In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Journeys Through Time and Space
There are around seven billion people in the world and for the huge majority of those people, 17th March is just another day; a day between the 16th and the 18th March. For people born in Ireland or of Irish descent, it is, of course, St Patrick’s Day. Dear old St Patrick is celebrated on both sides of the border. After all he was a Christian, not a Catholic or a Protestant. His day is a Public Holiday in both the Republic and in Ulster.
In the County Down town of Downpatrick the alleged tomb of the saint is in the churchyard of St Patrick’s Cathedral, a Protestant church. My suggestion to dig the old boy up and do some DNA testing was coolly received.
St Patrick, according to the myth, was a post Roman Briton, living probably in North Wales, when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. After a period tending sheep, dear old Paddy escaped and returned home. However, in a fit of Christian sacrifice, he returned to Ireland to civilise the savages.
Among his many achievements was to drive all the snakes out of Ireland. Lots of people in Ireland believe this stuff which is peddled by the nuns and priests who choose to ignore the scientific evidence that the slippery little buggers never got there in the first place.
The 17th March is special to me for another reason; it was my father’s birthday. After a succession of Samuels and Jameses, my father was christened, yes, you guessed it, William. No I lie; he was, of course, Patrick.
I left Ulster in 1956 to join the Met Police. I had never been out of the province before, but I had a vision. That was a vision apart from joining the boys in blue. I wanted to visit Lord’s Cricket Ground, my personal Mecca at a time when I had never heard of Mecca.
After my initial interview, I took a bus to St John’s Wood and stepped into the sacred ground.
I watched Middlesex play Kent. There were twenty two players involved but the two I remember were the sainted Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, DFC. Denis got 102 and Bill 68. It was a magic day and it was something I will never forget. I have been returning to the ground normally twice a year ever since. The ground is named after its founder, Thomas Lord, a Yorkshire man and has nothing to do with the Aristocracy.
As I grew older and wandered around the world earning a living, I became an awkward bugger, developing all kinds of weird and wonderful interests. One was conservation of endangered species, especially the conservation of that most magnificent creature, the tiger.
In 2001 I went to India to go trekking in the Himalayas to raise money for tigers in the wild. It was an unforgettable experience, the bustle of life on India’s streets contrasting with the stillness and beauty in the mountains. We saw loads of animals and birds and one tiger, for about two minutes. This was in the Rantambore Tiger Reserve.
“What” people demand of me, “Two minutes of tiger in five days in the park? That was not worth all the effort, was it?”
Well yes, it was. It was a breathtaking sight of majesty, freely roaming as its forebears have done for 100,000 years.
It was an almost out of body situation as I looked deep into those eyes. From a distance, I hasten to add.
We had ten days in India; five spent trekking in the lower reaches of the mountains at about 10,000 feet. One night we had made our camp at about 7,000 feet, on a grassy plateau, erected a huge fire and made a meal. Later we sat around the fire, singing songs and drinking whiskey, before burrowing into our sleeping bags. It was cold, the grass shiny with frost in the moonlight. Getting out of the sleeping bag at three in the morning to have a pee was an act of great foolishness. Not getting out of bed was even more foolish.
In the morning we began a long hard slog up to 10,000 feet and the high pastures we saw intermittently though the oak and spruce, dappling the path.
The climb put the most enormous strain on the calves and thighs and when we got to the top, we simply collapsed, lay on the ground and slept. I have no idea how long I was asleep, but when I awoke, the sun was hot on my face and my companions were all still sleeping.
I wandered around, taking photographs of the grown up mountains away to the north, peaks covered in snow. I wandered into a clump of threes and that was where I found it; a cricket bat. It was a homemade bat, carved out of the bough of a tree, but it was a cricket bat all right. It had been worked perhaps by a spoke shave so it had a flat face, curved back and shoulders.
Nidish, our guide wandered over. “It was made by shepherds,” he told me. “In summer they bring their flocks up here to graze, and play cricket to relax.”
This was a source of wonder to me. The British Empire, much maligned by the Political left, like the BBC, gave cricket to shepherds at 10,000 feet. I decided to liberate the bat and for the next fourteen years it lived a happy life in my dining room.
As I get older I realise, like we all do, that we will not live forever. I know my children have no knowledge of or interest in cricket so I could see my little bat ending on a bonfire somewhere. It is too good for that.
I wrote to Lords, offering them the bat for the Museum with the, hopefully, interesting little provenance.
They accepted, saying it would feature in a special exhibition on Indian cricket later this year.
On St Patrick’s Day 2015, I trooped up to Lords, making the so familiar walk from the St John’s Wood Underground Station down the Wellington Road to the famous old ground. I was treated royally and given a tour of those places not open to the public, like the Long Room and the England dressing room.
Two journeys were completed that day, which would have been my Dad’s 108th birthday. Fifty nine years after my first nervous visit, I stood on the England balcony and looked out over the ground. My little bat, rescued from the Himalayas, rested 12,000 miles away from where it had started, safe at Lords.
Written by my Father B.M