I am ambivalent about cricket. I love playing it, but I loathe watching it, even when there’s a rakishly handsome silly mid-on, or a bowler with rippling, um…action.
At the very least, there has to be sunshine and Pimms. This Friday evening, there’s neither. It’s six o’clock, and the sky is sullen, battle-ship grey. It’s my daughters’ first tournament, and both of them are almost incandescent with excitement. Tournaments, I’m told, are great for kids, as they get to play three or four games with a set amount of overs, and no one hangs around getting bored and becoming destructive. I don’t ask about the grownups.
We pull into Cropredy car park, and the children spill from the car before I’ve even pulled up the handbrake.
‘Mummy-‘ Ellie is momentarily agonised. ‘Everyone’s in Whites and
‘So?’ says Jess, voice clear and high. She pauses to survey the field. Lots of teams are warming up, passing around credi-balls and twirling their blue bats. Parents gather in knots on the sidelines, shouting last minute instructions. ‘Ball low, Sebastian. Low. Aim for the knees.’
A small boy batting in pristine whites catches Jess’ eye, and her face lights up still further. ‘Ellie, Ellie. It’s okay, look. He’s crap. Way crapper than us.’
I grab Jess in a headlock and tow her away to the clubhouse. Ellie trails behind, crunched with nerves, looking like a tiny skater-chick in my navy Horley CC hoodie. As I wave to the rest of the team, I wonder how quickly I can slink away to the car. I have a new Sarra Manning book. And a flask.
Ellie tries to cling to me like a barnacle, but Claire effortlessly chips her free and sweeps her off to practice. Jess is gone without a backwards glance.
I suddenly feel horribly naked and exposed without my daughters. I flap my hands ineffectually and dither. I need a wee, but am suddenly too shy to go and find the loo. God, what’s the form? What do I do? Is it like a gymkhana, where I can bugger off until their slot? Or am I expected to cheer?
There are three be-suited daddies in front of me, all on their phones. One of them is talking about a Porta-loo.
I duck a cloud of midges, and go to lurk behind a sight-screen. A glamorous-looking blonde has pulled up next to my scruffy Vauxhall in a very shiny Mercedes. Two Range Rover Vogues are revving nose-to-nose, each refusing to give way. I wish I’d brushed my hair. And weren’t wearing my padded dog-walking coat with the bramble-slashes on the hips. I occasionally ooze white stuffing, like a defeated old sofa cushion. Two Yummies in gilets and glossy knee-high boots appear next to me. There is no frizz in their hair. I run away.
The glamorous blonde is still sat in her car, and I veer sharply to the right. I’m not completely sure I could open my drivers’ door without bumping her shiny wing. Horley CC are about to start playing, and I know Ellie will want to see me watching (Jess won’t care). Dither, dither.
Suddenly, I see salvation. One of the loveliest Hornton School Mummies, sat on a rug, out to the left of the pavilion, smack in front of our part of the pitch. She’s the sort that always smiles, and is so friendly and funny you forget to be nervous. I go over to say hello, and within minutes we’ve set up a little camp, and we’re breaking open mini-donuts for the children subbed out (we’re fielding), and R is asking me the rules. One of my old team mates, and one of the children’s coaches, L, rolls up, and the three of us have great fun deciphering the game and whooping when the children play well.
‘Start Over,’ says Richard, one of the umpires.
The midges are above our heads, in three separate little hell-clouds above our scalps.
‘We need a smoker,’ I say, already itching.
The sky has darkened, and the grass suddenly that deep green, as if made from vinyl. ‘Bloody rain,’ says someone. Several fathers aim key-fobs into the car park, zipping up cabriolets.
My Ellie is bowling, ecstatic when it goes in straight, hiding her face when the umpire calls wide. It must be hell to keep score with four matches running at once. Balls keep flying into the wrong games. The air hums with the threat of downpour.
‘Don’t you dare,’ says Claire, looking up at the sky.
Jessica does a sneaky handstand as a batsman trails out. We all clap the batsman, but Jess does a little shimmy, as if pretending it might be for her. She pirouettes, then turns to grin and wave. A team mate tells her off.
R and L and I all agree that it’s lovely to watch the children play, and how we can see how the training is paying off. One of Horley’s star players dives for a brilliant catch. The Coach from the other team congratulates him, which we all think is very good of him.
‘Keeping it all fun,’ says L. The batsman leaves at the end of the over, in tears. ‘Oh dear,’ we all say. ‘Oh dear.’
It’s hard to imagine our Horley lot in tears. They seem like the most boisterous and happy of all of the teams – most of them have grown up together since babyhood. They seem to rampage a lot off the pitch – children used to village-life free-reign – but on the pitch Claire is steely with her determination to make them focus.
‘Oi!’ she shouts, as one of our batsmen takes guard. ‘Stand properly!Properly! That’s better. Go.’
My favourite time to watch is batting, when we roar the children on. ‘RUN William! RUN!’ ‘No! Don’t run – Oh God, can’t watch. Is she? No. Go! RUN Mia! RUN’
I have to get out of my green folding chair and jump up and down.
‘Well done DARLING’ I bellow, when Ellie clouts a wide ball. Ellie pauses to give me a filthy look. I’m not allowed to shout loudly so everyone looks. I keep forgetting.
It’s the last match now, and some of the Horley Daddies have joined us. We barrack and cheer, and say isn’t it a pity we’ve got to drive. We make do with soggy little donuts, alternating between clapping and smacking at midges.
‘Imagine Scotland,’ says a Daddy. ‘Tossing a caber, slapping a midge.’ We all giggle, high on sugar.
The sky’s miraculously cleared, and is like the palest watered silk, strewn with scallops of cloud. Around us, horse-chestnuts are in leaf, and starting to hold up their candles, although they’re still unlit. There’s no breeze to rattle the bare-limbed Ash trees, with their sepulchral black buds. Swallows arch overhead, flitting and diving above the children.
‘Come over here,’ we say, waving our arms. ‘Plenty of midges here.’
We argue the difference between a swallow and a swift, just as the children finish. We don’t know who’s won, or where Horley have come in the tournament, but the children converge on us, full of the game and the batting and bowling and did-you-sees?
Claire makes them all march back out to the field to shake hands with the opposition. They do so, sheepish, but proud to be so grownup.
And then the children are off, chasing rumours of hotdogs and sweeties. The light’s falling, and we strike camp, saying next time we’ll have more flasks, or we could split a few beers (yuk). I load the car up, and see the glamorous blonde still in her shiny Merc. Her boy is playing for Horley.
I suddenly feel sorry for her, stuck on her own whilst we all had such a giggle. I bend down to wave and smile, but she’s not looking.
Next time, I think. Next time I’ll knock on her window, and see if she’d like to join us.