Long To Rain Over Us – Heavy Rollers Edgbaston Trip 2012 – Nigel Hinks’s Take, 6 to 8 June 2012

Nigel in full flow
Nigel in full flow, the following season, at Chester-le- Street

I am very grateful to Nigel for this wonderful, redolent submission in response to my piece, Long To Rain Over Us, about our most heavily rain-affected Edgbaston trip of all.

“The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened’ by Don Robertson is an evocative journey back to the early 1950s. Readers are introduced to a teenage Morris Bird III, considered by some to be one of the most endearing characters in contemporary American literature.

Our Edgbaston trip in 2012 was so lacking in memory that it is now, well, not memorable. Very little that was meant to take place actually did so.

It was as if we had been enticed to this sodden part of the UK to be teased with the promise of things that almost happened. Morris Bird may well have speculated?

Perhaps we were being tested on our resolve as real Heavy Rollers. Could we cut it when things were bad?

I recall my solitary mission to the nearby cricket ground in advance of the others. They were perhaps still somewhere on the M6 arguing about the relative merits of Delta and Detroit Blues genres, while a dozing Nick yearned for some early Metallica.

Knowing Charles’ detailed preparations before any pre match knockabout, the ‘cricket kit’ would have been checked (several times before being unpacked and repacked) in readiness for our long-awaited net. This was scheduled to take place at Harborne CC. To grace this attractive little ground, in leafy suburban Birmingham, was to be a privilege indeed. All a direct consequence of some emotional story- telling from Charles to some unaware individual who was to forever regret their selfless move to the ‘phone with, “I’ll get it”. Charles had become a master of spin. This had little to do with his ability to pick a ‘Doosra’.  Detailed and distressing tales would be discharged to whomever got the job of dealing with random emotive requests, mostly for tickets. Much was at stake this time. A chance to display limited abilities for a donation. It would be a wonderful prelude to the main course.

The scene, however, was a precursor to the forthcoming event. The said ground was deserted. The outfield resembled a small lake. If anything had been planned for this evening it had long been called off. Phone calls from office to office relaying the unhappy, but inevitable, news. I couldn’t avoid observing that the early season volunteers, allocated to small working groups tendering the ground, had failed miserably to:

  1. Clean around the area you want to repair with a wire brush to remove loose paint or rust.
  2. Use an old screwdriver to dig out any old jointing material.
  3. Put the nozzle of the sealant gun into the joint, and run a bead of roof and gutter sealant around the pipe.

One side of the pavilion’s guttering resembled a waterfall. Safe to say the kit wouldn’t be making an appearance this year.

I returned to Harborne Hall with heavy heart, but gratified by the familiarity of our accommodation, and its proximity to some decent restaurants on Harborne High Street for later. High quality Chinese food surely? At least we would be reunited and sustained by our past recollections of basic, but friendly, home-from-home accommodation. It was soon to be revealed that this just was a futile memory, unless your home was a Category C prison.

The corridors still echoed with the long past anticipation and apprehension of eager volunteers, about to make their way to various VSO outposts around the world. The evocative black and white photographs of some wiry young men with mullets, and women in cheesecloth skirts, dancing self-consciously with grateful African children, or in makeshift classrooms, adorned the stairways to our rooms. Such warm recollections were soon to be illusions, as the march of commercialism that had begun to engulf this little haven took shape. It was becoming transformed into something neither here, nor anywhere really. VSO were still present somehow, but surrounded by an impression of a low budget boarding house with an identity crisis.

The futile negotiations over extra breakfast toast rather summed up the whole affair. Jokes about when parole became due and “are you in Block H?” were tinged with reality. As Ian has described, we didn’t see any cricket either. Given that was the whole purpose it could be argued things were not going too well.

I recall walking back from the equally uninviting and playless Edgbaston in time for a planned tour of the local graveyard. This was advertised on a display outside the adjacent church amidst notices, it transpired, unchanged for many a decade. I should have twigged on reading the one with rusty drawing pins, congratulating the Mother’s Union for raising £7 19s 11d for Church upkeep. My children have often reiterated their displeasure when on holiday, mostly in France, when I would enthusiastically jump from the car and excitedly head off (alone) towards a remote cemetery or graveyard. This would make up a little for earlier non-events.

Wet through from my walk back, I just made the appointed time only to be met with a resounding silence, where I imagined the throng would now be congregating.

Just me then. The church was securely locked and, without a guide, any chance of an educational tour of the graves was out of the question. So, given I was staying one further night, I returned to the honesty bar at Harborne Hall before lock down and lights out. I left rather early the next morning, not stopping for toast.

This was to be the final ‘non-event’ of the 2012 gathering, so dominated by things that almost happened….

 

Long To Rain Over Us, England v West Indies, Edgbaston, Days One and Two, 7 & 8 June 2012

It rained.

Photo, thanks to Charles Bartlett, probably unconnected...unless Chas was building an ark and starting to populate it during this trip
Photo, thanks to Charles Bartlett, probably unconnected…unless Chas was building an ark and starting to populate it during this trip

There shouldn’t be much else to say.

It rained for the entirety of our visit.

When I started typing the headline of this piece, I typed “Wet Indies” rather than “West Indies” by mistake. Or was it a mistake? Spooky.

To add to the disappointment of this visit, Charles “Charley The Gent Malloy” Bartlett had, as usual, organised a blinder of a visit, including our front row seats in the Raglan Stand and nets early in the evening on the day before the test, at Harborne CC, just up the road from our residence at Harborne Hall.

We had a roadworks/lane closure filled journey up to Birmingham. Chas had kindly offered to give me a lift from the outer reaches of the Central Line (Redbridge? Gants Hill?), so the three of us (including Nick) had plenty of time to bicker about music choices in the car.

If I recall correctly, Chas and I were both on a bit of an electric blues odyssey at that time, so (two to one) we mostly settled on Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters for that journey. In any case, I’m listening to my playlist of those artistes to tweak my memory as I write.

We crawled through Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire in glorious sunshine, secure in the knowledge that we had allowed plenty of time to get to our net; we thought that we were merely losing “decompress” time between the journey and the net. Not quite Kim’s levels of ludicrously OCD “plenty of time” – see this write up in recent memory at the time of writing – but still plenty of time.

However, once we were on the M6 scooting through the West Midlands getting close to Birmingham, we saw some dark sky ahead. rather a lot of it. Rain clouds. Wet rain. Very wet rain. We arrived at Harborne Hall in what could only be described as a tropical-style storm. That storm passed pretty soon after we arrived, but we more or less knew that the soaking was bound to have put our nets at risk. We went down to Harborne CC in hope more than expectation, only to have our fears confirmed. Pools on the outfield and around the nets. No chance of a net.

We’d seen the gloomy weather forecast for the first two days of the test, of course, but still we hoped for a further 36 hours.

I remember little about our two evenings in Harborne that year. I think we went to Harborne’s very satisfactory Chinese restaurant, Henry Wong, one of the evenings, I think that first night. Perhaps the others can remember where else we went.

I remember a lot of sitting around at Harborne Hall. I remember the other three deciding to go down to the ground, despite the pouring rain and no sign of respite. I remember staying back, making some notes about Heavy Rollers visits from years gone by, which are now proving to be a most useful starting point for this blogging.

I also remember how much Harborne Hall had declined since our last visit. Not down to Beechwood Hotel levels – those depths would take some plumbing – but still decline. Harborne Hall had been the VSO conference centre, run along similar lines to The Children’s Society’s Wadderton. But it seemed that VSO had sold (or at least put under management and attempted to commercialise) Harborne Hall. The resulting approach had subtracted almost all of the friendly, folksy character of the place, leaving only the distressed gentility and a rather grasping approach to commercialism.

The nadir for our visit was on the final morning, when Nigel made the mistake of asking for an additional slice of toast with his breakfast and was informed that he would be charged extra for that extra slice. Did I see steam starting to come from Nigel’s ears? I don’t remember exactly how this matter was resolved. Nigel probably does recall.

The other occupants of Harborne Hall were now mostly peripatetic tradesmen. We played some pool and I think darts with some of them, at least one of the evenings, during that stay. We more or less held our own. Perhaps they were more inebriated or had failed to mis-spend their youths playing those games any more than we had.

I also don’t remember when we bailed out of this hopeless situation. I don’t think we stuck around too deep into the second day. I don’t even remember whether Chas gave me a lift back to the Essex borders or whether I stuck with my original plan to take the train home after the game.

It was the first time that the first two days of a test match had been entirely rained off in England since 1964. Not even the modern drainage could save play from that type of relentless rain. This telegraph piece has a lovely photo.

Despite the fact that we saw precisely nothing of this match live, it still counts as one of our Heavy Rollers matches in my view, so here is the scorecard. No surprises that the match was a draw, but there was a surprising stand between Dinesh Ramdin and Tino “mind the windows” Best who put on nearly 150 for the last wicket, Tino managing a batting-career-defining 95 of them.

Crickey, I have generated some 900 words, merely to elaborate on the main point, which I managed to get across in the first two words.

It rained.