The story so far? It’s coming toward the end of Robert’s first year of teaching at Fitzrovia and it’s the final cricket match of the summer term. Cricket lovely cricket!...
‘Twenty overs gone, one hundred and nineteen for no wicket.’ St George’s scorer scurries off to the board rattling numbers. ‘Cruising it. All over soon.’
Miserably, I peek at his scorebook. There are three red rings that indicate dropped catches. I’ve given up on humming “Riders on the Storm.” Can’t help feeling the melancholy of Roy Harper instead.
“When the day is done and the ball has spun in the umpire’s pocket away…”
‘Catches win matches,’ remarks Giant Beard.
Miss Dazzle is lying down, face to the sun, with the girls chatting round about. Fizz is playing catch with one of the others. No sign of Spicy. Biggles has joined me on the boundary. ‘Need a wicket. Soon.’
St George’s opening bats are poles apart. One’s right handed and stodgy. ‘Wait! No.’ The other’s a dashing leftie, launching the ball to all parts. ‘Four!’ They need another eighty runs off twenty overs, ten wickets in hand. A piece of cake if Leftie stays in. A piece of cake even if we get him out. Face facts. They’re going to thrash us.
I watch as Young Giles organises the field. In comes the bowler and Leftie heaves in familiar fashion, the ball disappearing way up into the stratosphere.
It’s certainly a spiralling giant of a hit. Who’s under it? Balls.
“…on a dusty pitch with two pounds six of willow wood in the sun…”
I watch him steady himself then start running, pulling on his cap brim. The ball’s so far up it’s caught the wind, is swerving, out of the sun. He stops, wavers, then leans forward as the ball drops, falling to the floor in a heap. The ball bounces away.
‘Run!’ shouts Leftie.
In a flash I see Balls recover and pounce on the loose ball before hurling it in. Leftie’s two thirds of the way down the wicket when the ball spread-eagles the stumps. ‘Owzat!’ Yes! Run out!
‘One hundred and nineteen for one. Last man, run out, eighty eight. Twenty first over.’
Miss Dazzle has sat up, politely clapping while a couple of the girls cheer. Fizz has stopped playing ball, shielding her eyes to look at the game.
‘It’s a start,’ says Biggles. ‘Though I fancy you’ll need the next one out sharpish. Played age level for the Public Schools last year.’
I hear Young Giles as the next St George’s boy walks out to the middle. ‘Hunting,’ he says. ‘Like you’ve never hunted before.’
The star batsman takes guard, surveys the field and takes up his stance. The bowler’s Balls, who trots gently in to bowl, then whizzes his arm over; a vicious quicker ball that has the St George’s star batsman groping as it thuds into his pads.
Go on. Give him out. ‘Yes!’ The umpire’s finger’s gone up as my heart flick flacks. Leg Before Wicket. Star man out. First ball!
‘One hundred and nineteen for two. Last man, LBW, blob,’ says the St George’s scorer. He leans over his book. ‘He’s scored most of our runs this year.’
More claps from Miss Dazzle. Cheers from the girls.
And then Stodgy’s run out. A horrible mix up with his new partner. An accurate throw from the deep. ‘Well done!’ shouts Young Giles. ‘Great hunting.’
I note some of the St George’s boys running to the pavilion to get changed into their whites. See Miss Dazzle rearrange her hair and sit upright while Fizz engages her in conversation.
‘One hundred and thirty eight for three. Last man twenty eight. Twenty eight overs gone.’ Twelve overs left, seven wickets in hand, sixty runs wanted. Five runs an over.
‘Might just be in with a shout now,’ says Biggles. ‘Pressure does strange things.’ He peeps at his watch. ‘Sadly I must go and teach. Good luck.’
It’s the last over.
“…when the moment comes and the gathering stands and the clock turns back to reflect…”
‘One hundred and ninety three for seven.’ Six to win for St George’s. Five for a tie.
‘Your lads have put up a good fight,’ says Giant Beard.
It’s true. We’ve played out of our skins. Kept St George’s honest. There are none of them ambling round the boundary now. Spicy’s out from his office again. ‘Mind if I join you? Got more reports to do but I can’t miss this.’
Miss Dazzle is now standing up; girls clammering round. ‘What’s happening now, miss?’ from Fizz as we stalk past. Spectators are up out of seats, stretching. Fidgety. Nervous.
‘We’ve given them a good game whatever happens now,’ Spicy says. ‘Might even win.’
Win? I haven’t given winning a second thought. Just wanted to avoid humiliation.
And for the first time I really feel a pumping surge of adrenaline. Wanting to win. I mean WANTING to win. To show these St George’s people that we’re just as good as them. That our numbers and our wealth may not be on a par, but at least our cricket is. That we can go head to head with them.
“…and it could be Geoff and it could be John with the new ball sting in his tail…”
Could we? Young Giles is trying to set the ultimate field, one that cuts off easy singles, yet stops boundaries. Practically impossible.
The bowler is Balls. I see him take a deep breath at the end of his run and move in to bowl the first ball of the last over. It’s the St George’s captain batting. He takes a wild swish. ‘Well bowled,’ from Young Giles after the ball slaps into the keeper’s hands. The captain kicks at the turf.
‘No run. That keeps things interesting,’ says Spicy.
I glance across at Miss Dazzle, who’s still in deep conversation with the girls who are gathered round. Five balls left. Six runs still to win. Young Giles adjusts the field. St George’s captain’s pacing. Balls runs in again and bowls. The St George’s captain takes another swipe.
‘Good shot!’ Cheers ring out from the St George’s boys as I track the ball, falling into a big space and bouncing across the boundary. ‘Four!’
Bollocking bollocks. I shake my head. ‘Game’s up.’
‘It’s a funny old game,’ says Spicy. ‘It only takes one ball.’
‘One hundred and ninety seven for seven,’ calls our scorer.
Funny old game or not, with four balls left, two runs required and three wickets in hand, they can just block and run now. Or hit out. Bugger. Oh well. Miss Dazzle and the girls are still talking. Fizz has a hand over one eye as if afraid to watch.
The St George’s captain is leaning on his bat surveying the field. Young Giles is bringing everyone into a ring. ‘No single here.’
“…when an old cricketer leaves the crease well you never know where he has gone…”
I watch Balls take another deep breath, before trotting in and bowling. The St George’s captain advances down the wicket and heaves mightily. Fresh air. The ball spins into the wickie’s gloves and he whips off the bails as the captain falls to the ground, scrabbling. ‘Owzat?’ Yes!
‘Stumped,’ says Spicy, rubbing furiously at his glasses. Miss Dazzle and the girls are jumping up and down, cheering. ‘My goodness, it’s exciting now isn’t it?’
Everyone’s crowding round Balls. The St George’s captain is angrily swishing his bat as he walks past. ‘Got me with a googly.’ The remaining St George’s batsman has his head down trudging out.
‘One hundred and ninety seven for eight. Last man eight.’
Three balls left. Two runs required. The new bat’s taken guard.
‘All to play for,’ says Spicy. ‘Who’s your money on?’
‘Come on Fitzie’s!’ I clearly hear Fizz shout.
All blond hair, the new bat’s scraping at the ground with a boot. Takes a long time over it. How nervous is he? Young Giles has changed the field again.
“…and it could be me and it could be thee…”
After a lifetime, Balls moves in and bowls and instead of taking a swipe, Blondie gropes at the ball to “oohs” and “ahs” from the fielders. The ball slams into the wickie’s hands. No run. ‘Well bowled,’ from Young Giles. Blondie frets in his crease. I can see the batsman at the other end talking to him. The St George’s captain shouts from the boundary. ‘Hit it!’
Two balls left. Still two runs to win. One for a tie. I can feel sweat trickling down my back, and a beating drum in my chest. John Bonham at the beginning of “When the Levee Breaks.”
“…sting in the ale…”
One or two of the spectators are out of their chairs. The girls are chanting; ‘Fitzies! Fitzies!’ Miss Dazzle’s all eyes.
‘Pressure’s on,’ says Spicy as Balls runs in to bowl. ‘Not sure who I’d rather be; the bat or the bowler.’
This time Blondie has an almighty swish, head up, and the ball thuds into his stumps. ‘Owzat?’ A huge appeal from the whole team.
‘Yes!’ Spicy shouts.
‘One hundred and ninety seven for nine. Last man, bowled, blob.’
The girls are capering round, dancing and shouting. Miss Dazzle’s clapping wildly.
The last St George’s boy walks slowly out to bat. The lad at the other end greets him, talks to him. Last Man In nods. One ball left, still two runs to win for St George’s. One wicket or no runs for a win for us. Is a tie possible? More spectators are standing up. Shouts of encouragement from our girls. ‘Fitzie’s! Fitzie’s!’ More adult voices shouting, ‘Come on, SG’s!’
My heart’s a set of bongos now. It would be oh so cruel to lose now; to come so close. Could we really think of winning? Glancing at Miss Dazzle she catches my eye and waves. Raises crossed fingers to me.
Young Giles adjusts the field again, then runs out to take position in the deep boundary.
Giant Beard arrives to stand close. ‘Results cricket,’ he says. ‘Told you. It’s the way the game’s going.’
“…and it could be me and it could be thee…”
After an eternity, as the crowd on the ground grows silent, eyes peeled, finally in comes Balls and sends down the last ball of the match. Come on!
The batsman takes an enormous heave and there’s the smack of the ball on the bat and it’s on its way into the zenith. A cheer from the St George’s boys and supporters.
Shit. Gut wrenching shit. Plunging heart shit. Shit because I so wanted to win. Just this once. To silence the St George’s boys with all their cocksuredness. To show Miss Dazzle.
“…sting in the tail…”
‘Catch!’ shouts Balls.
Really? My eyes follow the ball as it plummets down close to the boundary. Who’s under it? And there, in front of most of the parents, Young Giles is moving to his left, ripping off his cap, shading his eyes. The ball takes an eternity to come down out of the sun as he waits, hands steadied, eyes aloft.
‘Yes!’ Spicy’s punching the air.
Balls has been engulfed by the players. Miss Dazzle and all the girls are whooping and hollering, cavorting.
Giant Beard holds out his hand. ‘Well played.’ He smiles as genuinely as if he’s won and I think straight away what a good loser he is, determined that I’ll be more gracious in future.
‘A few of my lads thought they had you on toast, but that’s the beauty of cricket. Won’t do them any harm to learn the hard way. They didn’t reckon with him. Very cool under pressure.’ Giant Beard nods in the direction of Young Giles. ‘He’s a gem. Dad tells me he’s staying at Fitzie’s. Pity. I’d have liked him at SG’s. If I were you I’d get him down to county nets.’ He takes out a card and hands it to me. ‘I run the under fifteens. He’s got the makings. Get his dad to give me a ring.’
The boys come running over, eyes shining, cheeks fresh from cheering and back slapping.
A few yards away, I catch Bill Giles hugging his son.
‘Wish you could have seen it, dad,’ I hear Young Giles exclaim, colouring.
‘I did, son. I did. Didn’t tell you. Now you know you can score runs with me at the ground.’
Spicy’s all smiles. ‘Well done to you all.’
I can tell he’s choked up.
‘You all right, sir?’ Balls is talking to me. ‘Told you I’d be Botham.’
Spicy shakes hands with every one of the players, and our scorer. He’s red in the face, obviously delighted. When they’ve all disappeared he turns to me. ‘Got time for a snifter? My office?’
‘Thank you. Yes.’
He leads me to his office and opens a drawer in one of his filing cabinets and pulls out a bottle of whisky. Taking two tumblers he pours hefty slugs and hands me one. ‘Cheers. Thank you for putting us back on the map.’
That night I go out with the other Musketeers. To be fair it’s an odd feeling. They’re both off at the end of term; Rugger Bugger to Linda’s arms, and Adonis to Boston. It’s hard to imagine life without them. We’ve been together from the start. Mates. Oh well.
‘Another double rum, and two more pints for my light weight friends.’ I raid the jukebox and get the landlord to turn it up. Queen. “We Are The Champions.” Oh yes!
I fall into bed well past midnight, making a racket. Burn some toast, crashing round the kitchen. What the hell. If I have a hangover I’ll have to get over it. And Mister Pastry will have to stuff the noise.
Next morning I bump into Miss Dazzle. ‘You look a bit pale. You OK? Your boys did well didn’t they?’ she says. ‘Well done.’
The ultimate accolade.
The end of year service is followed by prize giving. After, there’s a drinks reception for the staff hosted by The Big Cheese in his garden. Miss Dazzle is wearing a floaty yellow dress, high heels, and looks sophisticated with light make-up; quite different from her everyday style in tracksuit, trainers and fresh face.
I catch Chisel Face with Giggling Doll; laughing together. She’s plastered in make-up as usual, and is in the tightest of tight short skirts. I can’t tear my eyes away as I see him touch her arm lightly. See her simper. Then, in a flash, as I continue to gawp, he’s pinpointed me with his eyes. Fire and steel. Fuck. I snap away my own. Turn round.
Biggles approaches, glass in hand. ‘It’ll be all change here next year,’ he says. ‘How will you cope without your compatriots?’
‘Don’t know. I’ll throw myself into “Darkheart.” That’ll take all my time.’
He talks of Chisel Face and Miss Dazzle’s impending marriage. ‘What does that mean for you?’
Raising his eyebrows he looks a bit sheepish. ‘Oh. Assumed you knew.’ He mentions Chisel Face. ‘Maynard Road’s his house. He’s giving up living-in now he’s getting hitched. Moving back with his new wife.’
When I reach the Common Room, there’s a formal printed envelope in my pigeonhole. Blue and yellow crest on the letterhead.
“Dear Mister Hopebourne,
I am writing to inform you that due to a change of circumstances, it will be necessary to re-house you from September 1st inst. We will inform you in due course of your new address. The fees for board and lodging will remain the same as this academic year.”
It’s signed by the Bursar.
All change indeed.
END OF ACT ONE.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
Follow The Back Story On Your Favorite Streaming Platform
Roy Harper – When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease
Is there any Englishman who enjoys his cricket who hasn’t at some time or another been lured to listen to this anthem to the great game? And doesn’t Roy capture the essence of an English summer with that brass band middle eight? I don’t want to tempt fate, but it’s right up there as a funeral tune for me…
Harper himself was big mates with Led Zeppelin, and a stunning guitarist to boot. Have a listen to “Miles Remain” and you’ll see for yourself. Latterly he’s just been cleared of historical abuse with some of his “groupies” as they were known back in the 70’s…hard to imagine ANY rock/pop/folk band that wasn’t in some shape or form inundated with them and tempted. Signs of the times…
Queen – We Are The Champions
I can clearly remember being a part of the championship winning team in the Suffolk Premier cricket league back in the early 90’s and all of us spilling out onto the playing field for a protracted piss-up in celebration playing this song over and over again – probably much to the annoyance of our opponents that we’d soundly defeated.
Originally released in 1977, it must be the go-to anthem of many a sports team since. And why not? It’s a proper shouty-out song; stirring and inhibition shedding. Needs to be played loud, and probably drunk…
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!