Village academy 4
– The bottles business

by Hilary Beckles
Barbados Nation
May 9, 1999

WHEN I was a younger youth learning the art and science of cricket culture in the St. Andrews/St. Peter Village Academy, much emphasis was placed on the political aspects, particularly as it related to the power of umpires and the rights of players, family, loved ones, spectators, and opportunistic onlookers.

It was made clear to me, in a purely theoretical sort of way-of-course- that only sexual relations could generate as much legitimate passion as cricket.

As a result, very early in life, I became sensitive to the prevalence of domestic violence and cricket warfare in everyday lie within village society.

Perceptions of injustice, whether it was a result of being “tief out” by an umpire, or losing a sweetheart to a criminal rival, meant that licks had to share, or that at least, something would get “brek up”. And so, village culture was textured.

Cricket politics in the village made provision, not formally, for the “brekking up” of a game in at least a dozen ways when it was spoilt by a “tiefing” umpire who in turn was adjudged to be bringing the game into disrepute.

We were clear, and there was concensus, that the moral and civil fabric of the game had to be protected from such Injustices of the Peace. Upholders of cricket’s high values and religious principles, would “done” the game as an act of restoring high standards, wise jurisprudence, and general community decency.

The counter judgments of family, friends, and paramours were often swift, decisive and painful. “Brekking” up the game was part of the culture, and plaintiffs were as creative as they were sanctions.

We had few bottles around in those days, but in any case no one thought that a bottle was appropriate technology in this regard. It was considered hard, cold and too deadly an anti-social instrument.

Our commitment, instead, was to the rockstone (of the soft kind – as found in Greenland), young breadfruit, pawpaw, and the occasional bad egg.

Take Little Hitler, for example. He was so named because his father supported the Nazis during the war because they were fighting against the English who he believed to be the real enemy because they kept him colonised, disenfranchised, and also because their descendents owned all the land around him.

He used to pooh at the fellas going off to join the war effort in the same way that he did when they filed past his house in the early morning going to work on the plantation.

Little Hitler was our best batsman; his father didn’t like cricket because it was too English and not played by the Germans, the Japanese, nor the Russians.

But he was never out, and saw all umpires as criminals and immoralists. We loved Little Hitler, but for this one little character flaw.

He had a bad dog named “Lion” that was bigger than most of us. We called it an “all station”, and trembled when it approached us or any space we occupied. When Little Hitler was batting “Lion” would take up a position behind the standing umpire.

When he was given out, the act of pelting away the bat was the signal to “Lion” to invade the field looking for the umpire or the ball to put in his mouth.

When he got the ball, which was less mobile, Hitler would shout “hold it till the umpire come back.”

If we wanted to play on, Little Hitler had to be reinstated, since only the retrieving of the bat was the sign for “Lion” to release the ball.

But I had a particular fondness for Big Joe, who used to drive one of Mrs. Rock’s Rocklyn buses. He, too, hated “tiefing” umpires.

If he was given our, especially caught behind or runout, he would park the bus on the wicket at every opportunity for a month – thereby neutralising the only stretch of flat road we had in the village, which was named by counter-imperial proclamation, “Lords”.

While the bus was parked there, the big fellas used to “tief” the canvas off the sides to make covers for the wicket up on the pasture. It was always fascinating by the poetic justice involved.

Mrs. Straker, however, took the cake. She hated it when her son, who we called “Flours”, because he ate nothing unless it was made of flour, was given out.

Flours would run home and tell his mother that the fellas “tief” out his hand when he was looking “unoutable”, and that they were calling she names on top of it.

Mrs. Straker would turn up with a rocking chair, put it in the middle of the wicket, and read aloud from a Macabe bible which was thought was the devil’s own text. Game done!

The younger fellas, however had their own forms of retribution against the abuse or ill use of the power invested in umpires.

Anytime a match was played between the fellas from up the hill, and those from down the hill, a civil war would ensue because the neutral umpire’s bias was uncovered in some remark he would make when pointing his finger for the batsman to leave the field.

If your father owed him money, or your mother didn’t speak to him after he “seeees” her, make sure that every ball hit the middle of the bat – or you are walking. Fighting would “brek” out right there so!

Worse yet, when our village played away – against a neighbouring tenantry, wars of disrespect were inevitable.

If we beat the fellas fair and square, we would get ambush on the way home, and licks like peas. If we get beat, worse yet; we would get licks there and then for wasting their time, because the game was dead like the funeral a cruel fella would claim he missed attending just to play the game.

All of this is part of the ancestral pedigree of our village cricket.

There was a lot of passion, and a deep commitment to a notion of justice. I learnt very early how to walk, even before the fellas appeal because if my grandmother heard that I was involved in any such business – then the domestic violence part would literally kick in.

So what is this bottle business all about? I do believe that they should not be allowed into the Oval; I am not saying that patrons should go back into their past and walk with guavas, sour-sops and ackees from which traditional politics may be resurrected.

In India patrons attend with oranges for the sole purpose of keeping perimeter fieldsmen honest, and I do recall that sometime in the 1970s, either Lords or the Oval in London was forked up by IRA forkmen, and the game abandoned.

The Kensington Oval, unfortunately, is located in town, and we country people have a problem with town folk and this bottle issue. Not one breadfruit was collected by the BCA garbage collectors -; and yet all of us got blame for what happened.

I object to it, and from now on, I will be walking to the Oval – via Eagle Hall market.

• Professor Hilary Beckles is a cricket historian.