George Belling took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh salty air as he stepped out towards the sea front. It had been a long dark winter and even the early spring and occasional promise of better weather had not lured him out. At his age, he felt the cold. This morning, however, the gentle warmth of the English sun seemed to have taken ten years from his eighty-six-year-old body and he walked with a spring in his step, at least, as much as his arthritis would allow.
It was a Saturday and the small town was already busy. He decided to walk through the park, past the Bowling Green. A few enthusiastic players were softly padding about in their flat, white shoes, preparing for an early game. George decided that he would try to enrol as a member, this year. The slow pace of the game appealed to him. It came back to him that when he was small his grandfather had taken him to their local Green and he had watched them play and had been allowed to touch the beautiful shiny bowls, too large and heavy for his little hands to hold but he had loved their spherical beauty and the smooth feel of them. The tactile pleasure returned to him, even after so many years.
He strolled past the workmen busy placing out the new bedding plants. ‘Neat,’ he thought, ‘everything in rows. Still, I suppose that’s what people want, in a park.’ He preferred the riotous anarchy of the woods and the fields, ‘Still, everyone to his own.’ He walked on. Leaving through large wrought-iron gates and crossing the busy coastal road, he trudged across a small piece of wasteland, scattered with children at play. In one corner was an official play area, where tiny tots and watchful Mums were making the most of the sunshine. On the far side, George spied a vacant bench. He made straight for it; he was ready for a sit-down. He reached it with a sigh of relief. Mopping his face with his handkerchief (he still preferred them to paper tissues) he surveyed his surroundings. The bench was so positioned that, looking to his left, he could see along the length of the broad promenade and out to sea, and to his right, he could watch the children playing on the grass. The sun was pleasantly warm and set to get warmer as the day progressed. He was glad he’d worn his old panama hat. He remembered the little shop where he had bought it, years ago. It had been on the corner, near Lyons Tea-shop in the High Street; all gone now.
Having settled, he gazed with idle curiosity, at what was going on around him. He relaxed. Piping voices to his right drew his attention.
“One…two…’urry up. Get after it…three…”
A group of small boys were enthusiastically enjoying their own ‘Test Match Special.’ George watched as the batsman, a small skinny lad of about seven, skidded into the crease just as the balding tennis ball arrived within a yard of the wicket; a home-made affair, concocted from three odd sized sticks stuck into the ground and a small sandal balanced on top, acting as bails. The mate of the sandal had been discarded some way off and the bowler was bare-foot. The game progressed between arguments.
Happily content, George was gradually lulled into a doze but suddenly, a rasping sound, punctuated with crashing and clacking noises, which, gathering momentum, put paid to any idea of a nap. Turning towards the promenade, he saw, careering towards him, an armada of skate boards, their riders, arms outstretched, knees bent, completely in control of the wheels beneath their feet. They jumped, turned, hopped on to the small dividing wall between the promenade and the piece of wasteland and landed back among the whirl of boards. No-one, crashed, broke any bones or were decapitated. George watched, at first with horror, then admiration as they swept towards him.
His thoughts sped back once more to the days of his youth. He felt again, the challenge and thrill of climbing seemingly unclimbeable trees, of jumping ditches on his bike, getting up to speed on his home-made wooden scooter with the ball-bearing wheels and the satisfying rhythm as they crumped across the paving cracks. Oh, how he envied these skateboarders. He felt the adrenaline pulsing through his body…if only he was younger… he’d show them. Mentally he was shooting the rapids of the promenade, balancing, jumping, dancing over walls, flying low and landing with the precision with which he used to land his Spitfire.
Lost in his memories and imagination, he was suddenly aware that the riders had skidded to a halt in front of him. The leader, a long lanky youth, whose dark hair stood up in stiff little spikes, stared with arrogance straight at George. Seeing something in the old man’s expression, and sensing that here was an appreciative audience, the boy flipped his skateboard into the air with one foot, landing both feet on it as it came down, then he was off; a solo turn, swift, skilful; a first-class performance and all, George was certain, was for his benefit. His admiration was genuine but tinged with resentment for he knew the boy, with the unintentional cruelty of youth, was rubbing his nose in it. As the lad stopped neatly in front of the old man, he swept his arms, as if to include all his mates in the joke, and challenged George, with a grin, “I bet you wish you could do that, Grand-dad, don’t you?”
George smiled ruefully. “Maybe, but it’s too late, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you?” Just then, a shout arose from the band of young cricketers.
“ ‘s not, I was back in. I got a run.”
“Yer didn’t. You was run out.”
“ I sez. It’s my bat, so I’m captain. You gotta do what I say. Stands to reason, if it’s my bat, I get to say who’s out.” The skinny batsman, his face twisted with anger, threw the bat to the ground. “Keep yer rotten bat. It’s gotta wobbly handle anyway. My Dad’s going to buy me a proper bat…and I’m not letting you have a go…” The captain rushing to pick up his bat, set up such a wail that the skateboarders turned to see what was happening
“You’ve broken it now. See what you’ve done, Bobby Miller. I’ll tell yer Dad. You’ve gone and busted it…”
“Ain’t that your little brother, Will?” One of the bigger boys was addressing their leader. “Yeah, I’d better sort it.” Tucking his skateboard under his arm, Will ran down towards the squabbling boys and turning to the now crestfallen batsman, said, “You stay where you are. I’ll deal with you in a minute. It’s no good you running off, I know where you
live. Reaching his small brother and resting his hand on his shoulder, he tried to comfort him. “Don’t take on…lets have a look at it. We might be able to mend it…anybody got any string?” The boys started to turn out their pockets but among the assortment of sweet wrappers, pebbles, pocket fluff, only one short piece was discovered, and that with a suspect sticky blob attached to it.
“That’s no good, it’s too short…haven’t yer got anything else?” Shaking their heads, they stood defeated.
“This any good?” George proffered a neatly tied hank of thin red cord.
“Cor! Ta! “ Will took the offering and, with his little brother steadying the blade of the bat, he held the two split lengths of the handle together and started to wind the string round and round, ending in a knot, as tight as he could make it. Swinging the bat to test it, he declared, his voice showing his disappointment. “ That’s no good, it’s too wobbly, it won’t hold…sorry, kids, it can’t be done.” A miserable silence settled on the team,
“Excuse me,” George held out his hand. “Bring it here, I’ll show you.” Untying the cord, he told them,“ It needs whipping.”
“Yes, you know, like the way the wooden handle on your Grannie”s old potato peeler is tied on. That’s whipping. My Dad taught me and now I’m showing you. Here, hold it steady.” Placing the split sides of the handle together,
he set about it.
“Watch,” he said, as they all crowded round. “Lay the string double. in a long loop along the two parts to be whipped, with one piece only just a bit longer than the handle, then, holding both ends of the looped string in place, wind the long piece tightly, really tightly, round and round towards the loop end, making sure the cut end of the looped string is left clear. Wind as far as you need. Then pass the winding string through the loop and grabbing and tugging the short piece, at the other end, the loop will pull it back through the coils to fit snuggly underneath. They watched silently as he slowly demonstrated. At last, holding it up and testing it, he announced, “There you are, tight as a… well that’ll hold. Cut the string left over and Bob’s your Uncle!” Neatly slicing the string with his pocket knife, he handed the bat back and getting up, prepared to make his way home.
“Cor! Ta, Mister.” The little cricketers dashed away to resume play, their captain swinging his resurrected bat; quarrel forgotten in the wonder of this unexpected miracle.
“Wicked! Thanks!” Will grinned, shouting back as he mounted his skateboard, “Reckon you’re one old dog, who doesn’t need new tricks. See yer around, Grand-dad.”
© Marion Sharville