Still no work. Apart from the private tuition after school. A night of good sleep or relaxation has become a rare occurrence.
I made a promise here at the start of the Summer. I was full of confidence at making a change. I need to rediscover that conviction. My abstinence lasted 11 days until last Wednesday and Thursday when I hit the self destruct button. Twice. If I want to sleep, if I want to feel normal, it needs to stop.
Without work, I’ve got to keep moving. I can’t be in one place without doing anything for too long. Carpe diem.
Sunday was fine and forced me out and back onto the path. I think my little toe has been broken or fractured since banging it hard in Corfu. It aches most of the time but gets worse when I walk on it for several miles. I strolled gently from Teignmouth to the Northern outskirts of Torquay in late Summer sun while listening to the last test match of the Summer, still regretting that I hadn’t said yes to the offer of a ticket on Friday. I could have seen Alastair Cook score his penultimate test innings for England. Swam at Maidencombe and Teignmouth. Any time it’s an option don’t hesitate. Just get in. I turn my mind off, deliberately ignoring my sense of judgement. In more extreme situations is this what people do to cope with stress? Soldiers going into battle. Women giving birth. Sportsmen and women achieving total focus. Alastair Cook.
On Sunday night I was spooked after watching the documentary ‘9/11 – The Falling Man’ about the mysterious photo of a man falling from the North tower of The World Trade Centre at 09.41 am on September 11th 2001. It’s a really affecting photo – the man falling head first, one leg straight out behind him, the other pulled up in the same way people that stand against a wall have one foot resting flat on the wall, but inverted. His face looks towards the grill-like metal beams of the building and his hands are by his side. He has black ankle length trainers, black pants and a white shirt. There’s something composed about his posture. Almost balletic. Although the grim reality of the situation tells us that this can’t be right. It created an unsettling conflict of emotions.
The black shroud of night transforms my feelings and thoughts, twisting them and misshaping them into ghostly, unrecognisable forms and, as the light reappears, I long for the coldness to leave me.
The following morning, befuddled and half drunk from tiredness, and again feeling the agitation of having nothing to do (ignoring the reading and preparation that does go on behind the scenes), I started listening to the cricket knowing that Cook would be starting on 46. This would be his last day batting after twelve years and twelve and a half thousand runs. Could he actually bat throughout the day and achieve a century? What a way to go.
With play about to start one of the commentators made the comment: “There are still tickets available. Lots of people are arriving for the last time to see Alastair Cook.”
At 10.50 am with 10 minutes til the start of the play I set off on a 3 hour drive to London. A race against time. The goal to try and get to The Oval in time to see Cook score a final century or even just to see him bat one last time and say goodbye. If he gets out then I can turn off and head up to Brizzle or just go and enjoy seeing Buttler knock it about a bit. Just driving and really forcing the thoughts out of my mind like when forcing myself into the sea. This could have been some terrible Working Title Brit Flick – the ‘young’ fan who drove all the way to the big city to see his great hero, driving past Stonehenge with Cook defiantly staying put moving past his half century into the sixties and seventies. At any moment I was thinking he could get out and I’d be halfway to London with the reason for going snuffed out in a single moment. Maybe I could go to a gallery instead?!
My calculations weren’t completely mad. Leaving at 10.50 a 3 hour journey (without any traffic) would take me to the heart of London just after the players’ lunch (1 – 1.40). If he could just stay in til lunch I could get there and still see him bat.
Approaching the M3 he started to hit out and score runs faster. Suddenly he was on 88 and it was only 12.24 on the car clock. He was going to get it before lunch. I was still over an hour away. Again I was in neutral. Auto pilot. From 96 he hits a single and Bumrah threw incredibly hard creating 4 overthrows. He’d done it. In his last test. I was tearing along in the sun – eyes shining – while the crowd carried on cheering. 1, 2, 3 minutes and they were still going.
And…finally it was lunch and I was getting close and too tense. The radio had to go off. If I wasn’t going to make it who cares but I couldn’t handle it. I was getting trembly.
However it was so good to arrive in London on a late Summer’s day. The sun glittering off the great river and the smell of the sea coming from the East. The Embankment and the plane trees. So many memories from my twenties. Driving Polly back to Camberwell after our first night together past the boy holding one handed onto the dolphin. Climbing up a scaffolded Chelsea Bridge late one night with Sam and looking down the river and at the old Battersea Power Station now being converted into flats. Driving to City University to study a masters degree that I knew I would never be cut out for.
Here I am. Vauxhall Bridge. 10 minutes away. And what to do when I get there? Pay a fortune for a parking space. I really don’t care. People streaming around the ground. Lots of the ground staff in their red tabards. It’s 1.40. The players’ll be coming out. Stay in, Alastair. Just a bit longer. Down the Kennington Road and left and onto Bowling Green Lane and within spitting distance of the ground. No spaces. Back onto Kennington Road. Left again. Right and ….a space. It’s 1.50 pm. £16 for parking til 5.45 and now I’m running – fucked old Nikes, the ones I always walk in, grubby shorts, red ‘Protest’ T Shirt hoping there are tickets available. They said there were. Round past Lockwood House and there’s the gate and a queue and still I don’t know if he’s still in. He must be. I queue for 10 mins. Anywhere with a fairly good view down the wicket. Now I’m in and everyone’s so relaxed. They haven’t just driven 3 hours to be here.
At last, the block appears and I go up the stairs into the sunlight. Into the arena. He’s at the Vauxhall End leaning on his bat with Root on strike at the other end. I sit. I breathe. There’s a dreamlike quality to suddenly being here amongst all these other people in the sun and the green. I feel like I’ve only just woken up. I watch every second with an intensity perhaps unlike those around me who chat and drink beer and probably arrived at 10.30. These seconds are stretched; time slowing down. Like the people who know their time is up and want to reach out and grab every moment because it could be their last. There is a meditative quality about cricket unlike any other sport.
An hour is all I end up having with both Root and Cook but what an hour. I see them both cut, pull and defend magnificently. Twice the ball is cut by Cook down to the boundary twenty yards to my left, the ball spinning and flying towards the rope as people clap and roar once more. As I queue for a pizza first Root is out and this is immediately followed by Cook and the whole of The Oval crowd rise to give him a standing ovation, a genuinely felt warm and sad goodbye. It feels personal. You can feel the emotion coming off the people around the ground. And I made it to be here with them. Thank you, Alastair.
What is it with this desire to experience life at its most intense? Probably some romantic notion picked up along the way, I wonder, but in fact it’s always been there. The boy unable to sleep at night, the one in the trees electrified by the wind, the one always staring out to sea, the sunlit trees and the stars dreaming of being somewhere else..