Category Archives: kit and caboodle

Cricket Bags – A Rejoinder

In his blog post ‘Cricket Bags – Good Home Sought’, my cricket obsessed husband posed the question ‘So what is it my wife has against my cricket bag?’

Well, plenty actually. As he shrewdly concludes himself, for both of us The Bag is not just a bag. For him, it is a repository of hopes and dreams. It represents an alternative life of sporting prowess, a belief in the possibility of heroic performance, a call up to the team that might just still happen, a remembrance of magnificent times past, a clinging on to youth.

So what is The Bag to me? It – or they (for my son has his own large bag too) – are firstly irritating and oppressive in the amount of space they take up.   Together, with various accoutrements spilling out of them, they can take up the entire floor space of our front room. They sit there, squat and ugly, bringing to mind sweating men on a train, legs spread wide, flaunting their maleness and laying down their expectation that they can take up as much room as they damned well please. The contrast between The Bag(s) and my daughter’s sporting equipment – a small velour leotard and a tidy drawstring bag of hand guards – could not be greater.

It doesn’t stop with The Bag either. There are the stumps, the helmet that won’t fit into The Bag, the balls that get taken out for a bit of casual tossing in the air (and then get left on the stairs as some sort of perverse assault course), the endless cricket coaching paperwork spilling out over the floor and left on various random surfaces throughout the house, the jumper that been taken off, rained on and then thrown on top of The Bag to slowly rot. Or most of the contents of The Bag, which have been rifled through in some search or other and dumped on the floor next to, but not back into, The Bag . There has been a gradual annexation of the front room, to the extent that I rarely go in it now. It is not just that there is not much room to stand in, but that the computer is usually tuned to BBC Sports or the Bundesliga highlights catch up on iplayer, with a junior male member of the family sprawled in front of it. It has become a male preserve, albeit one with my old Virginia Woolf books on the bookshelf.

The Bag also represents to me my expected role in the proceedings – being the support act. When I look at The Bag I see subservience. I see the washing that needs to be done, the washing that is only done by me. In my son’s case, I am either the bore who has to nag him to extract the dirty clothes for washing, or the inadequate servant who has failed to produce white clothes washed and dried on time.   I feel I am being inadequate generally – as if I should leap at the opportunity to rush up to the club and do a bit of ‘admin’ so that the men/boys can get on with the more interesting stuff. Or should pop on a batch of scones and a fruit loaf so that the men/boys can have something tasty and suitably homely to eat when they troop off the field at tea, exhausted by their sporting efforts. Although I have not been asked to do either of these things and I know that I genuinely could not shoehorn anything else into my week at the moment, I resent the fact that I even feel guilty about failing to want to contribute in this way.   I am not being a proper cricketing wife and mother.

The Bag in this context represents to me the fact that male leisure time is leisure for them and leisurely in nature. A cricket match lasts hours and hours and hours. Watching a test series lasts days and days and distracts one’s husband in the very marital bed itself (headphones, SkyGo and an Ipad are a heady twenty first century combination in the bedroom). Female leisure time includes having to do the washing, or the cooking, or the driving, or the watching – not the participating and none of the glory.

For as long as I have known him, my husband has gone away every August bank holiday weekend with The Bag on ‘cricket tour’, with old university friends and fellow cricket fans. At first, I was wholeheartedly enthusiastic about this tradition and referred to it as ‘cricket tour’ to my own family and friends, who on occasion (I’m looking at you mother) seemed rather confused that an accountant (not his job, but what my mother has believed his job to be for the last 17 years) would be doing on a cricket tour. After child number one, it was still an uncomplicated issue for me. However, after child two and child three put in appearances, it became clear that, due to the increasing age and decreasing fitness of the participants, there was no ‘tour’ at all. Since at least 2001 they have stayed in the same luxurious farmhouse. Since not long after that, they played the same one or two matches against the same local team, meaning precious little cricket and no touring whatsoever. I did not and do not mind my husband having a holiday, which he deserves, but I did find the assertion that they were going ‘on cricket tour’ increasingly hard to stomach when I was staying behind to look after three very small children. The grandiose Bag was part of that (self) delusion for me. Please call it a holiday – and I’ll admit to being jealous at not having an equivalent outlet in my life.

But I’m not all bad (I hope). I am pleased that my husband has a passion for something that engages him on a physical and intellectual level. I am delighted that he has something over which he seems likely to be able to bond with our older son (and possibly younger son) on an ongoing basis. I see the bond which he has with his own father, due in no small measure to their mutual passion for the game. I am very proud of the wonderful job he is doing as a coach for junior teams. If he could just been a teensy bit tidier and find somewhere for The Bag, quite soon, he would be practically perfect.

I agree with him, we need a shed. And as a wise woman said back in the 1920s, I need a Room of My Own.

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Cricket bags – good home sought

bag 1To the cricketer, his or her bag is an object of comfort and reassurance. It contains all the essential equipment – bat, pads, gloves, whites, spikes – as well as spares. It has cricket balls – shiny new cherries to rotten old apples. It has tape, oil and rags, the materials for looking after kit. The bag may even have a pack of cards for rainy days or a toilet roll for windy ones.

To the cricketer’s spouse, the cricket bag is a hulking presence. It is lumpy with the strange objects obsessed about by the other half. The bat protrudes from the bag, tripping and catching anyone trying to step past it. It has an aroma, picked up from the changing rooms and bars it inhabits and seasoned inside its canvas skin. For heaven’s sake, there’s even a toilet roll in it.

I like my cricket bag to be in the hallway, where it sits among handbags, school bags and lunch-boxes – like an elephant trying to be inconspicuous in a flock of sheep. My wife doesn’t like my cricket bag to be in the hallway. Rarely does it manage an overnight stay there. The study, where it is placed between the exercise bike and the gerbil cage, is just behind the front-line, but vulnerable to sudden eviction.

In retreat, the bag spends time in the car boot. For very practical reasons, I don’t like this. I can’t justify the carbon emissions it adds to every journey. And when I have a match, I find it too easy to head off  incompletely equipped if I haven’t unpacked and packed the bag indoors. I carry this fear with me to every match ever since my debut (also my swan-song) for Buckinghamshire Under 12s. I arrived in the changing room, unsure when to swap from school uniform into whites. At the sign of my teammates changing I reached into my bag for my cricket kit. All present and correct.. except the socks. I thought I was going to have to play the biggest game of my life in grey school socks, already sweaty from my anxiety. Another boy had a spare pair, which helped my appearance, but not my confidence.

After that game, my Dad taught me the skill of packing a cricket bag by imagining you are getting dressed and padded up for an innings. Over 30 years later and I still do this, each time my stomach turning as I am taken back to a Northamptonshire pavilion, finding my bag devoid of white socks.

So what is it that my wife has against my cricket bag? There’s the general virtue of tidiness and that she doesn’t want the house turned into an obstacle course – particularly one where the hurdles smell. I am also convinced that the bag, large and with protruding bat handle, symbolises for her the obsession that draws me out of the house, or in front of screen or by radio, my attention on the family severely compromised.

I have come to realise that I like to have my bag visible around the house because it reinforces my belief that I am a cricketer. It validates my self-image. It would be so easy not to be a cricketer. I don’t offer a great deal to my team. Personal success, despite a very flexible threshold, is a rarity. In my mid-40s, a season-ending injury is never more than a quick single away. There’s the demands of family and the guilt of not fulfilling them. There’s work. And there’s a newer creeping occupation, offering another title, fulfilment and obligation: junior coaching. While the bag’s there, I have withstood those counter forces and maintained an identity that I care about.

bag 2For over a year now, my cricket bag has had a little cousin – an accomplice. My older son plays cricket in the team I coach. He has a bag, slimmer and more streamlined than mine. He also has my storage practices – if anything, he’s worse. After a match, he steps inside the front door and drops his cricket bag, before heading to TV or PlayStation. His bag, propped against the front door isn’t just an obstacle, it’s a fire hazard, blocking our evacuation route in (the unlikely) case of emergency. He can be forced to carry it to his room, but he does it in a weary, out of control manner that scuffs the walls on the stairs.

The harmony of my family is at stake. We need somewhere to store our cricket bags that is out of sight of the forces that would banish them, but accessible for those of us that take comfort in them – or just have a regular need to use them. Somewhere of the house, but not in the house; secure, weather proof, but out of the way. I have an idea – it is, as my younger son would say, a Beast of an idea.

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Game for all seasons

It’s five weeks since no.1 son last played a football match. Three waterlogged pitches (and there’s another for this weekend taking on water as I write) and one frozen ground have halted his games either side of Christmas. No.2 son has been slightly more fortunate, but has also lost games and outdoor practices to mud and frost.

With the winter comes rain and cold. With the rain and cold come sodden, or frozen pitches. With unplayable pitches come match cancellations. And with cancellations come calls for football to be played in the summer.

The thought of football in the summer, as I stamp my feet on the touchline, bury my fingers deeper in my pockets, pull my hood back over my head against the wind, is so alluring. Instead of wallowing in mud, I could be lying back on the grass, absorbing the heat of the sun. Shorts and sandals, not thermal underwear and walking boots.

And the house wouldn’t get clogged with piles of muddy kit and we wouldn’t have to step around sodden, soiled football boots to get out the front door. There would be a few sweaty shirts, socks and shorts after each game, easily whisked in and out of the washing machine.

But I’m running away with myself. Junior football isn’t played for my convenience and entertainment. How would the players benefit?

There’s nothing better than running about in the sun. The pitches would be firm and true. Even time spent as a substitute would be pleasant. Keep them hydrated, but don’t worry about hypothermia.

And isn’t the weather synonymous with England’s kick and run style that we’ve not managed to shake for generations? Rather than blame the players and coaches, maybe we should recognise that all that inelegant effort is a survival technique on damp, wind-blasted recreation grounds in the depths of winter. Let them play in warm, still conditions and players may put their feet on the ball, lift their heads and ease the ball around the park. When the weather gets warm, it’s better the ball does the running, not the players’ feet.

There would be no cancellations. Seasons would be finished on time. Pitches could recover, rather than be wrecked, during the winter months, ready to grow lush and green for the summer season.

It’s a win-win proposition, isn’t it? When can we start?

Never, I hope, never.

There are few things I would go to the wall over, but football’s migration to the summer would be one. I am amazed, given how football’s hegemonic reign in England has progressed, that it hasn’t already annexed the summer. It’s hardly absent from the season of long days and heat hazes: international tournaments dominate alternate Junes and the professional league season starts in time for the August holidays. These encroachments need to be resisted rather than surrendering more of our summer days.

Football thrives because it’s a simple game, that’s fast, exciting, adaptable and unpredictable. But it’s a sport without humility. It devours time and space. And it is just one sport amongst many pastimes. The summer is a time when other activities can gain a little traction. Tennis, cricket and athletics struggle to maintain a profile and attract participants. They each offer pleasure for players and followers that differs from bulldozer football. But if football isn’t fenced off, with fields left free for these sports, it will trample them, absorbing their players and airtime.

The public seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for football, so perhaps this should be indulged and let other sports battle for what’s left over. There is evidence, though, that this would harm our youngsters. Over-specialisation in a single sport has been shown to create injuries and burn-out. Better footballers (better sports players) come from children playing a variety of sports, which develop different aspects of their physical and mental capabilities.

Football is a sport for all seasons, but would be less interesting were it to be played in all seasons. In community, grassroots football, the winter weather does takes a heavy toll of its pitches, interrupting the season and leaving youngster idle. There is an alternative solution to shifting the game to the summer. There’s a campaign by the Save Grassroots Football movement to ensure more of the wealth of the Premier League is devoted to grassroots playing facilities. The movement has an e-petition that anyone involved or interested in football in the UK should sign – it asks for 7.5% of the broadcasting revenue earned by the FA to be used to fund grassroots football.

My sons have missed some matches, but have still played football weekly this winter. That’s because they have the good fortune to practice on a 3G surface or indoors. The Save Grassroots Football campaign would secure that advantage for many, many more local and junior football teams.

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Pink is the colour, football is the game

pink welliesWhen no.1 son was maybe three or four years old, Mrs TL took him to Toys ‘R Us to buy some wellington boots. They were walking each day to and from nursery and our north-western climate guaranteed plenty of puddles to splash in.

Faced with a shelf of cartoon-branded boots, no.1 son had no hesitation selecting the pair for him. He carried the sparkly pink boots to the check-out, where the cashier said, “Now, they can’t be for you, can they.”

“Yes, they’re mine,” came the correction.

Unaffected by social conditioning, no.1 son wore the boots happily for a term or two. But soon enough, we found the boots with ink scrawled across them, as though he had tried to strike out their unacceptable appearance. Our society’s arbitrary allocation of colour to gender had caught up with him.

Our daughter picked up the family’s pink baton (and probably the boots) with clothing, toys and accessories in the many shades available. This persisted until the age of six, when given a new bedroom and the choice of pink trainerswall colour, she opted for.. blue. Pink still features in her palette but it has faded.

No.2 son has always been more conventional in colour choice. The primary school lost a much loved teacher to breast cancer. To mark her contribution to the school and raise money for a cancer charity, the school has an annual Pink Day. Mrs TL had the hardest time trying to find anything pink that he would agree to wear to reception class, settling with a ribbon on his school bag.

On the one hand, the arbitrary opposition by gender, blue versus pink, is ridiculous. I think I have read it swapped over at some point in the first half of the last century. On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why children go along with it, rather than attract their peers’ comment and attention.

I don’t think I have seen a junior football team playing in pink kit. Were I to see one, I would admire their flouting of convention, but worry for their player recruitment. The first time no.2 son went to a mini-tournament with other clubs, his side had a match with another team wearing red shirts. Our coach had the bag of bibs and handed out six pink vests. The boys looked at each other, perhaps recognised that none could ridicule another, and put them on. Next to me, behind one of the goals, a dad sighed as though jabbed in the gut, “Ooh. They’re a goal down already.”

Then this Christmas, things have come full circle. Both boys wanted football boots. Mrs TL took notes on preferred brands and models, searched the internet and placed orders. When no.1 son’s pair arrived, I queried if they had been the type he had specifically requested. She confirmed they were. And so on Christmas morning, no.1 son once again became the proud owner of pink boots.

pink boots

Poor weather has meant the boots are yet to make their competitive debut. But we did have a kick-about with my Touchline Pal and his son. On seeing the boots, my friend said to no.1 son, “They’re nice. You’ll have to play well in them, you know.”

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