Never saw it coming

An average post-war childhood and a normal life at a boys’ grammar school. Then a predictable red-brick university followed by a provincial professional career. Marriage and children. Nothing to write home about. Who would be interested? Not many, and Dyce would be grateful for that. Anonymity was his preferred style. An outsider, or as insiders called it, ‘not one of us’.

He just happened to be on the wrong end of a conversation with a strange woman he had just met at in a conference ‘Where’re you based?’ ‘What sort of work do you want?’ Her list of questions went on. Dyce fended them off and excused himself, twisting this way and that along the rows of chairs. They wanted to know who you were and where you fitted. Impertinent really, but what do people who’ve never met talk about, particularly at a conference? Worse were the people who thought they knew you. A conversation about somebody else, a previous life. Dyce rarely remembered who they were. There were some he couldn’t forget though. Stuck in the pigeon holes of their shared memories.

He wandered out of the hotel into the gardens. We used to come here as kids. The tea rooms next door. Couldn’t afford the hotel. Catch the bus and walk, have a picnic and spend the afternoon damming the stream. Sunny, kids everywhere.

The garden air was cool and clean and the bushes, flower beds and grass verges were sharp and precise. As many cars as delegates, compressed into neat lines where once there was a wooden hut that sold cups of tea to thirsty visitors.

Actually, his name was Dyson, a patronimic, ‘son of David’. At school they tried to put a ‘y’ at the end of your name. A world away from Dyce, yet English test cricketers did the same. Gough became ‘Goughy’. Didn’t always work. Then it was your most obvious attribute. ‘Ginger’, ‘fatso’ or something worse. Dyce particularly hated ‘curly’ so he introduced himself as ‘Dyce’. ‘Lanky’ was another name that jarred, but then there was often someone else taller than him. Dyce smiled. Plenty with more teeth and hair these days. ‘Senior moments’. Little events that showed there was order in the world after all. Dyce had a list.

He walked down the drive, going nowhere, sensing the nearby woods and restless river. Across from the hotel there was a smart stone terrace at the side of a marsh. Eight houses alive and well after the mill had gone and nature had reclaimed the dam. Left, the road wound toward the roofs and smoking chimneys of a village. Lock gates of a canal were just visible beyond a railway footbridge which stood out, dark against the clear sky.

Two days later, watching cricket from a bench against the pavilion wall, he added another item to his list. Dressed all in white with the customary embellishments; pads, gloves, box and thigh guard. His bat lay on the grass, six feet away. A skinny tall guy ran in to bowl off a stuttering twenty-paced run, looking like a turkey. Dyce didn’t see much of what came after, but the ball hit wood and the batsman remained at the crease. Mid on fielded. Dyce stared and smouldered. He couldn’t believe what had happened two moments ago. Out first ball. Bowled. Humiliated. It can’t go on. Last game of the season. He rehearsed his retirement speech, again.

Reg sauntered across with his hands in his pockets. A short stout party who mostly looked on the bright side. As the selector, coach and motivator of Jakefield Fettlers, a Sunday cricket team, it was an advantage to be an optimist, ‘Unlucky Dyce. He’s a bit quick.’

‘Never saw it coming,’ said Dyce.

Reg continued his walk around the boundary and Dyce realised how grumpy he must look. Strains of men singing in harmony drifted in from somewhere, like a Welsh choir, low and chilled. Dyce looked up and cocked an ear. The radio must have switched over from “Lords” to “The Arms Park” . . . funny time of year . . . funny time of life. Dilwyn’s face came into his mind. Jakefield’s male voice conductor. There’s another poor sod who never saw it coming. When was it? Whenever. When the list began. When he joined the choir.