Safe pair of hands

Thursday 26th May 2011

JACK and I share a birthday, a fondness for Les Miserables, and a love of cricket.

We took the field together a few times, once putting on a modest opening partnership in a twenty-over game. Being marginally the better all-rounder, he went on to play for England, while I slipped gently down the batting order at Slimbridge, famous for its ducks.

There are many stories about the lad from Stroud who holds the world record for the number of catches taken in a Test Match: eleven, against South Africa in 1995, where he then batted for over four and a half hours on the final day to help secure an unlikely draw.

The front cover of his autobiography, Jack Russell – Unleashed, has the word Barking? emblazoned in one corner, referring to a perceived eccentricity. The press enjoyed making fun of his customary lunch (two Weetabix soaked for eight minutes); the recycled tea-bags; the battered sun-hat worn throughout his career; the insistence that visitors to his home be driven there blindfold.

We keep in touch, irregularly, by hand-written letter. I’ve nominated him as a pall-bearer at my funeral, knowing he has a safe pair of hands. Might also get him to paint or draw a quick sketch on the coffin.

“Marcus, would you mind if I asked you to look at something I’ve written?”

A few days after that phone call, there he was, on the door-step, with a film script. I made notes all over it, suggesting amendments.

“I hope your secretary can decipher my handwriting.”

“Don’t have one,” he smiled, explaining how he’d shopped around for an old typewriter. Took him ages.

“I wanted to do it properly, to learn the trade.”

Shortly before he stopped playing cricket professionally, I spent a morning in the Jack Russell Art Gallery. He then drove me to his home for lunch. I wore the blindfold. Other drivers batted eyelids; we didn’t. His wife cooked us baked beans on toast.

“Eventually there’ll be dry-stone walls there, over there, and there.”

There was no need to ask him who was going to build them.

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