“There’s no one quite like grandma” the St Winifred Girls’ Primary School Choir sang rather saccharinely in a record that went to take the Christmas No 1 spot in 1980 – and had they changed just one syllable they’d have hit the nail right on the head. Because there really is no one quite like grandad – particularly when it comes to cricket.
The song – with its half-remembered lyrics- came into my head as I passed away the long tube journey home from King’s Cross to South Wimbledon this evening by dipping into the new book (and perhaps the first of many) by my old Times mucker Patrick Kidd and his Aussie sidekick Peter McGuinness (who once likened me to Mr Grainger from Are You Being Served, not to mention professing astonishment that I had a girlfriend, but I’m bigger than that and, in the name of art, won’t hold any of those things against him).
Their tome, The Best of Enemies http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Enemies-Whingeing-Arrogant-Aussies/dp/1848187033/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1246489800&sr=1-1, probably the best book since http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss_b?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=if+it+was+raining+palaces&x=10&y=13 to have the words Whingeing Poms in the subtitle, is a 224-page blast through the Ashes as seen from the viewpoints of Patrick (an Englishman – and I hope he won’t be offended by me referring to him as a moderately aristocratic one at that) and Peter (an Australian – and, according to his biography, one who emerged from working-class roots into the upstanding Gold Coast citizen he no doubt is today).
If my reading of the early excerpts is right, the remaining passages from this impressive, if unlikely, double act, should make my commute much more bearable.
But what struck me most as I thumbed their respective prefaces and prologues is the debt of gratitude each’s cricketing education owed to a parent’s father: Patrick’s apparently signed up for the Army in 1935 after a post-match drinking session and “talked about being strafed by the Luftwaffe as he played a square cut on Salisbury Plain” before turning into his grandson’s cricketing confidante, while Peter’s passed on the all-important lessons to a young mind that “not all Poms are bastards you know” and a poofter “is a bloke with long hair”.
My passion for the game may not have been ignited by my mother’s father but it, too, was cultivated by him as, in his retirement, he was tasked with taking me to Test matches when both my parents were at work.
With him, I glimpsed Garry Sobers being bowled by Peter Lever at the Oval in the Rest of the World series of 1970 before the ageing all-rounder turned his left arm over for a languid spell of medium-pace, and, three years later, watched Clive Lloyd, 132 to his name, trapped lbw by the first ball of the morning from Geoff Arnold.
But mostly I remember him for his commendable attitude to alcohol: he liked a drink as much as the next man but, in order to ensure my impressionable mind was not corrupted, was apt to turn to me 20 minutes after the lunch interval, announce that he was going for his “break”, whereupon he would disappear for half an hour to the bar nearest the back of the old Lord’s Mound Stand or its Oval equivalent, where I suspected, he supped on one perfectly measured pint of ale from its barrels before returning refreshed to give the cricket his full attention once more.
It was on one of these occasions, during the series against Australia in 1972, that his absence backfired somewhat, coinciding with one of my most traumatic experiences at a cricket match – well, at least until I went to Adelaide in December 2006. For, as Ross Edwards eased towards an elegant century, an elderly man in the seat directly in front of me felt the pull of the Grim Reaper on his collar and proceeded to gurgle his way off this mortal coil despite frantic calls for doctors and desperate attempts at resuscitation.
When my grandfather returned, it was all but over and my nine-year-old self sat stunned as Bob Woolmer slipped in from the Pavilion End and caught Edwards in front on 99, fusing on my consciousness an enduring and uncomfortable association between a man bowled agonisingly short of a hundred and another’s last, desperate, flailing breaths.
But I don’t hold it against him and I think back with extreme fondness to the days before April 15, when he showed an immaculate sense of comic timing in muttering his last on the same day that Tommy Cooper collapsed and died on Live From Her Majesty’s on London Weekend TV.
And I feel sure that Patrick, Peter and I are not the only ones able to trace the development of our appreciation of our great summer game to our grandfathers.
If you do too, feel free to share your memories here. Who knows, it might just make a book