Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 3, 2013

Ashes Remembered – Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett pictured yesterday

Alan Bennett pictured yesterday

An occasional series in which writers talk to 99.94 about Ashes matches past. To start, here’s playwright and national treasure, Sir Alan Bennett.

It was 1948 and wartime rationing was still very much on Mam’s mind. She had packed a couple of  luncheon meat sandwiches for us, with a small pork pie for Dad and a gobstopper for me that was to prove too big (and just a little too vulgar) for my tastes even at 14.

We had heard of Don Bradman and Keith Miller on the wireless in Aunt Ada’s little parlour, where we would be allowed to listen to the Light Programme for half an hour every Sunday after church, unless there was jazz playing, in which case we were required to leave immediately. Dad and I would have spoken of this great Australian side on the tram to Headingley as it rattled past the big houses, with their bay windows and proper lace curtains, the sort of houses whose young gentlemen went to Leeds Grammar and not Leeds Modern like the boys where we lived. Except we didn’t speak on the tram – or at all really. In those days, the women talked and the men listened – or not, if they had perfected the art of looking like they did.

Two women (headscarves even in that heat) were reading a magazine that they must have borrowed from Armley Municipal Library – a place where I would much rather have spent that dank, humid day so characteristic of those post-war summers that never quite seemed to clear the air of the soot deposited by the coal fires that had sustained us from September through to May. These women, I was not surprised to learn, disapproved of Christian Dior’s New Look, then all the rage in Paris. One remarked that such things were too foreign for Leeds – more the sort of thing they might favour in Barnoldswick. Even then, I could see her point.

I tried to put out of my mind the fact that my father smoked Woodbines while the other men in the crowd would favour the more upmarket Players, as we walked up to the ground past the church and the little chapel that served the mining community, until it was so savagely demolished and replaced by a Fine Fare in 1972. I was too young to wear a hat in those days, but all the working men did and they raised them to cheer our heroes on to the field and did so again later to salute Don Bradman and his compatriots. The shared sacrifices of the war were still very much on the minds of everyone in those days and a Yorkshire crowd could really only be stirred to hostility by the sight of Surrey.

I recall little of the actual cricket – I did not care for it then, nor now, although a little spot round the back of the Groundman’s Hut at The Parks, Oxford has a special place in my heart. The next time I was to see cricket was almost forty years later, as a guest of Michael Parkinson and Dickie Bird at Lord’s – a mistake I was not to make again.

Next in this series – Martin Amis.

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