Cricket in Surlingame
by Kitley Wellington
Lord Beaverton’s recent trip to New York had bloated to a whopping three months. Upon his return in May, the village of Surlingame decided to celebrate it with a fête. Lord Beaverton was a natty spirit blessed with serious eyebrows, fitted with a soul that ran so deep you could almost hear an echo when one talked to him about life’s anxieties. He was like a Walker’s Old Highland that had gotten better and better as it had aged and was now turning that handsome corner at which a woman slowly matures into a lady.
Naturally, when it came to loving him, the villagers were all kindred spirits and loved him more than their pigs. Many of them were employed on his estate: some working in the fields, some toiling as herdsmen, while some perfectly content with keeping Lord Beaverton happy.
At dusk, the villagers slowly gathered in the banquet hall at Valeria, Lord Beaverton’s residence. Upon everyone’s arrival, pieces of local lamb were put on the grill, and beer was served in tin mugs.
As people chatted in small groups, someone made it public that Lord Beaverton was arriving, and all eyes concentrated on the curvy staircase to see a figure they had dearly missed for a good three months. As he entered, people cheered from all sides, and the more notable residents greeted him with earnest handshakes.
As Rev. Beamsby shook his hand, he noticed that Lord Beaverton’s countenance, though all blithe, had a melancholic streak. He dismissed it as seasickness and, with a careless shrug, went to talk to Mr. Saunders, the local librarian, about an ancient text on meditation.
As the parlour maids started bringing the skewers out, the smell of grilled lamb spread across the hall, and people slowly started migrating towards the main table. As Rev. Beamsby looked around for Lord Beaverton, he realized that his lordship was looking out of the window across the mighty stretch of green lawn and had been completely undeterred by that heavenly-smelling lamb that had been sacrificed on the skewers. He strained his thoughts for a second, and then decided to join his lordship.
‘My lord, I hope your trip proved satisfactory. How is New York?’
‘Splendid! Fairly fabulous! New York is quite exquisite. They...’
Lord Beaverton was a taciturn soul when cornered with the daily grind, but when it came down to his travels, he juggled sentences at such a rate that even the most garrulous of the men handed him the reins. His sudden U-turn in the proceedings seemed extremely uncanny to Rev. Beamsby, and he decided to slowly glide into figuring out the spanner in the works, for Lord Beaverton didn’t consider the boundaries of a confession box for truth to be told.
‘Pardon my reach, my Lord, but I must ask for it has been clutching my soul since I saw you this evening. You seem peculiarly disturbed, sir. What is the matter, if I dare ask?’
‘Why do we drive on the left, Reverend?’ he asked in the same way a newly admitted Shaolin monk, commanded by his master to be perched on a scabbard of an upended sword asks him why it is in the syllabus, a revolutionary glister crossing his eyes as his master shifts his white floury beard with a flourish that slaps him in the face.
‘Oh! There’s a wonderful history to that,’ Rev. Beamsby said with renewed energy, for he always thought a single sermon on Sunday for a man of his talents was gross injustice, and a chance like this was too good to pass. ‘In the good old days, when they had horses and swords and, considering that the majority of the population was right-handed, it was easier for people to travel on the left so that if they were attacked, they could use their right hand to draw the sword quickly. Apart from that, it also meant that the scabbards would not get stuck together, and they could move around unobstructed.’
‘But we don’t have swords and scabbards any more, do we?’
‘That is true, my Lord.’
‘Then why do we still drive on the left?’
‘I suppose everyone is used to it. It would be hard to get the entire country to change its ways. All the transport infrastructure including our cars have been designed for left-side driving.’
‘My trip to the West made me realize that there are some things that we just haven’t got right.’
‘My Lord, I am afraid I don’t understand your point.’
‘The point, my dear Reverend, is that I am changing the rules. The village of Surlingame, from coming Monday, shall drive on the right side of the road, and so shall England in the coming year. A revolution of its own kind, a righteous revolution that will bring back the glory to our dear England.’
‘But my Lord..’
* * *
Rev. Beamsby, while an extraordinary man with late night confessions, found this a tad hard to digest and decided to sleep over it, thinking that he might be able to see this sad affair in new light tomorrow. The morning passed without any shiny thoughts. Completely nonplussed, the Reverend went to The Governess, the village pub, to see if he could catch anybody and share this new problem that had suddenly presented itself like a hooded cobra in the peaceful path of Surlingame.
As he entered with a muddled soul, he saw that Mr. Rollins, the grocer, and Mr. Saunders, the librarian, were already seated at the bar with a pint of bitter in their hand. Their unrequited hello’s evaporated as he took off his hat and dabbed his brow with his handkerchief, and they gleaned a vicarious pang from the troubled soul of this God’s very own.
‘You look perturbed, Reverend. Troubles in the confession box again?’
‘Ahh! Thank you for asking, my dear fellows, but no. But a quite a different problem has presented itself. In fact, I would be paltering with the truth if I said that the entire village isn’t in a fix.’
‘Drive on the right? That’s blasphemy. What shall we do? Makes me feel like we are in a bit of a jam,’ Rollins said, being the grocer that he was as Rev. Beamsby divulged the details of his conversation with Lord Beaverton.
‘Oh, golly! I think we should go and see the doctor,’ Saunders said, shocked from the coldness of the perspiratory glass he had just applied to uncrease the lines on his tense brow.
Dr. Rupert van BonkHorse had his dispensary above the pub. I call it dispensary, but a workshop might be more appropriate, for Dr. van BonkHorse’s varied interests also qualified him as a plumber, a mechanic and a food connoisseur. He had rented a small space on the ground floor at the back of the pub six months after opening his dispensary. Only then did he realize that people did not bring their mechanical troubles to him for his qualifications but his first floor workshop.
When the guys walked in, Doctor was seated behind his teak table, with two patients on the other side, which meant that it would take some time before they could seek his advice.
‘Do not try to squeeze whole tomatoes through the pipe, Mister. The pipe’s not big enough for that.’
‘Put this mixture into the pipe with honey and a little bit of mustard; that should take everything in your drain directly to Sydney.’
‘But Doctor, I have an ear infection.’
‘Oh Geese! I seem to have muddled the recipes, err, prescriptions again. Ear infection, you said? Just the right thing to have.’
He scribbled something on the paper and said, ‘Take 2 of these tablets 5 times a day, or 5 of these tablets 2 times a day, whichever makes you feel better. If you accidentally forget to take these one day, double the dose on the next day. Thank you, Mr. Kent. If you go to that window over there and hand this chit over, my assistant will give you the necessary tablets.’
Mr. Kent, still calculating, left for the nearest window.
‘And for you, Mr. Joggers, no tomatoes in the pipe. Tomato puree, yes. Whole tomatoes, no. Now put this mixture through your drain, as I said earlier. If you or someone accidentally consumes this, you will feel the sudden urge to eat something whole and round. Eat a couple of plums and you shall be fine.’
As he dismissed Mr. Joggers, who looked fundamentally gassed and now looked even gassier, the gang came forward and sat down.
‘What is it, gentlemen? I have an appointment with Dr. Bluebells at 1:30. Something seems to trouble my digestion. Will this be long?’
‘Well, Doctor, we seem to be in a bit of a jam,’ said Mr. Rollins, and narrated the whole story to him.
‘That’s nonsense. All flannel.’
‘We have directly had it from the horse’s mouth.’
‘Oh, really? And who is this horse?’
‘Rev. Beamsby here.’
‘Good God! Let me think then. But before that, let me tell you a funny incident. I was talking to a friend of mine just last week. In the village of Camillecote in Gloucestershire, there’s a chap who goes by the name of Boxley, who wanted to plant train stations at every farm in the county so that milk could be transported from the farmer’s barn directly to the distributing stations. From what I hear he was very adamant about it,’ he said, and stopped. He was one of those fellows who needs a receipt from the audience that everything until now had been received, loud and clear.
‘Okay. What did the villagers do then?’
‘Oh, he said that they convinced Lord Boxley to play some kind of a match, and let the match decide if he should sprinkle train stations like mouse traps. The problem is I don’t remember what sport he was talking about. I remember it was a difficult word.’
‘But you must remember something?’
‘I do. He kept on saying hoops, and that at some point they were ahead by four hoops.’
‘Hoops? He was talking about croquet then.’
‘That’s the word. Croquet. Pardon my French.’
‘That’s it!’ Saunders exclaimed. ‘Lord Beaverton might not agree with a croquet match, but I know what he will agree to. We shall have a cricket match between the village and Lord Beaverton’s team. If he wins we will all drive on the right side of the road.’
Rollins muscled his eyebrow to register his scruples and said, ‘Oh, this will never work. Lord Beaverton wore the Oxford blue. Don’t you recall his opening partnership with J. P. Sampson? They squashed the opposition to a jelly.’
A gleam of hope sparkled in Saunders’ eyes, and he said, ‘That is true, but considering the connections that he has, we need to take the matters out of his hand and place them in the able hands of fate so that England can continue to be England. What of England will be left if we start driving on the right?
‘All we need is a match, and given the cricket fanatic that he is, we will get it. We shall have to win, by hook or crook. Rev. Beamsby, you must hurry and seek a meeting with Lord Beaverton, and convince him that a cricket match is the only way to reach a middle ground. We will try to spread a word in the village and get our team together. Let us put it down for Sunday, shall we?’
It took very little convincing from Rev. Beamsby for Lord Beaverton to accept the proposal of a cricket match to decide the fate of Surlingame in becoming Britain’s first village to drive on the right.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Kitley Wellington