Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Once Upon a Cowpat

Also by Graham Hutchins

Somewhere south of somewhere

Golden ducks and donkey drops

Hardwire the ring fence

Après weed spraying – not so fine dining

Do your gumboots lose their flavour (in the cowshed overnight)?

Socket the seeing-eye dog

All creatures great and human

Wild food: from blazing saddles to blazing salads

How to cook a turkey with your feet

From Bunnythorpe to Bulls: rural raconteurs and others

Ten guitars and three chainsaws: country songs

The great round-up – from boy scouts to ducklings

A load of bull and mad cows

Woolstore gothic – a horror story

Going forward: the New Zealand Farmers rugby team

Country rugby: the Baa Baas bring home the bacon

Myrtle and the fart tax

Man’s best mechanical friend

Clyde the Clydesdale – of horses and hearses

Odd rural bedfellows

Big softies, hard cases and good blokes

Bread and jelly

Rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ types and other hunters and gatherers

Down on the farmlet: God’s little acre or the devil’s hectare

Bury me deep

Getting away from it all

Mystery at Mystery Creek

Acknowledgements

Back Cover Material

The author wishes to acknowledge the talent and honours the memory of illustrator Henry Nicholas, who passed away in October 2011, not long after completing the illustrations for this book.

Once Upon a Cowpat

Graham Hutchins grew up in the agricultural servicing town of Te Kuiti, close to a host of farms and farmers nestled in the hills behind his home. Later he lived in the country for over 30 years, where his dealings with farms and farmers became more direct. A full-time writer, Graham has published more than 30 books on rugby, railways, popular music and kiwiana. He now lives in Hamilton.

Also by Graham Hutchins

Last Train to Paradise
Great New Zealand Railway Journeys
Eight Days A Week

1

Somewhere south of somewhere

What was it like at the beginning, on the land? In terms of post—European farming that is. Obviously it wasn’t about evolutionary creatures crawling out of the primordial ooze wearing the beginnings of black singlets and gumboots and making prehistoric noises that sounded a bit like a sharemilker saying, ‘G’day.’

But farming had to start somewhere. And farmers. The tale of James and other members of his family, who immigrated to New Zealand in the 1870s, is fairly typical. After landing at Napier they moved south to Woodville where an existence was carved out, often literally, from the bush-covered land. The new settlement was named Woodville because there was a lot of wood and woods around. Land was cleared, whares erected, children were born. James set up as a shoemaker and later as a commission agent, after carrying out the obligations of a bush-felling contract.

In 1876 there were only two women in Woodville – Mrs J. Murphy the publican’s wife, and James’ wife Elizabeth. The Murphy’s two children and James’ daughter were the first Woodville children. As the town grew and the bush receded, Woodville became a thriving service centre. Dairying was developing to the point that, by 1883, it had become the most productive enterprise in the area.

It wasn’t easy passing up a settled existence in Woodville where you and your family had already done the pioneer breaking-in-of-the-land thing. Obviously Woodville wasn’t Metropolis, but it did have a growing population. The trains were now calling from the south, not that the building of the line through the Manawatu Gorge made much progress.

Perhaps James heard the call of the wild. Felt the pull of pioneering ancestors. But in the late 1890s he and his brother and sundry offspring honoured a pledge to break in a backwater of Taranaki, with a view to reaping the profits of eventual fertile, workable belts.

Tongaporutu on the coast of Taranaki is little known, even today. Back in the 1890s the main road – today’s extension of SH3 to and beyond New Plymouth – was still coming through. In the back of Tongaporutu lay a stretch of rugged, bush-covered New Zealand, the sort of unforgiving backwater that only the stout-hearted would confront.

Farms were allocated on land that was leased with the right of purchase, and James and his kin set out into the wilderness in 1896. The area in the back of Tongaporutu was known as Makarakia. There was no road access. Supplies were either pack-horsed in once a year or the Tongaporutu River was used as a means of conveyance into a hinterland that was speculative at best.

Family members, after the pilgrimage from the south – and it was a grim passage from the relatively broken-in and settled Woodville – were allocated 100-acre blocks. Whares again went up, immediate bush clearances made. Members of James’ family eventually occupied six of the seven sections on Makarakia Block 8.

Over the years land was cleared, and lower, more level reaches supported dairy cows. On the flanks cattle and sheep did their best to find fodder and foraging rights. A surfeit of rain was a problem. Streams and rivers flooded, inconveniencing the pioneers. The region had its very own Great Flood, a time when waters rose to cover river bridges and threaten low-lying areas. The point was made, perhaps unhelpfully, that ‘we reap what we sow’, which was less about failed potato crops and corn, and more about the impact on the land of flood plains denuded of vegetation. Watercourses began to spread and endanger settlements.

In such a setting the Great Flood of 1902 came through. Old man James, the patriarch, sprang into action. Although only 4 foot 10, he didn’t want for authority. That, after all, was not as piffling a statistic back in the early 1900s as it is now. And then there was the business of James’ beard. It was waist-length in the days when beard size rather dictated a man’s mana. His sheer seniority and booming voice added to his sense of importance.

James was very much in charge as the river rose, obliterating the bridge. The only option was to evacuate the area, turning a felled log which came down across the river into a bridge for those who were trapped. Alfred, one of James’ sons, lived with his wife and kids on one side of the river. Another, Harry, lived on the opposite side. It was deemed necessary to evacuate Alfred’s family. However, Alfred was away at the time and Harry prepared himself to carry Alfred’s family to safety.

Harry was a bachelor and in terms of the protocols and prudery of the day, James deemed it undesirable for Harry to carry Alf’s wife across. So James the patriarch stepped, literally, into the breach. Despite his diminutive stature, he planned to carry the helpless woman to safety. The long beard may have snarled on flotsam. Alf’s wife might have been heavier than she looked. The upshot was that James, the perfect gentleman upholding a woman’s honour, attempting in fact to uphold her, overbalanced and both plunged into the raging waters. Whereupon Harry the bachelor dived in and saved them both, providing some kind of moral to the story.

Harry was a man of some distinction. He was a skilled axeman and once went to London to compete in an international wood-chopping competition. He came third and won a jewelled bracelet, which he presented to his fiancée Renée. He later married Renée and thus became eligible himself to carry other men’s wives across flooded streams.

The contingent at Makarakia had survived ‘the New Zealand death’ at a time when drowning was far too common. And old James wasn’t always that proper anyway.

He had developed a small orchard on his property and Harry’s pigs would occasionally sneak across the stream on the lookout for apples. It was bad enough that the out-of-bounds pigs snaffled windfall fruit, but when they were seen nudging the trees to coax the top fruit down, James would start swearing loudly. In a close-knit community, what goes around comes around. A three-year-old grandson heard the swear words and committed them to memory. It became a standing joke to try to get the grandson to repeat ‘what Grandpa said to Uncle Harry’s pigs’, but the swear words only came out on special occasions.

James’ first wife had been a professional chemist in the old country, where she had three brothers who all became doctors and later all died of consumption. She also had three surviving sisters, who were well-heeled and ‘grand’. They paid a visit to the wilds of Makarakia to meet their deceased sister’s family.

Everyone was instructed to be on their best behaviour when the three great-aunts arrived from London, but several reprobate uncles urged the grandson to come out with the swear words. Airs and graces counted for little in the lives of the pioneers and a robust colonial sense of humour was beginning to emerge. The grandson remained tight-lipped until someone in exasperation tugged at the kid’s long curly hair, which like his Grandpa’s beard was waist-length. And just like his Grandpa, a fusillade of swear words stunned everyone but the smirking uncles.


Grandpa James was in the wars again some months later when he suffered a broken arm and a severe abrasion over his right eye while gouging out a six-foot passage through papa rock. This was no laughing matter. James and his two sons William and Harry had been using explosives to persuade the papa rock to part. James, though he later denied it, was standing too close. His tirade was suitably explosive, set off by a combination of pain and frustrated awareness that the community was suffering because of its isolation from the outside world.

The general wretchedness of roads and tracks into the area was always a problem, and never more so than when medical dramas unfolded. An eight-year-old slashed his foot on a broken bottle and had to be transported out by buggy, along a slippery track to Urenui in the south, and by taxi from there to New Plymouth. The same fate befell one of the men who cut his leg with an axe while clearing trees that had fallen across telephone wires. Some years later another eight-year-old fell on a rusty garden rake and ended up with osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone. The roads might have been better by then but it was still a long, winding and painful trek to the district nurse at Mokau.

The isolation had fatal consequences for a seven-year-old girl who caught pneumonia and died before medical assistance could arrive. She was laid to rest in Tongaporutu cemetery, in a plot overlooking the Tasman Sea. On a fine day you could get a wonderful view of Mt Egmont from the gravesite, but the sadness of the girl’s sudden passing consumed the valley and it must have been a long time before anyone enjoyed that outlook again.

At times like that, the damned rain never stopped; neither did the drudgery of farming the backblocks, the lack of schooling for the rest of the children, and the absence of adequate roads. And the unexpected could lie just around the corner of those muddy tracks that should have been roads by now. On one occasion a family on horseback was waylaid by a fearsome old Captain Cooker; would the pig charge, panic the horses into bolting and injure their riders (who included women and children)?

But the horses stood their ground and the pig thundered off into the bush. One of the men tracked it down with his dogs and it ended up on the table, minus its impressive tusks. Mounted and on someone’s wall, they became a conversation piece whenever people gathered.

And despite the hardships, people did get together. The community didn’t want for excuses to celebrate. And if the bright lights of Tongaporutu – all two of them – became too alluring, you could always ride out to dances on a Saturday night. One young woman often did so on her own, albeit with a packhorse and dogs, and was permitted to stay overnight. Given that the ride out took several hours, there was no inter-generational haggling over the violation of curfews and so on.

Meanwhile, back in the valley the oldies gathered to mark milestones where ‘the best of viands were in ample supply and had such justice done to them as certifies them to have been pleasing to the eye and palate and satisfying to the inner man’.

Marriage soirees, twenty-first (and twenty-second) birthday parties rolled around. In return for the rollicking gatherings hosted by the married folk, the bachelors of the valley engineered a joint ‘do’, or more precisely a sumptuous meat supper at half-past six one Friday evening. Twenty-one bums on seats were counted and at about 10 o’clock, although it could have been later, a secondary spread of ‘all the delicacies imaginable in cakes, confectionary, jellies and beverages of a non-intoxicating nature’ was trundled out. Obviously, intoxicating beverages had already been part of the mix of revelry, recitations and readings. Raucous laughter upset the house cows and disturbed the peace of the entire pitch-black valley.

There was no KFC, just Uncle Harry’s chooks. No TV, just the songs of the ‘born comedian’ Mr G. Shalton, who had ‘no control over his facial muscles, which is very rarely met with’. No stereo, just Mrs F.J.A. Hutchins singing, in a very nice voice, ‘A rose of red and a rose of white’. Then the bachelors sang a bawdy ballad or two, which signalled time for the clearing away and washing up to commence, and time for the womenfolk to acknowledge among themselves that Mrs G. Hutchins had provided most of the cutlery and crockery. Further thanks and cheers were due to Mrs L.M. Hutchins, who was instrumental in preparing the wondrous repast.

No doubt the bachelors found countless reasons to call for three cheers, if only because they remained the scoundrels of the valley, the reprobates from whom witty one-liners, fulsome yarns and hearty guttural oaths emerged, obliterating the lonely sound of the morepork and the steady drumming of heavy rain.

‘To the King,’ a bachelor chanted.

‘Hip, hip, hip – hooray,’ the others thundered.

A lone, distant ‘hip, hip, hip’ was heard. The morepork? Or some stranded traveller out there on the trail to Tongaporutu?

‘To Hutchinsville,’ another bachelor proposed.

‘Hip, hip, hip, hooray,’ the rest retorted, accepting the toast.

‘Here’s to our butter that ends up in New Plymouth.’ The calls for three cheers were becoming more commodity-conscious.

‘And our first wool clip that may one day soon be transported out of the valley.’

‘And our very own post office here in Hutchinsville, for which we will soon petition.’

As the crockery and cutlery were seen to by the women in the kitchen, the men – bachelors and all – celebrated triumph over privation and the recognition of a new district that would carry the name of the dominant tribe.

What was hitherto known as Makarakia was now mooted to become Hutchinsville. The numbers stacked up. Out of a population that numbered 16 souls, 13 of them bore the name Hutchins. James, the patriarch, was the only original settler remaining in the district by 1906, but sons and relatives bearing his surname had made the valley their home.

It was disappointing to learn that when a post office was finally opened in 1909 it was named Rerekapa Post Office. That decision, taken in Wellington, dictated that the name Hutchins would fade, almost beyond human recall, in the hinterland, just as the geographical barriers to the rural valleys beyond Tongaporutu would seal the area off altogether.

There’s nothing there now, apart from the farms. The post office has long gone. There’s no KFC outlet, although the TV reception’s good enough. The roads are much improved. The rain still falls. A lone morepork continues to call.

James Hutchins, the original pioneer, was my great-grandfather. His son Lawrence, who followed him into the wilderness, was my grandfather. Someone asked me about my credentials for writing a series of farming stories. Fair enough, I said. Despite living for 27 years in the country on a rural section, I was never a conventional farmer. But I interacted, and I observed. And now, with the discovery of my link with ‘Hutchinsville’, I can plead something like a racial memory of farming life.

It’s sobering to reflect that after 20 years on the Makarakia Block, all the family members had moved on. It was not that they hadn’t tried to make a go of it. The isolation was a huge disadvantage. It wasn’t until 1914 that a road into the Makarakia Block enabled better transit. It was a long drawn-out process of construction and even required a tunnel. They called it the Kiwi Road, a fitting title for a family of Kiwi battlers. Infamously, the Kiwi Road is still regarded as one of the most challenging in New Zealand.

James Hutchins was a two-time pioneer and patriarch. After whacking Woodville into shape, he was the prime mover in wresting farming life from the foreboding backblocks of Tongaporutu. He was larger than life, but no larger than his first wife Ellen, who was also only 4 foot 10. She died in her forty-fifth year and was associated primarily with the Woodville phase. James’ second wife’s vertical statistics are not known, although her surname was Little. She was another Elizabeth, at a time when that name was very common. Indeed, names starting with the letter ‘E’ were exceptionally popular for females. Of James’ six daughters, five were E-types: Elizabeth, Ellen, Eva, Ethel and Edith. Only Hilda broke with tradition.

James and his first wife had six sons, too: Edwin, Alfred, Thomas, John, William and Henry (Harry). The first five appeared annually during a fertile six-year period between 1876 and 1882. James had a ready-made labour force of boys growing into husky men when the time came to consider returning to the wilderness.

James lived to be 71, a good age for pioneering stock. His beard would have been down to his knees you would imagine by 1922, the year of his passing. He was a true pioneer, with his feet on the ground, indeed very close to the ground, with the low centre of gravity ideal for remaining upright on the rugged terrain of ‘Hutchinsville’.

When he arrived from England in 1873 James had brought an indomitable spirit and evolved sense of fair play with him. There was none of this crawling up out of the primeval ooze, making prehistoric noises, although the day in 1902 when he crawled up out of the flood, assisted by his son Harry, the analogy would have been appropriate and the oaths and swear words he uttered may have sounded prehistoric to the untrained ear.

My grandmother, who had spent several years helping to turn ‘Hutchinsville’ into a productive farming region, ended up operating the home cookery in Te Kuiti that my parents inherited. A significant proportion of their clients were farmers or farm-service people. Colin Meads’ mother used to supply their egg needs. Mrs Meads used to favour Mum and Dad’s small goods. Perhaps Colin, in addition to three mutton meals a day, snacked on my folks’ Cornish pasties between lugging a sheep under each arm around the rugged ramparts to the south of town. Perhaps my family played a small but vital part in ensuring that Colin Meads became New Zealand’s greatest rugby player.

Most Kiwis live in towns and cities now. Many regard farms and farmers as elements of a vague parallel universe somewhere out there. They concede the critical role of farming in New Zealand’s economy, but how many consider that their antecedents might have crawled up through the primeval ooze, hosed themselves down and set about turning virgin backblocks into productive, primary-producing farms keeping us afloat in the southern ocean?

Often it’s only when townies and city-slickers travel into the backblocks to play in town and country sporting fixtures that the lifestyle of the people on the land becomes apparent. Then most townies go home. But others stay on to become part of the rural fabric.

Phil O’Shaughnessy became so enamoured of shearing that he made a lifestyle choice, one that did not sit favourably with his town-based parents – at first. But Phil, up in Northland and further south in Wairarapa, found that shearing got into his blood – and his back. Eventually he became afflicted with shearers’ back, a condition that curbed his ability to work, but didn’t douse the passion.

So Phil became one of the world’s leading commentators at competitions, a logical progression of his love of shearing. You’d think that shearers in general, after all that backbreaking work on sheep stations, would be only too pleased to lay down their clippers when they’d achieved their tally. In fact shearing competitions like the Golden Shears, where shearers can really reveal their love of the craft, have burgeoned in New Zealand.

Phil went along with the burgeoning and his commentating skills became more widely known. He popped up in countries as diverse as Ireland, South Africa and Scotland to call world shearing contests. The Royal Welsh Show and the World Champs in Toowoomba, Australia, both featured his commentating skills. His microphone died in Ireland, and his mind went blank when introducing a well-known dignitary somewhere else, but Phil rose above such glitches. Even when a crucial shearing final was in jeopardy because the organisers had run out of sheep, Phil was able to produce ten minutes of patter while enough unshorn animals were rounded up to complete the event.

And to think that Phil was the guy who lived just up the road from us as we were growing up. It was a discovery similar to finding out that my great-grandfather had been associated with ‘Hutchinsville’. Phil was a townie who felt the pull of the land and quickly appreciated life in the parallel universe. Others first felt the call during rural-based town and country rugby games. My own first encounter came via a spectator’s vantage point at a town and country cricket match.

2

Golden ducks and donkey drops

They used to play an annual town versus country cricket match in the hills of the central King Country back in the 1960s. The fixture was a bit of a misnomer. The town was more of a village: a pub, stock and station agent’s, general store and bank. The country was very much country though. Jagged ramparts merged into foothills that were challenging enough to man and beast. The notion of playing a game that required a level surface seemed ambitious. Even the airstrips were gouged out of the serrated tops of hills. The chances of finding 22 yards – the length of a cricket pitch – of flat terrain that didn’t require an all-day hike to get there seemed slim.

But Burt Bray was a cricketing fanatic. He’d played the game to a certain level ‘up north somewhere’, although sceptics suspected you’d be hard-pressed to play at all around Burt’s place because of the lack of anything like a level field.

Burt had a natural amphitheatre – a flat recess in the hills where Bob Roberts had once crash-landed his Fletcher top-dresser. A semicircular haven at a fair height, with bush-clad crags rising on three sides, and opening out on the fourth side to allow a spring-fed trickle of a stream to head out, and a rough-hewn dirt road to head in. Pig hunters and trampers used the road to access the bush fringe. And once a year cricketers drove gingerly in to participate in a game that was sorely needed to oil the wheels of goodwill between town and country. Basically level it might have been, but the enclosure was pitted with old rabbit burrows, a few limestone rocks Burt hadn’t bothered to tidy away and nature’s unexpected undulations, particularly the one that shelved away beyond the boundary and only stopped at the swampy edges of the stream.

That year’s game shaped up as a willing encounter. Often there was little love lost between farmers and bank managers, and in 1961 the town team had a bank manager or two in the ranks. The high proportion of medium pacers in the country side twitched at the prospects of whistling a few deliveries past the ‘mean-spirited money launderers’. The Anglican vicar, who bowled leg breaks, aroused little sectarian intolerance but a schoolteacher with one degree too many – a man who had taught and caned some of the country ‘boys’ who were now massing on the horizon in their Land Rovers – was one of the more controversial town inclusions. But no one provoked as much glaring as Erroll, a tall, moustached figure with jet-black hair parted provocatively in the middle, a cigarette holder gripped between dazzling teeth. He was a newbie. No one had seen him before, not even in town on a Friday or in the pubs or clubs. His erect bearing and cravat belied the belief that he was a sneaky rope-in. A big-smoke lady-killer? Cary Grant’s brother on holiday?

Burt’s team included ruddy-faced sloggers, stocky stock agents who could conceivably have been more at home in the town eleven, and a straggle of youths, sons of the soil, scions of the land, some of whom were pretty good cricketers. Barry Smith was a late inclusion, and made himself available only if he could be captain. Burt demurred. Although it was his property, and he did all the organising, Barry was the best cricketer in the district by a country mile. He was the quickest bowler and could strike like a cobra when roused. His bat was as broad as Angus McLean’s accent and he wasn’t afraid to flail it to prove a point – that point being that the country eleven could feel privileged that Barry had seen fit to grace their numbers.

Yet Barry was an indifferent farmer. Wicked rumours suggested that although he’d been bequeathed a large chunk of less challenging land, Barry would sooner be doing something else with his life. He had flown Wellington bombers in the war and distinguished himself with acts of uncommon bravery and swashbuckling daring. Back on the farm he had trouble settling down and craved the adrenaline rush of war-time sorties. His fences were like Swiss cheese. Stock wandered or bolted. Barry perked up as the thrill of the chase saw him pitted against snorting cattle, risking life and limb like the fools at the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Burt, sorely aware that the townies had won the last two encounters, figured the farmers needed all their big guns blazing. So Barry was captain and he made an encouraging start, calling correctly when the florin was tossed to see who would be batting first. Surprisingly, Barry asked the town eleven to bat first. The vicar suggested the gesture was very sporting indeed. Others realised the team batting first would have to deal with a drying pitch and a slow outfield as the sun was still struggling to make its presence felt beyond the steepling hills.

Sporting indeed. Barry opened the bowling. The vicar, a handy, sedate blocker, took strike as one of the opening batsmen. Barry, cleverly avoiding obstacles, completed his 30-yard run-up and unleashed a lethal missile. The vicar didn’t see it but he could hear it as it whistled overhead. The pastry-cook, batting at the non-striker’s end, called the vicar through for what would be two, perhaps three, runs. The ball ricocheted off a rock back towards the stumps. A whippy young kid fielding at leg gully caught the ricochet and threw the stumps down. The pastry-cook was run out without facing a ball. A golden duck. The vicar, a portly patrician, rolled like a tumbleweed and just made his ground. One for none. The perfect start.

As the sun joined the fray the town-country match settled into its own rhythm. Stumps cartwheeled as Barry occasionally unleashed a cobra. Burt himself pulled off a one-handed catch (the other was cradling a bottle of Jim Farmer’s home brew). Barry had bowling figures of 4 for 10 after an hour or two’s play. The other bowlers, lacking Barry’s menace, trundled down faithful medium pacers that the town middle order unfaithfully smote towards the hills. Even the vicar, muddied from his early tumble, prodded a few into the clover. Town were reasonably placed at 120 for 5 as the first drinks break broke – or was it the second?

The drinks break continued. The backblocks silence was broken only by the occasional bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle, the song of a tui, and Barry’s sledging. It was bad enough that he had berated batsmen in the field of play – he even snarled at the vicar, calling him a ‘devil worshipper’ – but his barely-concealed oaths around the keg did little for town/country goodwill.

Jim Farmer, he of the appropriate name and horn-rimmed glasses, doffed his hat and glasses preparatory to bowling an over or two of wides and no-balls. He was seeing two sets of stumps and was bowling at the set conjured up by an unwise series of swigs at Cary Grant’s brother’s brandy bottle. He put his glasses back on and came around the wicket, then back over and finally through the wickets, which he claimed he didn’t see.

A brace of cattle (Jim Farmer swore it was four) interrupted proceedings by stampeding across the pitch. The errant beasts were Barry’s and you couldn’t help but ponder at a certain complicity when Barry, who’d left a gate open, landed the first ball of his second spell in a hoof mark and the ball snaked into the bank manager’s ‘lower abdomen’. A roar of pain echoed around the amphitheatre as the banker collapsed into the foetal position. Barry roared too. His appeal for LBW seemed less than charitable. The bank manager was solicitously unravelled. He crabbed back to the crease, only to find the umpire’s finger in an upraised position. Town were now teetering at 150 for 9. Barry had his five-wicket bag but the milestone went uncelebrated.

The country eleven prepared mentally to chase an obviously meagre total. The vultures circled above the last two town batsmen, or more precisely, two swooping harrier hawks. Barry, mottled with exertion and adrenaline, waited at the top of his run up. Erroll – Cary Grant’s brother – who had bustled like Robert Mitchum in that marines movie to the striker’s end – took guard. Most batsmen asked for centre. It was the early 60s after all, a deeply conservative time in the New Zealand sticks. One or two mavericks, like the pastry-cook who drove a Citroen, had opted for middle and leg. Cary Grant’s brother demanded middle and off. That had the country team thinking.

To them the matinee idol lookalike must have been a bowler and, coming in last, would have little pretension as a batsman. He had an erect stance, almost as if he was wearing a straitjacket. His shoulders were clenched and confined. His cigarette holder and smouldering de Reszke jutted out defiantly. The high sun glinted off a gold filling.

Barry figured he’d realign the Fancy Dan’s hair parting from middle to off as he steamed in. Cary Grant’s brother cracked the ball straight back over the bowler’s head. The ball continued rising until it had cleared the boundary for the first six of the match.

‘I’ll knock the bugger’s fag-holder out of his big mouth,’ Barry mumbled as he ran in again, although the batsman hadn’t uttered a word. Without moving his feet, Cary Grant’s brother lifted the ball over the cover boundary where it landed with a clunk on Burt’s Fordson Major.

‘I’ll smack the bastard’s gold tooth!’ Another six, this time on the leg side, where Burt did his best to reign in the tracer but lost his footing just short of the boundary and slid down the steep undulation, before coming to rest with a squelch in the swamp.

Burt, bejewelled with duckweed and mud, bowled the final over. No one else wanted to and Barry, glowering down at fine leg, couldn’t bowl from both ends, although God knows he had tried, as captain, to push his weight around and do so. Burt took the bull by the horns and the ball by the frayed seams and proceeded to lob gentle donkey drops at the batsmen.

Bewildered by the slower pace, Cary Grant’s brother played no shot at the first ball, which pitched wide, but because of a pronounced tweak, moved a country yard and flicked off the batsman’s bail. Cary Grant’s brother flicked off his glowing butt in a rare display of petulance. He also prized off a cake of mud that had arrived from Burt’s arm a milli-second after the ball. Barry roared approval from the lengthening shadows. The country eleven made a bee-line for the keg.

Town, all out for 170. Barry 6 for something. Burt, besplattered, looked like a cockleshell hero. Jim Farmer stumbled like a winged goose through the laid-out picnic lunches. More like a bull in a china shop perhaps, as glasses and bottles went flying. Burt grabbed the bull by the hornrims and looking into bloodshot eyes, suggested that Jim, a regular opening bat, should sit things out and come in lower down the order. After sobering up.

Barry of course opened the batting. He reckoned he’d knock the 171 required for victory off his own bat. The whippy young kid, a whitebait really, set against Barry the white pointer, opened at the other end. Rain clouds gathered as the pastry-cook bowled the first ball after presenting an odd run-up that looked like an athletics hop, step and jump routine. Everyone expected the bowler to undertake a cartwheel before delivering the ball.

The first delivery swung a bit beneath the cloud cover, landed on the seam, and reared up. It would have outwitted most. Barry, applying an appropriate agricultural swing, dispatched the ball into the swamp. The whippy kid at the other end played a couple of nice late cuts and after an over or two the country eleven’s total was 50odd. The keg had run out and another was produced after a mercy dash in Burt’s Fordson Major. An early drinks break was called. Someone appealed against the light as the clouds began rumbling and rolling down the valley.

The vicar, with a shuffle, delivered a leg-break. Barry had accum­ulated a few – anything between 70 and 90-something. The scorer was snoring. No one else was counting. The vicar’s leg break pitched a yard outside the leg stump, hit a sheep’s turd and deviated viciously back into Barry’s pads. A guttural, united appeal for LBW scattered the wood pigeons and woke the scorer. Jim Farmer the umpire, supporting himself with one hand on the leg stump, raised his finger. All hell broke loose as the skies opened up. Above the roar of wind and rain Barry could be heard berating Jim Farmer for giving him out. Jim Farmer reckoned he was simply raising his finger to detect the strength and direction of the wind. Everyone else headed for cover.

The stream rose and surface water lapped at the tent where 22 players and a handful of supporters jostled for space and beer. Although Barry continued to lambast Jim Farmer for not knowing the LBW laws, a certain joviality prevailed as the prevailing wind changed and the rain eased. The two captains, after earnest consultation, declared the match a draw. After further consultation it was decided that both teams had won. The revised decision was met with a roar of approval. Goodwill was engendered.

The vicar said grace (‘I knew he was in the team for a reason,’ someone slurred), the spread was attacked and further goodwill was spread. Burt, as organiser and general custodian, made a speech of thanks which was received in respectful silence, save for Barry’s continued berating of Jim Farmer.