I spent yesterday at The Oval for the first day of the fifth Ashes Test between England and Australia. I’d told Mum I was going but there was no flicker of interest or understanding. This might sound strange but her indifference to cricket tells me so much about her condition. You see, Mum loved cricket, and I mean really loved the sport. She went to school in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham and would regularly call in at the county ground on her way home to catch the last couple of hours play. Her father used to take her to watch West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham League and it’s to Mum that I owe my deep and abiding love of cricket.
She took me to my first county game in 1974 and then a year later, as my 11th birthday present, we went to Edgbaston for the first test of an Ashes series. I have seldom been as excited in my life, not even when Clive Dunn’s Grandad went to number one. The day is seared into my memory and I could scarcely believe I was actually seeing Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson tear in to the English batting. Sadly, with England firmly on the back foot, it started to hose down and though I’d have happily sat in the rain for hours, we (actually my father, from memory) decided there would be no more play and we headed for home. Dad was never a cricket fan and during my childhood, I don’t remember him coming along with Mum and I more than once or twice. When we got home, by the way, play had re-started but isn’t that just the way?
So, 38 years later, as I set off for South London, Mum was very much on my mind. How she’d have loved to have been coming with us, how she’d have filled in her scorecard, how she’d have relished the atmosphere of cricket’s greatest rivalry. And how she’d have made sandwiches, packed into tuppaware boxes, for all of us. Even in later years when I went to Edgbaston on my own, Mum wouldn’t let me go without my sandwiches, sandwiches I’d invariably eaten within an hour of taking my seat. Yesterday, we filled a cool bag at a store at the station – this wasn’t just any cricketing picnic this was an M&S cricketing picnic – but Mum would’t have approved. Home made ham and tomato sandwiches – why always ham and tomato – would have been the order of the day.
Luckily, I have many happy cricketing memories with Mum to treasure. In the late 90s, I took her to a World Cup match at Trent Bridge between South Africa and Pakistan which produced some marvellously combative cricket and a thrilling finish, accompanied, of course, by a mound of ham and tomato sandwiches. Then in 2004, we went to Trinidad to see England play the West Indies. It was a holiday to celebrate my 40th birthday and it was also the first time Mum had seen England play overseas. Dad was quite enthused this time – funny, that. It was as memorable and enjoyable a holiday as I’ve ever had and Mum loved it. I confess to checking her luggage for tuppaware containers before we left and steering her away from cooked ham in the local supermarket. Five years later, England were playing in the West Indies again when my Dad died. As a family, we watched the series on television in the days that followed Dad’s death. For Mum, already showing signs of dementia, her love of cricket proved a point of focus at a dark time in her life.
The memories of Mum in Trinidad, at Trent Bridge and, of course, at Edgbaston give me great comfort and have been in my mind because I’ve been finding out about the Sporting Memories Network and its wonderful work for people with dementia – http://www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com . It’s well worth a look and has inspired me to try again to talk about cricket with Mum.
When I go to see her next, I’ll tell her all about our day at The Oval. I’ll talk to her about how a player from her beloved Warwickshire County Cricket Club made his test debut, about how the two people behind us seemed oblivious to the cricket as they talked about anything but for the whole day, about how Australia ruled the roost, as they had on that wet Saturday in 1975, though this time for one day only. And I’ll thank her for passing on her love of cricket to me.