Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Ghost grounds

It's hard to write about a feeling as elusive as this one, yet it's that elusiveness that makes it both rare and worthwhile. It happened the other day, for the first time in a couple of years. I was driving through a town somewhere when the road became familiar in a way that might have been real or imagined. On one side was a high wooden fence with another chain-linked one behind it, reaching even higher. Ivy was growing up through its gaps. The traffic slowed, caught by a set of pedestrian lights just ahead. Through a couple of fence panels that had warped and come apart from one another I caught sight of a blade-width of green field and a fragment of a two-story pavilion, then, in the next gap, a section of scoreboard.

It felt right away like I had played there. I could even recall a fragment of the game, fielding second while their opening bat, a big lad with black hair and a Gray-Nicolls, started belting the bowling indiscriminately over mid-on and midwicket, not slogging exactly but swinging, the ball falling just out of reach of the fielders who, in true club style, were being carefully positioned to stop the delivery just gone. I don't remember much more: he hit quite a few, but got out eventually. They probably won. What really came back was the cast of the ground - its shape, its size - and the weather, which was warm but overcast, the sky full of darkening summer clouds with no wind to move them.

The traffic eased, and the ground was gone. There was an old painted sign with the name of the club on it, but I couldn't quite read it in the rear-view mirror. It probably wouldn't have helped. The feeling was almost dream-like in the way it refused to become clearer or more solid in the memory. It certainly happened, but did it happen there?

I've played a lot of cricket in a lot of places, and lots of it was a long time ago now. Where do they go, those games and those places... If I had to sit down with a piece of paper, I'm not sure how many I'd remember. It seems to take something more than just effort to bring them back; it needs a sense memory or a chance encounter that trips some kind of synapse. It's the odd and ethereal familiarity that you have been somewhere before.

Sometimes I dream about playing on unknown grounds too, so perhaps a place occasionally makes something imaginary seem slightly more real.

It's a strange sensation, and it's not one that needs a definite answer even if that answer existed. These are the ghost grounds of half-remembered games, and it's good when they appear.


John Halliwell said...

That ‘I’m sure I’ve been here before’ feeling is familiar, OB. The problem is the mental gymnastics we have to go through trying to pin it down. It can be so frustrating; you think you’ve got it and the urge to nudge the wife awake to tell her is almost overwhelming. Then you realise you haven’t got it at all and you continue to toss and turn, and it all seems quite hopeless. And it seems impossible to say 'Sod it, it's not important.'

I love these reflective pieces. Among my favourites: ‘All Ten’ from February, 2012. It was that evocation, at least for me, of an Edwardian afternoon, and my abiding wish that Simon would have kept the ball and displayed it on his mantlepiece. Then there was ‘The art of not fielding, while fielding’ from June, 2012, possibly my favourite. Kincade’s cottage - Wonderful! I hope you keep dredging the memory for similar gems.

Unknown said...

I recognise this, OB. Something almost in reverse happens to me, particularly when I drive past one anonymous ground in the southwestern suburbs of London. In the early days of my children developing an awareness of cricket and in particular my love of the game, I used to find a way to drop into the conversation that this was the ground where I made my highest score. 91 (same highest score as my father made), opposition pretty feeble, bowling tame, can still see the ball looping teasingly to backward point where a gangly bloke caught the ball without even looking like he might drop it. 91. 9 short, and all that. Never got near since, can't see it happening now, never knew that at the time of course, but probably had a feeling it might be the case.

As the years went on the children got bored with me mentioning it each time we drove past so I did it in different ways. Pointing at the ground as I said 'I'm sure this ground was where.....' to which, in response, there would in the early years be some sighing. 'Here we are again, then, this ground...', to which a few years later PSPs were studied ever more avidly. 'Did I ever tell you that this is where....' as the headphones were cranked up and my moment of not-quite glory ignored with the skill that only teenagers and near-teenagers can deploy.

And yet, now, I am starting to wonder about the memory. Was it really that ground? Goodness knows I played at enough featureless municipal park grounds over the years. If it wasn't there then I have wasted a lot of emotional energy and bored my family witless for years telling them that it was. Sometimes I think that maybe I should stop there and walk around the place to see if I can confirm the memory, get back some of the (albeit too brief) feeling that day that I was never going to get out, that all was right with the world. I know I won't, though, not too keen to allow the reality 20 years on to alter the memory from 20 years back.

As a footnote, and to establish my place in the cricket world, having agriculturally thrashed the mediocre bowling that day and after I got out I had to do my turn as umpire. After the next wicket fell the best batsman in the club came out. Having watched me flail around for far too long than was decent he straight drove his first 4 balls for bullet straight fours nearly breaking the ankles of the startled bowler who, after the 4th occurrence, bellowed in frustration 'who IS this guy?'. At no stage did he say this in relation to me.

SL said...

there are some evocative descriptions of quaint grounds you might have played at .....a kind of deja vu experience..... In Stuart Larner's book "guile and Spin" which has now been released as a paperback.

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