‘When Brian Ramsgill retired they gave him an ‘airbrush.’
‘A hairbrush?’ I asked.
‘For his retirement?’
‘He worked there all his life and they gave him a hairbrush?’
Morris sat unmoved, unmoving, unsmiling. He stared out at the wicket where our last two batsmen were defending. We had no hope of winning. They were playing for a draw.
After we’d watched another couple of balls well blocked, I asked him again: ‘All they gave him was a hairbrush?’
‘Aye. It were a pair.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I can count to two.’ He gave me a surly glance.
We watched another over.
‘I subscribed to that gift.’
‘How many years had he done?’ I asked.
‘It were 46 year. He went to Council straight from school in 1938. Then the war, then back to Council. His birthday were same as Len Hutton’s. He were always proud of that.’
‘But why give him a hairbrush?’ I said. ‘His head was as bare as a babies bum.’
Morris used words the way he used coins: reluctantly.
‘We are talking about the same man here, aren’t we?’ I needed to check. ‘Tall, skinny chap with blue eyes. Steady batsman. Couldn’t bowl. Useful wicketkeeper. Kept wicket for Dabworth Hall second team.’
‘Aye. That’s your man. He were on first team before you knew him.’
‘But he was bald when I first met him. You could spot him anywhere, even in a crowd. His head stuck up like a hard-boiled egg in a salad. He was totally bald. You’d think someone would have noticed.’
‘Nay. We knew what we were doing. It were affectionate. We all liked Brian. Brian were respected.’ The words continued to flow as fast as the queue in a post office. ‘That ‘airbrush were a carefully chosen gift. There were a mahogany box with a mirror, a comb, and a pair of brushes. You know …’ Morris mimed the action of brushing both sides of his head. He kept his eyes on the cricket.
‘Really? A hairbrush. For 46 years.’
Another over passed.
‘The brush and the mirror had fancy silver on the back,’ Morris said. ‘There were a silver plate on the lid and it said summat like “To Brian Ramsgill, ‘Ead Buildings Officer, for 46 years of loyal service.” Then the date. Then it said: “Barnthwaite Borough Council presented him with this gift to make the parting easier.” ’
At this, I burst out laughing. I leaned back on the stone bench and roared.
The bowler, half way along his run-up, broke off and glared at me, hands on hips. Morris, shocked, gave me a hefty dig in the ribs. My laugh tailed off to a gasping chuckle. The bowler went back to his mark and started his run-up again.
‘Sorry. Sorry, Morris.’ I wiped my eyes. ‘That was a good one. You really had me going. Totally.’
‘You’ve not been had.’ Morris shifted a little on his seat. ‘It weren’t a joke.’ He was irritated at not being believed.
After watching another dot ball, he went on.
‘There are things you don’t joke about. Or I don’t, anyway. We were all pals in that depot. It were an affectionate tribute to mark the end of a good solid piece of work. We asked his missus what to buy and she said something to make him laugh. Brian always liked a laugh. Not a joke. A laugh. There’s a difference.’
For four more overs the defence continued and we watched in silence.
Not a run scored.
Not a wicket taken.
Cricket at its best.
And then Morris started up again.
‘You know, lad, a hairbrush would be good, even with no box nor silverwork, if it were in the right spirit. But I expect all I’ll get from you lot is the money and a kick up the arse. I’ve worked hard for the money, so why do you have to give me a kick up the arse?’
‘Now Morris,’ I said, trying to gain some control, ‘you know better than to bring up a political decision at a weekend cricket match.’
‘Bollocks,’ said Morris. ‘Politics gets done as and when. It’s only the meetings as have set times.’
‘I know it hurts, Morris …’
‘Bollocks again. You don’t know. You’re just out of nappies. You don’t know what it’s like to be kicked out of a job you love, a job you’ve done well, before you’re ready to go, and with no thanks at all. Just a great long report from a toffee-nosed consultant saying five department heads could just as easy be two.’
‘Well, Morris …’ I groped for words. ‘You will get your pension made up to the full term.’
Another over passed.
Just one run scored.
‘That’s your answer to it all, isn’t it.’
‘Aye. You think if you give a chap a load of cash you’ve done enough and he should be happy.’
I mulled it over. Morris waited until I drew breath for a reply. Then he nipped in first and said: ‘It won’t work you know. It’ll be right enough at first, but you wait for a flood, or a bad winter. Then you’ll find no one knows what to do. And all that slack your swanky consultant says he’s taken out will mean there’s nothing to spare for a crisis. And all the goodwill gone, too.’
‘He’s a bright chap from a firm of experts,’ I said.
I wracked my brain. I was about to say something about the way other council’s have had to do the same sort of thing, but he went for a quick single. ( He’d once been our lead batsman and his anticipation had been deadly.)
‘You know them letters after his name?’
‘MBA. What’s it stand for?’
I started to tell him, but he got in first.
‘MBA. Money, Bullshit and Arrogance.’
‘We have to cut the budget, Morris.’
‘And a Ph.D. to go with it. Piled Higher and Deeper.’
‘But the budget, Morris, and …’
And at that moment, a shout went up. The batsman had snicked a ball to first slip. I’d missed it, but the fielder hadn’t. We’d lost the match, and Morris was up and off like a rocket. He would be leading the field when they all reached the pub to drown their sorrows.