Belatedly, I know, but…
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and it starts like this…
“Hey, Roland,” I said, breezily, “can I borrow the keys to the Time Machine?”
My big brother lifted his eye from the microscope and regarded me, not fondly I thought. “It doesn’t have keys,” he said, pedantically.
“So, ok, figure of speech, man,” I said, trying to maintain my pose as the insouciant teenager trying to cop off with Dad’s T-Bird. It’s not that unreasonable a line; I may be twenty, but I play younger.
“Well, well,” said Roland. “And to what do we owe this change of heart? Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you not the Jack Warrington who stood in that very spot last September, telling me he wanted nothing more to do with me or any of my works again? You’ve shown no urge for time-jumping for at least five months – don’t think I don’t know about your little jaunt last February – so what’s behind this sudden rush of enthusiasm?”
I shrugged, trying to keep it all casual.
“Oh, nothing really. It’s just that it’s such a nice day, the kind where you don’t feel like hanging round the house, I just thought it might be nice to go for a quick spin.” Roland said something I thought it better to pretend I hadn’t heard.
“And why just now?” he asked. “Mum will have tea on the table any minute now. You’ve only just got in yourself.”
“That’s not a problem,” I said, offended. “You know as well as I do, I can do a short hop and be back inside a minute, no matter how long I’m in the past.”
“Funnily enough, of all the measures possible for my intelligence, I’d never previously thought of using you as a yardstick,” Roland said. He’s like this a lot, but we do get on really well most of the time – ok, most of the time that he wants me to do something and I do it, which, as he’s pointed out, hasn’t really been the case since September last year. That state of affairs is a direct result of the invention of Roland’s semi-legendary Time Machine and the fiascos attendant upon its testing run. Roland was right: I did swear not to let myself get caught up any of his coils again, but this was different, and I was always prepared to let bygones be bygones when they can get me something I want.
“Why is it so important for you to use the Time Machine this very minute?” persisted the mad scientist.
What the hell, he was going to need to know anyway for the co-ordinates. “You may or may not have heard the news from Headingley, Roland, but England won!”
“Headingley?” he said, both looking and sounding blank.
“Cricket,” I prompted. “The Test Match. It’s been in all the papers, Roland, and we won!”
“Cricket,” he repeated, savouring the word like Jilly Goolden with a mouthful of cough syrup. “England have won a game of cricket, and immediately you have to rush off and see it. This,” he added, “I take is a rare occurrence.”
“Do you mind!” I protested, even if he wasn’t totally wrong. “This was more than just a win, you know. Bob Willis took 8 for 43 and we got the Aussies out for 111, they only had to make 130 in virtually a full day, and it’s only the second time ever a Test team’s won after following on.” I paused for breath: it was pearls before swine, and we both knew it. “I was in the off-licence at half two, getting a coke, and I heard it on the radio. It’s unbelievable.”
“I’m sure it is,” said Roland. I may be wrong, but I got the impression he meant something different.
He stood up, abandoning the microscope, and whatever he had on the slide there. I have no idea where his ceaseless testing of the boundaries of back street garage technology is taking him these days, but he’s been making pretty free with my old Gardner Fox comics recently, especially my complete collection of The Atom.
“So you want to see this no doubt epoch making occurrence,” he said, his voice pregnant with sarcasm like a woman on fertility drugs.
“If you don’t mind,” I offered, politely. “But, as the technology is available, and you did promise me all the bugs were ironed out, and I can be assured I will find things as they actually did happen and not some mad adolescent’s idea of a bad joke, yes please.” I contemplated doing Bambi eyes but they don’t work on Mam, or young Mary – especially on Mary – so I didn’t think Roland would be affected. Not that he can see much with hair like that.
Like I’ve always said, give my science pioneer brother half a chance to lecture, pontificate or simply show off and you’ve got him in the palm of your hand, though you’d better be prepared with a very strong disinfectant for immediately afterwards. A few more grumbles, mainly for the sake of his image, were to be expected, but already Roland was ferreting along the shelves of his laboratory (aka the Warrington family garage) for the boxes in which the Time Machine had been laid to rest.
Life around the Warrington household is often one long round of surprises, thanks to Roland’s insatiable curiosity about how things work, why they don’t work better and what he can do to bridge the process, usually by cannibalising domestic appliances and Home Electronics Kits. By means that are not so much mysterious as a State Secret, my brother funds his scientific adventuring with a day job as an Electrical Draughtsman, and a closely guarded connection to the National Grid that still has NORWEB baffled. I have long since given over pointing out that the smallest commercial exploitation of some of his inventions – the smokeless oven, the non-stick butter-knife, the collapsible pen, to name but three – would enable him to both finance and power his schemes purely legitimately, as well as help to stave off Mam’s inevitable nervous breakdown. But then, I have always been the lone voice of sanity in the Warrington household: both parents would die rather than be exposed as the progenitors of the man who invented the soybean blancmange.
One regrettable side-effect, I’m sorry, I mean one of the many, indeed uncountable side-effects of Roland’s fertile mind is a concentration span that would make a fruitfly appear steadfast. Inventions come and go, one minute the most important development since sliced bread, the next minute nothing more than a flat surface on which to slice bread. Even the Time Machine, the ultimate piece of throw-it-together-in-a-converted-garage science, stopped being flavour of the month.
Once an invention reaches the end of its atomic half-life, Roland stashes it away on one of the hyperdimensional shelves on the back wall of the garage. I call them hyperdimensional because that makes the shelving’s capacity to absorb outmoded equipment sound like something a rational mind is capable of comprehending (given a sufficiently long run-up). The far end of the shelf is up in the north-eastern corner of the garage, the area that no visitor to Roland’s workshop dares approach to closely since I have my doubts as to which Universe he’s got out there.
So the Time Machine came down off the shelf, Roland plugged it in, dusted it down, warmed up the transistors, checked the central chronometer against his wrist-watch, ran a circuit test, tuned in Radio Luxembourg (joke, Roland, joke) and generally carried out all those little exercises and disciplines so important to ensure that the unwary time jumper bound for earlier this morning doesn’t find himself halfway up 1967 with the backside hanging out of his jeans.
Whilst he was at that, my mind engaged in some non-mechanistic time-travelling of its own, rolling back eleven months to the root of my long-held antipathy towards Roland’s Infernal Device.
For those who insist upon the full details, there is an earlier volume of my memoirs which records the adventure in embarrassing detail (under the title of Tempus Fugitive. Available at good bookshops, supermarkets with slow return policies or, in the last resort, send money here). There you will learn all you wish to know about the science and theory of time travel (or all I understood of it, anyway), together with the reason why I shudder on meeting anyone who bears the baleful name of Gerald. Those with greater patience may rest assured that anything relevant to what is to follow will be mentioned at the appropriate time. And, in case you are one of those Philistines to whom great moments in English Cricket history means nothing, the year, month and date is 21st July, 1981. And the sun is shining exceedingly brightly, both physically and metaphorically. Ok?
Whilst he bothered himself with setting up the Time Machine, I peeked over his shoulder to see what it looked like now. It no longer looked so much like a hi-fi system without speakers, the bank of faders having been replaced with an array of watch dials, their contrasting faces the result of some uneven scrap collection. I knew from my illicit trip in February that these had to be set precisely in order to identify the exact temporal co-ordinates, whilst the impressive LCD’s dealt with spatial trajectories, and the digital clock had nothing to do with time, not that I had any idea what it was for. But no substantial redesign since February: Roland was obviously working on something else now, and I congratulated myself on not knowing a thing about it.
Roland’s preparations were brief but, presumably, thorough. It seemed he’d forgotten nothing of how to programme the Time Machine to deliver a given subject to a particular location in the Space-Time Continuum. By a lucky chance, he’d never gotten around to dismantling the field projector, which still hung from the rafters of the garage, like the detached sunray lamp it had started out as being: a couple of minutes wiring up the connections and the old Time Machine was pronounced ready for use.
“6 o’clock,” said Roland. “You want to be sent back to 11.30am, for an intended jump of approximately three hours, short hop, with a minimum delay here at Time Zero. You’re absolutely certain you don’t want to wait on this, do you? There’ll be much more time after tea, you could make an evening of it, take a picnic.”
“No, thank you, Roland, I shall travel light. You have still got the handset, haven’t you?”
Roland raised his eyebrows, not that you can see them anyway. He hasn’t cut his hair in nearly a year and sometimes you can’t even see his eyes. Hell of an improvement.
“What a prodigious feat of memory, Jack. You must really have been concentrating to recall that.” He handed me the remote. I eyed it carefully. It looks like a video recorder remote control, only infinitely more complex, but it also doubles as the beacon to which the Time Machine responds when returning you to the present day – or Time Zero, as Roland insists on terming it. Lose this, and you might as well prepare yourself for a very slow journey back.
“Before I go anywhere, I want you to tell me you haven’t totally redesigned the handset,” I said.
“I’ve totally redesigned it,” said Roland.
“Oh Christ, can you never leave well alone?”
“Progress cannot be geared to the comprehension of the intellectually challenged.”
“Shut up, Jack. The red button is still the one to press when you’re ready to return. As for the rest, just leave it alone. You never understood how to work the remote before I upgraded the system anyway.”
“I got there and back in February. On my own.”
“More by luck than good judgement.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve met you before.”
“It’s all set. Headingley, Leeds, 11.30am. I still think it would be more sensible to postpone your jump till after tea.”
“What difference does it make to you?”
“None, I suppose. Just make sure you’re not late back. I have no intention of making any excuses for you if you’re not sat down at the table by the time…”
He was interrupted by an ear-shattering sound. Not the knock at the garage door but the childish tones of Mary outside, shouting, “Mummy says to come in, now! She’s just putting tea out.”
“There you go,” said Roland, reaching out to pull the plug. “Beaten to the punch. You’ll have to save it until this evening, after all.”
“Sod off,” I said, impatiently. “We’re all set to go and I’ll only be gone a minute your time, so let’s get on with it.”
“Whatever for?” asked Roland, genuinely puzzled. “Why are you so impatient?”
“I’ve been looking forward to this since half past two,” I said. “And if you’d had the same kind of day I’d had, you’d want a spot of enjoyment as soon as possible.”
“Did you hear me?” demanded Mary from outside. “I said Mummy’s putting tea out.”
“Come on,” I urged. “Get me sent.”
Roland paused for a moment, then shrugged. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it would all have been different had he not decided to give way. I mean, would waiting until after tea have altered what happened to me at Headingley? Roland is adamant that it wouldn’t, that the theory and practice of time travel, of which I have such a limited and indeed faulty understanding – his description, not mine – dictates that everything would have fallen out the same, but I still ask myself the question. Everyone would.
Roland cut the circuits that maintain an electronic silence about what happens inside the garage and called out, “Tell Mum we’ll be in in a minute, pet. We’re just tidying up.”
“Pet,” I said, disgusted.
“Alright, Roland,” said Mary. We heard her skip off.
“On your head be it,” said Roland, switching the Time Machine on.
As things turned out, this was a fair assessment of the situation.
I like Headingley. There are reasons not to, not least the preponderance of Yorkshiremen about the place, but I do. True, half the ground you can’t get at unless you’re a Member of their County or, preferably, your own, and the other half barely offers a decent view, thanks to this enormous concrete running track round the outside of the playing area. Either you sit on a plastic bottomed school chair hunched up against the boards or, if you retreat to the stands you’ve got all the restless folk of the County perpetually perambulating in front of you.
And if you go further back, trying to gain some height, you come up against the fact that the stands have a camber only slightly greater than Blackpool beach, so that by the time you’re at the top of the Western Terrace not only are you square of the wicket but you’re thirty feet short of the Bradford border. Admittedly there’s the top deck of the Winter Shed, at the Kirkstall Lane end, but even that’s only at wide long on.
But Headingley has atmosphere. It might be full of Tykes but they’re there for the cricket, and when it’s a Roses Match, you don’t half know about it. And anyway, if it gets boring after lunch, there’s always the ice cream seller: “Choc ices, lovely choc ices, yum-ah yum,” with all the relish of Fanny Craddock contemplating a dead cat.
Mind you, there is a way to get a decent view in Headingley when you still haven’t reached the age when your Dad will spring for that all-important Membership. The Football Stand – named for the fact it’s shared with the Rugby ground on the other side – lies within the protected zone (bloody stewards), and you actually get into its upper regions through the back, and sit yourself behind the bowler’s arm for the best views in the ground. But don’t think you can just walk down the side and round the back because they’ve got that blocked off. On the other hand, you can, with perfect legitimacy, go in the Gents down the side of that Stand, and, after you’ve done your business and washed your hands, if you leave through the other door, well, there you are, overlooking the Rugby pitch and all you have to do is to walk up to one of those doors in the back of the Stand… don’t look at me like that, it was Neil Montague’s Dad who showed us how to do it, first time he took us.
And I don’t like time-jumping, though anything that can get you into Headingley without going through Leeds first can’t be all bad. The transition, from the moment you step onto the launch pad, under the generator and are enveloped in the field, to when you arrive at your chosen past point, is instantaneous. One minute it’s strip lighting and Roland’s ugly mug, the next it’s summer sun and “Choc ices, lovely choc ices, yum-ah yum.”
But when that switch gets thrown and I get bounced off, it feels like falling over backwards on the spot and it makes me want to throw up. Roland always used to tell me it was psychosomatic, and it’s evidence of my total lack of any brain power, but then he’s always had a kind word at the right moment.
It had been almost a year since I’d last moved through time in this direction, but as I wasn’t travelling more than six or seven hours, the effect was minimised.
I opened my eyes to find myself in front of the old Pavilion, and gleefully within the Member’s cordon sanitaire. A prolonged ripple of applause greeted me which, for a moment, I found unnerving, since one of the many functions build into the Time Machine by its inventor is some minor but invaluable circuit that convinces spectators that the new arrival has been there all the time: I know it works, I’ve seen Roland come as no surprise, and that takes an effort.
Needless to say, the applause was not for me but for the English batsmen, clear of the Pavilion stairs and walking across the sunlit turf towards the middle. Botham flexed his shoulders and twirled his bat like a gladiator with a morningstar (see, I do know what the knobbly thing on a chain is called). Willis simply hunched along, making no attempt to pretend his bat was anything more than a piece of wood.
Headingley sparkled with anticipation, only not much. It didn’t take long to work out why: the big electronic Scoreboard opposite spelt it out. England 354-9, Lead 125. We were potentially one ball away from the end of the innings, and any time Bob Willis is batting, that one ball is not far away.
True, Botham had made sure of being on strike for the first ball of the day, but then he’d done a damned good job in keeping himself on strike as long as he had the day before. Willis had been in for twenty minutes last night and barely faced a ball, thanks to the hero of the hour who, along the way, had managed to carve another 31 runs out of the dead-on-its-feet Aussie attack.
But let us be realistic about this. Flying in the face of any Fifth Day attendee – who are drawn in any event from the ranks of the terminally keen, the old, the rich, the unemployed and those schoolkids whose main interest is an impromptu knock-up at lunch, as close to the square as the Stewards will allow – all anyone was here for were Last Rites. At least the body would be interred with dignity. Up till the middle of yesterday afternoon, Australia had owned this game. At 135-7, still 92 runs away from making them bat again, we were on our way to ignominious defeat and two down in the series. Then Botham and Dilley, Botham and Old, even Botham and Willis blasted England into a wholly improbable lead. I got in last night, switched on the TV, saw the Scoreboard reading 326-9 and refused to believe my eyes. 226-9, yes, I couldn’t have been seeing straight, could I?
But, like I said, let us be realistic. Yesterday was for pride only. It was about making the Aussies work for their money, nothing more. Of course, if Botham could, improbably, farm the strike all morning, maybe eke out another 40, maybe 50 runs, then and only then might the impossible become thinkable.
Which was why a surprisingly full Fifth Day crowd was being so noisily appreciative of the last pair. Be generous to those who, even in defeat, have rescued reputations, especially the recently resigned-but-would-have-been-sacked-anyway-sorry-what-do-you-mean-by-dignity? Ian Botham. At least it was a beautiful day.
But I knew what was coming. That is to say, I knew the outcome but not the specifics. I knew England’s innings didn’t last long, because I’d been walking past a TV shop just before twelve o’clock and the Aussies were already batting, but I didn’t know how and when the last wicket had fallen.
In fact, Kim Hughes took the new ball immediately, handing it to the refreshed Terry Alderman. Beefy added another four to his tally, 149 not out, but he couldn’t prevent Willis facing the bowling forever: Alderman had him caught at slip by Border for his sixth wicket of the Innings, though I’ll bet he hasn’t often conceded over 100 runs getting there.
Whilst the teams changed over, I went in search of a Scorecard seller and settled down to copying up the bowling figures. I knew Roland would frown upon such interference with history and I suppose I shouldn’t countenance it myself, not after last year’s shenanigans. But, just for once, I was determined to have a souvenir, and whilst it’s true that the slightest deviation from history can have incalculable consequences for the future, some old bugger selling one extra Scorecard would have to work flat out to make a difference in the six and a half hours between here and Time Zero.
As Scorecards go, it was an improvement over the Headingley County Championship version which, though printed with nice, non-smudge type on good smooth card, does not change or update over any of the three days. The Cornhill Test Match Scorecard was smudgy and had bitty type, but it had everything up to last night on it. I decorated it with a day 5, underlining for good measure the date: as I said, July 21st 1981.
Umpires Meyer and Evans strolled out, carrying the bails. Old Professor Greyhair Brearley led his men down the far steps on the Pavilion, to warm applause from an already warm crowd. Graham Wood and Johnny Dyson, coming down the other set of steps, got a more respectful greeting.
Brearley invited Botham to open the bowling from the Kirkstall Lane end. A fortnight ago, this man had resigned the England captaincy one jump ahead of the sack after an almost unblemished record of defeat, with one 50 and nary a five wicket haul to his name as captain and you wouldn’t have had him bowl a hoop down a hill. But the skipper was clearly betting on the Force being with Beefy.
Two balls into the innings, that didn’t look a good bet, the left-handed Wood dispatching both to the boundary. Dilley, blond hair waving, pounded up the hill from the Football Stand end, arched his back, pointed his leg and hurled the ball down with no greater success. 13-0: when defending small totals over long hours, the best theory is not to give your opponents ten percent of their target off the first two overs.
As I said, I knew the outcome, but I had taken extreme care not to know anything else: well, Willis’s figures aside. All I knew was that we won, but until the score reached 111, I didn’t know how. There would be no looking at the scoreboard, anticipating that the next wicket must be coming up. Of course, it would have been ideal to know as little as the few thousand real-time customers, but to have achieved that state of happy ignorance would have required scientific and philosophical contortions so great that even I could have come up with several, unassisted.
The Aussies had made a racing start, but the Botham Effect wasn’t totally exhausted, Wood edging to the beatific Bob Taylor to give us the breakthrough with no further runs to the score. In came Trevor I-Know-Very-Well-Who-My-Brothers-Are-Thank-You Chappell. Dilley bowled another over from below me but having conceded eleven runs all told, was taken out of the attack in favour of the hero to come, Bob Willis.
It wasn’t happening. Willis toiled up the hill, runs steadily accumulated, nothing fancy but nothing fancy needed, they had virtually all day to get them if they wanted to. How Willis got eight wickets in these circumstances seemed unlikely: maybe he changed ends? The score passed 30, 40, 50, Willis came off and the Venerable Brearley even tried Peter Willey’s dobbly little spinners for a few overs, but that was apparently only to get Willis round to the Kirkstall Lane End – score one for my percipience?
Trust me: if Willis was going to start taking wickets for fun, which he was going to have to do pretty pronto, unless that illiterate, illegitimate, interfering, Godless bastard Gerald had escaped from the prison of a collapsed timeline and was interfering with history again, he was cutting it fine. And what was the point in getting myself behind the bowler’s arm if all the action was going to start coming from the other end?
Any fears I might have had on the Gerald score started to disperse when Willis got one to rear up at Chappell’s face, off short of a length. Chappell got his glove in front, the ball looped in the air and Taylor came trotting forward like a friendly beagle scenting a bone to take the simplest of catches. 56-2: they’d gotten halfway to their eventual total just on those two wickets.
This was going to be some collapse, if it was ever going to start, but it started in Willis’s next over.
In the space of four balls, he snaffled Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop, both to cracking catches, Botham going low to his left at slip for Hughes, Fatty Gatting taking the ball at ankle height at short square leg to the left-hander Yallop. Suddenly it was lunch, and England were in the game again.
My secret knowledge was not very welcome at that point. We’d taken three wickets in the space of as many overs, creating a momentum, a roll, steaming through, crushing the enemy inexorably under your wheels, they’re on the run, haven’t a minute to think, and, oh yes, we’ll just stop for forty minutes now. See you later. If you’re taking wickets with that kind of abandon, you don’t want to be interrupted. But I knew it continued, which drained the situation of a little of its tension. None of your think-about-that-one-over-your-egg-sandwiches-and-shiver for me.
Speaking of egg sandwiches; I thought I’d better get myself something to eat whilst I was here. Tea would be waiting for me when I got home, and woe betide if I spoilt my appetite, but on my personal timescale, I was an hour overdue any grub, and ninety minutes away from a ham salad with thin brown bread slices, this being Tuesday. The only serious question was between burger bar inside the ground or chippy outside the Kirkstall Lane gates, and provided they let me deal with the issue of ketchup, fish and chips sounded good.
I hadn’t actually been joking with Roland about the kind of day I’d had. Last summer, I’d had my arm twisted into accepting a summer job in Roland’s office, basically being a gopher. Mam would have settled for me doing the same again, but I had a better idea. If you must do a summer job, you should try to make it pertinent to your future career, even if only to find out that some occupations are so deadly dull, you’d run away screaming.
Like architectural draughtsmanship. I’m sure there are people doing a Graphic Arts course with a personal bent towards pencil and paper who would kill, or at least cause actual bodily harm, for the chance to draw buildings and elevations all the livelong day, but I personally would rather gouge out my left eye with a 2HB. Yes, I’m still doing nothing better than gophering, but I’ve seen enough to know that if I wound up in that as a profession once I qualified, I would willingly embrace the chance of being Roland’s guinea pig in perpetuity. Without parole.
Actually, I have very little idea what I want to do with my life once I leave College, apart from the obvious things like earning enough to afford a front-loading video-cassette player, buy retrospective box-sets of albums and go to away legs if United qualify for the UEFA Cup.
Back to the Test, licking surplus vinegar and ketchup from my sticky fingers. The ground was significantly fuller as the teams came back out than it had been when I first arrived. There were a lot more suits about: the word had presumably spread that something might just be going to happen, and commercial Leeds had responded. There were also more than a few blokes my age dotted about the expanding crowd, helping to balance out the escalating average age.
As before: Willis from the Kirkstall Lane End, Chris Old bowling from the Football Stand. I wavered about returning to my seat and, given that I couldn’t get behind Willis’s arm without taking up station on the field, did the Loo shuffle to get back to my former seat. Alan Border had joined the somewhat adhesive Dyson: this was the last pair of front-line batsmen in the team, and they didn’t last long. I’d barely made my seat, and Border hadn’t got off the mark when Old had him play on. Then Willis nabbed Dyson, going to an easy snick to Taylor, who was leaping about nearly as much as I would have been doing if I’d been out there.
England were on a roll. Rodney Marsh could have pulled something out of the bag for Australia, but he hooked Willis, the ball sailing out towards Dilley, running backwards, eyes fixed on the ball, taking the catch and looking round to make sure he hadn’t run over the ropes. Lawson, a single, and then another nick to Taylor, his sunhat fairly glowing with pleasure.
In came Dennis Lillee, with 55 wanted, and the odds suddenly having swung round in our favour. What a brilliant bowler to watch, and not a mug with the bat either. He took Willis on, uppercutting the ball deliberately, sending it high over the slips and away for boundaries. The game was wavering back the other way again, they’d reduced the target to only 20 and Willis pitched one up, Lillee mistimed his shot, the ball spooned up towards mid on, Gatting was fielding there, he ran, and dived and came up with the ball, another fantastic catch.
Out came Alderman. Professor Greyhair brought Botham back at the Football Stand End, and Bright foolishly accepted the offered single, first ball, giving Beefy five balls at Alderman, a batsman for whom the word hapless could have been invented. Unbelievably, Botham found the edge of Alderman’s bat twice that over, and both times he was put down at slip, by Old. Any other player (and we shall draw a veil over the memory of Keith ‘the Gnome’ Fletcher) would have been crucified for dropping one, let alone two. But Alderman survived the over, leaving Bright facing Willis again.
And that first ball smashed through the wicket, knocking middle out!
The ground erupted in cheers, and hundreds of people came over the fencing, running towards the England team, themselves racing to get off the pitch to celebrate. Stranded as I were in the Football Stand, I had to be much more genteel, and queue myself out through the back before I could hurdle the barriers and join the throng, but what a win! What a performance from Willis! I was bloody glad I’d come. At least, at that moment.
I stayed for the ceremonies, with my old buddy from 1956, Jim Laker, awarding the least surprising ‘Man of the Match’ to Botham for “a Captain’s performance one match too late…” while Willis the star bowler glowered like he’d love to knock someone’s teeth down their throat, only this time without a ball in his hand.
Eventually, though, my stomach started reminding me, with all due deliberation, that it was time for a serious meal. Reluctantly, I detached myself from the crowd and walked back across the turf, towards the Electronic Scoreboard. I was fumbling for the handset when I received another urgent message, this time from my bladder.
I could go when I got back, but then Mary had been yelling that tea was on the table, and I’d have to go upstairs so, what the heck, I’d use the facilities here before going home.
So I vaulted the boards, jogged up the steps and down again and round the corner into the Gents. From where, natural functions concluded, I stepped back out into the sun, behind the aforementioned Scoreboard, a couple of minutes later.
The party was breaking up and there were people leaving now, streaming through the gate onto Kirkstall Lane, busily telling each other what a day it had been. Ay, lad, and ah were theer too, I thought. Roland did come in handy sometimes.
No-one was looking at me, except that to my left, in front of the Souvenir Shop, two youngish blokes were talking to one another across a gap of three or four yards. One kept turning and looking at me, the nosy sod. I avoided his eye, looking only to check when he’d turned away. Weirdos and Tykes: same thing really.
I withdrew the handset, automatically checking it for changes. Nothing that met the unskilled eye, though no doubt it was wired up totally different under the plastic surface. Roland has never learned to leave well alone but as long as I never needed more than the red button, what did I care? Mentally preparing myself for the lurch forward, I pressed it.
Nothing happened. I opened my eyes upon Headingley’s brick perimeter. I hit the button a second time. Nothing happened again. With a mounting sense of panic that I nobly tried to ignore, I tried it a third time, followed by a fourth, a fifth and others, in natural sequence. Nothing. Nada, zip, bupkiss. I remained rooted to the temporal spot, three hours and the odd few minutes from home.
Oh great, just what I needed. He spends all that time checking the something circuits on the something else Machine and just chucks me the equally obscene remote control without even making sure the incredibly obscene batteries are working. What was I going to say to Roland when I got back? Don’t even try guessing.
I was stuck here.
Well, I wasn’t going to put up with that. I stormed towards the gate, passing one of those two blokes on the way. He was looking at me strangely and I was almost tempted to stop and hang one on him, on the grounds that he wasn’t Roland but he was handy. His mate had buggered off, I didn’t know where, or care, come to that. I left him to gawp, swept out, queued for the phone box outside the gate and dialled home, intent upon giving my big brother a piece of my mind, with added vocabulary.
“Hello?” said Mam.
Immediately I replaced the receiver on the bracket. Something something pratt, what was it, 3.00pm? Roland wouldn’t be home from work for another two hours at least, and it was still another hour from then before he’d be jumping me up to here. Mad as I was, even I knew I couldn’t contact him until he’d sent me here, in case I set off the kind of temporal paradox even the mad scientist couldn’t dismiss.
I was indeed stuck here. You may imagine my despair.
Alright, you tell me what you can do on a cricket-less Tuesday afternoon in Leeds? In fact, what can you do in three hours in Leeds that you can’t do in ten minutes and get just as much out of it? By the time I’d walked up Kirkstall Lane to the main road, all the sandwich shops had long since shut, and I was damned if I was springing for a fried chicken from round here, you’d never know if what you were eating had ever seen the inside of a suit of feathers. So I walked back to the ground and then, remembering where Neil’s dad used to park, walked up Headingley Mount to the road at the top, where there was a park. It offered nothing but grass and trees, so I sat on one, under the other and contemplated things like the mysteries of the Universe, the fragile construction of the human form and how to disrupt it to maximum but not fatal effect. Just wait till I get home, Roland Warrington. A few minutes before 6.00pm, I walked back to the phone box and waited for the distant chimes to toll the knell of off-peak rates. In the manner of the already legendary ET, I phoned home.