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23 June 2021updated 30 Aug 2021 3:17pm

Time’s wingèd chariot is getting close – I fear I may never don cricket whites again

As I admire Sean Bean's manly locks, I have to admit that the thought of bowling wrist-spin is making me feel a little faint.

By Nicholas Lezard

It turned out I hadn’t broken my wrist after all. The pain abated the next day, and although it means that I doubt the crowds will be seeing my crafty off-breaks at any point this season – it still hurts, and the thought of bowling wrist-spin is actually making me feel a little faint – but at least I don’t have to wear a cast.

This is actually more depressing than I am letting on. It’s now been a few years since I played cricket and I am beginning to wonder if I ever will again. The team I play for, Marcus Berkmann’s Rain Men (good God, I’ve just realised how much of my social life he’s responsible for, what with the quiz and all) is very forgiving when it comes to age and ability, but right now I’m not even confident I could hold a bat properly. And I am not getting any younger. Besides, it would be a faff even getting my kit: a trip to my mother’s in East Finchley, then to wherever the game is, then back to East Finchley and then back to Brighton, and all probably in a cause that will end with our team steamrollered. 

We’re so prone to collapses that out of the ten or 11 times I’ve played for them, I’ve been our top scorer twice, once with 12 runs to my name. But another year without playing makes it all the more likely that I won’t be playing the year after that, tempus fugit and all that, and nothing makes you feel the breath of time’s wingèd chariot more keenly than the sudden demise of a friend.

I was thinking about ageing while watching the new BBC series, Time. This is more or less compulsory viewing for me as I am quite convinced that one day I will go to prison for something, and I had better take notes to prepare myself because I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not like Porridge in there any more, if it ever was. I mean, if they ever said “Naff off” in the nick I’ll eat my cricket whites. I was particularly startled when Sean Bean’s character is asked his date of birth. The year he gives is 1964, a year after mine, and I was pulled up short. Bean’s face, if you have seen it lately, looks, to put it politely, weathered; to put it impolitely, like a cake left in the rain. I thought I was beginning to look my age but he looks terrible for a 57-year-old. His hair’s in better shape but still. I was feeling rather pleased with myself at this point, until I looked up Bean’s age and discovered he’s actually 62, which is, in fact, what he looks like in the show. And his hair is in fantastic shape for a 62-year-old. Maybe he’s been aged by care. The main thing about Time is that it’s about a middle-class man who’s been incarcerated for killing a pedestrian while driving under the influence. He’s never been to prison before, so the whole experience weighs on him rather. 

I think the idea is “this could happen to you, oh middle-class watcher of BBC dramas on iPlayer”, which is slightly iffy, but then that’s why it’s pulled in so many of my middle-class friends on Facebook, as well as me. (Bean’s character is a teacher in the outside world, and from what I’ve heard about teaching when you’re in your fifties, I have a suspicion that quite a few of them would find four years in prison a nice chance to put their feet up for a while.)

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I haven’t finished watching the first episode yet as it’s all a bit grim and I don’t have much of an attention span these days either. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my great friend from Hull, Russ Litten (I’m not giving him anonymity because he’s an excellent poet and novelist who could always do with a few more sales), who was a visiting prisons’ writer for years, once assured me that I’d love it in prison. Why? I asked him. Oh, you just would, he said. You’d write people’s letters for them and you’d be very popular. I had a brief vision of myself decked out as Noel Coward in The Italian Job, but even then I wasn’t convinced.

So I think I just have to keep my nose clean. There is very little chance of my killing a pedestrian while drink-driving because there is very little chance of my driving a car again, full stop. The last time didn’t go too well: trying to operate the pedals on a tiny Fiat Panda while wearing walking boots a size too large for me. And I fear that driving will go as my wrist-spin has, a sacrifice to the years, a skill lost through atrophy and lack of confidence. But oh, I would sacrifice it all for Bean’s manly locks. His hair’s even better than Keir Starmer’s. Someone please tell me it’s a wig. 

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This article appears in the 23 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit changed us