Thursday, January 13, 2011

John Sellwood’s NZ cricket story

When I was editing JAAM magazine I published a cricket short story by John Sellwood. Sellwood’s bio note stated: ‘John Sellwood, now in the UK, worked as a bus driver in Wellington and Auckland. Did Albert Wendt’s fiction writing course at Auckland University in 2000.’ The hard-drinking characters are representative of a younger generation of club cricketers in New Zealand. Beer culture is still very much a part of New Zealand cricket as Shane Bond noted in his recent book. This is a good Wellington story, a trip to the Stadium to watch the Black Caps play Pakistan who incidentally are also currently touring in reality. I’ll include it here for your interest:



They made a right bunch of chumps of themselves, let me tell you.  Not too surprising, I guess, but they outdid themselves on this occasion.  I met them, by chance, on the street in Newtown, a little after one.  They had evidently been on the turps to a large degree even at that point.  They looked like pillocks, dressed in their matching Kilbirnie Cricket Club tracksuits, chasing each other around the bus stop.  I could only get fits and starts out of them because they would keep interrupting to yell at passing female motorists, but I gathered they were on their way to the one-dayer.  Dave was the most coherent of the lot, and he told me that they had started soon after breakfast with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
That had lasted until lunch-time, which he thought was very poor going, so they had quickened the pace and polished off another half bottle of vodka.  By which time they considered themselves prepared to embark into decent society.  Dave reckoned that it was a pity it was so very hot because he was powerfully thirsty already, and they had neglected to bring any roadies.  I told him that the concession holders at the stadium would be mighty pleased to hear it.
Having got these bare bones from them a bus pulled up and I followed them on. They sat down in the middle of the bus and started discussing the last weekend’s social comings and goings.  It turned out, through some rather embarrassed admissions, that both Evan and Graham had been intimate with the same young lady, in the same evening mind you!  Now, I might have been persuaded to find this amusing, especially being acquainted with the said young lady and her dubious reputation, but they managed to evince quite enough hilarity for the whole bus, and I felt it prudent to keep mum, as I was already getting a fair treatment of the evil eye from some of the more matronly occupants.
 Their high spirits propelled us through the truncated rest of the ride.  As we were stopped at Cuba Mall a young girl dropped her bag and scattered the contents down the aisle, which the boys thought the height of comedy, but which the bus driver was more considerate about.  He got up and helped her pick her stuff up.  He asked the boys if they wouldn’t mind putting a cork in it.  Evan was not shy of suggesting that they were in fact the model of gentlemanly behaviour.  He made what I can only imagine he considered an eloquent defence, but it was much undercut by the stifled laughter of his companions.  I had to play peacemaker, and right quick because the bus driver had some unhealthy looking veins bulging on his not inconsiderable neck.  I ushered the boys off the bus before they got toes planted firmly up their backsides.
I was getting mighty sick of them by this stage and was going to explain that I had to see a man about a dog, when Dave put in that they had been given four passes to the game by KCC, and that one of them was unused due to Dave being unable to persuade Cherie to join them, and would I like to come.  Now men and dogs aside, I didn’t have a lot doing, and felt that the stadium might be as good a place as any to spend an afternoon, so I accepted, on the condition that they would walk to the stadium and eschew public transport and its many pitfalls.
Now you may wonder why I should wish to be seen in the middle of town accompanying three drunken louts.  Well, I figured that a quick stop would sober them up a little and make arrival at the stadium less of a trial than I envisioned.  But I hadn’t counted on the unslakeable thirst that my companions were labouring under.  We were only a couple hundred metres down the road before they insisted on popping into a trendy looking cafe.  But blow me down, they were the models of good behaviour!  Mind you, Graham did stare at the cleavage on display behind the bar the entire time he was being served and being unable to remove his gaze he almost spilt his beers on some poor patron as he returned to the table.  These self-same beers were dispatched with a  single-mindedness that I had not given the lads credit for hitherto.  And like that, we were out of there, leaving the cafe dwellers poorer for not having anyone to look down on.
At this point you might understand that I felt things were looking up.  The prospect of an afternoon and evening of cricket had me in expectant rapture.  I began discoursing on the unpalatable form of our national side and was soon embroiled in a deep discussion with Evan on the probability of match fixing occurring in our fair, free land.  Evan suggested that the Pakistanis were as bent as a dog’s back leg, only superseded in this distinction by the South Africans, who couldn’t even be trusted to cheat when they were supposed to.  This zephyr of conversation propelled us to the stadium front.
The boys were literally punching the air at having made it, not to mention each other, and, I worried for a time, possibly even the attendant.  But we got in and Graham went straight to the beer vendor, deep in the small intestine of the stadium.  We took seats at mid wicket, ten or so rows back, where Dave was sure we would catch a six.  There was no danger of that though, as the Pakistanis batted like a bunch of pie-bald peacocks.  With beer succeeding beer the boys had something to fix their minds upon, and were tolerable, if not rather loud, company.
Now, if you haven’t been to the stadium, you wouldn’t have beheld the glory of the electronic scoreboard.  State of the art and not half so bad to look at as the TV at home. During the break between overs they single out some raucous section of the crowd and give them a portion of their 15 minutes.  They all turn up looking surprised and pointing off screen at themselves on TV, by which you can triangulate the camera doing the filming. Some poor bloke skirting the boundary rope with fifty or sixty yobs shouting at him.  About the tenth over of the New Zealand innings Dave suggested we might like to go and get famous.  The other two were easily persuaded, but I said I would rather stay and keep their seats company.  They trotted off, and sure enough, the very next over, there they were, striking bodybuilder poses and making bunny ears.  But right at the peak of their exposure, an invisible little kid precipitously whipped Evan’s strides down, revealing his jalapeno pepper boxer shorts to a very appreciative audience, whose immediate laughter caused Evan to first blush deeply, then swear and lastly fall backwards over the seat trying to grab the offending urchin.  The kid showed a good turn of pace, but Evan was not to be made a fool of lightly, and hared off after the kid.
The excitement over and the game resuming, Dave and Graham wiped their eyes and returned to their seats.  We laughed and laughed and wondered how long Ev was going to chase the kid.  We thought we could see him right over the other side, slowly walking down one of the aisles.  But he didn’t come back in any kind of hurry, so after waiting half an hour we went in search of him.  We couldn’t see hide nor hair of him, but did find my old mate Tom Codwell.  I had no idea, but he was working as an attendant at the stadium.  We asked him if he had seen Evan, but no luck.  Tom rightly supposed that we might like a taste of the upper crust and suggested we take a look around the members stand, or the dress circle as he would have it.  We ascended the lofty escalators and entered the opulent member’s enclosure.
The toffs were stuck to the glass like Garfield toys.  They even clapped and whistled like ordinary people, just that they all remained seated.  We stood at the back and chatted, sipping on bourbon and Cokes from the ritzy bar.  Then, Graham, who had been suspiciously quiet, said that he thought that he had gone to school with one of the lasses in the front row, and was going to talk to her to find out.  He skulked down to the empty seat next to her and sat down.  Evidently he did know her because she actually talked to him.  She conversed pleasantly to him for some time.  Graham looked just as nervous as he could, constantly wiping his brow and jiggling his leg.
Now, they were positioned right in front of an open window, which looked down some twenty metres to the stands below.  Graham’s friend was gesturing out the window and Graham stood up and looked out over the edge.  He sat down uneasily, holding his stomach and looking downright pale.  And then sure enough he convulsed once, leant forward over the railing and let fly in monstrous profusion!  There was a shocked intake of breath from those seated near him, which led everybody else within sight to look at him.
Tom and I stood rooted to the spot, but Dave was on the ball.  He rushed down to Graham, getting there at the same time as another one of the attendants.  I could hear Dave assuring the attendant, a very serious looking young woman, that Graham was perfectly all right.  She seemed less than convinced.  Then came the cruncher.  She asked if he had his member’s pass, as he wasn’t wearing it like everyone else.  He looked up at us agitatedly.  I feigned innocence and looked around for Tom, who wasn’t there.  In fact he had disappeared so successfully that I couldn’t even see him.  When I looked back the attendant was already escorting Dave and Graham up the stairs.  They passed me and Dave grimaced.  He continued to protest their innocence, but the attendant simply asked for their tickets and led them down the escalators.  I waited until I saw her come back, then I went down and out the front gate.
There were Dave, Graham and Evan, the only people standing on the enormous field of concrete in front of the stadium.  As I got there Evan was in the process of telling his sordid tale.  Apparently he had found the kid after much searching and had laid hands on him.  He had then taken the miniature autograph bat the kid was holding and had administered a couple of slaps to the kid’s bare legs.  The kid had sent up such a horrible outcry that there was quickly a corps of concerned adults surrounding them.  One guy who had obviously seen the whole thing, had rushed off and got one of the ubiquitous attendants, and with his corroborating evidence added to the kids mournful sobs, Evan was duly ejected.  He said he had been sifting on the freezing concrete waiting for them for half an hour.  Dave then related their misadventure, with Graham adding his parts about the vertigo and the queasiness, and they all had a good laugh at each other, which I joined wholeheartedly.
Anyway, I felt that I had to do something for the poor lads, so I went and buttonholed one of the cabs waiting in the rank, and gave him a twenty to take the lads home post-haste.  They wished me a cheery goodbye, and I thanked them once again for a fine afternoon’s entertainment.  After I had watched them disappear down the ramp I went back inside and watched New Zealand wrap up the match with a six to mid-wicket, ten or so rows back.  And that was my day.  How ’bout yourself?

(Short story © John Sellwood, from JAAM 17 (May 2002): 144-148)

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