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.
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
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
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.