk, surrounded by the same folk. ‘There’s been a run on treasury tags.’ Five o’ clock couldn’t come quickly enough. And dad encouraged me to avoid factory work. ‘Half your life in the dark.’ Mum was always on at me. ‘Get some qualifications.’ At school English was the only subject I enjoyed, while cricket dominated my daydreams. Surely there must be a job that combined an active life with those two elements?
‘What about teaching English?’ suggested dad one night at nets. ‘You could always help with games.’
After scraping exams, and enrolling at Bishop Tennant’s, Teaching Practices confirmed I had a lot to learn. ‘You can’t do it on a wing and a prayer. You need to be much better prepared,’ said my classroom boss. ‘And cut out the jokes.’ But my Supervisors made some encouraging noises. ‘You’ve got an expressive manner. Just need to be less chummy, and immerse yourself in the subject matter. Read more widely.’
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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“Groovin’”. The Young Rascals.
For me, one of THE sounds of 1967 summer. I can remember it going round and round in my head when I went out to play my weekend games of cricket. I also had copies of other Young Rascals singles, including their version of “How Can I Be Sure” which went on to be a big hit when recorded by teen idol David Cassidy. So what makes “Groovin’” so memorable - enough indeed to be voted one of the world’s top 500 all time singles? Well, oddly, it has no drumming; and then there’s a Cuban feel with the bass line and use of congas. But more than that, it’s relaxed and easy going; a perfect summer song, for a perfect sunny summer of hope that made ’67 what it was.
“Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” Judy Collins.
Although written by the incomparable Sandy Denny in 1967, it was in fact Judy Collins who first released the song in 1968. Sandy eventually put it on a Fairport Convention album “Unhalfbricking” in 1969. In 2007, folk enthusiasts voted it in UK as the best folk song of all time!! Praise indeed, and this version is just as good…as might be expected from a timeless song performed by one of the greats of US folk. The song itself is a slow paced reflection of time passing by; “before the winter’s sky, I’ll still be dreaming…” Epic.
“Fanfare For The Common Man.” Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Taken from the supergroup’s 1977 album “Works” it’s a rehash – and some – of the original composition by Aaron Copland. Band members Lake and Emerson recall that the piece was really a jam session that led to a recording… “thoroughly jammed from top to bottom.” Stewart Young, ELP's manager from 1972, made this comment on the documentary Beyond the Beginning:
“The interesting thing... was that we had to get the permission of Aaron Copland, the composer. The publishing house said forget it. So I got Mr Copland's home number, called him up and he was very friendly on the phone. And he says "Send it to me, let me listen." And he loved it. He called me and said "This is brilliant, this is fantastic. This is doing something to my music."” True enough. Seminal ELP.
“Mrs Robinson.” Simon and Garfunkel.
Famous for its incorporation in the 1967 film “The Graduate” this song ended up on S and G’s 1968 LP “Bookends” – surely one of the great albums of all time? Story goes that Mike Nicholls, the producer of the film, loved S and G so asked if Paul might write a song or three for the film. Paul Simon regarded film scores as a cop out, but eventually played a demo for a song he’d been working on called “Mrs Roosevelt”, including lines which were sketchy and hummed to “dee, dee, dee, dee, diddy dee.” And the rest as they say, is history! Just love S and G. Full stop.
“Epitaph.” King Crimson.
Ok I admit “In The Court of the Crimson King” wasn’t the first album I actually bought, though I wish it had been. That front cover! Amazing for 1968 and even now! I was lent this by a school friend, and I had no idea what to expect, and “21st Century Schizoid Man” was quite a start, but “Epitaph” and “In The Court of the Crimson King” began my love affair with the melotron, and the vocals of Greg Lake, which have never diminished. If I could commission one T shirt design, it would be of that front cover.
“Here Today.” Beach Boys.
The first LP I actually bought was “The Best of The Beach Boys Volume One.” Can’t recall how much it was, but it wore out my turntable. Everyone knows “God Only Knows” is genius of course, but actually my favourite track, taken from “Pet Sounds”, became this one. “It starts with just a little glance now, right away you’re thinking ‘bout romance now…” Great teenage daydream stuff. Young love? It’s hard to ignore even though the words are actually quite depressing! The melody and harmonies are all.
“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is.” Chicago.
Another (double) album pillaged from a mate at school, again I had no idea what to expect from “CTA” although I had heard their version of Spencer Davis’s “I’m A Man” which I’d preferred to the original with its powerful percussion. Wow! “CTA” totally blew me away with its brass and bass and totally immersive sound. “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is” epitomizes the album. After a slightly manic piece of solo piano, it’s four and a half minutes of foot stomping; a brass bonanza. If you’ve never heard this album, or you think Chicago are some pap rock band with songs like “If You Leave Me Now” – go listen and think again.
About the Curator: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!