Monday, 30 January 2012

Clarence Green and the last match

Sitting in the flat one saturday night, the phone rang. A high, falsetto voice with a strong Jamaican accent asked, "Is that Mr Stephenson?"

"Hello Clarence", I answered.

"How you know it was me?" came the reply in usual deep baritone. I would often get calls from Clarence quite late at night, but this was the first time he had tried to fool me by 'disguising' his voice.

"Come and play cricket tomorrow - we need another man."

"I haven't played cricket since school, and even then I was crap."

"It doesn't matter, man. Just come and play cricket tomorrow."

"No. I don't want to, and if I did you wouldn't want me to either."

"You're scared of the ball!"

"No I'm not - I just don't want to play cricket tomorrow, that's all."

"Yeah man - you're scared of the ball!" With that he gave up trying to persuade me, and I went back to watching T.V. I could hear his taunting, high pitched laugh as I put down the receiver.

The next night - Sunday - the phone rang again but this time it was a mutual friend, and his voice did not sound happy.

"It's Clarence," the voice said, "He didn't make it."

For a while I was confused, but then the story came out. Clarence had been fielding at a remote part of the windswept pitch up on Lansdown when he dropped to the ground like a felled oak. Everyone thought he was feigning boredom except Dougie - a red-haired and bearded Scotsman, who - realising that Clarence had suffered a heart-attack - ran to his aid and began attempting mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Dougie received a mouthful of Clarence's vomit for his pains and - turning away - vomited himself onto the grass of the pitch. The game was up.

Clarence - a gentle giant of a man who towered over my 6' 3" frame - had been one of my best friends for the last five years of his life, but it wasn't until his death that I knew how many others he had running concurrently. He was not secretive, but every area of his life was compartmentalised, and everyone in it received a similar level of attention.

At his funeral, we all met - some of us for the first time - and there was around 200 people there in Trowbridge. A good many of them were high-ranking British Naval officers - Clarence worked for the Ministry of Defence as a limousine driver.

Sometimes he would park his limo outside the pub as he waited for me to arrive for a drink and a chat - he was not a big drinker. One day I tested our friendship by asking to borrow the huge, black, government car outside, and - giving me a hard stare which said it all - he silently tossed me the keys and watched me walk outside and get into it.

As I drove it up the hill toward one of the handful of MOD encampments, I suddenly realised what I was doing, so turned around and returned it as quickly as possible. They would have sacked him had they found out about it, and they probably would have sent him back to Jamaica - which he had not set foot in for about 35 years - as well. For some reason, he lived in silent dread of deportation, as I found out when I invited him over to Germany for a little break with friends.

After ten minutes of cajoling, he quietly said, "They would not let me back into England." I think they would have, but he dared not try.

I once asked him if he could explain to me what Rastafarians were about, and he gave me the most concise explanation that I have ever heard, before or since.

"All it is, the man goes up into the mountains, grows his hair long, smokes a lot of dope then comes down and talks a lot of rubbish." Now I knew.

I knew that Clarence had - in the past - received pioneering surgery for a congenital heart condition, but it was not until one night when he had come back from the doctor's after a routine check-up that I found out what sort. He was laughing hysterically and couldn't wait to tell me what he had discovered that day.

"Guess what, man - they put a PIG'S HEART inside me! A PIG'S HEART!"

I said that this could not possibly have happened, otherwise me and the rest of the world would have known about it, but he insisted it was the truth.

"Yeah man - it's true! They took out my heart and replaced it with a pig's!"

He seemed almost disappointed when I told him that it was more likely that they had used the heart valves of a pig to replace his defective ones, but was still pleased that he was probably the first person in the country to have had this treatment. I think though, that - unlike your average Ratstafarian - he would have preferred the idea of the whole heart.

The week after his funeral, there was to be a cricket match with the same team, to be played up on the field where he gasped his last, and I decided that - for the first time since schooldays - I would play in it in his place.

At the very beginning of the game, the captain placed me in an almost suicidal position, about 12 feet away from the opposing batsman's left hand, and the very first ball was hit for a potential six, straight at my eyes.

There was no time for anyone to shout - there was no time for me to make a decision as to whether to duck the ball or try and catch it as it sped the short distance toward me at about 120 miles per hour, so I just cupped my hands and waited for the impact. I didn't have to wait long.

The ball hit the palms of my hands, then forced both thumbs backwards to almost breaking point, before escaping them and flying up to my right shoulder where it impacted with a noise that could be heard from the other side of the field. I stood there - stunned - for a second, trying to work out whether or not I needed an ambulance, and everyone shouted 'CATCH!' I thought I had, or at least made a good effort at it.

Then everyone began screaming at me to turn around, and by the time I did so, the ball dropped gently at my feet as I looked at it with a stupid expression on my face. It had ricocheted off my shoulder and risen vertically to about 25 feet, then dropped slowly offering me an easy catch for a first ball - which I missed. When I took my shirt off later, I saw a perfect imprint of the ball's stitching in blood-blisters, which stayed for about two weeks before fading.

'Scared of the ball' - Ha! That showed him.


  1. He sounds like the Joel Garner of village cricket.... Quite an exit!

  2. So sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. Sounds like he went doing something he loved. We should all be that lucky.

  3. From your description, he sounds like someone I would have liked. In a way, a wonderful way to go....quickly and doing something that he enjoyed. A lovely tribute Tom.

  4. Tom - you almost had me in tears here. Only rarely do we meet men like Clarence and when we do they need to be treasured. How lucky you were to have such a friendship.