On Zaheer Abbas and Jackdaws

Like many a nerdy boy who grew up in the 1970s, I was a fan of Jackdaws. They were like the internet before the internet existed – collections of historical documents, maps, pictures and trivia about a specific historical event, all in a stylishly designed folder. In truth, I was a collector rather than a reader; the contents of all my Jackdaws, explored before I gave them to the charity shop, were still in order (compared to H, whose collection had disappeared long ago because the contents had been scattered to the winds).

Another reason my Jackdaw collection lasted so well was the fact that it had remained for 28 years at my family home, until it was sold in 2005. Being by that time a father of two, I was presented by my parents with the Jackdaw collection, among many other children’s books (and, oddly I thought, my sister’s doll’s house). But even though my eldest son would in due course be turned into a University Challenge semi finalist via his interest in obscure geography, national flags and historical footnotes, the internet had in the mean time made the Jackdaw totally redundant. Wikipedia and YouTube had made you the editor (rather than Len Deighton, say, who edited Jackdaw no 65: Battle Of Britain).

In amongst The Battle Of Waterloo, Wolfe At Quebec and Votes For Women, one Jackdaw was set slightly apart by its not entirely historical focus: no 101, Cricket. Gary Sobers on the cover, sweeping. I looked through the Jackdaw just to see if anything would take me back to the years between 1972 and 1976 – when I discovered that my father was not to be trusted, and so the attempt to bond with him that cricket represented was not really worth the trouble.

Item 16 pulled me up short. It was about village cricket, as symbolised but one team: Mistley, chosen obviously because it’s known as the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club/Mistley Cricket Club, the sort of ‘joke’ you could imagine Brian Johnston making). The church whose spire can be seen in the photograph of a cricket match included in the Jackdaw is the same spire as I can see now – from the reverse angle – through the ground floor window of my house at no 4 the Green.

I couldn’t believe that all this time, this coincidence had been lying hidden. I moved to Mistley in 1999, and the Jackdaw had been unread for all this time (and another 20 years before that, at least).

I flipped over the A4 page, printed on card to resemble a page from a photo album, and there was a picture of the village team on August 15, 1969, giving a toast to an old lady. And third from the left was A, the man who’s lived since 1963 next door at no 3! He must have been about 30 then; he still had hair.

I immediately strapped on my splint and went to A’s back door. I showed him the Jackdaw. In typical village-cricketer fashion, he was matter-of-fact about the discovery that his photograph was in a publication from 1971 that had just been found in the house of his next door neighbour.

On impulse, I presented him with my copy.

He nodded: Thank you very much, I’m sure. He hadn’t seen it before and he’d look through it later, after tea.

Or something.

I was obviously far more excited about it than he was, and soon withdrew.

As I write this at 2.08am on the last day of May, I hear A calling for help. I sleep on the ground floor at no 4, with my bed head up against the wall with no 3, where A is in bed downstairs as well (knee trouble, and more). His wife, an excellent woman who was a nurse at Colchester and Ipswich, popped round to chat yesterday, the postbox at the end of the road providing the excuse for her temporary escape.

He’ll be shouting for me soon, she said.

It’s alright, I replied. We’ll hear him through the wall.

She laughed. All that time at Colchester and Ipswich hospitals have given her (and me) the same sense of humour.

All this cricket stuff, which happened 4 years ago, came back to me this week as a result of a chance remark I made to H. He lives in a maisonette in Ladbroke Grove with his dementia-afflicted mother. (H is 59, though he looks to be in his late 30s; which means she is at least into her 80s.)

We occasionally go into WhatsApp reveries. This time, we were discussing his evening at a garden party in ‘his’ back garden, one of those splendid Notting Hill inventions that is only accessible to neighbours (as immortalised in Notting Hill the movie).

(You need to know that the church visible from H’s home – St John’s, Notting Hill – was also filmed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1974 when Jack Nicholson walks past in the film The Passenger.)

I wrote: Should have remembered you could see it from Locke’s house [a reference to the Nicholson character]

H: Yeah I’m in that over the shoulder shot, sitting in my front room watching England v Pakistan 1974

I: Zaheer Abbas scoring a double century

H: Didn’t want to say – but “drinks party” + “Zaheer Abbas”

And with that came a photo of that night: H, his arm round Zaheer Abbas, at the party!

I couldn’t believe it.

I: Is that really him?

H: It is. Two hours ago

Zaheer – the ‘Asian Bradman’ who had been out of my life and thoughts since 1974 – was also back!


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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