Ian McMillan: Leather on willow – and ever present flannel

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Here’s Grandad Ian and Grandson Thomas trying to hang on to the dying embers of summer by having a day at Headingley to watch Yorkshire play cricket. This has been a cricketing few months for Thomas and his grandad; Thomas has played for Darfield, and Grandad has watched, and Grandad and Thomas have played in the garden and Thomas has watched as Grandad swipes the ball into next door’s garden.

Anyway, here they are at Barnsley Station, sorry, Barnsley Interchange, with a rucksack full of food including scotch eggs and bits of mango and melon. This, as Grandad Ian keeps reminding Thomas, is the life. They identify other cricket fans: often chaps of a certain age with rucksacks bulging with scotch eggs. There’s a cheerful atmosphere on the train because Yorkshire are playing so well and Grandad Ian and Thomas join the throng. Grandad Ian tells Thomas that he likes the word “cricket” so much because it’s onomatopoeic, because it sounds like the a ball hitting the middle wicket and dislodging a stump. Thomas tells Grandad Ian that he’s looking forward to the scotch eggs.

At Headingley they sit in front of some chaps who could only come from Yorkshire; they are a combination of stand-up comedy act and philosophy club. And it seems like the chaps know everything about cricket and could quote you the score of every match that has ever been played from village to intergalactic level. “I got the 20-past bus because what used to be the quarter past bus is now the half past,” says one, pouring coffee from a flask the size of one of those grain silos they have in Iowa. “How many did they end up with?” another man asks the bus-timetable guru, possibly carrying on a conversation that had begun before the start of recorded time. “Ninety eight all out,” he says, ‘although the last one that was out was never out.’ A man keeps the match score in a huge notebook, his tongue sticking out in concentration. Although it seems like they are taking no notice of the game, they are. There is a prolonged appeal from the opposition, who think they have got a Yorkshire batsman out. “Not out,” say all the men behind us, simultaneously. The game carries on and Yorkshire pile on the runs.

An older couple arrive and sit in front of us. The woman pulls out two bags of crisps the size of pillows and they munch stolidly. It’s still a little while until lunch but they get out huge housebrick-sized sandwiches and gobble them down. At the stroke of lunch Thomas and I eat our scotch eggs and I can confirm they are so good they should be renamed Yorkshire Eggs.

After lunch the game settles down into one of those slow periods that Americans could never understand. The woman in front of us falls asleep. Planes pass low over the ground. A man does The Yorkshire Post crossword, just looking up when the ball is bowled. The blokes behind me discuss a match that took place in Brighouse months before. Thomas and I eat ice-cream. We say it simultaneously: this is the life.

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