In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
A Book Is Not Just For Christmas But For Life
Looking back, I can see now that I was a difficult child and probably a big disappointment to my parents. I was the first born. As such, my mother, a devout Catholic, thought it was her duty to offer me to the Church as a priest. I never did subscribe to that notion, believing that girls were a much more interesting option. Not only that, but as my education at the hands of the Jesuits progressed, I formed the view that they were a bunch of sadistic Fascist bastards. Such a belief probably precluded my suitability to turn my collar around.
My parents were both avowed Irish Republicans and were puzzled; shattered might be a better word that their son was turning increasingly into a Loyalist, Unionist and Monarchist, who had a photograph of the Queen in his bedroom. This probably had much to do with the fact that we lived in an overwhelmingly but moderate Protestant area. There were four or five Catholic families in a street of 146 homes. Well, so I believed at the time. Thinking on it now, it could just have been my Huguenot blood asserting itself, though it never did in my Dad. I can honestly say that I never experienced discrimination until I went to my Catholic Grammar School.
I also became a passionate street cricketer, scoring hundreds for England against Australia at Lords, a ground situated between two air raid shelters, which, in the 1950’s still stood, as memorials of a war not so long finished. My folks, without liking it, and to their credit, bowed to the inevitable. I think it was at Christmas 1954 that I was given a Wisden for Christmas. Wisden, for those who do not know, is an annual publication which details all cricket throughout the world in any particular year. In 1954 it cost twelve shillings and sixpence, in the days when we had real money. The 2005 edition cost £36.
Every year after that, I bought a new Wisden, keeping the old one, of course. This continued in Australia, Malaysia and back in Britain again until 1977. At that time, while living in Wales temporarily, I was offered and accepted fifteen Wisdens from 1938 to 1954 for three quid each. The 1942 copy, about which more later, was absent. It was the beginning of my new passion, to collect the lot from the first in 1864.
This was not as easy as it may sound. For example, John Arlott’s complete collection went, in 1985, for about £12,000. Nevertheless, I scoured the second hand shops, picking up the odd copy here and there. Some were badly damaged, especially the familiar yellow covers, covers and needed to be rebound at a cost of £5 each. At a jumble sale once in Woking, I bought an 1896 copy for ten pence. After reflecting for a while, I gave the Scouts an extra pound. The present value is perhaps £125.
Did I hear someone ask ‘why’? Well, apart from my being an unreformed collector, the book itself is an absolute treasure trove of fascination. The 2005 edition runs to 1744 pages and it is possible to lose oneself for endless hours in the myriad paths it presents.
By the early 1990’s there were serious gaps in my collection. I had nothing prior to 1896 and was missing many issues from the two world war periods. The solution was, as many solutions are, costly. I went to specialist booksellers, like John McKenzie of Ewell for the war time editions. In 1942, for example, there were many other considerations and paper was rationed. Accordingly, only 3000 Wisdens were printed in that year. Well, I swallowed hard, and handed over £225. Later I paid £175 for 1918 and £90 for 1915. These pearls cost one shilling and sixpence in 1915, or one and ten post-free. By 1916 there had been a huge hike to half a crown. +Must have been the War,
There then occurred one of those events which we normally only dream about, Wisden decided to reissue the first fifteen additions at a cost of £450. All or nothing. More hard swallowing and no eating for several months followed. They were mine. Not as good as the originals but a damm sight cheaper. Finally another stroke of good fortune. A company called Willows was set up to reprint all Wisdens from 1879 onwards. Around the year 2000 I bought my final missing piece of the Wisden jigsaw. Set complete!
Was it worth the time and cost and effort? Yes, emphatically yes.
So, Dad, it has taken me fifty years from that treasured first copy. Thank you for the best Christmas present of all time.
Written by my Father B.M