by Blake Dawson* <>

From the Preface to Chapter 1:

If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?

*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.

Chapter 29: Skipping

I had known in my own my mind all winter that I was not going to play Under 14s in what would normally have been my second and final year at that level but was instead going to play Under 16s for so may reasons that I did not have the slightest doubt, but with the season rapidly approaching I had only communicated the specific reasons that I related to interested individuals to those individuals, without ever putting the whole case together anywhere except in my own head. And that left me with a problem I had not seen. None of them had taken any real notice. I would not quite go so far as to say that they did not believe me. More that they thought I was exploring an idea or expressing a specific frustration. But it did not sink into my head that none of them were treating my intention seriously until the Monday night before the season was to start, on my weekly visit to Harris’s Sports Store. Even then, it took until I’d been there half an hour, in which Mr Harris’s only real points had been about the coming Under 14 season, for it to strike me like a thunderbolt.

Fortunately he was serving a customer at the time, which may have been the break I needed to finally open my eyes, and by the time he was finished my brain was sufficiently in charge of my tongue that I did not scream, shout or threaten in ways that I felt like, but which would have been totally inappropriate in that little corner of my life: “Mr Harris, can you please listen to what I am saying for a few minutes because I have suddenly realised that I have exactly forty-seven hours to get it through the heads of a dozen or more people that I really am not playing Under 14 this season. I have known for six months and have talked to all of you about my reasons over recent weeks and months, but it had not dawned on me till five minutes ago that none of you had taken the slightest notice. You have always been my trusted advisor on dealing with cricket politics, and I now need you to tell be straight whether there is an active conspiracy to deny my wishes or whether I have done such a poor job communicating them that nobody has taken me seriously?” He took so long to respond that I was leaning more and more towards my first alternative, yet could have hardly been surprised that he deflected the issue into one of what I could learn from it: “Blake, you never do any good by trying to find something to blame for a problem. Neither blaming yourself nor blaming a lot of people who you know really care for you is going to help much between now and Saturday. And you are the one person who has done what none of his friends have managed over a lot of years trying and got Oliver to finally see that blaming anybody, including himself, for his life was getting him nowhere. But now, the thing you probably should be asking yourself is why, if so many people close to you have unanimously not taken your arguments seriously, are you persisting?”

It was my turn to allow myself a long pause: “Ok, I can still take the easy way out and say that it is my life and my decision and you had all better realise that fast, or I can concede that I am the only person who knows more than a quarter of my reasons and that I have only discussed with each of you those reasons that I thought had were of direct interest to you, and none of you have been smart enough to take what I have said to you at face value. The one thing I know for certain is that I am not playing Under 14s. If Jordan has roped in enough of his mates that there is no spot for me in Under 16s then I will still be there and be their twelfth man, or even thirteenth, and just concentrate my energies on the afternoon to make sure that when the seniors start to get a few players back there will be absolutely no suggestion of me becoming surplus there. And the first place I will be going when I leave here is to Jordan’s to make sure he knows I am both available and want to play so that he knows that is one gap he does not have to plug. So what do I have to tell you so that you will finally believe me?”

He suggested that I should go through all the reasons in one hit with him, not so much to convince him as to make sure in my own mind that they really would make sense to other people before I started burning bridges. While I knew the ashes of those bridges were already cold, I did as I was asked and at least elicited a concession that there might be some difficulty finding enough time in the, by then, forty-five hours left on my clock for me to go through the whole story with all potentially interested parties. Mr Harris claimed to still not know what I wanted from him in the circumstances: “Do you want me to give you reasons to change your mind, or do you want me to let some of those people know your intentions?” I chose to ignore his implicit plea for flexibility on my behalf: “Neither, nor anything else active. I just want that when anybody asks you, as some no doubt will, that you be honest enough to say that I have explained most of my reasons to you and that you understand that it is my decision. I do not even care if you say you disagree with it, although I would be worse than angry if you did anything to encourage anybody to try to obstruct it.”

In the finish it was only Joey Mantari who was prepared to try to challenge my reasons head on, and in so doing opened a door for some overdue complexification of his simplistic view of the world. He wanted to resolve it in terms of friends and enemies and the perpetual question of captaincy. He was surprised that I really considered him and Troy to be good friends of mine despite my still frequent battles with Joey, but that I was nowhere near as confident in my relationship with Rusty and Aaron, to the point that I felt it much better for me to be out of the way while they assumed the leadership roles. I also felt, and had Troy to back me up on that one, that Walshie had such a dominating presence as a coach that it was hard for a captain to really do much under him, which Joey used to evoke a concession from me that I would one day like another shot at captaincy, even though I still needed some time to put my darkest memories of Under 12s behind me.

Jordan was more than happy to open the batting with me for the first time since our Under 12 premiership and I got forty a bit too slowly to give us any real chance. I also got enough in the afternoon to even satisfy my objectives for establishing myself as a permanent rather than a fill in, and that innings at least laid the foundation for a solid victory. I was actually more nervous about my return to the sports store on the Monday where I was determined to drag out Mr Harris’s opinion as to how much damage I had done to a few people’s hopes in the wash up. He was happy to concede that I had left a few people angry at themselves, primarily for not addressing my ideas seriously enough nor early enough, but he did not feel that I had gone down in anybody’s estimation and that I may even have gone up in a few. They generally conceded that it was the best decision for me, but a few still clearly felt it was not the best decision for them. “So now I’m seen as a selfish little brat?” “No, not selfish, more like difficult.” “You know, I take that as a compliment, but not one I would expect their simple minds to understand.” “You seem to delight in teaching lessons we do not want.” I got the closest I ever have to a genuine argument with Mr Harris about his inclusion of himself with those people, to which he conceded that he knew I was not doing that to him personally, but that he did include himself because he cared deeply about and identified himself as part of the group of people whose work behind the scenes kept our little club ticking along. I conceded to myself that apart from him and Walshie and Graham Andrews, that I had still not thought about other ‘senior’ people around the club having a need to know, but figured I should be able to find a chance to talk to them each individually before the week was out. The following Monday, Mr Harris gave me a warm endorsement of my, still in my mind belated, efforts behind the scenes.

Ever increasing cricket commitments were really cutting into my opportunities to take Buster on our playful runs in the back parks, although the start of daylight saving time promised to improve things a bit. Nat, Hades and I called in at Warren’s on a particularly warm Wednesday and he took the opportunity of my apologising to Buster to ask if I had any free time at the weekend. Sunday afternoon after combined side trials was all I could offer and he said he would make lunch for me if I could spare a couple of hours. Warren made sure we did not take much time over his efforts with lunch, while my mind was set on a bit of recovery time before anything strenuous, but he promised nothing strenuous and ushered Buster and me into his car. We drove a couple of suburbs and knocked on the door of an ordinary suburban home. With me half aware that Buster on his lead was at full alert, Mrs James stepped out to usher us in around the side while Warren introduced me as being: “the first thing I thought of when you asked me to bring something to settle him down with. Blake is always taking him for runs out in the parks and has more instinctive control over him than I have managed despite all our obedience training.”

In the yard, we met the reason for the visit, another German Shepherd of obviously equally pure blood lines. “You can let him off the lead, but don’t take your eyes off him. I’m so I glad I remembered that you were nearby. Since we retired her and brought her home to be our pet she has done so well, and she has made it more than clear that she really would like to raise another litter.” Still on high alert, Buster had appeared a little unsure of himself in first approaching the old bitch, but soon their noses and tongues were busy checking out their opposite ends as is dogs’ way. Then, just as they seemed to be getting focussed, the bitch danced away and started to gently tease him. She would let him approach her rear end, then spring away and make him approach again, then, as soon as he caught onto her rules for that part of the game, she changed them again, nuzzling his neck so he would trot a few steps beside her, then as soon as he broke rank she would repeat until he suddenly reversed roles, nuzzling her neck and trying to herd her as he might a strayed sheep. Mrs James had also relaxed: “He’s a quick learner and she’s a good teacher. They will be fine now.” The bitch led Buster a dancing trot to the very back of the yard where our view of him finally mounting her was partially obscured: “Can’t be seen giving your young friend too big a lesson,” Mrs James ushered us inside, with Warren somehow managing to choke his laughter, and poured us each a drink. “They will not want to be together for more than a few more minutes. I will let you know as soon as we can confirm their success, and I’m sure he will be in demand once we can let the word out.”