Beaudesert School on Minchinhampton Common is the venue for this summer’s District U10 Cricket Festival, but it’s a slow last mile or so as the local livestock is out and about, seemingly with little knowledge of the Highway Code. Aficionados of Lynne Truss’s entertaining examination of the effects of punctuation (or lack of) in her excellent book, ‘Eats Shoots & Leaves’, will be well aware of the huge difference a single comma can make to the meaning of a simple phrase or sentence, and the common’s oft-recurring sign, ‘Slow Cows on Road’, is another example of the importance of this tiny, yet immensely consequential mark.
Gareth Dawson, a more kempt version of his brother Richard, the county coach, is front of house at BD and the organisation of the event is just as clinical as last year’s jamboree at King’s, despite the catering department running out of milk at half past eleven, just thirty minutes after kick-off. Three young umpires, Josh, Ollie & Neil are officiating today, alongside seasoned veterans AT, KC & IMJ and all is good until Neil turns out to be Nell and an old mentor’s advice, ‘When in trouble, stop digging yourself even deeper into a hole’, is eventually heeded. Meanwhile, it turns out that Mother Nell is a part-time tea lady at Dumbleton, meaning she’s subjected to a good ten minutes’ pre-match interrogation by Umpire Kev, who seems unnaturally keen to hear that she’s one of the Calendar Girls in the spiral-bound 2019 timeline that he’s consulted on a daily basis ever since Blog #4 hit the streets. ‘No,’ she replies for the fiftieth time. ‘But,’ he says for the fifty-first. ‘Can we get going at some point today?’ implores organiser Gareth.
The sidelines are inhabited by parents supporting their offspring in a variety of ways. Many are excellent; there in body, always in soul but absent in intervention. And their children flourish. Then there are the amateur coaches – well-meaning fathers or grandparents who, by the sound of their advice and technical instruction have had noticeably brief playing careers, if indeed they’ve had a playing career at all. Their children try hard, but with limited statistical success. And then there are the helicopters, who hover over their little sportspeople with drinks and eats and advice and shade and sun cream and hats and words of encouragement and words of consolation and an emotional wall that separates their offspring from everyone and everything else in this little corner of Gloucestershire. Their children socialise little apart from with their obviously needy parents and when the game’s disappointments arrive, have readings a little under zero point zero something on that technological masterpiece, the resilience-ometer.
A mother with a Cyclopean eye explains what’s right and what’s wrong to the excellent young coach of one of the Bristol teams. Accompanied by a fair bit of nodding and a series of appropriately manufactured smiles, he doesn’t give her the ABC of her egocentric advice, but the much more effective GHI – Grins, Humours and Ignores, before imparting a few genuine nuggets to eleven pairs of attentive, all-consuming eyes.
Lunch time, and while the teenage umps chomp on coronation chicken wraps and salt & vinegar Pringles and Young Umpire Andy feasts on an incredibly healthy-looking radish sandwich, Young Kevin sits forlornly on the communal bench’s near end, drinking black sugarless tea and wondering why on earth he thought that food would be provided at an upmarket venue such as this. We’re playing at a desert for heaven’s sake and the culinary oasis he so desperately yearns is more than the GCB’s budget can realistically support. Not after funding Gareth’s early evening Michelin meal at a rather exclusive Cotswold eatery, that is. Young Ian meanwhile is nowhere to be seen until five minutes before the restart, when he emerges smiling broadly from behind the wooden pavilion to, while not quite a hero’s welcome, at least an audible sigh of near-breathless relief from those who thought they may have to stand in his place at the far end of Pitch Three.
The afternoon passes off without too much incident, the groundsman careering around on his big orange tractor attempting to liquidate everyone in his wake notwithstanding. Umpire Todd wipes the sweat from his brow at the day’s end and announces he can’t come again this week as he has tickets for some nefarious event or other. Wherever it is has sent him a trio of complimentaries too, which suggests that his location of the next few days won’t be as populated as he might have originally hoped. Unfortunately, the additional weight of the other three tickets necessitated an extra payment to the Royal Mail as the first class stamp he’d included on his SAE was £1.50 short of the actual postage fee. He’s not really sure why this regal institution is so mean, but in the end, puts it down to one of those little blips that occur in life’s rich tapestry of impending financial ruin.
Teenage umpire Josh ends Day One by rolling his brand new ‘Young Officials’ umpires’ jacket into the tiniest possible ball and inserting it into the corner of his Tesco Bag for Life. Mother Joshua and jacket benefactor John Lindley will both be informed and the consequences of his actions will no doubt be keeping at least half of Churchdown awake tonight.
Tuesday morning at ‘The Beautiful Waste’ as the school’s name literally translates. Did they know this before the opening ceremony? After yesterday’s badly planned pre-match that resulted in a last minute dash to Subway at the Esso garage on Cheltenham Road, we’ve consulted that all-seeing guide to early-morning breakfast haunts: google.co.uk and, much to our obvious relief, immediately discover ‘The Kitchen’ in Minchinhampton High Street.
The slow cows are out in force once again and today they’re hobnobbing with the early-morning golfers who don’t seem as impressed with the situation as the cattle might have expected, but we arrive in Minch in good time and locate a small car park that, while being perfectly positioned, requires an acrobat-like manoeuvre to squeeze between a pair of demarkating lines intended for the local cycling club. There’s that historic relic – a red phone box – behind the rear bumper, though this one doesn’t double up as the village library like the one in Amberley that we passed during yesterday morning’s unplanned scenic route to Beaudesert School.
Minchinhampton’s a picturesque, Cotswold stone town with a general store, a number of charity shops and a family butcher, so the locals are extra careful to keep their pets under a very big lock and similar-sized key. The thoroughfares are seemingly populated by a procession of well-heeled resident drivers, who seem to consider they can use both sides of the street as if they own the road which, after a little consideration and a glimpse at their bank accounts, one feels they may well do. On the far sidewalk, a man wearing a garish shirt and matching socks that are more Benidorm than Hawaiian, dodges a four-by-four and potential early-morning demise by jumping into one of the alcoves that make up the frontage of the seventeenth century Market House.
The very nice lady in The Kitchen thanks us for coming and within thirty seconds of being seated at a hugely pleasant window table, a large black Americano is hovering enticingly next to the comprehensive brunch menu. We plump for poached eggs on toast in an attempt to address a spate of recent early-morning excesses (Subway apart) and, armed with some foil-wrapped takeaway sandwiches, make the two-minute drive up the hill to the Beautiful Waste.
Young Andy, now on the train to goodness knows where, has been replaced by Young James of New Zealand, while Young Kevin and Young Ian have returned for another mentoring session in the midsummer sun. Teenager Nell has given way to Teenager Ben, already a veteran Young Official at the ripe old age of sixteen, while Ollie and Josh are back for a second day’s work in the sun-baked middle. Despite the mid-morning temperature already beginning to soar, Josh insists on again donning his ECB jacket which, after a night spent in the corner of his Tesco bag, looks a bit like a factory that makes artificial pitches, it’s got that many creases in it.
Many of yesterday’s spectators have returned for today’s event, Young Ian having been banished to Ground Number Three for the second day running to oversee a low-scoring encounter between Leadon Vale and Cotswold, while Young Kev revels in standing on Ground Number One for a second consecutive day as Gloucester take control against Bristol 1. On Ground Two, there is little to separate Stroud and Bristol 2, though New Zealand Umpire Steele discovers that separating his country’s Cricket World Cup defeat at Lord’s and their Netball World Cup victory in Liverpool seven days later has proved to be a key factor in his current, extremely positive mental state.
Basking in his new-found, out-of-the-darkness-comes-light outlook, the Kiwi introduces lunchtime by laying out a tartan picnic blanket and producing a container of nuts, a packet of sandwiches and a silver tea flask that is so posh, he’ll have no trouble becoming an honorary member of the local gentleman’s club if he includes a photograph of it with his application form and credit card details. Young Kev drinks black tea and eats nothing for the second day running, while a quick forage in the car park reveals both to where and why IMJ has again disappeared: the caviar, smoked salmon and half-empty bottle of 2017 Chateau d’Esclans Garrus Cotes de Provence Rose on the passenger seat of his big white motor a bit of a giveaway for the reason behind his Larry Lonely Lunch and the eventual reappearance of his seemingly ever-present, white-toothed smile.
Looking out across Ground Two is a navy tent with a somewhat pretentious ‘Abingdon Preparatory School’ and ivory-white unicorn emblazoned across its side panel, while on Ground Three, a large man from Bristol, who really shouldn’t be eating his fourth ice cream of the embryonic afternoon, subjects his folding chair to an afternoon of unwarranted torture in between offering ongoing tactical advice that his paternal team will do well to ignore. ‘Tighten it up,’ he forcibly instructs ten of the fielders for the twentieth time, while attempting to photograph his can-do-no-wrong son, who’s just mis-fielded three consecutive balls, each of which has rolled apologetically for four.
With the mercury hitting thirty, Josh reluctantly removes his creases as one of the Stroud supporters shrieks a grammatically-challenged ‘Well ran!’ in response to numbers eight and nine scurrying a tight-run single. The winning hit in the game’s final over with nine wickets down is the signal for an impromptu pitch invasion by all the dismissed batters, a perfect demonstration that you don’t need leagues and cups and medals and trophies to enjoy the thrill that victory brings. Let’s not confuse competitive with competition when it comes to kids’ sport; the first one’s always present, whether the second one’s there or not.
There’s a fair bit of initial trepidation around the ground as news filters through that the SS will be at the Great Waste for the next two days, though a sense of peace is ultimately restored when it’s confirmed that the letters actually refer to Secretary Sawyer and not a troupe of jackbooted brownshirts who’ve been lying low for a year or two in the local village hall. While there’s no guarantee that the standards of grammar will rise dramatically during this period, the chance of any gross physical harm taking place does seem relatively slim.
The event’s fifth and concluding day however will see the appearance of Chairman Clive Poulton (or Poulton CC when appearing in a list), leader of the Chedworth Parish Council and President of Her Majesty’s Society for the Preservation of the Queen’s English (HMSPQE), who will be overseeing the event’s final rites. While our leader exudes an aura of equability and calm in even the most trying of circumstances, heaven help anyone who gets their past participles in a tangle during the festival’s final hours.