In my fifteenth year I was introduced to an odd game called cricket when our slightly deranged PE teacher Mr Stewart, or ‘Peasel’ as he was known, without much affection, behind his back, presented Hugh, a student teacher, who was to practice his teaching skills on us.
Call me “Hugh” hailed from England, the auld enemy, and enthusiastically declared his intent to teach us cricket, a game we Scots were not very familiar with. We were intrigued about this new game, fascinated by Hugh’s posh English accent and, but most of all, relieved to miss out on a lesson from ‘Peasle’ who still thought he was training marines for the Normandy landings.
Quaintly addressing us as “chaps” Hugh launched into an eager description of the game; the relevance of the stumps, how to wield a bat and the material construction of the ball. Using a diagram stuck to the changing room door he pointed, like a general, to the various positions around the space between the stumps; deep cover, square leg and short leg. Silly mid off got a guffaw. Boredom descended; Tooter Ritchie started a mock brawl with Skud Kemp and someone at the back started to sing “Hey, Hey, Hugh, Hugh, get off my cloud” a play on the then current Rolling Stones single. Sensing he was losing the dressing room Hugh sensibly cut the talk short and led us out onto the playing fields.
Not the playing fields of Eton that Hugh was probably more familiar with. With the backdrop of the drab school buildings this was more the playing fields of some drab East German communist block schule. As we walked across the threadbare grass Hugh playfully threw the cricket ball around amongst us “chaps”.
“Jings!” exclaimed Tooter, “it’s like a wee fuckin’ cannon ba’! Can we no use a tennis ba’ like when we play roonders, Hugh?
Hugh pondered on this foreign outburst as he pounded the stumps into the, unusually for Scotland, sun baked ground. “Right, ho, chaps, choose someone to bat!”
Realising that this was like volunteering to be at the wrong end of a firing squad we stood looking down at our gym shoes or staring across the playing field at the grey communist block style council houses that surrounded the school.
“Fudge, yer in, yer battin’.”
Volunteered by Big Murch, the class bully and, by default, spokesman, Fudge Fowler reluctantly trudged up to the wicket and stood with a look of hopeless resignation tinged with fear as Hugh polished the ball on the crotch of his track suit. Meanwhile we positioned ourselves at square leg, deep cover and silly mid off. Silly mid off? We might as well have been miles off. We had no intention at all of catching this deadly projectile. In the event there was nothing to catch.
Hugh gave the ball one last rub then gracefully bounded up to the crease and bowled. The ball bounced with a puff of dust as Fudge, in ungraceful desperation swung the bat and missed. There was no thwack of leather on willow, only an ‘oomph’ on abdomen. Fudge staggered slightly, stumbled and slowly fell back scattering the stumps and bails.
Skud unsympathetically shouted “Yer oot, Fudge!” Fudge was certainly ‘oot’. Well and truly out of it for some time.
In an early example of Health and Safety the game was terminated and, at the insistence of Big Murch we played ‘roonders’ or rounders, in the Queen’s English, with a tennis ball.
I have now lived in England for over forty years, and embraced the culture and lifestyle including cricket. I love to sit in the local park and watch this peculiar game, bemused; much as I would watch Morris Dancing. Only watching, never putting myself in the firing line.