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:
- Clean around the area you want to repair with a wire brush to remove loose paint or rust.
- Use an old screwdriver to dig out any old jointing material.
- 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….