The White Stick

I can still remember the white stick.

That’s what we called it, “get the white stick” we’d say.

It must have been an old chair or table leg, the dull chipped white paint from years gone past, reconstituted into a rounders bat, or corner post, or whatever other need we had for a foot or so long, broad, flattish piece of wood.

It had been left out in the rain many times, that poor stick, it had been rescued from neighbours gardens on more than one occasion (and one of those involved a very near miss with a greenhouse) and is an oddly enduring part of my childhood, I can picture it now, the way it tapered towards one end, the rounded ends, the weight of it in my hand.

A simple white stick.

I can still remember the way it tumbled through the air that day, a gracefully slow arc, a gentle Kubrick spin as it left my hand.

I had missed the ball completely which was probably just as well for, in my excitement, I was calling on my best Botham impression and heaven knows where it might have ended up, although I will admit that part of me thought I knew or at least hoped, what the result would’ve been.

I find it odd that I have such a specific memory of that moment, that I can remember my exact thoughts as Gillian prepared to bowl. As she ran up I can remember deciding that I would try and copy something I’d done recently.

A few days before the ‘day the white stick flew’ I was standing in my parents back garden. I had been pitching and putting a golf ball around the grass in an aimless, constrained fashion. I’m still not entire sure why I decided to progress from pitch and putt to a full on golf swing in a garden which, even on a good day, was no more than 65m long.

A full swing was impossible unless I found somewhere safe to aim. I looked around and found a possibility.

That day the naïvety of my youth seemed to make quick acceptance of the narrow boundary between success and failure as I took aim between the neighbouring houses, hoping the ball would miss them and their myriad windows and land safely on the grassy slope beyond.

Too far and I’d bring the dual carriageway into play, a folly of course, I was lucky I could hit the ball straight, let alone carry more than a 100m or so.

I was full of confidence, my pitch and putt game was really coming on, and all I was really doing was pitching the ball a little further.. a lot further.

Somehow I was successful that day, a clipped 7 iron saw the ball rise to beat the fence at the back of my parents garden before slowly fading away to the right, dissecting numbers 34 and 36 with uncanny precision. A once in a lifetime shot.

The reality of what I’d done immediately replaced the momentary euphoria – what a shot! How did I do that?! WHAT HAVE I DONE! – I nervously sprinted out the back gate and around the block to try and retrieve my ball.

I never did find it.

Despite that scare it was the same self-belief that I channelled a few days later as Gillian tossed the tennis ball my way. The white stick firmly in hand, I started to swing hard. My technique was somewhere between that of a poor cricket player and a decrepit baseball star, quite a feat for a 10-year-old, but I put my heart and soul into it, remembering the golf tip of channelling power through the hips, pulling the shoulders round, I could feel the stick accelerate as it moved towards the ball.

Ohh but if I had put stick to ball that day what a glorious sight it would have been. The soft thwump of the ball as it connected then the silent awe of the watching crowd (Gillian and Stuart) as it sailed high and far, beyond numbers 34 and 36 to the grass slope beyond.

But I missed.

Instead of a solid connection there was nothing but the air of mild panic as I realised I hadn’t connected with the ball, there was nothing slowing down my momentum, and my grip was slipping.

I can still feel the rough edge of the stick, the pits and craters left as the paint chipped away, as it pulled through my hands. It was a warm night and we were in the midst of a battle of wits and strength that had us all exuberantly defiant of the fading light. Three happily sweaty kids at the end of a summer evening, innocently playing their own weird hybrid of french cricket, rounders, and baseball.

Out of my hands the stick flew in that slow end over end tumble, up and away over my head curving slowly yet, despite my gasped pleadings of realisation, defiantly towards the house.

It entered the house via my bedroom window, specifically through the bottom left pane of four.

The shouts and the distinct tinkling of broken glass alerted my parents, Stuart took off at a run, Gillian and I froze.