I was ten at the end of 1966 when something in me clicked. That need to find my own distinctive passion. It was conscious but I needed something. And while I can’t be totally sure, I think mum was behind that discovery.
Let me set a scene of domesticity in the mid sixties in a family that hadn’t begun to swing in any meaningful sense. Mum would have been no more likely to have enjoyed the Beatles or the Stones as she would have enjoyed the then popular artificial mashed potatoes advertised by giggling robots. Her tastes extended to Sinatra and Nat King Cole. But it was her listening habits that helped me. She was a radio aficionado, attached to what was then the BBC’s Home Service. However there was a period in the afternoon, between the end of the afternoon play and the news at 5 when she was often driven to turn over. That gave her a choice: the Light Programme which comprised the worst of cheesy 1960s pap-pop, or the Third Programme, which during the summer months broadcast ball by ball coverage of the cricket. Mum fell in love with the rhythms, the anecdotes and banter that filled the gaps between the balls.
I must have begun listening during the summer of 1967 but my first real recollection is a year later during the cricket against Australia. England had a large, not to say fat opening batsman who, unusual for that time liked to give the ball a fair old wallop from the first moment. Colin Milburn’s career ended not long after when a car accident left him with only one eye but that day, at Lord’s England needed him to give it a bit of humpty. Listening on the radio while mum delivered some old clothes to some sort of charity shop, Milburn hit the ball for six. The commentators were ecstatic, so odd was this occurrence and I was hooked.
That summer, 1968 is famous for its protests and almost revolutions. To this scabby-kneed schoolboy, the excitement was to be found on an old transistor radio as England, my England tried to claw back a one nil deficit, going into the last game at the Oval. It was beyond exciting (to me) with rain, the perennial torment of the avid cricket follower causing fingernails to be chewed hard. In the end, in the last hour of the fifth day, with all England fielders round the bat, England won.
It had me, this game for Flanneled Fools by the short and curlies. Now all I needed was to learn the laws, develop some sort of skill and persuade someone to let me play in their team.