Like Druids

In one of my oldest memories I’m sitting cross-legged at the edge of a field. It’s a late afternoon in early summer, the hoverflies are hovering, and cabbage white butterflies are fluttering.

In the middle distance a group of much older boys are dressed all in white like druids. They mostly stand still, then at what seem like pre-arranged moments they walk around and exchange places. Every so often one of the boys breaks into a run, and then they all jump in the air and shout.

I’m enjoying the warmth and clear air when I notice a red thing heading towards me. It gets bigger as it bounds over the turf. It’s a ball. There’s commotion around me, but I stay where I am as I like balls.

In the next fragment of memory, I’m in a smelly toilet. Blood flows in steady streams between my fingers, and a grown up is pressing wet toilet paper to my face. She seems to be far more afraid than I am. She says, “stupid boy! Should have got out of the way!”

She keeps wetting toilet paper and pressing it to my face. I want to tell her the blood is on my hands, not my face, but my mouth is stuffed with toilet paper. 

The toilet paper is pink. It must be the girls bathroom. I shouldn’t be here. Then a booming man’s voice says, “If this is his first experience of cricket then I predict he’ll become one of the great players in a few years!”

I played cricket for 7 summers, around 24 games per summer. That makes about 168 games. Nobody can say I didn’t give it a shot. Unfortunately you need several very specific skills to play cricket, and I didn’t manage to learn any of them. For example, you need to be able to throw. 

When I threw overarm, the cricket ball would land about ten feet in front of me, and lay there as if it had been there since dawn, like some deep red mushroom.

When I threw underarm, the ball would leap straight up like a joyful skylark. I would gaze to the sky with my arms outstretched, ready to catch it, and the ball would land right in my eye.

By the time of my 169th game I was 13. Those in charge must have realized I would never be a cricketer, and I was assigned the position of scorer. At first this didn’t seem too bad. I would travel with the team to the opposing school, and then I would set up my folding table, scoring book, and dining room chair just outside the boundary. With that done I would sit back and watch the hoverflies.

The job of scorer involved watching the game very carefully, and plotting the progress of the little ball meticulously. I would mark down each time the ball was bowled, each time it was hit, each time it was hit far enough that the batsmen could run, each time it was caught, and of course each time the ball shattered the wicket.

I even had to record when absolutely nothing happened. This was my favorite part of the job. I would draw a big capital ‘M’ to signify a ‘maiden over.’ 

The problems always began the same way. I was still too naive to know why a ‘maiden over’ was called a ‘maiden over.’ My table was usually close to one of the out fielders. When they were the opposing school’s fielders they would always introduce themselves by making jokes such as, “You had any maidens over lately?” or the cautionary, “Not all who appear to be maidens are really maidens.”

I would laugh politely, but it must have been clear that I didn’t understand otherwise I would have responded in kind with something like, “Your chances of encountering a maiden around here are pretty much nil.”

Once they realized I was a dimwit when it came to maidens, they would begin to rag me mercilessly, I would lose focus on the game, and I would have to rely on the outfielders to tell me what had happened while I hadn’t been paying attention.

At the end of the innings I would have to quickly calculate each batsman’s batting average. The players of both teams would gather round me to find out if their average had gone up or down, and intense talmudic discussions would begin. Shoving matches began as members of the same team remembered the innings differently. Quite soon they realized that neither of them remembered it the way I’d written it down. I would be forced to erase so many of my beautiful ‘M’s and replace them with 1’s and 2’s, that my chart ended up looking as if it had been thrown together by a very untidy dyslexic.

Eventually a teacher would come over, and say very firmly, “The scorer’s opinion is definitive and final.”

One of the cricketers would say something like, “But he’s got 2 different versions of the 17th over!”

“Final!” The teacher would say. “Definitive!” Then we’d adjourn for tea.

My secret superpower as a scorer was that I didn’t have any friends. I was impartial. Unfortunately I realized that by adding just one or two runs or wickets to my team-mates records I became so popular that the players in question would let me have their egg sandwiches at tea. Very soon I had friends. I didn’t know what to do with friends, as I’d never had any before.

I didn’t have friends for very long, but it was an interesting social experiment while it lasted.