Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tales from the Middle. No 2 in an occasional series

I alluded back here to a car ride. The scores of you (Dyna) requesting details of this little episode have finally convinced me to relate it, such as it is.

I was, I think, around 17 and still playing the purest form of cricket there is, Kentish village cricket, with nothing at stake but local rivalry and the honour of getting the beers in after the game. Some of the grounds in Kent are picture postcard perfick, like the one of our local rivals, Woodchurch below:

Others were almost county seconds standard such as at Meopham (where I didn't play until I was in my 30s):

And others were just the stuff of some bizarre twisted imagination, like Alkham:

The original caption for this picture states that it is from the "top" of the cricket green. Note you can see the roof of the pavillion on the left of the picture. Even the most reluctant student of geometry will be able to detect the presence of a quite notable gradient. Indeed such is this gradient at one point on the ground that a fiercely driven straight drive will fail to reach the boundary at its highest point. You'll be equally as lucky to reach it at the the other end of the ground for a different reason as it is exceedingly long at the lowest part. Also the narrowness of the ground meant that there were no sixes awarded square of the wicket. The Alkham ground nests deep in the North Downs behind Dover. As you can probably guess, it's in a valley and regularly floods, partly due to the presence of a nailbourne, a seasonal spring that wells up in times of heavy rainfall and quite common in the area. In fact that pavillion looks new to me and in a slightly less hazardous place than the old one so maybe they'd had enough by the time the picture was taken.

All this is by way of scene setting. We had played the game and, as is usual on these occasions, retired to the local hostelry. Several hours later it was time to leave. Now, I can't remember how I got down there but I can certainly remember how I got back. Robin, clutch burning star of the previous post, offered me a lift. Fair dos, he lived in the same road so no bother. Except that there was because his fiancée, Marina had turned up and also wanted a lift back. Readers of the last post will recall that Robin drove an Escort. Not when this event took place he didn't; he'd bought Jim Nick's MG Midget. This was a game little beast and one in which I'd already spent quite a few journeys being ferried home by Jim with my head lolling out the window and my feet frying under the engine block. I also think it had been tweaked as a Midget's top speed was around 85-90mph and Dob's was definitely faster ("Dobbin" being Robin's nickname, if you haven't read the other post yet).

Again, those in the know may well be ahead here. Dob, myself and Marina equals three bodies; the MG Midget is designed for two. It's not even a two plus. There is a ledge behind the seats but this is not designed for the transport of flesh unless the meat is already slaughtered and in a Tesco's bag.

Not to worry, my ruddy-cheeked comrade assured me that if I wanted to squeeze along the shelf, he'd get back me home quickly. We were only about 20 miles from home and it was only about 11pm. It had only just started to rain. Heavily. Nothing really seemed to phase Dobbin.

So I threw my kit in the boot and squeezed myself transversely behind the two seats, at the same time wondering whether I ought to change places with my kit bag. It wasn't comfortable. Off we went. This is deepest backwoods Kent. And Kentish folk are The Invicta; it means "never conquered". There is then, no such thing as a speed limit on a country road. I watched as the needle pressed unhindered towards the 100mph mark and all the while it was raining, the Midget's wipers straining against the combined forces of water and wind. This was also nearly 30 years ago and the Channel Tunnel hadn't yet been built (it had been started but abandoned) so the local roads were still in the B class until we hit the M20. What is more, the Midget's flimsy canopy was starting to pull loose.

"Rob, the rain's getting in"

"Just hold it down, Tricky. Lean on it" (Being a Richard, this was the de riguer nickname post-Nixon).

We are now pelting along a wet and undulating B road at close to warp speed, barely able to see where we're going because it's raining and the headlights only give out about 20 candle-power and with a pissed teenager trying to hold the roof on. Boy was I having fun. I wouldn't have minded so much but earlier on, the short boundary at square leg had held such an allure that I'd holed out going for it with barely a contribution to the score.

We got home and I gibbered my hellos with relief. My Mum greeted me in her usual fashion:

"Tsk. Been drinking again"

22 Vegetable peelings:

Blogger said...

You can see Meopham quite clearly in the "Girl Who Was Death" episode of "The Prisoner".

9:16 am  
Blogger Who is this Dave? said...

Did you realise your captain is also from Kent? Gravesend, to be precise. I've never played cricket there though (other than at school).

9:59 am  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

No, I didn't Skip. Tell more? I played more around the north Kent/SE London area after I moved up to London in 1980. Apart from playing once at Meopham (0. Dodgy lbw going down legside, umpire was the bowler's Dad. Remember it well because I'd always wanted to bat on that pitch and lasted three balls), the only other time in Gravesend was at the Scott's Paper social club ground.

The Mighty Super Kent are currently doing not very well against the old enemy.

10:33 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I can't comment on all this cricket stuff, but...

Many many many years ago, whilst under the influence (heavily under the influence) I drove with a couple of chums into deepest Kent somewhere. There, on a lazy summer's day, we happened on bucolic scene around a village green, whereon a group of people who looked awfully like cricketers were playing cricket. With table tennis bats, or a wooden equivalent thereof.

Bemused by this strange practice, I made enquiries, and was advised that this game that looked exactly like cricket apart from the one crucial difference was called Stallball.

Like I say, we were under the influence and therefore unlikely to make head or tail of it, so we wandered off in search of a pint. And as we wandered, I looked down into some long grass and spied, to my delight, a Stallball that someone had obviously belted to the boundary and forgotten.

I picked it up and took it home. It remains a cherished possession to this day - slighty smaller and more roughly made than a cricket ball, and the only evidence I have that I didn't dream this strange memory.

Seeing as how you're from Kent, can you shed any further light?

3:52 pm  
Blogger Sharon J said...


10:45 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

They used to play something around my part of Kent called Bat and Trap. There was quite an industry attached to it and Gray Nicholls, the fabled cricket bat maker from Robertsbridge, used to make bat and trap bats, which were like large table tennis bats. Every week the Kentish Express would publish the league results, of which there were hundreds. Most teams were attached to pubs, but despite the number of Kentish pubs I was familiar with, I have to admit I haven't the faintest idea how it's played. I've never seen it played either. Google!

11:16 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...


or here

11:25 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

And anyway, what's this [sigh] mullarkey? At least I kept my pants on.

11:31 pm  
Blogger Who is this Dave? said...

Born in Gravesend. Played cricket at Gravesend Grammar School, but no club cricket in Kent after I left school.

Resumed playing at College, and afterwards for clubs in Bedfordshire (briefly) and then for the last 5½ years in Norfolk.

12:53 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

I don't think I played against Gravesend Grammar but then of course, Skip, you're only "35" and as I have an extra decade or so our paths wouldn't have crossed at schoolboy level. (This is where I get all pro-grammar school as it was Ashford Grammar - easy - but when we went compo we became the Norton Knatchbull School For Boys which, unless you're like Vicus and follow the fortunes of the Royal family closely, tells you nothing).

1:08 pm  
Blogger Who is this Dave? said...

Yes, that's 35ish, virtually. In the same way that I captain a virtual cricket team.

I don't think we went as far as Ashford, so let's assume, even if we were both (for the sake of argument) born in the 50's, our path's probably didn't cross.

I also fenced at school - reached the quarter finals of the Kent Schoolboys competition, in Dover. I don't suppose by any chance...?

2:01 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Actually born 1960 but who's counting now?

No, Dave, no major criminal activity whatsoever. Oh, you mean 'fenced' as in epées and stuff. Actually, funny you should mention that because I used to do a paper round in Kingsnorth, a village justb outside Ashford, and a British ladies fencing champion was one of my customers. She was down for the Moscow Olympics I think but not sure if she went because I'd moved away by then.

3:52 pm  
Blogger tom909 said...

Nice post Richard. I played my cricket in Buckinghamshire in the late mid 60s and then in Devonshire in the 90s. I never really got totally committed which I do slightly regret. My highpoint was hitting a six into the stream at Lustleigh. They had some fearsome fast bowlers so that was a moment of extreme pleasure.

5:09 pm  
Blogger R. Sherman said...

Hope you don't mind a Yank from Missouri poking about, one who knows nothing about cricket other than it involves a bat, a ball, a wicket and sticky stuff.

Nice blog. I didn't have time to peruse it all, but I intend to return.


2:30 am  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Randall, by all means hang around and make yourself at home.

9:06 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Thanks Richard. I Google'd Bat and Trap and discovered it still thrives. Unfortunately it's not the same as the mythical Stall Ball, except that the bats looks similar. Stall Ball was laid out exactly like cricket, but played with bats very similar to Bat and Trap, and a ball somewhat smaller but just as hard as a cricket ball.

I could have the name wrong. I remember it as Stall Ball, but of course I WAS under the influence. The only proof I have that I didn't dream this is the ball, still languishing in my loft...

9:23 am  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Mark, if you check one of the links I left it also describes Stool Ball, with pictures!

9:38 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Richard - so sorry. Couldn't make your links work for some reason. However I Googled it and all is explained. I'm fascinated - it appears to be the common ancestor of both cricket and baseball.

I'm thinking of starting a team...

2:13 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Oh, that's odd. Right, The link does work except that it doesn't point to where it should. It looks like I thought I'd saved the URL to paste inbetween the tags but in fact hadn't, instead I'd saved the link to this page instead. How silly.

3:47 pm  
Blogger Tennessee Jed said...

I had no idea a MG Midget would go 100 mph much less in the rain, wind and two humans in tow. They must have kept the good ones on the home turf for you Britts. Tricky I did enjoy the story even if I don't understand cricket at all.

3:49 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Now I'm getting very frustrated. I pasted those links again and they appeared in the preview and bloody worked because I tested them. Now they've gorn and disappeared altogether. Just google "bat and trap" or "stool ball"

Jed, I can hardly believe it myself but I can still see the needle wavering between 90 and 100mph on the dial to this day - it was the kind of thing one noticed in that situation. The later models with the bigger K-series engines in could almost do a ton but I suspect some mechanical chicanery on my friend's part and that it wasn't the original mill.

3:57 pm  
Blogger Robert A. Swipe said...

My Dad (Gawd bless 'is soul) was a fine batsman in his youth. He was the first Twickenham lad to represent Middlesex boys at Twickenham and was presented a signed bat by Jack Hobbs for his exploits. When he left school, he was offered an apprenticeship at Lords but had to turn it down as he could bring home a penny more as an apprentice engineer (this would have been the early 50s). Those were the days, eh? Can't help wondering what might have happened had times not been quite so hard or he'd taken the risk.

Re: the fiction: Your input would be most welcome Richard. At the moment I've just got a nagging feeling about a vague atmosphere and setting and an introductory page I haven't yet typed up even. But I will post up some stuff or mail you a section if you like?

12:03 pm  

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