Ken’s Tales 04

Unholy Smoke

Long before they built the swimming pool, when Hornchurch was an urban district, there were allotments behind the far sight screen.

One Sunday afternoon we were playing Essex Wanderers, as powerful a travelling side as you would find anywhere in Essex. As Captain, I had to win the toss and put them in to bat. The thought of being all out for 80 or so, and the game finishing before tea was always uppermost in my mind. Things went my way.

It was not until the opening batsmen were walking to the wicket that we noticed the smoke.

An over-industrious allotment holder had lit a bonfire in the morning and by 2pm it was well alight. Not only had he set fire to the refuse but had obviously put onto the fire, his old socks, used French letters and other obnoxious rubbish.

A south wind was blowing the smoke straight down the pitch; the smell was overpowering. From the road end the batsman could just about see the non-strikers stumps. When the bowler was at the end of his marked run-out, he was invisible.

‘Play’, said the Umpire.

‘Don’t be bloody silly’, said the batsman, ‘I can’t even see the bowler’.

It occurred to me that things could not go on like this. (you see, it was not only because I had a car that I was Captain, I was also quick to appraise the situation.)

‘OK’, I said to the fielders, ‘there is only one way out of this; we have no water (there was none laid on in those days), we will have to use our resources’.

The sight of ten cricketers, climbing the surrounding fence, undoing their trousers and, jock-straps to one side, peeing in turn onto the fire, had to be seen to be believed. The resulting smell of boiling Whitbread ‘Tankard’ bitter was as overpowering as the smoke. But it had the desired effect. After spreading the fire over the allotment, it subsided and with congratulations all round we returned to the cricket field.

Those of you who have troubled to read so far should now be asking, why only ten fielders.

The answer, dear reader, is Clifford Perry, Wicket Keeper for many years. He was not going to take his gloves off until tea time.