And that, gentlemen, is Over - Sean McPartlin Blog

12 Oct

The end of the season gives Sean McPartlin his inspiration for his latest blog. 

The square is an unfamiliar colour – somewhere between tan and dark brown, and the furrows left by the scarifier disfigure the normally smooth surface. The grass on the outfield is longer than it was  at the height of the summer heat. It doesn’t seem right somehow – like when your granddad leaves it too long between haircuts and his hair curls over his shirt collar. 

The sightscreens are huddled together  and on their sides, like the sails of a schooner cast on to the rocks; and, with all its windows shuttered and secured, there is a  blind look to the scorebox, its glass eyes covered, not able to survey the playing area. 

There are no nets in the nets, just empty steel frames, waiting for some purpose, and the covers sulk in the longer grass beyond the boundary, as if there should be some kind of vegetables growing beneath them. 

In the dressing room, already there is a musty smell – though that may come from the shabby umpire’s coat hanging in the corner. It needs replacing, or at least washing – and nobody uses the coats any more, anyway. 

Beneath one of the benches, a thick grey woollen sock is curled up like a question mark. In April it will be the subject of a long and fruitless search, but just now, it lies there, unmissed. 

The wooden flooorboards are dusty, and scratched with the imprints of generations of boots; they hold splinters for the unaware who wander absent mindedly out of the showers. 

The door to the bar area still squeaks – you meant to oil that at the start of the season, may as well leave it over the winter now. There’s that scent of stale beer and alcohol. Sometimes it could turn your stomach, but it also carries the memories of a thousand Saturday nights. And there’s that stain on the carpet tiles, where Kenny dropped a whole Jug he’d bought after his 5 for – and went straight back to the bar and bought another. 

The team pictures look down on you from the walls, stretching beyond your memory and from sepia, to monochrome, to colour. And the faces never get any older. It’s a kind of immortality. Some hang straight and some crooked, some are clear and others blurred – but their deeds are as bright as ever, their voices cling to the walls and ceiling, permanent stains,  like a cigarette fug of timelessness. 

There are pennants hung behind the bar from tours that nobody can remember undertaking, and cartoons and newspaper cuttings – so old they are curling with embarrassment, fuel for favourite anecdotes. 

The wooden floored space between the doors and the bar remains empty, in  the hopes of some future use. It carries the footfalls of the years – from hops to discos to raves to Strictly – late houred sportsmen becoming uncoordinated dancers, girls bored by the rambling tales of fifties never made and catches spilled through desperation, all to a background of music with too much bass. 

You check the locks and shutters, put out the lights at the switch, and feel your way to the back door – a journey made so many times, in the dark  empty silence after bar duty, that it’s familiar.. The door clicks behind you with a satisfying Yale sound, but you push it slightly just to check. 

Moving around the side of the pavilion, you reach the groundsman’s hut – he wouldn’t thank you for the description “garage” – it’s more about man than machinery. 

The atmosphere in here is the essence of cricket for you – more so than linseed oil or brand new plump batting gloves, or even the  whiff of rubber from a freshly purchased bat handle grip. 

There in that earthy vapour, that mix of creosote, petrol, paint, fertliser, marl, loam, rust and grass cuttings, the game in all its excitements, all its highs and lows, all its comforting routines and repetitions, in all its season long anxieties and plans and achievements, it all comes back to you, as it does in September every year, like some primeval, deep seated, psychological need. 

In the dim light of the hut, windows webbed with years of neglect, the season’s moments return: the feel of the ball as it left your hand and you knew it would be a perfect yorker; the thrill of the run out from deep fine leg, the give of the bat when you timed an unlikely on drive for six, the diving stop on the boundary, the catch where the ball unpredictably stuck in your outflung hand; all those moments when you felt, for a second or two, as if you could really play this game, as if you were in the best place you could reach, on top of the world and flying high. Walking out to bat to save the match, marking out your run up, taking your cap from the umpire, the feel of cold sweat on your back as you pulled off your sweater to start another over – all those many moments that come together to make you a cricketer, to define who you are – in a way that nothing else can quite manage. 

The rakes and shovels and posts and ropes are all neatly stowed – like gear in a ship’s cabin, the tarpaulin covers the heavy roller, bags and sacks fall over themselves, leaning against each other, waiting to be used; the wheelbarrow is upended, nonchalant against the wooden planks of the wall, its handles against the window sill, like a prisoner looking out of his cell;  there are drops of oil on the cracked concrete beneath the freshly greased mower blades. 

All is as it should be.

You remember. Davie won’t be back – he has retired – and you feel guilty that you mocked his fielding. Rab’s away down south to a new job, and Tommy’s   twins mean he’ll be fully employed at home most weekends. New names will come, and soon become old names, and eventually people and faces and decades and stories will merge and blur in that part of your brain that should be called “The Club”. 

Years of practice let you lock the door firmly – one foot against the doorpost and a pull of the handle to the right as you turn the key. It’s an old fashioned key, on a club keyring – one of a consignment made for the centenary in 1983. You put it in your pocket and smile as you walk away. 

You love locking up at the end of the season – because – as soon as you have, next season starts getting closer. 

It’s the circle of life, really.

 

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