Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

ALISTAIR’S TALE

January 1, 2013

ALISTAIR’S TALE
Alistair is a true Scot who now lives in America but in the late 1940s/early 50s we had the honour of having him as part of our little East Leeds gang.

Exile from Fife to East Leeds
And
An introduction to cricket
By Alistair Duckworth.

When I came to Leeds at the age of 10 in 1946, it was to enter a very different world from the Fife of my childhood. In chauvinistic Scotland, the English were the auld enemy. At school in Cellardyke my friends and I compelled a new pupil from England to forsake his allegiances. We made him admit that the thistle was better than the rose, that Wallace and Bruce were the true heroes of history, that Bannockburn was the greatest victory of all time, and that the saltire of St Andrew was a superior banner to the red cross of St George. We even made him agree, against all evidence, that the Scottish football team was better than the English team and–incredibly!– that Wullie Waddell was a better outside right than Stanley Matthews. When one day my mother casually told me that we would soon be leaving for England (so that my father, on leaving the Royal Navy, could find employment in Leeds), I was horrified, believing it would now be my turn to give up my most fervent beliefs.

Of course, nothing of the sort occurred. In Leeds I learned that though the Scots were aggressive towards the English, the reverse was not true. Coming from cold, bleak Anstruther, where fights were common in the schoolyard, to warm and friendly Leeds where fights, as I recall, were nonexistent, was a revelation. My father was from Leeds, and I had visited the city at an earlier age, even attending St Hilda’s school (Mrs Duckworth’s class). But the change was great nevertheless—from a Presbyterian kirk to a high Anglican church, from John Knox and Calvinistic austerity to Pusey and Anglo Catholic ritual, from fishing village to industrial city, from bracing ozone to pea-soup fogs, from the “taws” as an instrument of punishment to the cane.

In Leeds, I was introduced to fascinating new games that changed with the seasons: conkers, top-spinning and marbles (another kind of taws) for boys; jacks and rope-skipping accompanied by songs for the girls. I encountered boys with amazing skills. “Bools” in Fife had been a mild affair played on a concrete surface with vividly coloured glass marbles. Taws at St Hilda’s was played on a dirt surface with stone-hard, dirty-white marbles that had little aesthetic appeal. But in the knuckles of Harold Sedgwick, the game was played at a level of skill that had to be seen to be believed. Rather than rest the marble on the middle joint of the index finger and propel it with his thumb nail, Harold (in a way I could never repeat) lodged the marble between the knuckle of his thumb and the point of his index finger. He could then propel it with astonishing speed and accuracy at the target marble, which would be sent into the middle distance far beyond the circle drawn in the dirt. Harold’s marble, meanwhile, would stay, rapidly spinning on its axis, in the spot once occupied by his opponent’s marble.

Leeds at that time was a dirty city with more than a passing resemblance to Dickens’s infernal Coketown in Hard Times. Born in rural Fife, I at first missed grass, trees and fields. Stone-slab pavements and tarmac or cobbled roads seemed to cover the earth everywhere. From the soot-covered windows of our red-brick house I saw a Lowry landscape of chimneys belching out smoke and carcinogenic particles. The actuaries put the early 60’s as an average life expectancy for men. Soon, however, I found that fields existed, only minutes from St Hilda’s church. To the east Snake Land had two football pitches, a bowling green and tennis courts. And to the south was the village of Knostrop, which time seemed to have passed by. At the bottom of the hill leading from Cross Green Lane, and close to the River Aire, the hamlet was, I believe, a part of the Temple Newsam estate. Its Jacobean hall was still precariously in existence and inhabited by a man named Benn.

Looking back on the place, I see Knostrop as a cross between Cold Comfort Farm and a Grimm’s Fairy Tale landscape (it had a “humbug house”). But I enjoyed going down to this other, rural, world. In the autumn we gathered chestnuts to pickle into conkers. We also played rugby in the pond field next to the old hall. Jack, Benn’s dog, would accompany us. He was the wicket-keeper when we played cricket and the goalkeeper when we played football. But he disapproved of rugby. The ball was the wrong shape, and he was left with nothing to do. Jack is long dead, and so is Knostrop, swallowed up by industry and business parks. But it has an enduring existence in the published memories, written and collected by Peter Wood, an old friend at St Hilda’s School.

An Introduction to Cricket

When I came to Leeds, I was introduced to cricket, a game not often played in Fife and never with the skill and enthusiasm displayed by my new friends in the summer of 1947. When we had time, we played with stumps and a proper cricket ball (but not pads) on a grass pitch at Snake Lane. More usually we played in the streets (still mostly free of traffic) with a tennis ball or a solid composition-rubber ball. If a box or similar object were to hand, it would serve as a make-shift wicket; if not, a man-hole in the tarmac would do just as well. Someone would supply a bat, sides would be selected, and the match was on. On Sundays we played outside St Hilda’s church both before and after Sunday School. I was surprised by the lack of bickering over “out” decisions. A catch was obvious, of course, but appeals for lbw, if credible, would be accepted by the batsman without demur, and if he were beaten by a ball that passed over the manhole within the imagined dimensions of the stumps, batsman, bowler, wicket-keeper and fielders would generally concur that it was an out. A basic fairness prevailed.

Cricket was a topic of much interest in my father’s family, particularly to my Auntie Alice, who followed the fortunes of Yorkshire and England throughout a long life, at first on radio, later on TV. From my father and my aunt I soon acquired a strange new vocabulary; I learned about cover point, long on, and silly mid-off, about off drives, hooks and late cuts, about yorkers, googlies and chinamen, about in-swingers and out-swingers. I came to understand the importance of the weather in determining whether the pitch at Headingley would be favorable to batsmen or bowlers on a given day, and if to the latter, whether it would be best to use fast, medium-fast, or slow bowlers. If slow bowlers, the question would then be debated whether to use an off-spinner or, much more dangerously, a leg-spinner.

But it was not only the terminology of cricket that made it fascinating to me. The history of cricket was also a common topic of conversation. The Duckworth adults knew about the great players of the past stretching back to W. G. Grace and Jack Hobbs, and held strong opinions about the best opening partership (Hobbs and Sutcliffe), the best all-rounder (Wilfred Rhodes, a Yorkshireman, of course), and the best fast bowler (grudgingly conceded to be the Australian Lindwall). They told me about England’s controversial (“bodyline”) tour of Australia in 1932-33, in which the fast bowler Harold Larwood had aimed “bouncers” at the bodies and heads of the Australian batsmen. In an attempt to disarm persistent Australian criticism of England’s tactics, the MCC banned bodyline bowling and called on Larwood to apologise. Larwood refused on the grounds that he had been told to bowl in this way by the team’s captain, Jardine. Jardine, in common with all captains of England until Len Hutton, was a gentleman amateur, whereas the working-class Larwood was a professional. In consequence of his refusal to apologise, I was told, Larwood was never picked for England again. For my father, uncles and aunts, this was a deplorable action on the part of the establishment.

In the late summer of 2009 the Enland XI won the test match over the Aussies at the Oval and by so doing regained the Ashes. Living in Boston, Massachusetts, I was only able to follow the state of play on my lap-top. Even so the thrill of England’s victory was palpable. I was taken back to England’s Ashes victory in 2003, which my wife and I followed on TV while living in London (my wife was in Trafalgar Square when the England team, featuring a very drunk Freddie Flintoff, appeared on the top-deck of an open double-decker bus). Even more evocatively, I recalled an earlier series, the tour of the Australians in 1948. At that time I was a fervent fan of Yorkshire and England. Len Hutton, master of the cover drive, was my hero. And when matches against Yorkshire were not at issue, I could also enthuse about Cyril Washbrook of Lancashire (who opened with Hutton), Bill Edrich of Essex who came in number three, and the dashing Denis Compton of Middlesex, who came in number four.

When my aunt Alice asked my cousin Peter and me if we would like to go to see the Australians at Headingley, I was ecstatic. That summer the Aussies had a formidable cast of players: the legendary batsman Donald Bradman, who had played in the bodyline tests, the charismatic all-rounder Keith Miller, the fast bowler Lindwall. We went on the fourth day and were allowed to sit on the grass next to the boundary opposite the pavilion. Australia’s first innings’ tail was quickly dismissed in the morning, and then Hutton and Washbrook opened England’s second innings. They made an excellent 129 for the first wicket. By the fifth morning, whenYardley declared at 365 for 8 wickets, Australia were left with what seemed to be an impossible target of 404 runs for victory. But Bradman and Morris made a very fast and record-breaking partnership of 301, and Australia won the test, with Bradman scoring 178 not out at the end. I did not see Bradman bat, but he was in the field on the fourth day, not far from where we were sitting, and as captain he could be heard directing the fielders where to position themselves.

In the final test at the Oval, Bradman needed only 4 runs to end his career with an average of 100 per test match innings; ironically, he was bowled out for a duck. No subsequent batsman, however, has come anywhere close to his Test Match batting average.

A great tale, Alistair – thanks for letting us use it.

Did you guess last month’s picture? I know many of you did. It was of course the remaining front façade of York Road Baths and Library

Now for this month’s pic – a power house for boy meets girl – especially on Sunday nights in the 1950sStar York Road

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Computer Games V Mucky Knees

November 1, 2012

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Am I an old fool to believe it was more fun to play out and come home with mucky knees than to stay indoors and play computer games?

COMPUTER GAMES V MUCKY KNEES

By Pete Wood.

Way back in the 1940s the door of our house opened onto Jaw Bone Yard, a spacious earth compacted area complete with stables, sheds and dens. It was a magical world brimming with all the possibilities for adventure. When I was about four years old my mother opened that back door and shoed my out to join six other kids already into their adventures. All she said was ‘Go play’. And from that day my life began.               

 

JAWBONE YARD: was the heart of old Knostrop and the centre of our activities. Seven houses backed onto that yard and out of the houses came seven kids, augmented by the lads and lasses from the ‘ABC’ houses, the Hall, the Lodge and sometimes too; our friends who joined in the fun from ‘The Top’; which were the streets which sat at the top of Knostrop Hill.  This was the gang and didn’t we have a ball! We played every game under the sun in that yard: cricket, rounders, kick-out can, speedway bowlers (hoops) and all the general schoolyard games.  The lads and the lasses all mucked in together. We played football with a tennis ball – you were lucky if you could get hold of even a tennis ball while the war was in progress, for just about everything being produced by the nation was to going support the war effort – so proper footballs were out of the question. The positive side to this was: it certainly taught us how to control a ball. Some of the lads became so proficient that they could ‘keepy-uppy’ with a tennis ball. Harold Sedgwick could even keep it up on his ankle! This all made it that, much easier when we finally did progress to play with proper footballs. Was life less dangerous for us than for modern day kids? Well, the Germans regularly bombed us by night and we had to walk the lonely lanes in complete blackness due to ‘The Blackout’ but we had a freedom that seems to be denied to today’s kids and life seemed to be blissfully happy.

We, who played in that yard, were fortunate in that one of the dads, who worked on the land at the time, would find balls that had been lost down drains and had ultimately found their way onto the land. He would bring them home and leave them in a grate where we would find them. Mind you a ball had a short lifespan with us, especially when we were hitting out at cricket. Balls would fly into the long grass in the adjacent field and become lost. You were out if caught one handed off a wall or if you hit the ball onto a house roof. In the case of hitting it onto a roof the culprit would be the one to climb onto the roof and retrieve it.  The ball would usually be lodged in one of the gutters so you had to climb up onto the roof, via a coal house, then it would be necessary for you to lean perilously over the edge in order to reach it. Like kids all over we were oblivious to the danger. It pleasantly amazes me that trivial incidents can still be brought to mind after half a century and a lifetime of other more important experiences have elapsed. For instance Keith Gale, a participant in our games, can bring to mind an incident, which occurred when we were playing cricket in the yard. On this occasion Gordon (Oscar) Brown was batting – we could never get him out he was like a limpet. Ball after ball he would just play a dead bat: ‘podging’ as we called it. On this particular day Gordon must have had a rush of blood to the head for he smote a ball mightily, it bounced first on a house roof and then onto a coalhouse roof, finally to be caught one handed by Peter Whitehead. By our rules we believed this to have been have been out, but good old Gordon wouldn’t budge, he stood his ground claiming that as the ball had bounced twice this did not constitute being out! The beautiful thing about this little tale is: that although Keith had been out and about for over fifty years carving out a life for himself, with all the toils and tribulations entailed that most trivial of incidents had not been erased from his memory.

Oh the games we played in that yard: there was one particularly daft game that we played where one of us would stand facing the stable wall and the rest would choose a film star’s name without letting on what it was. We would form a line across the yard about thirty yards back and the one facing the wall would shout something like, ‘VeronicaLake take two giant strides’ or perhaps, ‘three fairy footsteps.’ Then the person who had chosen that particular name had to execute the ordered manoeuvre without being seen. Should the one calling the shots turn and catch one of us in the process of moving then the name of the culprit would be shouted and they would be out. The first person to reach wall without being seen won.

At one time we had an old wooden wheelbarrow, we would take in turns to sit in the barrow with our eyes closed while some other member of the gang would spin it around and then set off in a series of changing directions. The idea was for the one having the ride to try and guess where they were. In the middle of the yard there stood a huge wooden shed, it had three large gates at the front to accommodate flat four wheeled carts. We would use the gates as the goals in winter or the central palings as the wickets in summer. We could shelter inside the shed when it rained and perhaps play with the large wooden boxes which were intended to transport the vegetable produce to market; cabbages, cauliflowers and especially rhubarb. The boxes could be fashioned into all manner of constructions, houses, cars, whatever we fancied at the moment.  Pauline (now Mrs Rushfirth) and  one of the gang, remembers a particular night when the bombs were dropping and the ack-ack guns from further down Knostrop were making the windows shake in the little cottages, and how her mam ran out to the shelter, which was across the yard and ran straight into a parked black car which was unseen in the dark. The shock was so great she thought she had been hit and shouted out, ’They’ve got me! They’ve got me!’  In the morning after an air raid we would hunt for shrapnel from the shell casing. Mam said to me, ‘Don’t go picking up anything nasty.’ I thought from her description she meant something like dog droppings but she really meant the ant-personnel mines the Germans were dropping.

Pauline remembers that big shed that bisected yard too and another game we played called ‘Escape’. Someone would stand on top of the granary steps with a torch or a bike lamp, shining it on the shed gates and moving it backward and forward and we would try to escape in the dark bits. Pauline recalls it as: quite frightening. We had obviously been brain-washed by watching prisoner of war films. .

There was another shed in the yard too, one in which sacks were stored – I believe the sacks must have been filled with soot for when we climbed about in there we’d get ourselves ‘black bright’. On other occasions we played whip and top, conkers, hula-hoop. We had phases when we played with potato guns, catapults or sped around the yard with bowlers in impromptu speedway races. We had dens everywhere, sometimes in the bushes where we could pull off the ‘green stick’ branches to make weapons. One type could be hollowed out for to use as a blowpipe while another ‘springier’ type could be fashioned into the bow for bow and arrows. Sheltering from the rain under a den’s green foliage is among   the sweetest experiences life has to offer. We all had nick names and virtually usad a language of our own. Now I’m told The Scout Movement has banned nick names as they may lead to bullying. Corr!

We were a bit light on girls but the ones we had were great, Pat and Pauline from the yard, Brenda and very occasionally, Lizzie, from the ABCs. Later there was Rita from the ‘New Hall Lodge’ all the rest were lads but the girls all mucked in and pulled their weight especially when we were collecting wood for the bonfires. You could tell which were the girls: they were the ones who practised their pirouettes when there was a lull in the game and did ‘crabs’ up against the wall with their frocks tucked in. Girls wore frocks or gym slips (no trousers or jeans) and we wore short pants ‘long ‘uns came along when we were about twelve but my mam said lads in long trousers looked like little old men hence she kept me in short pants to an embarrassing fourteen.

At one particular time everyone seemed to be wearing wooden clogs – I think they may have been an attempt to offset the problem of shoes wearing out too fast, or was it that being made out of wood they did not attract clothing coupons? Whatever, the idea was a fad and went out within a few weeks. Then of course there were the bikes, Denis Harrison had a bike on ‘fixed wheel’, it was unforgiving, if you put you feet on the ground before the bike had properly stopped it would punish you by trapping the back of your legs with its pedals; that was really painful. There was another bike which had a bell as big as a teapot and yet another, a butcher’s bike, which had you scared for the basket bit didn’t turn straightaway when you turned the handlebars giving the impression you were not going to make a corner. Peter Whitehead later organised ‘East Leeds Wheelers’ a proper cycling club. Meetings were held in a little building where the dustbins were usually kept. Membership to this club was quite exclusive and mainly taken up by a more ‘up market’ class of cyclist than us ‘yardies’, who rode ‘drop handlebar’ bikes and mostly lived at ‘the top’.

THE ABC HOUSES: As an alternative to playing in the yard we would often join the gang from the ABC Houses on their patch, they had lots of places on their doorstep to explore. There were two plantations; which we unsurprisingly called; the first wood and the second wood, the ‘Red Hills’- which were in fact red shale slag heaps from anold mine. This shale could be seen forming a good hardcore base for paths and minor roads throughout the district, tagging them as ‘Red Roads’ due to their colour.   The old mine itself: ‘Dam Pit’ was located between the two woods and would find us messing about dangerously in the brick filled shaft. Wagons from the pit would be left shunted onto a branch line allowing us to climb all over them. The lads from the ABC Houses always seemed to be more agile than us ‘yardies’ they could shin up the trees in the plantation like monkeys. We were allowed to cut down the dead trees for our bonfires but all we had to do it with was that which we called a ‘hunting knife’ so you can imagine it was a long job and oh those calluses.

SCHOOL: Now, alas, in my seventies, I pass our local primary school on the way to collect my morning paper. The surrounding roads are absolutely clogged with the cars of mums taking their kids to school (Chelsea Tractors) some of the kids seem to be at least nine or ten; they’ll be back again to take them home at 3.00.

With deference to busy working mams, who I know have to drop off their kids before going to their own place of work, I still have to hark back to, what happened to walking to school and giving kids space to learn responsibility for their own safety. I know there are a lot more cars around today and ‘strangers’ (there were always ‘strangers) but I recall that our mams took us to school on the first day at five years old and after that we were on our own and getting to grips with the world of lonely rural roads and busy crossings for ourselves and it made us responsible and street wise long before we were ten!

SCHOOLYARD GAMES: Once we had started school we were introduced to a host of new games either played in the schoolyard itself at playtime or immediately outside the school gates before school started. The staple diet for the boys was always going to be football, played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and coats for goalposts. In summer cricket took over, the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and three or four balls on the go at once. The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn to bat. I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently, he recalled playing football in that old school yard (we called it the field) and how a workman who had been mending the road outside the railings had come over with a whimsical look in his eye and said to him very sincerely: ‘Do you know lad, these are the happiest days of your life’. The old schoolmate said he’d remembered those words all through the years and he thought the old guy was just about right.
As alternatives to football and cricket and to suit the seasons, more individual games would be played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide and everyone having a go, in the process causing the road to become like glass and a hazard to any unwary pedestrian.   At Whitsuntide, the girls, mainly, would play whip and top: colouring the tops with chalks, so they would make pretty pattern as they spun around. In the autumn it would be conker time and bruised knuckles all round for each time you missed your opponents conker you tended to hit your own knuckles (no namby-pamby ‘elf and safety then)  Each player kept a score of how many other conkers his conker had broken. For example, if your conker broke a conker that had, say already broken two itself, then you added his two to your score as well. Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking them or pickling them in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like the kernel of a walnut but provided they hadn’t broken away from the string hole they were considered to be still ‘live’. When a crack occurred the shout would go out, ‘It’s laughing!’ Last year’s conkers were like iron and would not be played against if recognised: ‘It’s a laggie I’m not playing against that!’ would be the cry.
Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a ‘wadge’ of cards or tickets of roughly the same thickness in each hand, and another lad would take a similar number in his hand and ‘bank’ on one or the other of his opponent hands. Then the bottom card or ticket would be turned over in each hand; if the lad had banked correctly on the wadge with the highest number he would win his opponents cards. If he had banked on the lower number then he would have to surrender his. As school bags were a ‘no – no’ in those old Victorian primary schools a lad’s pockets might well be bulging obscenely with his winnings.
Marbles or ‘taws’, as we called them, was another favourite game. There were several different types of marble: ‘allies’ (coloured marbles), ‘milkies’ (opaque marbles) ‘bottle washers’ (clear glass) and ‘stonkers’, which were made out of stone. Some lads had become real experts and had calloused knuckles to prove it. These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing that gave give a good grip. Should they loose they would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than give up their ‘player’. I recall some were so expert they could hit an opponent’s taw at three paces, firing from the knee.  The rules of the taw game we played were as follows: two lads would play with a marble each – more could play if required. A small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was to take it in turns to try and hit the other lad’s marble. After a hit, it was still necessary for the opponent’s marble to be not a ‘needer’; a ‘needer’ meant the opponent’s marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole. Big shoes were an asset if you wanted it to be a ‘needer’, smaller shoes were better if you didn’t want it so. To complete the game it was then only necessary to roll your marble into the hole. If it missed then the other lad had a chance to ‘un-needer’ himself.
The girls had their own playground at our school (St Hilda’s) it was a concrete affair in an elevated position above our ‘dirt’ field.  From this lofty position they would carry out their skipping games: pitch, patch, pepper etc. Or dance around singing traditional schoolyard songs like: ‘The wind and the rain and the hail blows high, the snow comes travelling from the sky. She is handsome she is pretty she is the belle of the golden city; she goes a courting one, two three: pray can you tell me who it can be?’ Then they would shout some lad’s name, say: Tommy Johnson says he loves her.’ Then they would let out a great scream, silly beggars and then continue, ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question would probably be playing football in the field below and would blush to the roots of his hair but secretly be pleased – alas it was never I.  Sometimes, to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version of the song.

 

AFTER SCHOOL: In the evenings after school we would be out again even in the dark nights of winter – no computer games for us. I think our absolute favourite game was one we just called ‘chasing’. We could play ‘chasing’ in all seasons; it was fun whether it was the light or the dark nights. To play the game; first a couple of sides were picked by the old ‘dip-dip-dip’ method, then one team would run off and after a prescribed period the other team would run after them and try to catch them before they could return to base. In the process of this game we covered miles and miles, over fields through woods, haystacks, rhubarb sheds. We had the lot at Knostrop. The area we covered was so vast that when I consider the game now it astounds me how we ever managed to locate individuals who had run and hidden often several miles away and sometimes in the dark too, but amazingly, we did.  When the game was over we would congregate around one of the gas lamps and talk. Sometimes there would be road works and a night watchman – perhaps we would sit with him for a while around his coke brazier watching the blue red flames and choking on the fumes. Maybe we’d tell a few yarns and then accompany the watchman while he checked his lamps.  Pauline remembers being scalded when one of the lads, tried to jump the brazier and knocked the boiling water from the big iron kettle all over her legs, causing here to miss school for a while. When we would finally come home in our frocks or short pants, happy but tired out by our games, it was then time to have our mams sit us down and wash our ‘mucky knees’ .

Which would I prefer – a computer game or my mucky knees back?

NO CONTEST

Alex had last month’s mystery building correct. It was of course The Parkie’s House on East End Park. Now for this month’s mystery building. What did we  better remember this building as? look out for another Audrey special next month.