From the pen of Ken Kesey comes this seminal work of how G P McSwanny, the fun-loving team-mate, comes up against Big Strauss Catchit – as seen through Chief Bresnan’s eyes – an apparently mute bystander… this is Chapter Two.
When the fog clears to where I can see, I’m sitting in the Long Room. They didn’t take me to the Block Shop this time. I remember they took me out of the Saving-One room and positioned me on the boundary. I don’t remember if I got run outs or not. Probably not. I can call to mind some mornings positioned on the boundary, the batsmen keep hitting singles off everything – supposed to be two, but they settle for one instead – till the batsmen get run out while I stand there at that booze-stinking Third Man, watching them wipe up stumps with a direct hit. I can smell the grease and hear them pat the arses. Other mornings the batsmen bring me cold mush and force me to chase it.
This morning I plain don’t remember. They got enough of those things they call energy drinks down me so I don’t know a thing till I hear the changing room door open. That changing room door opening means it’s at least eleven o’clock, means there’s been maybe two hours and a half I’ll be out cold on the boundary when the conditioners could of come in and installed anything the Big Strauss ordered and I wouldn’t have the slightest notion what. I hear noise at the changing room door, off up the tunnel out of my sight. That changing room door starts opening at eleven and opens and closes a thousand times a day, kashash, click. Every morning we sit lined up on each side of the balcony, mixing laptop analysis after the overs, listening for the ball to hit the sweet spot, and wait to see Cookie’s ton coming in. There’s not a whole lot else to do.
Sometimes, at the door, it’s a young debutant in early so he can watch what we’re like Before Declaration. BD, they call it. Sometimes it’s a wife or girlfriend visiting there on high heels with her purse held tight over her belly. Sometimes it’s a clutch of media men being led on a tour by that fool Public Relation man who’s always clapping his bucket hands together and saying how overjoyed he is that cricket grounds have eliminated all the old-fashioned hierarchy. “What a cheery atmosphere, don’t you agree?”
He’ll bustle around the journalists, who are bunched together for safety, clapping his hands together. “Oh, when I think back on the old days, on the gentlemen, the players, even, yes, senility, oh, I realise, fellas, that we have come a long way in our game!”
Whoever comes in the changing room door is usually somebody disappointing, but there’s always a chance otherwise, and when a ball hits the sweet spot all the heads look up like there’s strings on them. This morning the lockworks rattle strange; it’s not a regular visitor at the door. An Escort Man’s voice calls down, edgy and impatient, “Come sign for him,” and the batsmen go.
Admission. Everybody stops playing cards and the PS3, turns toward the changing room-room door. Most days I’d be out sweeping the ball and see how its swinging in to the right hander, but this morning, like I explain to you, the Big Strauss gave a thousand press-ups to me and I can’t budge out of the chair. Most days I’m the first one to see the Admission, watch him creep in the door and slide along the wall and stand scared till the batsmen come size him up and take him into the nets, where they drive him over his head and leave him barreling down a poor line, while they all sweep and hook and cut the balls looking for the proper line.
“We need that proper line,” they’ll tell the Big Strauss, “for the snickometer.” He looks from one to the other: “I’m sure you do, but mind you boys don’t group up in there.” Then I see two, maybe all three of them in there, in that nets with the Admission, running that snickometer on full volume till it’s picking up a ball that’s the size of your finger away from the bat. Crooning “Tha’s right, bowlah, that’s right”. I’m out there most days, and I see it like that.
But this morning I have to sit in the chair and only listen to them bring him in. Still, even though I can’t see him, I know he’s no ordinary Admission. I don’t hear him slide scared along the wall, and when they tell him about the nets he don’t just submit with a weak little yes, he tells them right back in a loud, brassy voice that he’s already plenty damn good, thank you.
“They put me in the nets this morning at Trent Bridge and last night at the Oval. And I swear I believe they’d of cleared some boundaries on the drive over mid-on if they coulda found the middle. Hoo boy, seems like everytime they sweep me someplace I gotta get my arse patted before, after, and during the celebration. I’m gettin’ so the sound of edges makes me start gathering up my belongings. And get back away from me with that camera, and give me a minute to look this new ground over before I do my next video diary; I never been in a Institute of Cricket before.”
The players look at one another’s puzzled faces, then back to the door, where his voice is still coming in. Talking louder’n you’d think he needed to if the batsmen were anywhere near him. He sounds like he’s way above them, talking down, like he’s chirping 22 yards away, hollering at those down the ground. He sounds big. I hear him flighting the ball, and he drifts big in the way he tweaks, and he sure don’t slide – not like Warne; he’s got iron on his heels and he rings it on the floor like horseshoes. He shows up in the door and stops and hitches his thumbs in his pockets, boots wide apart, and stands there with the guys looking at him.
“Good mornin’ , buddies.” There’s a paper Kookaburra bat hanging on a string above his head; he reaches up and flicks it so it spins around. “Mighty nice day.”
He talks a little the way Freddie used to, voice loud and full of hell, but he doesn’t look like Freddie; Freddie was a full-blooded northerner–a chief–and hard and shiny as a gunstock. This guy is brownheaded with a jaunty ol’chin protruding out from under his cap, and he’s broad as Freddie was tall, broad across the jaw and shoulders and chest, a broad white devilish grin, and he’s hard in a different kind of way from Freddie, kind of the way a Dukes ball is hard under the scuffed seam. He stands there waiting, and when nobody makes a move to say anything to him he commences to laugh. Nobody can tell exactly why he laughs; there’s nothing funny going on. But it’s not the way that Public Relation laughs, it’s free and loud and it comes out of his wide grinning mouth and spreads in rings bigger and bigger till it’s lapping against the walls all over the ward. Not like that fat Public Relation laugh. This sounds real. I realise all of a sudden it’s the first laugh I’ve heard in years.
He stands looking at us, rocking back in his boots, and he laughs and laughs. He laces his fingers over his belly without taking his thumbs out of his pockets. I see how big and beat up his hands are. Everybody in the changing room, players, staff, and all, is stunned dumb by him and his laughing. There’s no move to stop him, no move to say anything. He laughs till he’s finished for a time, and he walks on into the changing room. Even when he isn’t laughing, that laughing sound hovers around him, the way the sound hovers around a big bell just quit ringing–it’s in his eyes, in the way he smiles and swaggers, in the way he talks.
“My name is McSwanny, buddies, G. P. McSwanny, and I’m a spinnin’ fool.” He winks and sings a little piece of a song: “ ‘… and whenever I meet with a Aussie batter, I toss… the ball… up,’” and laughs again. He walks to one of the laptops, tips KP’s average up with a thick, heavy finger, and squints at the numbers and shakes his head.
“Yessir, that’s what I came to this England team for, to bring you birds, fun an’ entertainment around the tourin’ table. Nobody left in that Northampton County Ground to make my days interesting any more, so I requested a transfer , ya see. Needed some new blood. Hooee, look at the way this bird holds his bat, showin’ to everybody how to block; man! I’ll trim you babies like little lambs.” Collywick gathers his gloves together. The man sticks his hand out for Collywick to shake.
“Hello, buddy; what’s that you’re playin’? Nurdle? Jesus, no wonder you don’t care nothin’ about scoring no runs. Don’t you have a flat deck around here? Well say, here we go, I brought along my own bat, just in case, has never knowingly felt the ball on its edge –and check the middle, huh? As rosy red as ya like. 52 scoring shots.”
Collywick is pop-eyed already, and what he sees on that bat don’t help his condition. “Easy now, don’t nudge ‘it; we got lots of time, lots of games ahead of us. I like to hold my bat here because it takes at least a day for the Aussies to get to where they can even nick the edge. S’why they never do Colly …”
He’s got on work-farm whites, sunned out till they’re the color of watered milk. His face and neck and arms are the color of oxblood leather from working long in the outfield. He’s got a primer-black motorcycle cap stuck in his hair and a leather jacket over one arm, and he’s got on boots gray and dusty and heavy enough to kick a man half in two. He walks away from Collywick and takes off the cap and goes to beating a dust storm out of his thigh. One of the batsmen circles him, but he’s too quick for them; he does them in the flight, through the gates, and starts moving around shaking hands before the batsman can take good aim. The way he talks, his wink, his loud talk, his swagger all remind me of a car salesman or a stock auctioneer–or one of those frontmen you see in a band, out in front of his players, standing there in a striped shirt with yellow buttons, drawing the faces off the sawdust like a magnet.
[tweetmeme source=”petehayman” only_single=false]“What happened, you see, was I got in a couple of hassles at the work ground, to tell the pure truth, and Sky Sports ruled that I’m world-class. And do you think I’m gonna argue with Sky Sports? Shoo, you can bet your bottom dollar I don’t. If it gets me outta those damned outfields I’ll be whatever their little heart desires, be it world-class or mad dog Gilo, because I don’t care if I never see another weedin’ hoe to my dying day. Now they tell me world-class’ a guy flights too much and gets ducks too much, but they ain’t wholly right, do you think? I mean, whoever heard tell of a man gettin’ too much wickets? Hello, buddy, what do they call you? My name’s McSwanny and I’ll bet you two dollars here and now that you can’t tell me how many times you’ve got out to a mistimed drive or a top-edged slog sweep. Two dollars; what d’ya say?”