Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fine Gully

In the summer of 2005 I am 18 years old and living in a small village called Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset. I've just finished my A Levels and am waiting for the results in the longest summer of my life. I already know I've passed, and I know that come September I will be moving across the country to Canterbury. I have a terrible haircut but I am 2 stone lighter than I currently am, so, swings and roundabouts.

Looking back I wish I'd been the picture of relaxed teenager that I should have been. The whole world stretched before me, blazing sunshine and not a care in the world that can't be easily solved by either a Horlicks or sambucca.

Unfortunately I am not relaxed. I am pulsing ball of sweaty anxiety. I'm not taking the transition from endless revision to endless time well; I don't know what to do with myself. I'm petrified I've made the wrong choice with my university; should I be going to drama school? Why have I picked somewhere literally on the opposite side of the country?! Oh, I remember, it has five bars and a nightclub on campus. I'm an idiot.

I'm working nights in a bar. I say bar... it's a huge sprawling country pub that has three customers an evening. I can have their drinks poured and ready for them as soon as I hear their tyres in the car park. The pub is a 15 minute cycle away which I do daily with my freshly ironed shirt hanging out of my rucksack so it doesn't get sweaty or crumpled on me.

It's a balmy summer - sunny and hot in that West Country way that is unpredictable and brilliant. Every day with a blue sky cover makes you want to make the most of it. There's no faith it's here to stay.

I don't know what to do with my summer.

With the end of my college days came the end of my therapist who I was seeing through the college. I know I should transfer myself to some other emotional sponge mirror who will help me detangle my panicked thoughts, but it was so easy and anonymous to do through college and I don't quite know how to go about it now I have left.

I don't feel I have any right to be worried or panicked. My friends are on the cusp of results or deciding if they want their second choice universities or worrying that their lack of desire to go to uni at all is a mistake. Some of them have huge issues totally unrelated to our 100 year summer on the edge of departing each other. I have none of these problems. But I am not calm and I'm not sure I'm happy.

I'm lying on the sofa staring at Shipwrecked on T4. My hair is unwashed, my pyjamas are still on and I've discovered that if I lie very, very still and just think about what's on the television then I can get my heart rate to calm down. If I don't move any parts of my body then I can forget I have limbs and I can pretend I'm asleep or dead and it feels a bit number and a bit better.

My Dad comes banging into the room.

"You not dressed yet girly?"

I grunt that I am not. My father doesn't enjoy being grunted at my ungrateful offspring who are being supported by him and enjoying his hospitality. He picks up the remote and shifts the channel across to Channel 4. Lords comes into view. England are being hammered by Australia.

My Dad disappears into the kitchen to make a sandwich. He comes back with a strong black coffee and a corn beef sandwich. He settles into the sofa to watch the cricket. I continue to lie like a slug on the sofa with my arms under my body so there is nothing vulnerable sticking out anywhere.

There is something mesmerising about the cricket. It's boring, and I don't really know what I'm watching, but the commentators are so rhythmical I am audibly hypnotised. The green of the grass and the blue of the sky make me feel calm; like I could be Jane Austen if I only had a bonnet and a notepad. The knock of the ball on bat, the gentle "oohs" of the crowd and bursts of excitement with long spells of gentle tension building. I don't tell my Dad, but I am enjoying it.

He finishes his sandwich and stands up.

"Right, better get on. You want to come with me girly?" My Dad is a builder and I sometimes go to work with him and help out with jobs on the site. My body recoils physically at the thought of moving, tears spring up in my eyes which I beg to go away so my Dad won't see and think he's raised a child who is so stupid she can't even speak without crying.

"No, I'm alright Dad. Maybe tomorrow."

"Ok." he says, and drops the remote by my head; our family's signal that you are now in charge of the channel.

I hear him check his emails, put his boots on and head out to the van. The van leaves. I don't change the channel. I watch the entire day. I watch the rest of the match and am slightly, curiously, disappointed when there is no fifth day.

I can't wait for Edgbaston. I'm so surprised at my desire for it to come. The TV I had been drowning myself in doesn't compare to the calming, soothing influence of the cricket match. The statistics being fired at my exhausted mind, the patter of the bowler, the movement of the fielders and the time to lounge in and wait for the match to bloom; I'd loved it all.

On the eve of day four I am so excited. A feeling other than numb, panicked despair is so novel this summer that I am elated by it. Cricket has become my unlikely heroin; it's gently rocking my cradle and massaging blood into my comatose limbs. I muster up the courage to mention to my Dad that I have been watching it. Saying anything recently has been a problem; everything I hear coming out of my mouth feels idiotic and I fear saying it in case someone presses me for more information and it turns out I don't know what I'm talking about. But I think I want to tell him that I'm not very keen on Ian Bell.

I try it. Leaning against the kitchen cabinets while he fries some bacon for a sandwich. My Dad is always eating sandwiches that summer. He licks the brown sauce off his thumb and nods.

"He's a useful pair of hands in the field, though. It's always nerve wracking as a batsman to know that there's such a good fielder nearby. Makes you nervous."

The next day I've gone to work with my Dad. We're listening to the cricket together on the radio and I'm doing something physical; I'm cleaning up the grouting on the school toilets we're installing. I'm listening to my Dad's opinions on cricket, discovering I hate the sound of an Australian accent saying "Warney" and trying to absorb all these statistics and little gems of information. Cricket seems to me to be about 50% statistics.

We win the Ashes that summer and Channel 4 lose the rights to show it on terrestrial TV. It's a tragedy. I go away to University and everything is alright like it was always going to be.

Cricket stays with me. Cricket becomes a lovely little familiar blanket that I can climb into for days at a time and listen to it washing. It's my sea shore.

Two years ago I'm at the Edinburgh Fringe and struggling. I'm worried about the show I'm in, worried I can't handle the professional jealousy I have for my boyfriend's career and I'm worried I'm not cut out for a career with so little stability. At 5:30pm I settle into a seat in the Pleasance Courtyard and watch Baxter and Blofeld; Memories of Test Match Special and it all disappears for an hour. In their voices and the stories and the gentle inconsequential details of it I am lost and the world readjusts itself to what it is; just silly little details taking a long time to pass into something wonderful.

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