Friday, 27 July 2012

Heavy weather...

It’s heavy weather at the moment. It shouldn’t be, the sun shines and it’s warm, but the storm is never far away and the air lies heavy in me like a pillow sent by some angel of mercy to suffocate me into dreams. This weather makes it hard to sleep. But when I do I’ve gone back and on waking am reminded and allowed to take a sort of wondrous comfort it what was back then. I wonder could it ever be that way today? I toss and turn in my humid sheets, darkness falling, temperatures dropping just a little, a not-quite-cool breeze gasping in through the window; a breath of air to make me dream and take me back. Take me back.

The cricket field on a soft summer afternoon. Not playing, I never played, but watching from the green slope of bank that was the boundary of the upper and lower playing fields by the tennis courts, the squash court in the distance and the huge iron roller which they used to roll the grass thick tight standing by the scrumming machine. The smell of cut grass, green stains on the whites of the players, school caps on sweating heads, ties belted around waists. “Howzat!” Not out it seems, although it obviously was.

Summer dress, ties off, sleeves rolled, a rare concession in a school where jackets were to be worn at all times and running between lessons was insisted upon. Such strange and wonderful times my schooldays back then. No wonder I slip back here in dream - order, place, routine, the wonderful knowledge that it would never change - just like other boys who must have sat there at the same age watching cricket. It could never change - although of course it did, the names of the boys lost in the wars and carved into the refectory wall were witness to that.

Schooldays. Thinking back how could it be that I, a kid from a council estate with a factory worker father, could be sat next to a viscount who I called friend while out on the cricket field the sons of scientists and heart surgeons, film stars and politicians, even a Kashmiri Prince played cricket on that immaculate rectangle of green. One end of the field Patrick Procktor’s brother umpired the match, at the other end David Tomlinson, fresh from filming ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, watched his son, Henry, get run out for a duck. Mr Procktor had one of his brother’s paintings on the wall in his room or so Sacha said - ‘Back of the Zoo.'

Back to the zoo.

Sacha, the viscount, was a real devil. He boarded at the school, but he wasn’t like most of the other boarders – elite and cliquey. Maybe it was his upbringing – he claimed Russian blood – or maybe the knowledge that no matter what he couldn’t really be touched. And he was mischief incarnate, always up to some scheme or other. We seemed to get on well. Looking back now I realise that Sacha was uncomfortable with himself and hated boarding in – he felt like an outcast.  Later that summer, with school over until September, he rang me on our old green phone from a castle in Spain and asked me over. I didn’t go of course – I hadn’t a passport or the air fare – he sounded bored, listless like he sometimes got. “Be seeing you then. Have a think about coming over.” I did and I didn’t.

So many doors were slightly ajar back then and I didn’t even know it. What might have happened if I’d grasped one of the handles and stepped through – hitchhiked to Spain, asked to see ‘Back of the Zoo’, made friends with the Tomlinson boys, Henry and James? Instead I knew my place, a kid from a council estate with a factory worker father, allowed to be there to watch but never to play. Order, place, routine, the wonderful knowledge that it would never change - it could never change.

David Tomlinson died in the summer of 2000, Patrick Procktor in the summer of 2003… and Sasha? Well, I knew that he’d been ill, and then I heard yesterday via the web that Sasha died a few weeks back. He never could be touched - the devil.

Heavy weather. I think I may open the windows.


  1. B. Kapral

    Heavy weather indeed, lost opportunities and 'if only's' Regrets, yes, but also happy twists of fate - meeting people because you didn't take a certain path, but everything counts to make up who you are now and what matters is what you take from the past and use to make yourself happy right now, because we can only live in the now and make better use of our time because we've been through the rough. Remember: 'The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see it's bottom! '

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    1. the Headmaster's son only grew up to be Howard Goodall and in the year below me Julian Merrow-Smith was painting... oh, well.

  3. Della Jayne Roberts on FB