|Taken from "Cricket in the Shadows" by Brian Freestone and reproduced here with his kind permission.
Transcribed by Sarah Gilbert
“Fatty” Rose scored 129 up the “Rec” yisty.”
“Yeah! He scored 129 not out!”
“Never!” I gasped. It seemed a vacuous response to such an astonishing declaration.
“And he were “Not Out” an'all!”
Alan Evans, my primary school friend, peered into the dark corners of his mind to recapture the enormity of this dream event. Even twenty four hours after its execution he was still stunned. He recognised its significance because he was an excellent cricketer himself, a faster bowler than any of us. He repeated the news again more to convince himself, I think, than to any listener, as though he were announcing an imminent visit of His Majesty King George VI to our very ordinary shoe town of Burton Latimer, one of several settlements riveted along the A6 main London to Carlisle Road on the borders of the East and South Midlands that was our home. The news was as traumatic as if our real hero, “Flash” Gordon had been trapped forever by the grey cunning of a dastardly “Ming the Merciless.”
“Never!”, I gasped again. “You’re ‘aving me on!”
But I knew he wasn’t. Even at that young age I knew it was not a part of his character. He was not the sort of person to “have anyone on”,-and certainly not when it came to cricket. True, there was a little aggression in him. Boys often tried to avoid his fast bowling in our many games particularly if we had a hard ball, and some of the cheap compound balls we had at the time were poor excuses for stones.
“No. God’s honour! 129 not out up the “Rec.” (Click here for Town Trail point 17) You ask anybody.” “Anybody” was not around for me to check the facts but I knew I didn’t need to. I could trust his judgement implicitly. He, like the rest of us, was as accurate at cricket statistics as any University professor of Mathematics. We never lied. Not at cricket, anyway. His eyes were glazed over now and he shook his head at the memory of this feat which dwarfed even the brilliance of Bradman on a
I continued to marvel at “Fatty” Rose’s feat, yet I was angry with myself too. I, who was rarely anywhere else but at the Recreation ground during the holidays, on summer evenings, at weekends,( Sundays were the exception, - a Chapel upbringing would not allow such sinfulness. On that day such places were barren amphitheatres which echoed of the previous day’s joys to be noted only by the passing pedestrian on his way to worship.), - had managed to miss the momentous affair of “Fatty” Rose’s feat, still clearly recalled half a century later. On that morning in the late forties Alan dripped with the memory. “Yeah! He knocked it all uvver the show! ‘It a fair few sixes. Hooked ‘em. Pulled ‘em. Smacked fours orf ‘is legs too. Didn’t ‘alf ‘it it ‘ard!.” I had never seen anyone, least of all “Fatty”, hit a six before. The ground was far too large for the puny efforts of schoolchildren brought up during the war anyway. It was all we could do to hit the ball off the edge of the square, and then it would be downhill towards the rolling skies of the west and assisted by a rare east wind. To hit “ a fair few” defied my belief. “Fatty” was left handed. Even at that age we knew lefthanders were good off their legs. It was a part of their in-built elegance. “Fatty” wasn’t a “David Gower” whose grace I could have watched all day, - but he was very left-handed. He had, in keeping with the rest of us, an undying enthusiasm for the game, a close knowledge of the styles of Hutton, Compton, Westbrook, Bedser, Harvey, Lindwall, Miller and the like whom we had never met or even seen, except in poor grey newspaper pictures. Such players had become personal friends, - friends who gave us confidence, friends who made us want to emulate them even if only in our dreams. Now “Fatty” had risen above the rest of us with such a feat that he was always going to be held up as the ultimate yet unattainable example of what was possible. Until that feat he had done nothing untoward at cricket. True, he had shown promise at local level like many of the rest of us and he was as equally as enthusiastic for the game. He had had moderate scores and, until that momentous day, looked as if he, like Salieri in the face of Mozart’s achievements, was to be a “Champion of Mediocrity.” He had never conquered that “pitch”. His innings would often end in impatience with a flat-batted swish across the line to square leg leaving him to rue that shattered stumps behind his sweating and ample bulk.
Alan continued to drip details of the innings into my impressionable ear, - but I had heard enough. The thought of this perspiring, rotund bulk, jovial and popular, making such a mammoth score on the “minefield” surface of the “Rec.” was imprinted as indelibly on my mind as if I had witnessed the very event myself. Fifty years on it is as fresh as if it had happened in a recent cricket match in which I had been a player.
“Fatty” Rose was everybody’s idea of the loveable schoolboy. Many did not know his real Christian name, for surely his parents had christened him “Fatty”. The word “Fatty” was never taken as a term or derision although he was certainly rotund and his name clung to him like sheep’s wool to barbed wire. One even suspected his teachers, even in those more formalised times, of using the name to his face without any suggestion of ridicule. It was just in the natural order of things. His real name of “Brian” did not seem to match the picture of this left-handed Colosssus who bestrode our narrow world, who towered above us all in our “Rec” amphitheatre, who sweated like something in a plastic bag, who, on that special day, flayed long hops, full tosses, “grubbers” to every hawthorn hedge and twisted railing. Forever he would endure as “Fatty”. He lived in the centre of the town opposite the now defunct Red Cow Public House, off the High Street, in one of a group of sandstone cottages, the colour of blended chocolate, which spilled untidily out onto a cluttered yard. It was the most modest of beginnings for “our hero.” From the day he scored “129 not out” up the “Rec”, “Fatty” was elevated to the peak of schoolboy hierarchical structure. When we picked teams, his name sprang to our lips almost before we could mouth it. Without him we stood no chance of victory; with him we could conquer any opponent in the full world of our beloved “Rec.” His name was always the first choice. Should you be unlucky enough to have lost the toss, as opposing captain, all chance of victory receded.
“Fatty” was just one of a number of sports-mad schoolboys, who, like myself, spent every possible waking hour on this local battleground that is, when we weren’t “train numbering”, the Northants equivalent of “trainspotting.” Away from the familiar confines and the smells of the home and its red brick echoes, daily we explored the promises of the “Rec.”, our own theatre of delights. At first bewildered by its size and its huge skies which sloped down to the west, we soon became familiar with every one of its idiosyncrasies, every blemish, every rill, every bare patch, - and pitched our simple wickets in different places each day. As we grew more and more familiar with it so did we favour certain spots, moving onto the “square”, a comparatively flat area towards the town end of this free space. Now the world was beginning to make sense to us, out of the chaos and newness of our lives, everything settled in its place, eventually to be accepted, never to be questioned. Everything was as it should be as the sun moved above our new playground. This was ours, - our own theatre, - we were its actors, its masters and knew all its fallibilities. The widening horizons of our lives developed our confidence and the long summers played their part. The gentle, friendly, damp laden winds from the west pushed banks of luscious clouds over us and capped our dramas like the intricate patterns of an auditorium ceiling. Yet our changed each day and we loved every different one of them, - and our intense childhoods were enriched by it all.
The summer of 1947 came suddenly without warning. Close on the dull stillness of snow and slush which had settled on the country’s back since January, rushed the warmth of the sun, the birdsong, the buzzing of the frenzied insects, the flowers spread, the earth was vibrant again and the small warm breezes caressed our faces. Summer had come with a rush and we were ready for it and willing to use our cracked bat to try to clout the ball to all parts of the “Rec.” All were spurred on by our love for the game, by the impending threat of the 1948 Australian Cricket Team led by “The Don.” What better example could there be than that? We were not to be disappointed. The yardstick of that team’s achievements is still held up to all and sundry. Anyone less like “The Don” than “Fatty” Rose could hardly be imagined. But for us, the aficionados of “Rec” cricket, in that endless and innocent summer when few families were affluent enough to leave their life in the leather smelling town to journey to the very distant and rarely attainable seaside, when everyone had to rely on remarkably good public transport, - the “129” not out of “Fatty” Rose was of greater import. No one could ask for anything more. The innings was even compared favourably with the 721 runs scored in a day by the Aussies in 1948 against
We were growing up in a numerical world and our knowledge of cricket statistics enhanced our mental powers and our conversations. We loved playing with numbers. We were accurate, speedy and sharp as a cut-throat razor. Our headmaster would have been proud of us. All of us kept our own scores and we lived by unquestioning, mutual trust. There was never any question that “Fatty’s “ score was false, that he had cheated or miscalculated even though nothing was written down. He, like the rest of us, could add up with ease, knew the detail of every innings, knew how many were needed to win, could calculate averages and knew the points system of the
The “Rec.” was little different from most other recreation grounds of the time, but to us, it was the equal of Lords or The Oval. And had it not been witnessed dramas of no less importance? It was cherished and revered with just as much fervour as the best grounds in the country. Here we could be Denis Compton, Len Hutton, Alec Bedser, Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall. Later, when we read up avidly of the history of cricket we could be
Today as we use better facilities, play cricket on flat surfaces, our game is often orchestrated by the fleeting and boorish cry of “Owzat!”, screamed, abrasive and empty, from a car window and from the throat of a young and deconstructed hedonist. His mind is blown by the thump, abrasive and insistent, of excruciatingly loud “Pop” music from his car radio. His life is spent in a frantic pursuit of pleasure, now underpinned by frequent drink, possibly drugs, in his world which has no more idea of the intricate art of the game, its nuances, its skills, its humour, as it has of an appreciation of Mozart’s Piano Concertos or of self-discipline. And his life is all the poorer for it. His experiences are a far cry from those of our immediate post-war day at the “Rec.”
On later visits I have found it increasingly difficult to imagine the “Rec” as that place of intense joy and excitement, that same spawning ground for local cricketers. Gone is the feeling of freedom, of space, or airiness. Even the lovely open skies whose bulbous clouds wallowed against an intense blue, seem less spectacular. The “garden fields” are smothered with red-bricked buildings, the view to Isham is obscured, the open railings are replaced by the tendrils of a creeping housing estate of dull and minute semi-detached houses; and high speed trains whisper efficiently along the valley, ghosts of their heavy and warm predecessors leaving little or no impression. The surface of the “Rec” remains he same, its new buildings were christened in their infancy with obscene graffiti, there are no informally organised and intensely dramatic games such as were meat and drink to us some fifty years ago. There is no “Rec” hierarchy whose crowning pinnacle was graced by the presence of “Fatty” Rose. It is too much to hope for. But modern habits and social attitudes have ensured that “Fatty” remains for ever on a pedestal, untouched and glorious, in his pose of “129 not out” on that special day.
That innings was the yardstick against which all others subsequently came to be measured. There were other heroic performances, stands against all odds, bowling performances of remarkable statistics, catches of unbelievable agility by awkward ragged trousered boys. And with such acts came running commentaries on each stroke, on field placement, or bowling styles. “And here at Lords we greet you just as Alec Bedser is running in from the pavilion end and bowling to Don Bradman who is yet to score. Bedser has two slips, a point, cover, mid off, mid on, square leg and leg slip. Evans crouches behind the stumps, the fielders bend down and Bedser arrives at the wicket. He bowls. and oh! That was so close! “The Don” played and missed. Alec cut the ball back late and it “went throught the gate”, over the top of the stumps and thumped into Evans gloves. Evans tosses the ball to Wally Hammond and Alec moves back to his mark.” So ran our talk, so did we learn field placings, bowling and batting knowledge and so did our passionate interest in our heroes elevate them to godlike status.
That “The Don” played and missed was an essential part of our wishful thinking, for he was the scourge of the English attack and had been so long before we were born. That is not to say that Alec did not defeat “The Don”, for he was a fine bowler; the first to two hundred wickets for
In the channels of our mundane shoe town, almost small enough for everyone to know everyone else, there was a purposeful yet unhurried air about the place as it slowly recovered from the hardships of the war. Barely were we getting back on our feet again when we were set back by the terrible winter of 1947 when everything stopped. and stopped for what seemed an interminable period. I make no apologies for repeating these facts such was its devastating effect on all our lives. The snow came in January and clung to us in ice and filthy slush until April. As suddenly as it arrived so it disappeared to be followed by a lovely long and hot summer when temperatures as high as 92 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded at nearby Wellingborough. We sweltered up the “Rec” and drank greedily from the cherished bottles of “spruce”, the local name for fizzy lemonade. Here we sipped sensuously at the harsh bubbles which bumped and burned down our throats. In that summer few armies of clouds rolled over us from the south west, the sun burned down ferociously on our cricketing dramas so that in time even we were defeated by the heat and had to return home to the coolness of the red bricked yards some three hundred yards away to gasp for more gulps of the precious “spruce.”
The reason for all this sporting activity “up The Rec.” can be lain at the feet of my father who, on his return from three years in the R.E.M.E. which had called him to India, had brought back not one but two leather footballs, - and a cricket bat. The footballs were of the lace-up variety, - we spent more time and energy trying to blow them up and lace them than in actually playing the game. The bulbous innertubes had a life of their own, and the lace and lace holes needed a very strong man, who, at the same time as lacing the ball. Had to force down the nozzle inside the undisciplined and straining case. The end result was often egg-shaped with what looked like an unpleasant malignant growth and the ball rarely stayed up for more than one game. The impact of the lace on the head was always to be avoided especially in wet conditions. Kicking the soggy ball was not unlike kicking one of our red-bricked walls.
But it was the cricket bat which served the best. It was thin-bladed, pink handled, size four and fairly weak. Yet I doubt if anyone had ever been so proud of such a possession. With the approach of the cricket season, I anticipated the numberless days when I would try to emulate my heroes, Hutton and Compton as they battled against the speed of Lindwall and Miller. I was probably the only child of my age in the town who owned a cricket bat then.
At this time I began a collection of newspaper cuttings of contemporary cricketers which were at first laboriously and badly pasted into a poor quality scrapbook with a dull mixture of flour. This novelty did not last long but the cuttings, grained and indistinct, very poor by today’s crystal standards, nevertheless made a big impression on me. There were pictures of Tallon, the Australian wicket keeper, Bradman and Barnes, Lindwall and Miller and so on. Their large overlapping caps signified “the enemy.” Later the names of tourists from other countries were frequently on our lips. There were Mitchell, Melville, Tucker and Co. from
Most games at “The Rec.” were played with a soft ball, occasionally a composition ball, hard as a stone which did not serve the Indian bat too well, lovingly linseeded and cared for though it was. I had already learned to knock the stumps in with the handle and not the blade. Once I was not far short of getting into an unlikely fight when one friend began to hammer the stumps in with the precious blade. No one could afford a proper cricket ball. All our equipment, sparse and of poor quality, was jealously guarded for we knew it had to last. Had I been friendless the situation would have soon changed since groups of boys flocked round me every time I visited “The Rec.” with my bat. They wanted to see it, hold it, smell it, feel it, wave it around and use it in the various postures of their cricketing heroes as they went through a series of their most stylish batting strokes. It lasted me for many years and I knew I was going to score hundreds, - no thousands of runs with it, even on the surface of “The Rec.”
In time we mastered that surface. We knew the ball would bounce drunkenly off the weed infested surface. It trained our eye, we allowed for it in our footwork and in the resourcefulness of our strokes. Denis Compton himself would have been proud of our inventiveness. All of us had the usual schoolboy habits of hitting across the line unashamedly. Usually the ball would career upwards and into the vault of the western skies, heaped with clouds sailing over us from Isham whose square towered church stood in this very English picture against the skyline. It was only later at Grammar School,
Away from “The Rec” we would throw a tennis ball against our red brick walls, skilfully avoiding windows, targeting a particular brick or run up and down the garden path, or even the street, and perfect our bowling action in a swirl of bony arms and legs, imitating Lindwall or Miller or Bedser. We glimpsed our bowling actions in the intermittent and distorted reflections of shop windows. Had we got it right? Was our action smooth enough? Was the stride right, the arm high enough, did we follow through properly, - and where was our head? And above all, did we have style? We lived for the next time we could go “up the Rec.” and develop these emerging skills in a pattern of boyhood enthusiasm.
Fifty years have passed since “Fatty Rose” scored 129 not out “up The Rec.”. Only a year or so after this event I lost touch with him when I transferred to “The Grammar” at
“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk about under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves:…the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” When I read that passage and when I read it now, I call to mind the Colossian figure of “Fatty Rose” who strode above us, the underlings. Yet none of us had the jealousy of a Cassius. All were grateful that we had witnessed the event or had been told of it at first hand and that it had taken place in our beloved “Rec.”.If by any remote chance “Fatty Rose” should read these words I hope he will realise how deeply grateful I, for one, was, - and still am,- for giving so much pleasure, for helping us to glimpse what was possible, for feeding the memory, - and above all, - for his part in those timeless and inspiring games “up The Rec.” which were in at the start of innumerable cricketing passions. I trust he will excuse my use of his nickname but it is done out of affection. So that all I can say is: “Thank you “Fatty Rose” and your friends, for all that and more. Forever shall I be in your debt.