An Ashes Carol
For it isn't your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass
But then something strange happened, the words on the page began to change of their own accord, and Everdismal shivered in the air-conditioned room.
The Bloke Up Your Arse
For it isn't your sheila or mucker or strife
Whose judgment gets right up your arse.
The bastard whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one sledging you back to the past.
Don’t come the Plum Warner or W G
And make out you're real dinki di,
The bloke up your clacker’ll drop you down dunny
If you can't squiz him right in the eye.
The dial to appease, bugger the ECB,
Shall flip your quince to take the final Test.
We’ll sledge you till you’ve karked it, RIP
- ’cos us Aussies’ll have rippered all the rest.
Poms cringe before playing matches,
Shonky bludgers let loose the bowels of fear:
No drama, dead certs to throw up the Ashes,
They can’t cheat the green baggies between their ears.
The volume dropped from Everdismal’s trembling hand. In the glass before him was not a reflection of the room itself, but the ghostly apparition of a figure he once knew well but had not given a second’s cognisance for many a year. Together with the book, a question fell from his lips. ‘O terrible spectre, who art thou?’
In answer the ghost walked from the wardrobe mirror towards the bed, dragging great chains of microphone leads, earphone cans and satellite dishes.
‘Do you not recognise me, Everdismal Fletcher?’ the ghost asked in rounded Lancashire vowels. ‘I am your erstwhile predecessor, Accrington Bumble.’
‘Bumble,’ mumbled Everdismal. ‘This must be one of your dreadful practical jokes.’
‘Joke? This is no joke. What is more dreadful than to lose the Ashes inside fifteen months after spending eighteen years in an attempt to regain them?’ Accrington seemed more white and pearlescent than any of Mark Nicholas’s shirts. ‘I have come to give you one more chance before Christmas itself to heed the error of your ways.’
‘Errors? I still have the players' confidence; they still come to me on numerous occasions and still talk to me about tactics. I have the respect of the players and that's very important.’
‘Respect is not enough,’ thundered the Bumble, leads and cans rattling. ‘Even of the Australians. Enthusiasm and talent must come to the fore. No. Say no more, Everdismal Fletcher. Before the night is out you shall be visited by three further ghosts.’
‘David Graveney and the other two selectors?’
‘Enough. This is your last chance.’
And with that the spirit of Accrington Bumble vanished. A dodgy prawn, thought Everdismal, turning over in the air-conditioned coolness, yet he could scarcely sleep.
Rubbing his eyes at the wardrobe mirror, Everdismal thought he must be dreaming. At the end of the bed, sat a saintly figure in a cleric’s sunhat and whites, even his skin. ‘Michael Vaughan, that can’t be you – how’s the knee?’
‘You should ask him. I am the Ghost of Ashes Past. Are you ready for a journey?’
Without further ado, Everdismal was swept to Trafalgar Square where he and the Ghost of Ashes Past floated above an open-topped bus where the England team celebrated with the tumultuous crowds the regaining of the little urn after eighteen long hard years.
‘See how happy and enthusiastic they are, Everdismal,’ said the Ghost. ‘Even you’re smiling a little.’
‘Flintoff’s had far too much to drink. Not the way a future England captain should conduct – ’
‘Everdismal,’ the Ghost commanded.
‘Yes. I am smiling, a little.’
Suddenly the happy scene and joyous occasion were gone. ‘In an hour’s time you will be visited by a further spirit,’ said the Ghost of Ashes Past. ‘One you think you might know well, yet not at all.’
Everdismal could not sleep a wink, and the truth be told, did not try. ‘Enthusiasm, talent,’ he said to himself. ‘Bah, humbug. Application means results.’ It did not help the queasiness of his own spirit.
A huge jovial Santa Claus crashed through the glass, yet leaving it unshattered. Everdismal almost smiled. ‘I know who’s behind that suit. Freddie, come out, come out, wherever you are.’
‘The England skipper’s fast asleep with his wife and children, ready to enjoy Christmas Day, as all families should since I am also the Ghost of Ashes Present. What of you, Everdismal Fletcher?’
‘Will the England team go out and enjoy the last two tests?’
‘Enjoy? They don’t have central contracts to enjoy themselves. This is Test Match cricket. The Ashes. Against Australia.’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ laughed the Ghost of Ashes Present. ‘If you can’t enjoy thrashing the Aussies, what’s the point of turning up? Mend the error of your ways, Everdismal Fletcher. You could not retain by grimness what was won by enthusiasm and talent. It is not too late to change.’
‘Read for Jones?’
‘No. Well, yes. No, the error of your approach with two matches left.’
The jovial spectre turned to depart.
‘Don’t go,’ pleaded Everdismal. ‘I felt I was almost beginning to enjoy myself.’
‘So may others,’ replied Santa Claus. ‘Countless children to visit before the night is out – When a third and final ghost shall appear.’
Everdismal Fletcher nearly had a tear in his eye. Who would this third spectre be, and what might he bring? Past, Present…. just as he thought he saw the initial inklings of a Melbourne dawn, Everdismal realised it would be The Ghost of Ashes Future.
A bell tolled and a great vast shadow towered over him. The wraith was a gaunt thin skeleton, garbed but in a huge dark cloak, the width of the sky. Resting over his shoulder was a long keen scythe whose blade was sharp enough to shave off his pure white beard with but a single stroke.
‘You, you…’ stuttered the wretched Fletcher. ‘Accrington Bumble and the other two spirits were correct. You are The Ghost of Ashes Future.’
The shadow nodded.
‘The Grim Reaper… D…D..D…Death!!!’
The shadow nodded and shook his head. The blade of his scythe pointed to a distant scene. Atop the clock at Lords something was missing. Only the stumps remained.
The shadow nodded but the blade of his scythe continued to point elsewhere. To a document entitled ‘P45’
‘And it has my name upon it! O Spirits I shall mend my ways. No more shall be I Everdismal Fletcher. The cricketing world will see a new man born upon this Christmas Day. For henceforth and herewith I shall be Neverdismal Fletcher, the life and soul of cricket!’
We shall see, shan’t we?