19 April 2018
Street cricket. Played on cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of our cul-de-sac street that backed on the railway yards. The wall the boundary. And the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked and hit behind the wicket and over the railway wall. You also had to retrieve the ball yourself. Game stopped until you climbed the wall, looked down at the rail yards thirty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball or throw it back.
No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked rail yard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I go get my ball?” Then run all the way back down the railway lines to where the waiting players hung over your own street wall, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles, avoiding rolling stock and the occasional shunting engine. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall to the waiting hands. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gate man politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The Lissingdowne / Pissingdown type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.
Basic rules. Six and out if you hit it over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the to bomb buildings at square leg, next to the railway wall. No fielders there. Banned territory. Still piled with grass-overgrown bombed bricks and debris. Fragile, crumbling walls still still liable to tumble. Cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. Four and out in a neighbor’s front yard. Some were nice and didn’t mind. Watch out for the old witch with the garden gate. If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’d be out quick as a flash, steal your ball, and wouldn’t give it back. Otherwise, it was single-batsmen. Run the runs and walk back from singles. One hand, one bounce. Tip and run once you’d scored twenty. One hand off the wall if you didn’t clear it for a six and out. Out if your fox terrier got the ball and ran round and round in circles with it in his mouth. Damn difficult to catch. Also his sharp, terrier teeth might puncture the ball. Damned dog. Lost ball and stopped match if the dog ran into the house and gave the ball to your gran who was saving it for tennis.
Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still un-repaired, in walls and shattering the glass of now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs in tip and run was legal and not a crime.
Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.
Game’s over. The Tests Match is on. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a grassy field in a fairy-book world, a world that most of us back-street boys and girls will never know or see, but that comes over to us as a dream of reality on this old black-and-white tv.