Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Precious hours with those we love is indeed time well spent

There couldn’t have been fewer people there. On a day when England’s cricket team were hammering Ireland and when Manchester City were completing the double at Wembley, the sun was shining on a sparse crowd at a local cricket match.

The sun was shining on a sparse crowd...

The word ‘sparse’ probably does a disserve to the term ‘thinly scattered’, for at a match in the Birmingham League it was possible to count the number of spectators on two hands.

I parked up, hoping the windscreen of my car would neither reflect sunlight into a batsman’s eyes nor be shattered if somebody got frisky with the bat in hand.

Mind you, fat chance of that. While Ireland were clubbing fours in a spirited stand against England, the guys we were watching were struggling to get the ball off the square.

It was blissfully peaceful. In an age where our lives are increasingly fast-paced and where it seems impossible not to be connected to a smart phone for 15 hours a day, local cricket fixtures are the antidote. They ought to be prescribed on the NHS for those who need to calm down. “Doctor, I’m feeling over-worked.” “That’s fine. Here’s a pair of tickets for the next match.”

Except, of course, tickets aren’t required. Fifty years ago, such games were full. These days, it’s the proverbial one man and a dog.

The one man I’d gone to see was my dad, who’s spent a lifetime enjoying the medicine that is competitive sport. He was ensconced in the pavilion, one of the most knowledgeable men there, sitting back and enjoying the action. I ambled round, stopping to watch each ball, and then we sat like bookends on a bench, enjoying the day.

There were no fireworks and no fanfares, no high-jinx or adrenaline-thrills. The madness that passes for ‘normal’ in my life was suddenly becalmed and we just sat. Bliss. Sheer bliss.

Spend time with the people you love the most is as a good a motto to live by as any, and we watched the afternoon unfurl. Unhurried and unrushed, it was a time to breathe, to allow shoulders to drop a little, to forget the stresses and strains that all of us endure.

And here’s the thing. Though we spend our lives striving to do better, to put food on the table, to impress our peers, or to achieve our potential, we’re happiest when we sit back and let the world go by.

A former West Indian test cricketer strode purposefully to the middle as his time came to bat. Soon after, he was followed by a former English test all-rounder. They didn’t last long. Wickets tumbled and a game that might have been a tough contest became increasingly one-sided. And at the boundary’s edge, a father and son sat contentedly, enjoying one another’s company and feeling the weight of the world become just a little lighter.

Thirty years from now, I’ll still be sitting on the bench we shared. Who knows, perhaps my own son will be sitting alongside me then – I hope so. And my own dad will still be there, too. His presence will be as real and tangible as it was on Saturday. In my mind, we’ll be praising a glorious off-drive, noting the extra pace of an opening bowler, or admiring a batsman who’s just smashed a six straight over the scoreboard. I’ll be reflecting on the happy times, the peaceful days when one man and a dog watched an unimportant match on a glorious Saturday afternoon.

The big games were elsewhere, of course, at Wembley and Lords. But the best game was right there, in front of us. The nuance and challenge, the pitting of player against player, the hope and fall from grace – the drama that sport brings was playing out in front of us. Grassroots at its best.

But above and beyond that was this: time. Time to spend with a best friend, time to spend with a much-admired, time to just be with the most important people of all.

The game was a sideshow, the real action was spending time with a much-beloved.

Life is a process of change – but some things don’t ever die.

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