The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Henry David Thoreau)
Over the years, I’ve met some great characters on the circuit, guys who can tell a tale and leave you thinking that can’t be true, but who cares? Top of the pile is the young man fielding at square leg and as his teammates were searching for a lost ball in the woods, he asked me whether he should propose to his girlfriend. As Mrs Umps has no interest in cricket and will not be reading this, I told him to continue getting his books from the library and not to bother with Waterstones. I have a vision of him ten years later, still at square leg and with the look of a man thirty years older.
Then there was the taxi driver who was ferrying me from a station to the ground and as we stopped at a traffic light where a wedding party was spilling onto the pavement, he turned round and proffered this bonne bouche with a perfect economy of words: We never learn.
The list goes on. During a rain break pitch inspection I was told by a captain sporting fishing waders that we needed to get back out and finish the game (when actually his team needed to). We were more concerned with a potential front-page tabloid splash (sic) about the first cricketer to drown in a match. Then, I was once told by a former Minor Counties player that the LBW I didn’t give was hitting middle stump – and yes, he certainly had the perfect view from mid-wicket.
One of my favourites was after a game when I encountered the home club chairman approaching a new Range Rover. When he saw me heading towards my Lt. Columbo jalopy he eyed it up and down, struggling to understand how a human being can be seen alive in such a rust bucket. Such was his disdain, I was expecting him to bring out an under-car mechanic creeper to prove beyond doubt that vehicle was unworthy of his club car park.
And then there was the Aussie cricketer I met on a train. With a small bag on my back and a sun hat in hand I could have been out for a summer day’s bird watching or even on my way to watch a game of cricket. So it would not have been obvious that I was umpiring a cricket match. When I saw this young chap with a cricket bag, (aka coffin) I felt the need to engage. My first instinct was that he may have been going to the same game as myself, and I was worried I might ruin his weekend.
It turned out he was going further down the line to a club where I have officiated a few times. He spoke about club cricket in Australia where, apparently, some games are played over successive weekends with two innings each. He also told me that Australian club cricketers had more respect for umpires than English players. Mate, I can’t believe some of the lip that I hear from the Poms. Why do you let them get away with it? He’s my kind of guy.
Then from nowhere he politely asked if I had a problem with my bladder. The only two certainties in life may well be death and taxes (Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin) but when you get to your mid-sixties there are two further inevitabilities, namely spectacles and frequent visits. So prior to going on a walk I immerse myself in some orienteering so that should I need to relieve myself, I will know of a place to do so where there won’t be any consequences.
My travelling companion then told me about an incident in Sydney where an umpire was so desperate for a wizz, that at the end of the over he called out: Having a slash. And rather than take the longer walk to the pavilion, he set off to the short boundary and relieved himself in a secluded area he had reccied before the pre-match pitch inspection.
On the short walk from the station to the ground I recalled similar situations. In most cases I was able to hold on until a drinks break or fall of wicket. The human brain is an incredible organ that enables full concentration to trump the need to urinate. But there times when I resorted to stamping my foot in the vain hope the desperation would diminish. On such occasions, I have entertained dark thoughts – I know the ball has pitched two feet outside leg stump but I’m bursting and I need the village blacksmith packing. Then I realised that if I gave him out, in thirty seconds we would be sharing a latrine and he might instigate a full and frank discussion.
On the few occasions I have experienced desperation, I informed the fielding captain, excused myself and ran hard to the pavilion. On one occasion when I returned to the square I didn’t have to wait long for the welcome home message from one of the fielders: Everything in working order umps? Soldiers back in the barracks?
All of this is age related, but with adequate planning and due diligence it need not be an issue. I empty my bladder before leaving the house and I can usually find a pub, small hotel or secluded road with adequate camouflage. There is a problem with hot days where regular drinks are required for hydration. But with wickets regularly falling, I have perfected a pavilion-lavatory-return technique that takes under two minutes. Such is the precision and suavity of this operation one captain suggested I audition to play James Bond. But because I was raised with old-fashioned values of civility, I didn’t want to remind him that his last three innings yielded 0-0-7.