Fernhurst, as recalled by Richard Heller

Published June 18, 2020

Thanks for the memories:  Fernhurst       by Richard Heller at Rubato Towers

From my crazed diary of lockdown life at my residence, Rubato Towers, London SE1, shared with a fraudulent cockroach, a mouse with literary aspirations and a bridge-playing goldfish, and blighted by sex-crazed foxes.

It’s all but midsummer. There are no cricket matches being played in England, but Premier League football is restored (a product of science and common sense or money and supposed votes?) So too is Royal Ascot. Have they told the horses to observe social distancing? Any selections of mine have always done this without being asked, keeping a respectful two metres behind the rest of the field until compelled to accelerate by the runners in the next race.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has produced a road map for the return of recreational cricket matches. When any organization announces a road map one knows that it is totally adrift. One pictures all the cars becalmed on hard shoulders and verges, their drivers and passengers turning their road maps every which way in the baffled pursuit of their destination, or their modern equivalent, those losing all faith in the ignorant instructions from the hectoring voice of their satnav. I did not get where I am today by following a road map. Mind you, I have not got anywhere today, living in indigent obscurity with a sad salon of a rodent, a roach and a Ryukin.

While the ECB fiddles with its road map, hundreds of local clubs are haemorrhaging money for lack of match income, and more important, losing players permanently, especially young ones.

My good friend Wasim Akram did not dominate the world’s batsmen by producing a road map towards toe-crushing late reverse swinging yorkers. He delivered them. If the ECB cared about club and recreational cricket it would have devised rules to allow cricket matches to be played within the guidelines for fighting Johnny Virus. It should not be difficult. Children’s cricket has always had distancing provisions. Having devised these rules, it should present them to whichever drudge is Boris Johnson’s Sports Minister…

Mortimer Mouse: It’s Nigel Huddleston.

Myself: Well, fancy that! He’ll be delighted to know that his fame has reached the mouseholes of Rubato Towers. I discover that he also does tourism (Britain’s third biggest industry before Johnny Virus), heritage, civil society, whatever that is, and loneliness. Anyway, the ECB would tell Mr H that clubs would play cricket matches under its new rules unless the government forbids them.

If the ECB is too wet to do this, I shall have to take it over. As if I haven’t got enough on my hands. Perhaps I could assign it to Mortimer. He knows the Sports Minister.

Phew! Feeling better for that.

All Bushmen venues are graveyards for my books. Fernhurst, in West Sussex, has had to endure more of them than any other, because I have also played there over a long period for my other mob, the Erratics. I think they used to expect me to present a new one with each visit. It’s quite a literary hotbed, Fernhurst. I have had serious conveations there about the literature of the game, including my own. One chap rashly sent me the synopsis of a novel of his own. No, I did not steal it.

 

Fernhurst is often a challenging journey, with or without the unfolded road map or the hectoring sat nav. It is not as bad as Outwood, which always reminds me of that infernal eternal staircase by M C Escher. You think you have gained the perimeter of Outwood only to be as far away from it as ever. Fernhurst is deep in West Sussex, almost at the point where it hands over to Hampshire or Surrey. The nearest place of any size is Haslemere. It is a bad venue to run out of petrol on the way to. Generations of Bushmen (and Erratics) have not allowed for the journey time or the popularity of the Sunday lunch fare in the nearby Red Lion and the pressure on its service. Regularly, there are just a handful of us ready at the appointed start, and we have to gabble instant excuses for delay to secure a deferred toss and avoid the prospect of batting first. Circus lions escaping onto the Guildford by-pass… sudden plagues of locusts. The locals are polite enough to pretend to believe us.

Fernhurst may not be the all-time prettiest Bushmen venue but it would be in contention, especially at sunset when the sky would regularly have excited J M W Turner if we had included him in the team. One year I remember it further ornamented by hot-air balloons. The ground sits on a traditional village green and no matter where the wicket is pitched its shape offers distinct possibilities for batters as we are now asked to call them. (Rightly. And can anyone come up with a gender-neutral term for Third Man?) From one end a straight drive takes the ball into dense undergrowth or even beyond the road, from the other,  into an enchanted forest where one has to beg the Ball Fairy to return it.  A hook or pull in one direction puts the ball into a distant playground and gives Bushmen fielders a chance for a rest. In the other direction, it endangers parked cars, spectators or even the pavilion clock. I cannot remember a bad wicket at Fernhurst, a ground I associate with high scores, particularly if I am allowed to bowl.

The pavilion is compact. I see that they want to build a new one for 2022 and hope this will not be blighted by Johnny Virus. The dressing room and showers have always made social distancing impossible for more than about three, but there is a substantial refreshment area with a television. It is flattering that our efforts on the field have regularly lured watchers from Test matches and even World Cup football matches. The tea would get stars in my intended Michelin-style guide to cricket teas. The aftermatch social happens at the ground and must be good for the club coffers when we are there.

To quote Fernhurst’s own website: “Sunday afternoons see many long-established nomad teams visit the village, giving dads the chance to play with their sons and daughters as well as those who want to continue enjoying cricket in a slightly more relaxed fashion.” I do not recall any daughters but their Sunday side has drawn regularly on their teeming youth and children’s sections, and they have always taught even the smallest of them to run and throw, curse it.

 

The most memorable Bushmen visit to Fernhurst? It has to be the one in subs, please insert year   We bat first for once. I do not recall a bad wicket but somehow we subside to 100 for 8. Lyndon is still in and we procure another 20 odd subs, precise score?  from number 10 (myself) and number 11 subs who he?  Fernhurst pursue their modest target without difficulties. Our effort in the field is less than electric. There is no scope for marginal bowlers and the regulars are toiling. Some wickets fall. The mood of the game changes. Some of their young batsmen seem nervous. The fielders revive. All stiffen their sinews and some even summon up the blood. Lyndon bowls a new over. I recall dot…dot… dot… then wicket… wicket…. A new young batsman has to hurry out to receive. Ritualistically, we all cluster around him for the hat-trick ball. Wisely Lyndon ignores us all and clean bowls him. Subs please leave for literary effect even if wrong

They have changed their batting order to give youngsters a chance. An experienced batsman comes in to join another. As so often happens in these situations, they can make nothing off the revived attack. Lyndon starts another over … with another dismissal. He has four wickets in four balls. The remaining resistance is swept away.

Result: Bushmen win by about 20

MoM: Lyndon Jones

Subs, take in agency copy to fill out

Will this do? A bit tired. Fornicating foxes screeched in car park all night.

 

June 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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