The quirky and downright odd fictional world of rural cricket in Somerset, as featured in Charles Wood’s Bats and Belters, dissected by Sam Stow.
Bats & Belters
Halsgrove Publishing, £12.99
David Foot’s Footsteps From East Coker it may not be, but in its own way Charles Wood’s fast-paced (and occasionally madcap) novel is just as insightful a portrait of a sporting life in rural Somerset.
Were it not for his close affinity with the shire – he is a long- time resident and celebrated ‘local writer’ – one could read Charles Wood’s descriptions of pig-loving blacksmiths, boozy trips to London and helpless devotion to the less-than-average village XI as a rather crude satire of West Country living. However, within a few chapters it is clear that the author’s caricatures of the inhabitants of Snickworthy (home to Belters CC) and their lives are wholly affectionate: born from a love of both the game and his home county.
In a world of intrigue, gossip and a loose interpretation of the working week, cricket is the centre of the universe: the fortunes of the Belters’ players (on and off the pitch) and Somerset’s noble quest to win their first- ever trophy. While the locals’ efforts are often hapless, Wood’s excited descriptions of the county side doing battle in the late Seventies are a welcome reminder of a glorious era, not only in Somerset’s history, but also in county cricket as a whole. With the likes of Colin ‘the Demon of Frome’ Dredge taking on the Keith ‘The Gnome of Essex’ Fletcher in front of a packed house, we’re taken back to a time when county rivalries were fierce, 40-over cricket was fresh, and ‘Rose’ and ‘Viv’ were the not just names for the superannuated.
Packed full of whimsy and words, Wood’s story is far-fetched, soap-operatic and endearing. From amateur sleuths to ill-advised ardour, there is never a dull moment (albeit a few confusing ones if you’re not 100 per cent au fait with the language of country life), which makes for a very pleasant read. It is, however, the author’s appreciation of cricket’s unique place and role in local life that is most appealing, and amidst the tall tales and off-the-cuff wit, there are many observations that will ring true with amateur cricketers and county cricket fans alike.
Far from a literary classic, but a book of warmth, wit and cute observations on the true spirit of cricket.