Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Armless fun or, the cricketing kings of limb

A post of five unknown London pleasures on the great Great Wen blog recently piqued my interest. In it Peter Watts notes, 'in 1796, Montpelier Gardens in Walworth hosted a cricket match between 11 one-armed Greenwich pensioners and 11 one-legged Greenwich pensioners. Interest was so great that a fence was broken and spectators fell through a stable roof.' The scorecard is here.

Pete kindly sent me links to a couple more such matches: one between wounded army veterans at the Oval in 1862 - 'One Arm v One Leg', as the poster advertises - and another from 1858.

Then there is this on a South African site about an 1861 match between 11 one-armed and 11 one-legged men played at 11am in Peckham Rye. 'The players... played more like madmen than sober rational cricketers,' says the correspondent, who marvels at their lack of protective wear. 'What is a blow on the knuckles to a man who has lost an arm or a leg, who has felt the surgeon's saw and the keen double-edged knife?...

'Well, I suppose the fact is, that men don't think much of misfortunes when they are once irretrievable, and that these men felt a pleasure in doing an eccentric thing, in showing how bravely and easily they could overcome an infirmity that to some men appears terrible. After all, one thinks, after seeing such a game, one-legged and one-armed men are not so miserable as people imagine.'

It's a wonderful report, with beer and the heat adding to the 'Holbeinish fun'. And the outcome? Ultimately, 'the one-legs could not get at the ball quickly enough, their fielding was not first rate, the one arms made a gigantic effort... and won.'

POSTSCRIPT You won't be surprised to learn that a much darker literary take on this physical juxtaposition comes in a Georges Simenon novel: The Door (1962). In this remorseless portrait of jealousy, Bernard, whose hands were blown off by a mine, lives happily with his beautiful wife, Nelly, until he becomes convinced she is having an affair with their new downstairs neighbour - who is confined to a wheelchair. To say the outcome is bleak hardly covers it.

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