Puff stood down on a Contrary Conduct charge!
Fate wandered through the team meeting this morning like a dishevelled beggar in need of a shower. We sat there whispering as if at a funeral dressed in our golden strip or the whites of non-players. It felt like a funeral but appeared from the sixth row more like a host of wandering Wordsworth daffodils. Mr G called the meeting to order. Coach informed us that Puff had had been stood down pending a top brass inquiry into his conduct at the Walkabout bar in the wee small hours last Saturday. He told us that any more stupid stuff like this would not be tolerated. Whatever the brass handed out to Puff, he deserves it. “Why the devil were you out at 2am anyway?” The daffodils in the front rows dipped their heads in silence as if from a barbing wind. Paint curled on the roof – leaves from a burning diary. Paper strips and dusty flakes floated loose to meander among the crowded rows.
The girl from marketing began to lay red poppies up the aisle until Trapper worked out she was mouthing, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place…” Prof eventually grabbed her during the second verse “We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow…” Yet we are not in France.
Coach almost read out The Captain’s message from the Ritz, where his back rehab continues apace. “Drink within your boundaries”, but threw it aside in disgust to focus on the game. Not one of the Captain’s pearly-washed phrases “swim between the flags,” or “guard your wicket with your life,” meant anything to anyone – he wasn’t even here. Gentle Mr G took over, telling us that an 11pm Tour curfew was now in place. Coach resumed “If you cannot make the right decisions off the field, I will make them for you. The bloody Ashes hasn’t even started!” A string of amusing expletives followed, reminiscent of Paul Keating that propriety forbids repeating. Darren handed him a mint. “When we win the toss we bat, Mr G,” he gasped between coughing fits, “and there better be no rain. We need 3 points.” At this he tore up reams of scathing press commentary from a hundred papers in the cricketing world. A slow dirge began that grew into solid cheering. Eventually the team song united the discordant voices. “I am sick of losing, sick of losing, sick of losing,” we chanted until we were sick of it.
We batted first. Then it drizzled. We twiddled our thumbs, spending the time to prepare Puff for the top brass. The game was abandoned at 6.45 – Australia 8/243, NZ 2/51. Prof refunded all game bets except those of Root and Jonny B who sent a text saying they would rather buy us a few beers later. Darren asked for a refund, but the fine print was clear “No Refunds for Charity Bets. All proceeds to players.”
Trapper and the Freak and I took a deflated Puff for a long walk in the drizzle after dinner at a local Indian restaurant. Puff didn’t really know what happened on Saturday. He only had one or two ginger beers. He had been playing marbles most of the evening with the English and a few of our fellows. He had been winning. He had a long shot with a commie to win the big bumblebee in the circle. He said he thought it ricocheted to his left. In the scramble to grab it first Puff’s elbow apparently connected with a wigless jaw, sans stubble. It was the short guy. He thought little of it at the time. It was a miscued tap. A few of the others had wigs and were off to London on the first train to join in the anti-G8 protest at the squat now the angle grinders had opened it to a better class of passer-by as a London monument to capitalist efficiency. They were also wearing t-shirts sprinkled with batting and bowling tips from the late Bob Woolmer. Puff thought this was inflammatory but ignored it. That accounted for the evening – a pimple compared to the Chappell-Beefy incident.
“What do you think” inquired Geoffrey R, a noted mouthpiece, who had joined us during intermission in Hamlet. We were opposite the Playhouse. He was one who carried a talisman under his tongue. (Where else would they be?)
“Well, it is a ripping yarn” The Freak replied, “it might need some more work.”
“ Send them a present!” Trapper suggested “What about a Tour to New Zealand?”
“He wants the big Galaxy” Puff replied dejectedly pulling it from his pocket. It lay in his hand shining like an Indian moonstone.
Geoffrey kicked the rubble at his feet thinking it was Puff’s career. “I need to get back” he said apologetically, muttering to Trapper
“Alas poor Puff! I knew him, Trapper: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy..
Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning?…”
© 2013 Dave Cornford & Jeremy Pooley