I was in the second year of an overseas posting working for a multi-national publishing company in Maidenhead, England.
One day the Managing Director of the U.K. Publishing house I worked for stopped me in the foyer as I was leaving the building. I was about to start a three-day road trip visiting university towns in the North of England to jag some new authors for the little medical book publishing list I was developing.
“Are you stopping at Leeds?” he asked.
“I didn’t plan to go to Leeds this time, mate (the English bosses hated my faux Aussie larrikin persona that I used to bung on just to piss them off). I was planning on doing a special trip to Leeds in a few weeks,” I responded.
“That’s a bad bit of planning, cobber,” he returned. “Tomorrow might be the last day of the fourth test and the Australians might wrap up the Ashes in Leeds! You could have had a few appointments and seen the test match at the same time.”
He was right. It was a bad bit of planning. I had not been following the cricket and had completely forgotten that Australia were playing England in the fourth cricket test in what was likely to be the series decider not far from where I was heading.
“Bugger”, I thought.
As an Australian living in England who had barely heard an Australian accent or caught sight of an Australian in nearly two years watching a spot of test cricket between my home country and the English would, indeed, have been lots of fun.
Early cricket career
As a kid I had adored cricket. Unfortunately, my passion for the game outshone my skill. I had been selected in my primary school team as a medium-quick bowler but was so inaccurate that they wouldn’t even let me bowl. My fielding was worse than my bowling. The Captain would hide me away at deep third-man, but it rarely took batsmen long to figure out that the bloke with curly hair in the deep could neither catch nor throw. My batting barely warranted discussion. While its true that I had my share of “not-outs” while batting at number eleven, its also true that I didn’t score a single run in the entire season. Most of my teammates wondered how I came to be selected in the cricket team. The answer to that mystery probably had something to do with the fact that our coach was also a Rugby League coach. My Rugby League coach! My guess is that he knew bugger all about cricket so when selecting the cricket team, he simply picked the kids who he knew were good footy players, hoping that their ability in one sport would easily transfer to another. In my case, he was wrong.
After one humiliating season my sporting interests shifted sharply from cricket to rugby union, rugby league, basketball and surfing. I maintained a distant interest in the exploits of the Australian test-match cricket team, but I never played another game myself.
Anyway, pondering about missed opportunities to see a game of cricket where Australians were involved was completely pointless. All my appointments in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham had already been made and it was far too late to change plans now. I boarded my little black Alfa 33, threw my briefcase and overnight bag on the back seat and commenced my charge up the M40 motorway on my way to my first stop in Birmingham.
A quiet stay at Nottingham
After numerous fascinating discussions with various professors of medicine from universities in Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds by late afternoon the next day I had completely forgotten the Australian cricketers. Sunset saw me pulling into a hotel parking lot in the lovely old part of the city of Nottingham. I checked into my room, changed into my running clothes and running shoes and, after a getting directions from the motel concierge, headed off into the darkening Nottingham streets to have an end of day jog around the grounds and gardens of Nottingham Castle. The castle itself turned out to be a disappointment. Apparently, not much was left of the original castle after a particularly brutal civil war sacking, and a relatively boring stately home was built in its place sometime later. The gardens, on the other hand, were a treat. After a day of formal meetings and motorway driving it was such a pleasure to get rid of the suit and work up a sweat in a beautiful classic English garden with an extraordinary view over the city of Nottingham.
After forty minutes of hard running I returned to the hotel with red-face, sopping t-shirt and wet ringlets of hair dangling down my cheeks and neck. The business-suited buffoon who had walked into the place an hour earlier was now completely transformed into its more natural form. I walked through the foyer, then through a formal lounge room under the disapproving gaze of a cluster of seated, well-dressed, fellow hotel guests to reach the elevator to take me to my first-floor room. Half a dozen neatly, but casually-attired, gentlemen waited next to the elevator door to join me in the lift.
Bloody loud-mouthed colonials everywhere
The group of waiting men entered the elevator first then turned to face the lift door as I entered moments after them. As I stepped into the elevator, then turned to face the door of the lift myself, I experienced an oddly déjà vu-ish sensation. Initially I had no idea why the scene seemed oddly familiar. Had I recognized one of the faces of one of the men when I entered the lift? Did I know someone in the lift but just couldn’t place them right now? Had I been in this place before? Was the ghost of Robin Hood or Maid Marion haunting the elevator I was standing in? My mind was racing in an attempt to identify the reason for the strange sensation I was experiencing. My feeling that something wasn’t quite right then went through the roof as the men surrounding me started to chatter amongst themselves. My mind was bombarded with a clatter of nasal, obnoxious, jabbering that seemed both familiar and oddly unfamiliar. I was confused. Completely stonkered. The whole scene seemed so normal… yet something didn’t add up!
Bang. The penny dropped. My first epiphany was… my God, these people have Australian accents. This first realization was quickly replaced with… my God, I am surrounded by Australians. I haven’t spoken to an Australian in yonks! I haven’t even heard an Australian accent in ages! My God! Australian accents sound so strange when you haven’t heard one in a long time. Everyone in this lift…including me, I guess, is an Australian! Then came the biggest one of all. Epiphany three was massive! This isn’t just a lift full of Australians. This lift is full of the Australian cricket team… and me!
That old bloke, just off my left shoulder, is Bob Simpson, the coach. The bloke standing right behind me is one of the Waugh twins… Steve, I think. The stocky bloke with the bushy fair/brown hair standing right next to my right shoulder is Dean Jones. Despite not being able to see him, I was sure I could hear the voice of the captain, Alan Border, talking somewhere in the lift as well.
Cricketers to boot!
When the doors of the elevator opened on the first floor and we all started to step out I turned to face my fellow-countrymen and said, “My god… you blokes are the Australian cricket team!”
“Yep, that’s us,” responded someone. “And you are an Australian, too, I’m guessing, though you’d hardly know with your pommy accent.”
“I live here”, I replied “and I don’t have a bloody pommy accent!”
“You sound pretty pommy to me,” suggested the unidentified voice critic.
“So, what the hell are you doing here?” I direct the question towards coach Simpson. “You are supposed to be in Leeds, playing a test match.”
“That’s right,” said Simpson. “We were. We won. We won the Ashes! And now we are here because we have to play against Notts County tomorrow.”
“But not before we celebrate,” added Waugh!
The group of Australian cricketers and I then headed off in various directions and disappeared into our hotel rooms to do whatever cricketers do after finishing test matches while I showered and dressed in jeans and t-shirt to head into town for a cheap curry. That was the last I saw of my fellow Aussies for a few hours.
Early night on the cards
I had several important meetings scheduled for early the next morning, so a sleepless night was not planned. Restaurant discovered and rogan josh devoured, I scrambled back to the hotel and was tucked into my bed by nine-thirty. Tired from the day’s activities I quickly drifted off… but not for long. No sooner had I entered the land of nod but loud bangs, bumps, guffaws, giggles, yells, cheers and singing interrupted my slumber. Any chance of getting back to sleep was made impossible by the volume of the disturbance increasing rather than diminishing as the evening evolved into late night. There was no point in complaining. The Australian cricket team, having won the Ashes, were not going to quieten down for a grumpy expat and neither, I suppose, should they. I decided that, on this one occasion, I would just put up with it.
The decibel level reached a peak around one o’clock when the noise in the hall outside my room got so loud that I felt a need to make sure that my assistance was not needed by someone in distress. I quickly jumped out of bed and opened my hotel room door just in time to see a huge, white stomach covered in masses of curly black hair hurtling past my room. On closer inspection I realized that there were hairy legs, hairy arms and a very hairy head attached to the moving stomach. While the body was seemingly naked, it would be a lie to say that I actually witnessed exposed genitalia given the extent of the mohair coverage that reached a crescendo somewhere around the lower belly region. As the creature passed, my suspicions of a nude runner were confirmed by the appearance of a lily-white butt crack, again covered in a black thatch, disappearing into the distance. Realizing that no lives were at risk, I simply closed the door, pulled by pillow over my head and tried to block out the noise. It didn’t work.
Another meeting in the lift
Some hours later, baggy-eyed, I staggered out of bed to meet the busy day ahead. After a quick shower I stumbled into my business suit and headed for the elevator to take me to the dining room so that I could start the day with a delicious English breakfast. I was joined in the lift by two countrymen who looked like they had spent the evening wrestling with combine harvesters. Both had shaving rashes, razor cuts and spots where the razor had failed to meet its mark. Both stank of stale alcohol and sweat. Both leaned awkwardly against the walls of the elevator and looked like its movement might cause them to crumple onto the floor. Both had swollen eyes with dark bags suspended below. One even seemed to have had trouble figuring out which side of the tracksuit top was in and which was out. Dirty, smelly and tussle-haired they didn’t look like examples of Australian athleticism at its prime.
“Aren’t you guys meant to be playing Notts County this morning?” I direct a question toward the funky cricketers.
“Yup,” replied one.
“You can’t play cricket in that condition… can you?” I ask in a questioning tone.
“Nup,” said the other one. “You don’t wanna open the batting for Australia, do you?”
“Sorry. I’ve got meetings all morning, so can’t be much help. I’ll try to drop by later in the day and see how you are going, though. That’s about the best I can do.”