Summer 2006 on the night we were to travel to Cornwall for our annual surf trip, my wife said 'Take the kids over the Rec on their bikes to wear em out a bit before the 8 hour drive to Cornwall". So we went over the Rec where there's a big hill and Joe who had just turned 5 wanted to ride down the big grassy hill with Ben on their bikes. On the 3rd go Joe got wheel wobble doing about 20mph and went diving over his handle bars with the bike following him as it had flipped over the front wheel and both boy and bike landed on Joe's elbow smashing his left elbow and dislocating the forearm bone. Two operations and 3 days later Joe was in a cast and the holiday in Cornwall was no more. With his left arm in plaster the question was - what are we going to do all summer and the answer was cricket, a game I hadn't played properly ever and only had done as a kid in the street once or twice back in the late 60's or early 70's.
But having started it another Dad joined in and one thing led to another and within 6 months I'd formed the MPA 1st XI at work. I encouraged the kids to continue playing and bit by bit one of the things that we soon realised was that in order to bowl or bat we needed somewhere flat to bowl on. During the late summer that year in September I used take a pair of shears and cut the grass in the immediate area where we batted and bowled in order to try and improve the experience for Ben and Joe. At this point my obsession with Wrist Spinning was only just emerging.
Spring 2007; I was hooked and had carried on bowling through that winter and was now looking to bowl on grass, but had no-where to do so. Ben and Joe wanted to be involved too and the only solution I could see was to start cutting a wicket in the corner of little used local football pitch and so I set to it with a pair of shears whilst looking to get hold of a little manual mower.
So bit by bit using a pair of shears we cut the grass shorter enabling us to bat and bowl - See below Ben aged 7.
Initially we just cut a rectangle, but bit by bit it grew in length and this sufficed for a couple of years and over the winter I score a roller and I would roll this little rectangle in the corner of the field.
Then other kids started getting involved and we all started to get a bit better at batting and started to lose balls in the adjacent woods. This field is only about 100 yards from my house and is right next to the paddock almost, just the other side of the trees. We never considered the paddock as it was dead rough and often over-grown. This early wicket was in the corner of the local football pitch see below at A.
By the end of that summer I'd obtained the Ransomes Ajax lawnmower, a design classic, one of the best mowers ever, featuring a design that originated from the 1930's and mine was the MK4. This mower enabled us to get a ridiculously close cut on the wicket down to 6mm, improving the quality of the pitch massively.
Prior to establishing the wicket on the local field, I'd already been mowing a playing field about 3/4 mile away for the MPA 1st XI boys to play on and we used this over the summer of 2007. Being a playing field and council property, there was a potential issue with the council getting the hump about me mowing the grass on the field (Great Berry Open Space), but that Easter the counicl caught up with me and commended me on my grass roots approach to cricket and cutting the wicket and said that I could continue doing so. See below - Great Berry Open Space.
Spring 2008; More kids had got involved the summer before and Ben and Joe were showing promise as bowlers and the need for a local wicket grew, so early in the spring we got the shears going, cutting the long grass in the middle of the football field which still wasn't being used much at all by the people that owned the field. As with the corner wicket, this initially had to be cut by hand using shears (below). But once we'd got the grass short enough to deploy the Ransomes that came into use and we establised a half decent wicket to play on and practice on and the people who owned the field turned a blind eye to use using it.
We used this field for another year and then in 2009 I noted that the field was used a lot more and towards the end of the 3rd summer of use this wicket 'Valence Way Wicket' came to an end with the owners of the field clearing the field and cutting bushes and giving us the impression that it was going to be utilised more frequently. They suddenly started mowing it more and did a load of drainage repairs and filled holes and I decided that we'd stop using it. This wicket is B on the map. You can see how close all these strips are in relation to my house D.
Scratching around for somewhere to go next and looking for somewhere to bowl myself I ventured into the paddock a couple of times and bowled across the paddock from top to bottom up hill as you look at the ariel map. It wasn't that good and I didn't really consider it as being viable. I even looked at the potential for establishing a wicket over at Glouscester park and mowed a couple there looking to get the attention of a load of Asian lads, but it didn't work out. Then in July 2009 I wrote............
At the end of my road 1/2 way to our private wicket there's an enclosed compound more or less square in shape 34 yards x 35 yards with two full size goal posts in it. Around it there's a chain link fence in state of disrepair but 85% intact. It's not flat and runs of to one side at an angle and because it's used primarily by kids to play football the grass is exceptionally uneven and in a right mess and has probably never been levelled ever? I've practiced in there before bowling up the hill but today I went in there and had a bowl from side to side and realised that with a bit of work it could be made usable as a practice wicket and would be better because it's enclosed by fencing. Then thinking about it as I bowled I realised the potential for putting our nets up. Because of the position of the goal posts and the distance between them it's almost an ideal place to put nets up temporarily with very little effort using the goal posts as the main supports for the nets.
Repairs were made, filling in the holes between rough tufts of grass and I started to practice in the paddock and by the end of the summer realised that with some work it had real potential. So since July 2009 the paddock has gone from the images here below to the space you now see.
Again, the same as Great Berry Open Space it is council property, but I've wrote to the bloke at the council telling him I'm utilising it in the way that I am and that I'm cutting and maintaining it and he's okay with it. What they're more concerned with is that these spaces are utilised by the public and therefore do need to be maintained. If the public don't use them, then they can't justify their up-keep and the employment of staff. I've even asked for the fence to be repaired and replaced with one of those heavy duty steel fences and for the height to be raised. The council didn't say no and said that work on the fence was ear-marked for the future when the budget was there.
The idea of space utilisation is something that I find interesting, what are these spaces for and how can they be utilised and what constitutes good and bad usage. It seems that I've just been a bit more up-front than most people and I'm thick skinned, so that when people do walk past when I'm mowing it and look at me as though I'm a complete ****, I'm not bothered. What it means is that with a little bit of my time and a little money and asking around I've created a situation where we have this across the road from our house............
And here we are today having a knock about in the paddock - such good times!