Tours to N Yorkshire – D Walker

I think I’ve been on every tour since 2001, sometimes camping, sometimes staying with grandma in Scarborough. It is a summary of my story with The Casuals. From a one hundred opening partnership to a scratch and a scrape outside off stump and an early umpiring stint.

Except for 2008 which was waterlogged. 2006 was as well but we still all went and camped in the rain. I even made up the numbers in 2007 and batted with tennis elbow. Until the ball hit the bat that is, when my injury returned to square one. This was against Harome, a new fixture, but still near Helmsley. In recent years Duncombe Park have struggled to get a side.

North Yorkshire’s tourism, especially on Bank Holidays, can produce busy roads and, some would say, tacky village centres. Helmsley has both and they are difficult to avoid. Despite these problems there are several interesting places to visit. The remains of a twelfth century castle, once owned by The Duke of Buckingham, is five minutes walk from the village centre. A royalist stronghold, it was besieged along with Skipton, Pontefract and Scarborough during The Civil War. Thomas Brown inherited the estate from his brother-in-law Sir Charles Duncombe, a banker from London, who’d purchased it in 1689. Thomas changed his name to Duncombe and in 1711 moved to Duncombe Park, a Vanburgh house commissioned by Sir Charles, separate from the castle which had become a ruin. Duncombe Park is a good walk west of the village centre and has been retored by Lord and Lady Feversham, direct descendants of Thomas, after many years as a girls boarding school. The tour focus used to be the Sunday cricket fixture with Duncombe Park CC, again a short walk from the village centre and overlooked by the castle ruin.

Alan Priestley is not the oldest living Casual, but he’s easily our oldest player. A strong Saturday league man, ‘Cricket in Perspective – 1’ first mentions him 197……  So thirty something years as a Casual player and occasional. He has a long association with this bit of North Yorkshire and is a committed tourist. He still bowls on a length and gets in line when batting, but I think he’d admit he can only do it now in short bursts. He remembers tours before Duncombe Park, playing against the Farndale farmers. Lady Feversham did the teas. I think he said there was a barn at long off resembling a crimson spotty Jackson Pollock. Its his contacts that kept the fixture with Duncombe going and he organised the Saturday golf match at Ampleforth GC.

The golf club is a drive south of Helmsley to the village of East Gilling. Benedictines formed a monastery and school here in 1803. They left England after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530’s, returning from France in 1792 following their revolution. Sport has always been integral to the curriculum. The hilly nine hole golf course starts next to the prep school, formerly Gilling Castle, before winding out into the country. There’s an imposing pavilion that looks as though its not used a lot. Cricket nets as well and surrounded by trees. On one side home and away changing rooms face the rugby pitch, and the other is a veranda opening out onto the cricket square. Its decaying and overgrown, the doors are in disrepair, the nets need tidying up, and there’s long grass everywhere. There’s a long view toward the college and an avenue in the trees. It could be a stunning facility for young men, and women.

Greg or Marc win every year because they are the only tourists who are also club golfers. The standard of the rest is average to poor and the attire would give Rupert a heart attack. Shorts, tee shirts, cricket boots and baseball caps. Rare smiles follow clean contact. Grumpiness greets the frequent ‘grubbers’ that consistently find rough and forest rather than fairway. Golfers and followers only meet at tee and green, slowly straggling far and wide in between. I went round with them one year as company for my son, Chris, but spent most of the time digging holes. The groundsman chased after us because we were using one bag. It didn’t matter that my son was left-handed and we weren’t using the same clubs. He provided us with the tattiest imaginable necessary extra bag.

Lunch is taken at The Fairfax Arms. Upmarket, painted ladies, Lexi, Beamers and Chelsea Tractors. Popular, and one year we waited forever when they ran out of chips and eventually food. Between the pub and the golf course is the busy home of a model railway society. Several large outdoor circuits of differing gauge. Porky middle aged men in boiler suits, whistles, neckerchiefs and peaked hats. Women making tea and sitting in deck chairs. The field next door is full of tents, caravans and campervans. One modeller was cross because his turn wasn’t long enough. I know its not quite believable, but the engines concealed tape recordings of train noise. Bill still swears he heard mooing in a cattle truck.

Then back to the course for the second nine holes. The year Chris toured, this was the day that got him interested in golf. He was about fifteen, born late in 1985. A natural well-balanced soccer player and first on the team sheet for the village team. After Helmsley, we had to go round our municiple course, try get a handicap and apply to join. Even I bought a small set of clubs and had lessons. Didn’t do me any good. I tagged along with the captain and Chris for his first handicap round. Arrange the following into a well known phrase or saying: authority, petty, annoying, trivial, domineering. Not good. Chris did not take to his manner, and that was that. He’s always been a lad that’s thrived with someone he could both look up to and have a laugh with. One Saturday morning we decided to have lunch after our round and it was the day of the annual presentation. Two guys were arranging chairs and the trophies on the top table. Everything looked neat and tidy, but was it? I said to Chris, ‘Watch the guy on the left, he’s going to move that cup half an inch to the right.’ And he did. Huge smile from Chris. I’ve had my chairs rearranged too often. After a lot of effort it is really annoying when some control freak comes in and does it again. It says everything about someone. I don’t arrange chairs now. Well, only when I’m feeling guilty. Our best round was at Penrith. We’d escaped from Oasis or whatever its called. I’d played like a turkey, until the last. Picked it up beautifully with a long iron and it trickled one put from the flag, right in front of the clubhouse, where the usual group of retired farts was huffing and puffing. Chris shook hands like a man. The worst round was at Newport, S Wales. I’d lost all my balls by the sixth and gave up. Huge enjoyment for Chris. I sold my clubs and tore up the membership forms after that. Chris played once, with Bill, in the annual Casuals’ tournament, held where Rupert and Marc are members. I’m not sure how to explain Bill’s golf without possibly being unfair. He’s serious about it, but he’s serious about most things. He’s a tidy opening bowler, mean on the concertina and neither of those things on the golf course. I walked with them in the pouring rain, reduced to flagman on the greens, until I did it too soon once and Bill’s chip raced over the hole where the flag should have been and finished on the next tee. I was subjected to a short sharp account of the rules embellished by an expletive and body language that suggested I might come to harm. I took my bat home. Take his own bloody flag out. An even better bit was on the twelfth. Bill parked his bag just off the fairway and went back to play his second. He pulled and topped a four iron, scored a direct hit on the bag and the ball finished out of bounds. He was mortified, but I couldn’t contain myself. I thought I was going to choke, which I might have done had he got hold of me. I admit its a failing, seeing the funny side of other people’s tragedies. Especially when some say I’m easily offended.

The first year I toured we followed the golf with an evening meal in Wass. We sat with Alan Priestley and family. His daughter’s boyfriend looked like Chris de Berg with Ryan Sidebottom’s hair.  Jeweller and landscape gardener from Kirkheaton, residing in Jackson Bridge and now of Holmfirth. The meal was a tad expensive and, come the bill, we were short £60. We’ve had bbq’s since.

Duncombe Park 220

Casuals 206

Marc skippered the following Sunday afternoon. They batted first and got 226, fielding an Australian who looked the part. Each ball of Alan’s over went for some sort of boundary. Chris had three respectable ones. Simon Hooson took the wickets.

I opened with Will. The Australian was off line and length and we made a good start. I nurdled and defended and got to the other end as often as I could. There were plenty of extras and we made a 100 opening partnership. I needed to get on or get out, so I got out. In came Simon, all-Italian, born in Milan, a youth international, who is actually on our occasional list. In the pre match warm up he called my prized Kippax bat a plank. I forgave him, just. Will ran himself out on 97, no idea he was so close. Chris got off the mark, then dollied a short pitched delivery back to the bowler. He was massively disappointed. Being clapped off didn’t help, ‘Its taking the piss,’ he said. Greg and Dave Beal tried to bring him round. Dave went in and then came out to one that didn’t bounce. Gosh, he was cross. The bowler then delivered a long hop which Simon swatted for four. ‘You didn’t bowl like that at me,’ shouted Dave from the boundary and I could see Chris making a mental note. Despite Simon’s efforts, we were twenty or so short. Chris seemed to buck up in the bar, chatting with Chris de Berg who fielded for us in T-shirt, shorts and trainers. Rupert didn’t turn up, apparently ill in bed, not able to get through to any of us.

Is there a gene for being grumpy when you’re out cheaply at cricket? Chris has inherited it. I’m pleased to say he is otherwise a pleasant lad.

Casuals Not sure; Duncombe Park Not enough

The following year, Marcus skippered. In the week, he’d received at least twenty phone calls from individuals tendering their availability. Nine turned up on Sunday. Up stepped Greg, nobly forgoing his lunch time dose in “The Feathers” and about to do more than simply fill the breach. Sadly, we didn’t catch Marc in time and he was hors de combat.

A late start, ten a side and a beautiful day. We could have had eleven, had our Chris not chosen to wallow in the shallow delights of fairground rides with his lithe young female companion. When these facts entered the public domain, several grumpy middle-aged men could only let their lower jaws drop in wonder at the barefaced effrontery of eschewing opportunities to luxuriate in the summer game. I’d have to say that Chris and cricket were in different countries.

Helmsley’s first team was away at a cup match, leaving their Sunday side understrength for the second year running. It is a real problem this time of year for friendly cricket. Their subsequent fielding of five helmets was frowned upon by a number of The Casuals’ committee members. Those same members also took a dim view of my new  designer cricket shirt, fondly purchased by my wife. Mutterings about the wisdom of buying  anything new as one gets older were heard. Moustaches bristled. New kit, especially toward the end of a dying season, was a flagrant, unwarranted and futile attempt to influence the following year’s team selection. This intimidation would have to be seriously discussed during the long fallow winter months.

In the changing room, Bill proudly drew my attention to his most recent and expensive concertina, and to other work in progress. Such passion is a pleasure to share. I’ve noticed it in certain narrowboat owners when they talk about their deisel engines.

Hemsley batted first. Their opener was plainly a southener. Sadly, like many a missionary, he alone got into the line of the ball, playing and missing once or twice to all of our quicks but otherwise untroubled. The limping bespectacled veteran umpire, in past years their captain to whom one could push an easy single, has, in the mean time, become selectively deaf. One caught behind would have been heard on the front at Scarborough.

The lad who had chosen to settle in the frozen north was accompanied, all too briefly, by a succession of his colleagues, including their new captain, a chirpy and lively cove who delighted in bowling to the unpadded at full speed in the nets. The Casuals were soon into Helmsley’s helmet tail when Marcus sensibly introduced Greg. He was treated as if he were delivering RPG’s in Iraq rather than beautifully flighted leggies. Towards the close of their innings, he floated down a peach which gently eased its way under the cockney’s bat and reminded us all how sublime cleaned bowled can be. The only other noteworthy occurrence was Umbers’s catch at first slip, or rather he was unlucky or it was difficult chance or some such alternative way of describing how he dropped it. Reassuring to those of us who struggle just to see the ball.

Umbers and myself trundled out to open our effort. I took the first strike and stayed down the fast bowler’s end, carefully tutored by Umbers, surviving one LBW shout that was probably out. A big step forward was always going to be enough at this level, and snicks and glances were enough to see the quicks off and give a solid start. Umbers played well within himself and there was a thought that we would see the runs off for no wickets. Not so when their helmets started bowling and I ignored Umbers advice. I slapped a full toss to short cover where their athletic captain took a good diving catch. Umbers looked to the skies and it wasn’t hard to decipher what he was thinking. Jim and Marcus eventually overhauled their total. They were a half decent bowling side, but couldn’t defend an inadequate total.

Duncombe Park 186 for 8

Casuals 190 for 4 off 34 overs and 1 ball (Umbers 83, Will Ward 49 no)

‘Why was Marcus Longbottom playing for them?’ was the question we asked ourselves when we arrived at the ground. The answer was simple enough – they turned up with seven men. So Marcus and Alan made up a nine-a-side, in a game reduced to 35 overs because of a late start. The tourists and day visitors had made a large effort, they were understandably disappointed when they discovered that Duncombe Park had not. To add insult to injury, Marcus apart, their bowling and fielding effort was woeful, and its was fitting that The Casuals won comfortably in the last over. The Casuals cannot be too critical however. At the beginning of the season there were several weeks when they had difficulty getting eleven players together. It seems to be a Sunday cricket hazard, what with The Casuals’ prized opposition, The Cryptics, cancelling at the last minute due to lack of players. Nevertheless, it would be a shame if the tour fell into the same state of repair as the castle.

Duncombe Park had three lads in helmets, one veteran who couldn’t move more than a yard and seemed to be partially sighted, and three others, one of whom could bat pretty well. Marcus and Alan were therefore crucially important recruits, especially as Marcus top scored with 59. Umbers was backbone of The Casuals’ batting, and once again Burge supplied the  eccentricity, along with me in my minor deranged role of substitute wicket-keeper.

Duncombe Park batted first and their competent opening partnership was eventually broken by a caught and bowled from Umbers, who unashamedly admits to pitching the ball up and waiting to see what happens hoping for a fielder without two left hands. Greg, fielding at midwicket, observed that the combined age of the two openers was probably less than one of the Casuals’ on side ring of three. Marcus then came to the wicket and its fair to say their total would have been a poor do without him. Sadly, 93 runs later, the keeper managed to keep hold the ball for once and Marcus had to go, run out.

The fun began when Burge came on to bowl. One of my return throws had him retreating at the bowler’s end and he was close to impaling himself on middle stump. This near miss was a great relief to me, since I viewed the prospect of removing the aforesaid foreign object as modestly unappealing. Burge’s second treat lead to the dismissal of Alan Priestley, out of his crease at the non-striker’s end. It started as a harmless firm push from the batsman which Burge got a finger to. The ball then somehow broke the wicket. Burge walked away oblivious and the umpire raised his finger. I made my contribution by overlooking Will’s, it has to be said, ferocious throw in from long on. Trouble was, what the gloves missed the box didn’t, and I took a direct hit, right on the money. There was a not an inconsiderable momentary incapacity, and, as I recalled later, little or no sympathy from my fellow players.

During our innnings, Burge’s last gift followed his umpiring stint. When Greg took over, he struggled to count the number of balls per over. ‘Didn’t the umpire’s coat contain six stones or counters?’ Greg inquired. The fielding side’s reply was as unenthusiastic as their umpire’s support for the LBW law. It was a mystery. How had Burge managed? Now most normal people administer the game from above the waist, keeping the stones in the umpire’s coat pockets. For some strange reason only known to Burge, he had performed the arithmetic in his trouser pocket, still regularly coming up with the number six.

For The Casuals, Umbers made a solid 83 before becoming Marcus’s first victim. I opened with him and struggled as usual. I shared my pain between overs at the customary mid-wicket conference. “Just play cricket lad,” was Umber’s advice. Ah, such a simple game. Umber’s had a share in three partnerships before he was eventually dismissed when the score was 161: 43 with me, 61 with Greg and 57 with Will, who just missed out on yet another fifty. Guess who was the pick of their bowlers and fielders – Marcus Longbottom. His second wicket came from a full toss that David Beal top edged to their keeper, a rather tired asthenic youth who looked bored a lot.

Duncombe’s batting effort would have been the worse but for Marcus, but look at their bowling as well. Three of their four wickets were taken by Casuals, the third from Alan Priestley who chipped in with a controversial LBW which Burge forgot to ignore. It had been a heroic effort from Marcus. What if he hadn’t played for them?

Duncombe Park    67 all out off 22 overs

Casuals 70 for 2 off 20 overs

Match report from Bill. The short version suggests David Beal had a brilliant game. A rare appearance from the hairless avenger, he managed to cram a whole season’s excellence into the one match, opening the bowling tightly and crowning a superb fielding display with a stunning run out from a direct hit from the boundary and a catch close to the boundary over which Collis King dispatched Rupert so disdainfully several years ago – a high, swirling ball which Kevin Pieterson would have missed, but Beal, running sideways, backwards and most other directions in quick succession, made simple.

Only nine players and back to the usual suspects. Sam, Bill, Will, Greg, Dave Beal, Umbers, Marc, myself and Stuart. The Casuals looked winners from the moment Sam put the opposition in. Full size openers were dispatched by two magnificent catches, Will taking a low hard chance at forward squareish from a rare legside delivery from the rejuvenated Bill. Their batsmen then got sequentially smaller as the innings progressed. This prompted Dave Beal to speculate that they were in reality a set of Russian dolls, who on their return to the pavilion were unscrewed at the neck to reveal another smaller one inside.

Marc took two wickets in his first over and had to be taken off because the tea wasn’t ready. This allowed Sam the luxury of a twin spin attack, Greg and Stuart. They were backed by salvoes of cannon fire from the traditional Roundheads v Royalist match up at the castle and like them, our spinners fired blanks. The rare sight of Umbers Senior in wicket keepers apparel may not seen again this year, but the lack of byes on the scorecard demonstrated that the old adage of getting your body behind it pays dividends…..

Birthday boy Greg Smith and I were entrusted with the opening partnership. Our combined age was more than their total. Knurdles meant that most of our runs had to be actually run – one unkind spectator likened this to watching Private Godfrey and Corporal Jones at their best. Stuart at three speeded things up slightly, but a rapid fire 33 not out from Will allowed us to watch the culmination of a fine Test match.

Rain prevented play

The next tour had a difference. There was no cricket. We did the painted ladies and flash cars at The Fairfax arms which contrasted nicely with the meaness of our campsite. Two drowned evening meals were cooked on a Heath Robinson rusty metal pole barbecue borrowed from dry stone walling with three metal grills riskily attached by string. The gloom was lifted by a dry gazebo and a cheerful home-made wood fire stoked up in a redundant metal tray on legs. Bill performed a late impromptu concertina gig, well received by the rest of the camp site. This preceded the infamous ‘Orange Liqueur’ episode. One of our company insisted on bringing a wicked concoction which produced a lucid but legless lady and several morning headaches. That night around two o’clock, bladders were alarmingly in phase when the three Casuals tents provided those who were listening with a spontaneous nocturnal zipfest, loud and a tad atonal, but pleasingly rhythmic for all that. The following morning, my wife had an unfortunate water surprise when I shook the gazebo inexplicably at the same time as she emerged from the tent. A short scream and a muffled unpleasantry, damp shoulders and then all sweetness and light. What a trouper.

In a strange inversion, just as Chris was becoming too old to come away with mum and dad, so our other, older by four years son, Andrew, needed to be with us and entertained every other weekend. He lives in sheltered accomodation in the heart of the West Riding, and manages eccentrically well in formal structured settings. At six foot two and seventeen stone, its the playground where he gets into trouble and needs a tolerant group around him. Greg especially seemed to be on his wavelength. I’m not sure what that says about Greg. He is the opposite of a short tempered word challenged loner who takes everything literally. Maybe that’s why it works. Or maybe he’s just a nice man.

The weekend was always going to be cut short for us. To minimise problems and to tick off one of our hundred and one things to do before we die. We had tickets for a ‘Rolling Stones’ concert – The Bigger Bang. We didn’t tell Andrew until the night before. Just then I don’t think he got it. ‘Who were they?’ ‘What was a pop concert like?’ ‘Where was the venue?’ Eventually  a light came on, dim and intermittent at first, increasing soon to bright and continuous. Then it could have done with an off switch.

Needless to say it rained at the concert. Sir Mick strutted his stuff. Keef seemed bewildered at the beginning, looking at his guitar as if he’d never seen it before. He then appeared to recognise it only to either to wear it behind his back or play it hands-free. There was help, from a big black bass player and backing singers who nobly kept him in pitch during his two solo numbers. What a man! One minute a body in harmony with his instrument, topped off by a great smile, the next, crumpled up like a puppet.

During the weekend, Greg visited The Star at Harome where he met one of the head men on the local cricket team. No suprise then when The Casuals dropped Duncombe from the fixture list. The tour lives on.

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