Almanac Cricket (Tom Wills Society): Clay Pipes or Half Pipes?

 

 

In 1865 it was considered fashionable for cricketers to take the field clutching small clay pipes to accompany them on a potentially long day chasing leather. These were the best cricketers of the time. Drinking and smoking on the field was not only accepted, but encouraged in some quarters. It was part of the cricketers identity, perhaps a sign of cultured masculinity, evidence of endurance, a snubbing of authority or maybe a demarcation point that kept the consuming win-at-all-costs ethos at bay.

 

Fast forward to 1993-94 and I’d like to introduce you to Doug ‘Budda’ Morris,the premier batsman at the Croxton Cricket Club when we reached A-Grade in the Essendon and Broadmeadows Churches League that summer. ‘Bood’, was a butcher who grew up in Northcote, but moved to Footscray because he got a job at the Footscray Market. He was called ‘Budda’ because he had a really badly traced tattoo of the Buddha on his stomach. These were times when tattoos were still an identity marker for tough, working class men. No Chinese symbols, runes or Greek deities in those days. Plenty of anchors, broken hearts and snakes.

 

Bood was our number 3 and when the mood took him he could play every text-book shot. I never saw him get clean bowled or fall LBW. He’d either get caught or run out. He was also a handy medium-pacer and one of the sharpest slips-fielders in the comp. Our main job was to keep him sober enough to execute his talents. Some days this was a challenge. Bood would enter the club rooms at around 11.30am with a slab less three beers (breakfast) under his arm and a half pipe in his cricket bag. The pipe was stuck into an old Patra Orange Juice plastic bottle with Blu-tac.

 

 

Greg De Moore’s remarkable book: Tom Wills: First Wild Man of Australian Sport is essential reading for anyone interested not only in the life of Tom Wills, but in the history of cricket in Australia. Greg treats Tom Wills with respect, but doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker sides of his character that were plagued by addiction to alcohol and a refusal to engage in any meaningful labour other than cricket or football. Some passages capture the humour and the carefree nature of the period:

 

“The most common smoking device found on cricket fields of the colony was the small clay pipe…When articles were written objecting to this habit of smoking, it was not the ‘dirty habit’ of inhaling a bit of ‘cutty’ or ‘weed’ that was objected to, but rather the immobility and carelessness of fieldsmen distracted by their smoking.” (pp177-78)

 

Imagine the outrage today if the kids had to witness something like this from their role models? I can picture Warnie giving his pipe to the umpire, bowling an over an then resuming to puff away at slip waiting for the next chance to come his way.

 

Croxton Cricket Club epitomized tough, working class cricket in the inner North. Most of our players were factory hands, council workers, day labourers, tradesmen or (in those days) drug dealers. We even had an axe murderer as an alumni, whose mum was on the committee and ran the canteen on match day. You didn’t take liberties when ‘Merle’ guarded the till. No credit and no IOU’s. She ran a tight ship and had the club’s best interests at heart. She hated senior players swearing in front of the juniors. “Pull ya bloody heads in and watch ya mouths!” she would often lament.

 

We had three senior teams and four juniors. Croxton was vibrant and full of promise with many dedicated parents and players willing to coach and encourage the kids coming through, despite our propensity for chemical self-immolation. In retrospect, we could have provided better examples off the field, but I guess most 20 -somethings don’t think of that at the time.

 

I was the only one at Uni until ‘Pommy Dave’ (actually a Scottish communist) came along with his political science degree and his deceptive in-swingers. Amid the mists of weed and the dregs of warm beer, we’d sometimes discuss Marxism and the scourge of religion after the game. It wasn’t long before we were labelled ‘soft’ and ‘nerdy’ by the scallywags at CCC. It didn’t take long for me and Dave to succumb to the puerility punctuated by the 12th Man albums being played on high rotation in the club rooms. A dozen beers and a few half pipes will do that to you.

 

What is it about cricketers drinking and smoking? Is it the fact that the game is so precarious, given to the moods of the gods? You can bowl brilliantly and get nothing yet bowl rubbish and pick up a five-for. A dropped catch, a lucky decision, the ball hitting the edge yet still evading dismissal. So much is left to chance and chaos mathematics. Try and make sense of that with a sobriety. Greg De Moore writes:

 

“Tom smoked his little clay pipe on the field and in the MCC pavilion. He would sit in the pavilion watching cricket, fingers characteristically entwined in his beard, his face, settled in meditation, shrouded by smoke from his fiery pipe. Tom held, admired and coveted his small clay pipe. But if you were Tom Wills, son of Horatio, you did not merely caress your pipe on the field, you made it part of the entertainment as you drank and smoked and bowled all day.” (p178)

 

It was one of those irksome Melbourne days in mid-November where rain was incessant, but not heavy enough to wash out play. We waited patiently until finally play began at around three o’clock. We batted and a wicket fell early, Bood had spent the idle two hours sucking pipes and swilling VBs in the sanctity of the change rooms. He was wobbly as he padded up and sauntered to the crease. In the next two overs he proceeded to hit six fours and a magnificent six over fine leg. We had yet to see him run between wickets.

 

Alec, our opening bat faced the first ball of the next over and tucked it wide of fine leg for what seemed an easy two. Bood chugged down the wicket for the first and and half way back for the second slipped and fell down mid-pitch. He had time to get up and make it easily. He got up, took two pace and slipped again, his face and whites full of mud. As the ball was relayed in from the deep, Bood had resorted to swimming freestyle in order to reach the crease. He was run out by three metres amidst howls of laughter in the club rooms. It was one of the funniest things we’d seen on a cricket field. Muddied, and incensed, Bood wobbled back to the pavilion to the solace of a can and a half pipe brooding: “There was never two in that. Fucking Al..cunt.”

 

Play was washed out at four o’clock and Bood was wiped out by 6pm. He slept in the club rooms that night with his pads as his pillow. As he snoozed in the corner the rest of us cackled at his antics. We’d be talking about Bood’s ‘swim’ for years to come.

 

 

Somewhere in time, in a different dimension, Bood Morris and Tom Wills will meet. They will nod, exchange pipes and then shake their heads once they look into each other’s souls. That’s cricket.

 

 

 

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. War stories Phil? Always a 2 edged sword. Warnings or glorifications?
    Back in the 70’s when I played cricket everyone was pissed or hungover – all the time. As a plodding opener, my most attacking innings was with the mother of all hangovers when I knew I couldn’t stay out in the heat long. Team mates wondered why I didn’t bat like that all the time. And our captain drove home from work on a Friday night after a long session and fell asleep at the top of his driveway. Was stopped by the brick wall of his garage. His missus left him there. He made 50 the next day.
    As for Bood’s comment, I prefer “c…” “Pull ya bloody head in and watch ‘yer mouth.”

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks PB, Trust you to pull me up on the C word. You know I only put it in to annoy you (Wink).

    It’s a double-edged sword indeed in the sense that when you’re young you don’t often take into account the impact of your words and behaviour on even younger and more impressionable minds. It is a tale of two very talented cricketers, masculinity and how it has taken so long to change in the context of the cricket club rooms. Is it really any better now? Not sure. My sciatic nerve pulled the plug on my cricket back in ’96. As usual there is the gallows humour that I hope got across to the reader.

    Funnily enough, I never used to drink on the Friday night if I knew I had to bowl 20 overs the next day. So I had some semblance of discipline even then. Saturday night was a different story…that sword again. Cheers

  3. JohnHenry says:

    Wonderful read Phil, laughed like hell.
    When you write your memoirs one day it’s imperative that this must be one of the chapters.
    TWW would have loved it
    More please!

  4. Greg de Moore says:

    Phil,

    Just a beautiful piece. Thank you.

    When I was up in Queensland, on Tom Wills’ farm (the modern Tom Wills who lives near Springsure,) I spent days sorting through letters that were indecipherable. Lots of them had cross-writing. No shortage was drunk in anger, irritation and frustration as I tried to fathom them out.

    Finally I found something that I’d spent years looking for.

    I’d often wondered if Tom was drunk on the field. Whether he played up to the crowd. If he just didn’t give a damn. Of course it required someone of innocence to record this. Someone for whom recording the moment was not thwarted by guilt or uncertainty. That moment occurred in 1865 when Tom (at the height of his prowess) was seen by his young schoolboy brother (Egbert) drinking, getting smashed, and sucking in smoke all day from his clay pipe. Egbert Wills wrote it all down so we could see a Tom we’d guessed at but never really knew for sure.

    I can still feel the swell of satisfaction of discovery as I turned over and read that letter.

    Thanks again for a lovely essay,

    Greg

  5. David Bridie says:

    its funny cos its true..fine work Phil.Well PlayedEvery suburban cricket club has a Pommy Dave.They are what makes the place sane.

  6. Love the portrait of Bood… Both sensitive and humorous in the way you show him to have been.

    and cricket, surely the structure, pace and length of the game lends itself to the odd drink and smoke as a way perhaps to ameliorate the monotony or boredom that must set in from time to time for players. And well, the spectators too…drinking well under way before the first over is done at the big test matches.

    There’s something of the 19th century flaneur in Gregs writings on Tom, especially in your paragraph above and the description of him watching from the pavilion.

    Re clay pipes…terrific restaurant in New York in which the ceilings and walls are literally covered in them. Relics from the theatre days in which actors and the like would pop in in between acts to fortify themselves.

  7. David Bridie says:

    One of the great things about cricket is that it is a sport that you can play when you are not in top shape.So whether you are old,drunk,hurt or addicted to opiates you can still spend the afternoon at extra cover covering a space,and spend a couple of hours post game in the dressing room occasionally grunting and nobody can tell the difference between you and half the rest of the team.And the fact that a cricket team can accommodate Pommy Dave and his late night treatise on Engels,and Rodney the suburban accountant who deep down probably thinks that John Stone should still he head of treasury,means that the club is a broad church,albeit one that sits 9th on the C grade ladder.

  8. Before we jump too far into celebrating the bonhomie of the Bood and suburban cricket, lets consider the extent and frequency of the consumption in Phil’s (typically honest) story;
    ” Our main job was to keep him sober enough to execute his talents. Some days this was a challenge. Bood would enter the club rooms at around 11.30am with a slab less three beers (breakfast) under his arm and a half pipe in his cricket bag.”
    Wet brain (ie Korsakoff’s Disease) is not a pretty thing – think goldfish in a bowl. Long after you have learned to live with the blackouts and other humiliiations. Alan was an otherwise intelligent and kind man in his 40’s with an ex-wife and children who still loved him despite his decades of constant heavy drinking. Alan (not his real name) never said much. There wasn’t much other than scattered fragments to try to link into a sentence. But after the stories from the young wives who hid their bottles in the Christmas decorations or the washing machine because hubby never looked there, Alan looked pensive and said that when the pile of beer bottles in the lounge room got too big and his mate was coming back from FIFO work he went out the back and dug a big hole in the garden bed and buried them. Whenever he still went there he was always amazed at how beautiful the flowers were that grew in that patch.
    “Something beautiful out of something ugly” he remarked and returned to his Groundhog Day.

  9. Cracker of a story Phil.

    Brings back memories of my old cricket club and some of the odd bods, or odd Boods in your case, who provided so much unintentional entertainment.

    On reflection a few nerve settling jars or a half pipe would have improved my batting.

  10. Patrick O'Brien says:

    Sounds very familiar …

  11. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks for the comments folks.
    John Henry – I certainly could write a book about my 6 seasons at Croxton. There were plenty of characters there, put it that way.

    Greg – I tried to depict the sheer bloody mindedness of the alcoholic cricketer and take a swipe at the enabling of the drinking culture, particularly at cricket clubs. Bood loved to play to a crowd and the crowd at Croxton loved him because he could play and was generous in sharing a can or passing around a bong. Maybe too generous. Tom Wills was a sporting genius and Horatio like Daedalus, may have had other plans, but Tom must have enjoyed the challenge of flying close to the sun to see what happens. Audacity, tragedy and comedy in sport. Aristotle would have written volumes about cricket.

    Kate – Ah yes, Flaneurity ? Is there such a word? Bood and Tom were certainly entertainers. Must see a pic of that New York restaurant with the pipes. And the drinking – to celebrate, to commiserate and to alleviate boredom. Sometimes any excuse will do. Cheers

    David B – Cheers mate. Yes, the ‘Pommy Daves’ are a bit of an archetype aren’t they. This Dave was Scottish and he was bewildered that most at the club couldn’t figure out that he had a strong ‘Scottish’ accent. “Nah, pommy’s close enough” and it stuck, much to Dave’s chagrin at times.

    JD – What club did you play for? Sure there’d be some curly tales from your keyboard. Would love to read them one day.

    Patrick – Maybe a little too familiar for the health of many flanneled fools and their families.

    PB – Alcoholic Brain, Wet Brain, No Brain. The tragedy far outweighs the mirth and the glory in most cases, but as you point out in you wonderful example: If we can make something good out of something ugly, all may not be lost. I really hope Bood has recovered and living a happy and healthy life. Haven’t seen him for 20 years. He wasn’t in a good way. Let’s hope Alan’s story may have reached him in some way.

  12. Luke Reynolds says:

    Fantastic read Phil. Cricket and drinking have seemingly gone hand in hand since the first underarm ball was delivered. While this has given many great stories for cricket books and sportsmans nights, for every funny story there’s a Chuck Fleetwood-Smith sleeping under bridges and a Tom Wills.
    My club has always walked the fine line between being a social, family club, and a drinking boys club. Think we are on the right track at the moment, as our record number of juniors would seemingly attest.
    Hope Bood is well. And all the other Boods that most clubs seem to have.

  13. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Cheers Luke,
    Glad to see you have healthy junior numbers at Pombo. They are the lifeblood of clubs. Keeping them keen after they turn 16 is a challenge.
    Teach them well and hide the bongs !!

  14. Carolyn Spooner says:

    Crikey Phil, I thought I was a good writer. You’re in a league of your own. An amazing read thxx.

  15. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks Carolyn, that’s very generous of you. Glad you enjoyed the yarn. Cheers

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