I got into a discussion/argument/fracas with a chap at a social gathering recently. He was loudly denouncing cricket as boring and all that other guff that savage brutes of his ilk always bang on about. He was whining about the summer being a dead loss as there was no major football tournament on to tide him over until the new season all of 8 weeks or so away. I busied myself by calling him a 'fool' and a 'philistine' and 'Phil' (his actual name).
I tried to reason with this pig's bladder worshipping ignoramus as we both drank Schnapps in a mutual friend's back yard. It was the end of the party and there really was nothing else to drink. I despised him, he goaded me. The air was thick and sweet, with resentment and fermented peaches.
Now the ashes have finally begun. As I write this a long summer of leather on willow lies in wait and I for one will be hungrily devouring all the action, commentary and analysis as it unfolds, hoovering up every last crumb of ashes fever like Mike Gatting at a Lords long room buffet.
I can sketch most of my formative years in terms of cricketing and, most vividly, Ashes memories. For instance, fresh is the recollection of listening to Mathew Elliot bosh his way to 1999 against a wilting England attack in 1997. I was having a nosebleed in the back of the family Renault 'Savanna' (reg. G500 NAK, "Nak for Knackered!" my dad used to josh to anyone that would listen / be stood nearby his car.) The runs for the Aussies and the red stuff from my nose were both gushing forth. Test Match Special was woozily sound-tracking us as we headed to Brittany and England headed for another humiliating ashes series defeat.
Four years later (2001) Mark Butcher defiantly slapped 173 not out in a thrilling run chase at Headingley. A few hundred miles away, at the same time 'Butch' was flogging the Australian bowlers in front of a delirious Yorkshire faithful, my eldest brother tried to hurdle a tennis net for a cheap thrill and subsequently face-planted the asphalt. I can picture Butcher waving his Slazenger V600 bat to the adulating crowd just as I can recall my bro resembling Harvey 'Two Face' Dent for the ensuing weeks of summer.
In 2005 I was doing my AS levels and revelling in the antics of Flintoff, Pietersen and Gary Pratt in what many regard as the greatest test series ever. England reclaimed the ashes for the first time in my lifetime and I nailed that History Paper on the French Revolution. The great oppressors and ruling elites of Waugh(s), McGrath, Ponting, Gilchrist and Louis XVI had been toppled. Life was sweet, like a Michael Vaughan extra cover drive and unlike a Shane Warne text.
I think this is why I got so riled at my cricket disparaging adversary in the back yard. I felt the attack on cricket as a personal attack on my character, my memories. Also he was a bit of a dick and he was sporting a garish haircut.
The upshot though is that this oik is missing out. There can be few simpler pleasures in life than listening to Test Match Special (TMS) during an ashes (or any other) test match. The friendly, lugubrious tones of Johnathan 'Aggers' Agnew wash over you in soothing waves, periodically interrupted by the fags 'n' booze chuckle of cricketing geezer Phil Tufnell*. Every so often Henry 'Blowers' Blofeld will wander onto the airwaves to bellow aimlessly about buses, pigeons and corduroy, get the names of players mixed up and generally resemble a posh ocean liner in a cravat. Radio gold.
My girlfriend has not yet been my 'batting partner' long enough to witness the full scale cricketing geekdom of my personality during an ashes summer. In previous series' she was slightly confused by the furtive glances at the phone for the live text updates, the conversations with total strangers about statistics or the giggling whenever Geoffrey Boycott said something about his grandmother and a stick of rhubarb. She is a keeper though. Recently I have spied that she has placed every post-war Wisden Almanac in her Amazon shopping basket and has forsaken her usual 'eau de parfum' in favour of coquettishly dabbing linseed oil about her wrists and nape. Not for her the closed mind and barbaric views of the backyard buffoon. I eventually left him to ponder his summer plans/outlook on life and skulked off in search of some more alpine liqueur.
The Ashes have begun. Memories will be made anew.
* I once bumped into 'Tuffers' outside a butcher's shop. He shook my hand before scurrying off with his brisket. Hero.