Return from exile

I returned to live in Somerset in 2016 after 30 years living in the “Eastern Marches” of England. A time I refer to as my exile. I started to post pieces on grockles.com at the end of that season. It led to other posters on the site asking from whence I had suddenly emerged. This article, posted about three weeks after I first started to post was my reply. In it I tried to capture my love for Somerset and its cricket.

Return from exile. The author’s describes his love of Somerset and Somerset cricket.

All these years, or at least for most of the last three decades until this year, I lived in exile in the Eastern Marches of Southern England. There my white Somerset hat and maroon and white umbrella walked the streets in splendid isolation to the bemused curiosity of the local inhabitants.

With the exception of one woman, that is, who stopped me to ask the meaning of the design on the front of my hat. When I explained that it was a wyvern and its significance and that I was off to catch a train to start my journey to Trent Bridge to watch my team she disappeared into the distance exclaiming, “Marvellous! Marvellous! Marvellous!’ I could not have put it better myself.

And it was marvellous. Craig Overton hit a 50 in 28 balls, took six wickets in the match and Somerset won by 133 runs. In fact, it felt marvellous all the way back. Especially when I and my hat were accosted by a City suit at St Pancras with the words, “Somerset! Brilliant win! Brilliant win!” Indeed it was.

And such, when work was done a few years ago, were all summers for me in that far off land in which I never settled. Somerset cricket was what I had followed in detail from afar in the years of work as I kept contact with my roots. Once free from work I travelled to a dozen or so County Championship matches, four or five 40 or 50 over and the occasional 20 over match each season. All were ‘away’ for me, at least as far as travel went, which left me no time to write about cricket.

Post work winters were spent, whilst wearing thermals and layers that had done service watching for the Northern Lights in winter Tromso, walking and sitting and reading on the freezing, windswept coastal mudflats that pass for the sea in eastern parts. Reading that is when I was not dreaming. Dreaming of soaking up the sun in the upper reaches of the Trescothick Stand as the man himself or the incomparable James Hildreth stroked the ball through whatever gap the opposition captain had been forced to leave.

Now home in Somerset again looking, as I write, at the Blackdown Hills of my childhood; near enough, it seems, to touch. Or, as I take respite to brew a cup of coffee, the grandeur of the distant Quantocks. From thence a rejected Harold Gimblett had strode forth to Frome to win the Lawrence Trophy for the fastest century of the season in his first match. There I was taken as a child to play among the Seven Sisters on Cothlestone Hill although I am sure we knew it as Buncombe Hill. JC ‘Farmer’ White too strode forth from the Quantocks all the way to Adelaide to take thirteen wickets in a Test to beat Australia.

What a county this is we are blessed to belong to whether through residence, birth, cricket or whatever else holds our spirit here. Where else can boast such hills as those of my youth and the Brendons, Mendips and Poldens too. And if hills be not enough then what better than Exmoor with Dunkery Beacon from where Weston can be seen. That same Weston that spawned Peter Trego and a thousand runs this last season.

From these great places to the stunning austerity of the Levels. Or the grandeur that is Bath where Brian Close led the County to victory over the Australians in a different cricketing age but bold in the memory still. Think too of the visibly rising tides that wash ashore at Porlock Weir.

Or the waters of the Tone running down the valley twixt Blackdowns and Brendons to receive sixes from Botham and Trescothick over where their stands now mark the boundary. Or the glory that is Glastonbury, not devoid of Somerset cricketing exploits, and the great façade of the cathedral that adorns England’s smallest city near where Arthur Wellard hit five sixes in an over. Twice.

All the while in my exile memories of these great places sustained me as they lived clear in my mind. Somerset cricket though was my lode stone and any match I could get to a precious link with home. I saw some astonishing cricket too. I watched in wonder as Mark Lathwell score 132 out of 197 all out in a Championship match at Chelmsford.

I saw Jimmy Cook cut Waqar Younis either side of gully for two fours at The Oval. When Surrey put in a second gully Cook cut between them for another four. I saw Steve Waugh score 140 not out out of 247 for 5 in a 40 over Sunday League match at Lords and, so my memory believes, never lift a ball off the ground. Sights like those live for ever in the memory.

Yet we that hail from this great county are not satisfied with just our hills, moors, towns, rivers, seas and cricketing memories. We want too a cricket team that reflects the variety and splendour of our county and does justice to our cricketing heritage. We want to win but we want to win in style. We want to win in the Somerset way. We want batsmen who can caress the ball through the gaps and we want batsmen who can clear the ropes. We want bowlers who can blast the opposition out and we want bowlers who can tangle them in knots. We want fielders who can catch the ball spectacularly and we want fielders who can stop it safely. In short we want a team of all the talents.

Well, perhaps, just perhaps with our current mix of all the above and of experience and rising youth we might, just might have the team that can realise our dream. We came close this year as many teams do just before the dream is realised. And unlike 2010, when we came so close with a team at the zenith of its powers, in 2016 we came close with a team still scaling the heights. When they reach their zenith may they just look down and see all others below them? And we who now look on may we then look up and see that Championship pennant flying proud above our very own Caddick Pavilion.

It is a good time to have come home.

Original first published on grockles.com on 11th October 2016.

As it turned out 2017 was not the year I had hoped for. 2018 came much closer. Was it still a good time to have come home? The astonishing cricket we have lived through since that post was first published answers the question. And the team of 2016 is still some way from its zenith.

In the match reports which will be gradually placed on this site through the winter of 2018-19 I hope readers will be able to re-live the highs and lows of those extraordinary two years.