Seeing that it’s Wimbledon and Test cricket season reminds me that I once played the most dangerous game in the world: cricket.
It was a charity match, and I remember being given the bat and marching in my smartest whites out to the stumps, believing I was Garry Sobers. And then this rock flew past me at 100 miles per hour, and off went the stumps, and off went I. Out for a duck, I think it’s called.
Once our team were all batted out, for something like 20, we were then sent out to field, as the professionals call it. The (sadistic) captain told me to stand at silly mid off (or maybe it was silly mid on), but I soon realised that was no place for a Gaelic poet, or indeed for any other human being with any sense of self-preservation.
Because the other team could bat. And, as soon as the ball was flung to batsman number one, he swiped the ball at another 100 miles an hour an inch or so past my right ear.
So I, very wisely, retreated to the furthest place away from the bat and ball, out by the ropes, in a position that I understand is officially called deep backward point. Where I sunbathed for the rest of the afternoon.
I had never realised how hard the ball was and the speed at which it travelled, and I don’t suppose most of us realise the real intensity of anything until we try it ourselves. Like writing.
Speed is an underestimated skill
I also played football once, in the real Scottish Cup at Hampden Park against Queen’s Park. I was playing for Edinburgh University’s 1st XI, the year we won the East of Scotland League against the giants of Gala Fairydean and Hawick Royal Albert and Ferranti Thistle. So we qualified to play in the Scottish Cup proper.
We lost 1-0 to Queen’s Park – and we missed a penalty! Which I didn’t take, otherwise I could have added that to the burden of my failures over the years.
The difference between the Queen’s (who were semi-professional) and ourselves was not so much skill as speed. They did everything just that bit faster than us and, as time wore on, that bit faster again.
So, when you see Rafa Nadal or Phil Foden do these remarkable things that look so easy, remember they’re doing it at vast speed. Oh, and Queen’s Park then lost 7-0 to Rangers in the next round.
It’s the same with any art or craft or skill. Those astonishing pipers who hit all the grace notes with both precision and elegance. Those amazing bus drivers who drive patiently down Union Street, despite all those jaywalkers and car drivers and cyclists forever weaving in and out of their path. Those marvellous health workers who nurse and operate and heal, despite the queues and the packed corridors and the corrupt state of the government.
Imagination and determination trump wealth and privilege
But the good thing about life is that we can also pretend. We had an old fishbox with Mallaig Fish Merchants written on its side, which was our Formula One racing car. It had wooden wheels and a rope so that my brother and I could haul each other along out of the pits and through the chicane of grass down by the stream, to the finishing line where the washing hung. I was Stirling Moss, he was Jackie Stewart.
A few words of Gàidhlig open a language-world to you. Three stray sticks of wood and a pin across can turn you into Viv Richards. An old fish box into Max Verstappen
And when this time of year came, I turned into Rod Laver, hitting a caorann (a small rounded lump of peat) over the wall for another 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 win. The same stick that earned me victory at Wimbledon then served as Garry Sober’s magic bat.
In other words, we make a world out of bits and pieces. Odds and ends. Sticks of wood we find here and there that become goalposts and boats and dens, pebbles that become houses and treasures, flower petals that become confetti and decorations, and an old sofa that, much later on, became the Starship Enterprise as we boldly (and later on baldly) went where no Gael had gone before.
I know that facilties and resources are important. We live in an unfair world, where those in Downing Street and their pals can do whatever they like while the rest of us scrubble along. But we don’t need their wealth or privilege or exceptionalism, for we can make a world out of the rags – out of the votes – we have.
A few words of Gàidhlig open a language-world to you. Three stray sticks of wood and a pin across can turn you into Viv Richards. An old fish box into Max Verstappen.
And isn’t it wonderful that the gift of reading enables you to read these plain words so that you can recall the child you once were, and still could be?
Angus Peter Campbell is an award-winning writer and actor from Uist