Wednesday 24th February

The field is beautiful this morning, the kind of beauty that you can’t photograph, only feel. The sun is rising in a cloudless blue sky, and making brilliant every frosted blade of grass, every silvered twig. I walk slowly, listening to the polystyrene squeak of my boots, my nose burning from the coldness of the air.
It’s the funeral today of one of my neighbours, a private, sweet little lady who liked to see the children on their swings. Her house borders the cricket, and I walk past it every day, but I only ever went in to visit her once or twice, and I’m ashamed of that.
I know people will give me a ready excuse: that I’m too busy, a working mum, but that wasn’t the reason I didn’t knock on her door. The reason is a guilty, cowardly thing.

I’m frightened of being around very old people. I’m worried in case I don’t understand them, or they turn out to be mad and angry, or pass wind when they get up, or their false teeth fall out. All of those reasons are ridiculous, and say far more about my own po-faced insecurities than it does about anyone else. I’ve been both mad and angry, can fart like a drayhorse, and sometimes can’t keep even food in my mouth, so I imagine false teeth must be quite tricky.

This fear is absurd; a pursed-lipped mealy-hearted plip of a fear, and I know, rationally, that I can cope with any sort of conversation or behaviour. My clay feet only become apparent with elderly people outside of my immediate family. My own grandad is 92, and he still lives in his own house and looks after himself. He’s not at all mad. And I’m never frightened of him.
But when I was little, my Nan (who was not all old – in her fifties) used to take brother and me with her to do Visiting. She would wash the farm mud off our faces and hands and put us in her blue Dolomite to drive around Warwickshire, seeing people. Not just relatives, but friends of my great-grandmother, strays and waifs, oddballs and people who lined their armchairs with newspaper. We would be presented to frightening old men with sticks and enormous shoes, and be kissed by tiny, bristly old ladies who gave us sticky lolly pops in crumpled paper bags. Sometimes people in the houses we visited would smell extremely strange, and Nan would agree with my brother and me, that people ‘weren’t quite right’, but that we must be kind, because people liked to see children’s faces.

I’ve reached the low wall of the pavilion now, and I press my finger into a frozen  fairy-cushion of silvery moss. The ice melts instantly, and the cushion turns green. I press my finger against my cheek, to test the coldness.

It’s fine for me to be afraid, but it’s really not okay for that fear to make me a coward. I take a deep, cold-air breath, tip my face to the pale  winter sun. This morning, I’ve seen and understood something of myself that I can’t ever pretend I hadn’t. I am frightened of old people because of what they are, what they were. Once as strong-armed, straight-backed, as shrill-voiced and energetic, as I am now. I will be like them one day, and it’s that thought that frightens me, not the people themselves.

I press my finger to another cushion of moss, then another, another.

I think of Nan, and her Visiting, and wonder how to start.

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Monday 8th February

Today is a day of restlessness, I can feel it fizzing in my feet, my hands. Last night’s storm is still here, the wind spiteful and violent, sending rain to rattle on the pavilion windows like hard-flung pea-gravel.

The clouds are torn as they pass across the sky; ripped veils of ragged grey.  The sun glimmers from behind them, featureless; a dull silver, like a too-used coin.

I put my head down to walk, not wanting the wind to snatch at my cap, flip it from my head. I look out at the field sideways, cataloging the week’s changes. The elder reduced the stumps by the electricity people, the cream-and-yellow primrose quietly flowering beside the stile.

The wickets were mown, late last week, and are a lighter square against the dark green of the out-field. An orange rope, the one they use sometimes as a boundary rope, is suspended around the square’s perimeter. It is a grubby white in places, where the orange has frayed free, and reminds me of crumbed ham.

The wicket is the sacred bit of the cricket field. It’s tended by men who stand on it with arms folded and their heads bent; they gently kick at it with the toes of their boots. Sometimes they stamp, as if daring the worms to push up their casts.
In summer it is iron-hard, beaten flat by the roller and running feet. Each end is bald of grass, the greyish dirt that remains is sometimes cracked, baked hard by the sun. The grass that grows on the wicket is finer than the rest of the field, and kept far shorter; it’s trimmed of millimeters each time.

Sometimes, children from out-of-the-village are drawn to play on it, riding thick-wheeled bikes across its tender plains, or chasing a football. The of-the-village children barrack them, their eyes both scornful and wary.

I’m on the Lane Close straight now, nearly opposite our house. As  I look at the wicket I can almost see summer; almost hear the lull, thwack and roar; the unending notes and chords of the game.  I think of the first team with their cannon-quick bowling, their rightful arrogance. They play each game with a tension that’s irresistible, hard not to watch.

I think of the second team, with their dogged persistence and the way they shout to each other, in an ascending tone, as if their words run up a hill. ‘Come on, keep-it-up NOW.’ The rhythm is always the same: da-de-da-DA. Deedly-dee DA. It’s irritating and horribly infectious. Chicken-and-chips-TEA. Put-your-clothes-WASH.

Then I think of the games through which I have to sit, paying attention, trying not to gossip and miss something vital. The under-elevens, with the daughters poker-faced, playing with a hard, dark-red match ball, knowing that if they catch it wrong, it will break their fingers.
The rain hits my face, numbs my chin, my cheekbones. The wind snatches at the branches of the oaks, bends and clatters the horse chestnut against itself. There’s no coin of sun now, it’s lost behind low whitish-grey. A lone daffodil nods frenziedly beneath the telephone pole, and the air smells of rain-soaked earth.
I take one last look at the wicket, then whistle Dora, to go inside.

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Sunday 31st January

It’s Sunday morning, and rain is falling in the softest of veils across the field. It’s not cold though, and I let it fall on my face. We had village friends for dinner last night, and my head swishes and squelches in time to my feet, moving through the grass. I walk slowly for once; my eyeballs feel too big, and I half-close my eye-lids in case my eyes pop out and roll away. My ears still echo with the glug-after-glug from the tawny port bottle.

I’ve already walked Pants clockwise, and now I’m walking Dora anti-clockwise. I pause to wait for her beside one of Tony’s silver birches, looking around the field. The hedge bordering Banbury lane is covered by mildewed netting. It bulges and sags, like a pair of old-lady knickers.

The oak by the gate worries me. Years ago, someone strung netting from it, high above the ground. They tied thick cord around its bole and the cord is now strung tight, biting into the bark like a cilice. I fantasise about pinching a ladder, shinning up to snip the cord. I imagine the relief the oak will feel.

We walk on, and I become fascinated by the raindrops caught on the blackthorn. Raindrops bead almost every downward junction of a thorn or a bud. The slightest touch of wind and they shiver, like tears on an eyelash.

We reach the corner by the nets and turn up hill, towards the pavilion with its shuttered winter-face, its empty flagpole. The flag pole makes an impatient, metallic ticking sound when the wind blows, some cleat beating another.

The uphillness slows my steps still further, and I practically wallow in my wellies. It doesn’t matter though; today is a day for shirt-ironing and beef-roasting. I’ll be helping the daughters with homework, baking a cake, planting out spent narcissi. This afternoon, we’ll walk the dogs properly, then it’ll be the Sunday Times and a fire, and pots of tea that cool as I read.

I’ve reached the Pavilion now and Dora runs ahead to get home. I follow her, squinting up at the smooth-tipped buds of the horse chestnut.  I walk slowly past the empty flag pole; listen to it ticking a time known only to the field.

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