It was a sunny Sunday afternoon so I decided to take a walk to Alexandra Park, south of Manchester city centre. A cricket match was under way when I wandered through the park gates and I settled down near the boundary with an ice cream to watch. The batsmen were well on top and quite a few sixes and fours whizzed by. All the players looked Pakistani and as I lay there I listened to the waiting batsmen chatting in Urdu.
At four o’ clock forty overs were up, and six wickets were down for 256 runs. Time for tea and the fielding side came and sat down near me. Some of them started their prayers but most just took a rest. One guy wandered over my way so I spoke to him.
“Only 257 to get” I said. He grinned. “Yeah. What’s the plan?” He had quite a strong local accent. It turned out that they were from Macclesfield and this was their first match of the season. They’d be playing every Sunday until the end of August. Plus one practice a week.
“That’s quite a commitment” I said. “But I guess you stay fit.”
He gestured to his ample stomach. “Well, not that much. Plus it’s Ramadan at the moment.”
“You’re all fasting?” I asked. I hadn’t thought of that. “No relaxations for sport?”
He shook his head. “Most of us. From four o’clock this morning till eight thirty. No food or water.”
It was a hot afternoon and they had been chasing those fours and sixes hard.
“What, no water? Is that healthy?”
He shrugged. “Well, that’s what we do.” Then he said “Thing is, the food we eat is all so processed.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of that, since one of things I’ve always liked about food in Indian restaurants is that it definitely isn’t processed, it’s mostly cooked from fresh.
“At home,” he said, “it’s different.“
“Pakistan. We have farms and know lots of other farmers and so we get all our food direct.”
The umpire, who was wearing a skullcap, was calling them back now. My friend’s team mates had finished their prayers and the opening batsmen were taking their place.
“What number are you?”
His phone rang so I wished him luck and started walking over to the other side of the park where I could hear some live music. There was a very relaxed vibe as I sauntered along. Families, young couples, skaters, loungers, sunbathers and picnickers. When I got to the source of the music, it turned out to be what I can only describe as a sort of 1960s love-in. There was a microphone and small sound system and a chap with a guitar. Various figures were taking it in turns at the microphone. It wasn’t hard since all they were doing was singing and chanting one syllable - Lurrvvve - while all sorts of tom-toms and impromptu tin cans and skins banged out a rhythm of sorts.
An assortment of figures, old, young and in between were marking time, some with minor jigging and others with ecstatic contortions. There were signs saying “ The Time Is Now!” and “Love Is The Only Reality”. I didn’t see one saying ‘Tune in, Turn on, Drop out” but it might have been there somewhere.
A guy with a dark beard suddenly shook off his trousers and shirt and sandals, and clad only in underpants he made his way down to the lake. It was hardly the Ganges but he waded in and stood there, head raised to the sun, arms outstretched, hands posed in a thumb and index finger mudra. A groover called out to him.“I wouldn’t stand in there, mate. That’s where they throw their used needles.”
The yogi clambered out sharpish, dripping.
The love chanting droned on. A guy on a sax had got going and was driving the whole thing along very successfully. Someone offered me some champagne. Love, love, love. Underpants yogi had now taken over the microphone. Then three young women took over from him. Next to me was a tall girl with the biggest false eyelashes I have ever seen. When she blinked I was sure I felt a slight breeze.
I sauntered away wondering whether the love-in or the cricket match would end first. Fasting cricketers and ecstatic hippies: a fine Manchester afternoon.
About The Author
After a spectacularly short diplomatic career and a regrettably longer one in the law, Peter is now enjoying the sunny uplands of retirement with camera and pencil in hand.
Peter Barker (www.peterbarker.org)