Last week they parked an aircraft carrier outside my window. As I spend most of my alleged working days staring slack-jawed at the river I happened to see HMS Illustrious arrive and was able to watch as she turned in a wide arc with a measured serenity to manoeuvre herself slowly, almost imperceptibly into position.
Yesterday afternoon HMS Illustrious popped into my head again. I was fielding at square leg, the batsman had clipped the ball off his pads and I was about to field a cricket ball for the first time in twenty years.
The ball was bouncing away to my right, so close that I could hear the rapid-fire flickaflickaflicka of the spinning seam. Twenty years earlier I would have sprung to my right, possibly even dived, and felt the ball smack into my hands before returning a zinger of a throw right over the top of the stumps.
This, however, was twenty years later.
While my mind was pouncing on the ball with fleetness of foot and speed of return, my body was a little way behind. I realised that instead of a nimble change of direction that would have made a gazelle reacting to a crunch of twigs in the undergrowth think, “I wish I could do that as well as Connelly”, I was inexplicably running in a wide semi-circle to – eventually – chase after the ball at a speed that left me in serious danger of being hit from behind by a glacier.
It was at that moment that I thought of HMS Illustrious. We were, at that moment, as one.
When I’d eventually caught up with the ball – I presume the batsmen had run about a dozen by this time; I’d maybe even missed the tea interval altogether – instead of the low, flat fizzer into the wicket-keeper’s gloves I had in mind I released the ball and saw it arc into the sky, fall towards the ground, bounce a few times and eventually trundle up to the keeper’s feet.
Twenty years in the mind can be a fleeting thing. Twenty years in the body is a long time, and boy, does fielding a cricket ball let you know it.
Things had started quite well earlier in the day, mind.
I’d been coaxed out of cricket retirement to play for The Authors, a club with a fine pedigree of players such as P.G. Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle.
My cricket career had ended in my very early twenties – the combination of a badly broken arm and working on a touring summer musical festival for a few years – and I’d assumed I’d never hold a bat in anger again.
But here I was, in a changing room cladding myself in a motley collection of basic kit harvested from the bargain sections of various online cricket stores, an eager smile on my face and a fluttering apprehension in my stomach.
Batting at number eight I went in with The Authors struggling against the Thespian Thunderers (not, as I’d first misheard, the Lesbian Londoners). In borrowed pads and wielding a borrowed bat, I took guard and prepared to face my first ball in a little over twenty years.
In sprinted the bowler, over came his arm, and with an almost psychic awareness of the location of my off stump I left it skilfully alone, allowing the ball to pass unmolested to the wicket-keeper. Or rather, I lunged forward with an attempted forward defensive down completely the wrong line and was lucky not to be clean bowled first ball.
And, erm, second ball.
The third ball was different, however. It was shorter, outside the off stump and for the first – and only – time all day my twenty-year-old mind and forty-two-year-old body were in perfect unison. I leaned back, swung, and heard the beautiful pock of the ball coming right off the middle of the bat, a cut so perfectly timed that not a single vibration shimmered up the bat handle into my forearms. It was, if I say so myself, a textbook shot, placed perfectly between the fielders and one that fizzed away to the boundary for four.
It was the first time I’d laid a bat on a ball in a proper game for two decades.
That would be as good as it got, however: I scraped a few more singles before playing down the wrong line and losing my middle stump for 9 and we’d go on to lose, heavily as it happens; about as heavily as my legs are moving this morning, in fact.
I may have been as effective as an aircraft carrier in the field as my mind and body struggled to come to terms with each other across the years, but for just one shot; for one fleeting moment, I was the dashing cricketer of my youth again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to replay it in my mind for the fiftieth time today.