Apologies readers. The wireless connections at the Hove hotel are antediluvian and rather intermittent. I had to write this long hand and despatch it by courier to Deep Third who was keen to negotiate the more inflammatory references to his English compatriots before he agreed to forward the completed text to my publisher in Sydney with his unauthorised edits.
“Holed up in Hove” I yelled down the crackling telephone line to Hollywood who was ‘resting up’ training hard from what he called ‘a delightful lodging’ on the Heath up the road from the Wood.
“Positively Parliamentary,” I heard him say.
“How is your training going?” The Natural asked, grabbing the earpiece and yelling into the mouthpiece on the wall. The phone booth squashed into the back corner of the narrow lobby was decidedly retro, a down market incarnation of Fawlty Towers complete with an over-sized leather smokers lounge, drafty sash windows and an entrance in a one-way alley looking onto the grey bricks of the picture palace next door.
“Striking the stump balls beautifully. And you?”
“The Prof and I are playing in the Sussex game.”
“Daraby 85 calling?” cut in the operator “Will you accept the call?”
“Huh? Oh, certainly,” The Prof replied.
“Listen carefully. Expect visitors.”
The line went dead. There were two clicks.
The Prof had no idea. Neither did I. The Natural shrugged his weary shoulders “Another no ball?” he said, just as The Captain cheerily but a little perplexed called us to join him for a walk to town.
We walked past a ramshackle row of older dreary looking terraces which gave way to a newer yet no more inspired row of cream terraces which opened onto the boardwalk and a panorama of slopping green sea. We wandered along the shallow beach stopping occasionally to skip stones across flat patches of the incoming swell where once smugglers ran the gauntlet of local law enforcement to land their precious cargoes. The Captain talked all the way about how to survive the tough patches in the middle and the patience it will take as a team to win. He listened carefully in his silence, exploring, grasping for a kindred resolve to win in each of us.
He rekindled our enthusiasm and rebuilt our collective resolve brick by brick as we walked to the base of a jutting headland. The beach narrowed to a steep path that wound its way up through a narrow exit to the shoulder of the headland resplendently verdant in the morning sun. We talked earnestly for a while until the wind changed and The Captain turned back. “Now, Prof,” he said gravely “have you organised something suitable for the English?”
“Fancy a trip to Brighton?”
The mini-bus trundled eastwards along the conurbation of smaller towns to Brighton following the sea all the way. The sea looked cold grey and uninviting even in the height of a summer heat wave. We bumped along King’s Road, turned right into Middle Street then into Duke Street, two names laced with irony for the observant, although The Prof, The Freak and The Natural were asleep in the back seats snoring like a pack of old dogs. The bus pulled up just beyond the Victory Pub with a start that jolted the sleepers to attention.
Choccywoccydoodah was very accommodating. Chocolate Dukes with red stitching were lined up in the display next to rows of marbled chocolate Urns. The Freak and The Natural gorged themselves on the Dukes and Urns under my expert guidance. I let them into the stomach churning red zone very gently.
The Prof ordered a special batch of 200 white chocolate ‘Get Well’ love birds for KP, and 300 pink chocolate lip lollies for King Graeme and Billy Root. The chocolate maker is one of Prof’s older friends who backed him before the Tour began and has bet big on an Australian series victory. There was some heated discussion in the back room for a few minutes before they both emerged arm in arm smiling like cheshire cats. I understand a special batch of laxative-laced batch of ‘Victory Chocolates’ will be presented to The English team by the Prime Minster on Friday on behalf of a grateful nation – one of those “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few” occasions it is better to miss. The Prof expects the line “Never has so much been dumped by so many…” to be more apt.
It took a while for The Natural and The Freak to tramp the few hundred yards back to the bus. A sticky mess was made outside the Victory pub but nothing not easily washed away with a scrubbing brush.
The Captain was well satisfied with the afternoon net sessions. Plenty of effort from Lucky and Mr Bean. Both are sweating on Puffs exploits in an ‘unofficial’ match against South Africa A – ‘unofficially’ 193 off 226 balls, the Million Dollar Man also unofficially plundering 155 off 186 in the sun. “Unoffically, he isn’t in the Third Test,” Plopper muttered to Mr. Bean, “just like the Kid was not officially the No 1 spinner until he took the field last week.”
Coach2.0 reminded us at dinner of what it means to capture the Urn in a sobering speech that brought it all into perspective. 97 years ago the 1st Australian Division joined the Somme battle in France near Pozieres. On this day two Australians* won Victoria crosses on a battlefield that quickly surrendered all recognisable landmarks to the footprints of a test of attrition, will and strength. In two weeks ending 7 August, the Australian 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions absorbed over 16,000 casualties. Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian, wrote that Pozieres ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
“They did that,” he said eyes sparkling with tiredness and emotion. “All we have to do is win a cricket match Middling a Duke. No comparison!”
The Prof was unusually quiet at lights out counting to ten on his fingers. At 9 loud cursing came from the room next door, followed by a lot of annoying door knocking up and down the hallway.
“What did you do?”
“What?” I said
“I spread 193 chocolate callets in Lucky’s bed, one for each of Puff’s runs, the 25 red ones for each dot ball in his innings. I left him the jar…and a Duke ”
*Private John Leak (9th Battalion, !st Division) and Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn (10th Battalion, 1st Division)
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© 2013 Dave Cornford, Jeremy Pooley & Jock Macneish