Growing up in Norton;Neil.

Growing up in Norton;Neil. Is just something I have been meaning to write about for a long, long, time now but haven’t for reasons which you will realise later in the post. Now Neil Wrench was two years older than me but only one year younger than my elder brother and growing up in the farming community of Norton, the two became close childhood friends. Our two farms were not that far apart so the two boys spent many hours together. The weather in our country was splendid and Wilf and Velma, Neil’s parents were both very talented sports people. Naturally then, Neil and my brother Peter spent many hours together playing tennis. This culminated in them playing boys doubles together at the Norton and also Hartley tennis championships and they were an unbeatable combination winning year in and year out.

Akin to this.

Akin to this.

They were such happy times. Mashonaland province was the heartland of farming in the then Rhodesia and the Capital city Salisbury was situated there. They also had there children’s tennis championships and one year Peter and Neil decided to play in them. I think when they were in the under 16 category. No doubt goaded on by Neil’s mother Velma who was an ex Rhodesian tennis player. Blow me down but they ended up winning the boy’s doubles final in that age group and which just goes to show what an enormous talent they were. Everybody was bursting with pride.

The Mashonaland countryside.

The Mashonaland countryside.

Photo courtesy of Frankie Kay.

It is now time for the kids tennis champs in Norton again. My mother is the person in charge and Neil and Peter are playing in the under 18 boys doubles final. Neil serves and the opponents just manage to pop the ball high over the net. My brother goes for the overhead smash at the net. Now he has a funny style, both legs leave the ground at the same time and he lays into it with all his might. Unfortunately, he clean missed and the ball lands at his feet and the opponents get the point. Furious with himself Boetie picks up the errant ball and he whams it into the side net. He is so enraged that even this misses and the ball sails over the side net, the outside trees and lands with a thump on the bowling green where dear old Poppy Rice is about to take her shot which of course she flunks. My Mother is mortified and shaking her head and hand at her dearly beloved son who has just lost his temper. Good gosh, golly gumdrops, jeepers creepers.

Time like the wind goes on hurrying by and the hours just fly. My brother goes to University and then Neil goes to Gwebi Agricultural College a little while later. So although still firm friends they see very little of each other which is about where I come in. Now I am left profoundly deafened after a very short spell in the army doing National Service which was compulsory, so decide to go to Gwebi instead which I have already mentioned before. Neil has left college by this time but we see more and more of each other and become firm friends.10612905_10203729225664177_6877562486328148286_n

The long and short of all this, is, I begin playing more and more cricket and getting better and better at it. Neil was an ace cricketer and we are both chosen for Mashonaland Winter Crickets Association where we tour South Africa and a fabulous time we had too. In Nelspruit playing against Lowveld Country Districts, Neil makes a century in both innings, magic man. There came a time when Neil has become captain of Norton cricket club and my Dad is chairman of this. Apart from being a wonderful cricket player Neil is full of ideas and decides to build a Lapa at the cricket ground, instead of us all having to troop back to the clubhouse which was a long way away. Beautifully designed it was too no doubt with much input from his mother who already mentioned was a major talent. One just had to see what they had done to their farm and the fabulous house they built there too. Neil had everything, long blonde hair, athletic and tall and very good looking. We are at the Selous sports club at a dance and Neil says something to me which pisses me off. So I retaliate by saying, ‘Wrench why don’t you just get married boy’? He bursts out laughing and says, ‘before  you’? What’s the point’. It was one of the nicest things ever said about me and I make a special point here in that I never and I mean never went after my friends girlfriends. No Sir, noSireeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

We are both playing first league cricket in Salisbury, Neil for Alex (Alexandria) and me for Standard Bank. I arrive home late at night, stop my car to open the security gates and toss my SLR over my shoulder. Lights ablaze I try to open the gate and I realise after all this time that we are sitting ducks whilst doing this if any terrorists were present. The Cumming family has just been murdered in our area, up until this time we were terr free. Which is why we are so armed. I make it through and close and lock the gates and amble into the house, the living room. I am very surprised to find both my parents still up and waiting for me. Whereupon my Mother says to me, ‘Kevin, I have very bad news for you, your friend Neil Wrench was killed today playing cricket’. Oh no, oh no, I just cannot believe it. Now I cannot swear by this as my Mother is Irish but what she tells me is the Alex cricket club phoned her as they couldn’t get through to Wilf and Velma. She managed to however and passed on the news that Neil had been hit and was in the hospital. Velma said, ‘where has he been hit Mary’? To which my mum replied, ‘in the head Velma’.

Neil never made it, being such a terrific fielder he was fielding very close to the bat and whoever was bowling bowled a loose ball which the batsman laid into and which hit Neil in the head. At the funeral a couple of days later I have never seen so many big, strong men, crying. It was a very hard time. The newspaper the Rhodesia Herald was full of obituaries for Neil and the one I liked the best was from Duncan Fletcher’s (captain of Rhodesia cricket) parents which said. ‘ When the last great scorer came to write about his name. He asked not how he won or lost, but, how he played the game’. I can think of no finer tribute to him. Writing to his parents a few days later, I said, ‘I have been thinking hard today and I cannot remember ever hearing a bad word said about him’. I’ll stand by that.

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About spookmoor

I'm a 61 year old happily married man with three grown up children. I lost all my hearing as an eighteen year old whilst doing National Service and then had a Cochlear Ear Implant twenty years later. I love trying to explain these things to people and bits about my life. I never thought so at the time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thus one gets Random ramblings from a man who has seen a lot with a touch of humour underlying all.
This entry was posted in Books, Culture & Society, Education, Family, Family and Relationships, Farming, Hobbies, Games & Toys, Parenting, Schooldays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Growing up in Norton;Neil.

  1. jake bremner says:

    Spook never knew Neil. In those days there was no protective helmets, and having played a lot of Country Districts Cricket where there are a lot of top cricketers playing against amateurs. Very sad losing a great sportsman at such a young age. Even with protection we still have fatalities in Cricket. Neil RIP.

  2. Mike Cumming says:

    Hi Spook
    It was recently when Australian batsman Phil Hughes was killed on the cricket field, that the memories of Neil’s tragic demise came back to me. I did not know Neil that well, but everybody I knew who knew him,always spoke very highly about him. Thanks for blog on your Gwebi days- very good reading.

  3. TIM SAVORY says:

    Hi Spook, Neil was at Gwebi the year below me but a really nice guy with really great folks. We of course played for the college of knowledge and great times were had by all. I have never forgotten that tragic incident. From that day I have never turned my head away when fielding at short leg, so much safer to duck the head into the chest and take the blow on the top of the head, I had a full blooded hook hit me and go for a one bounce four, with no ill effect and that was with out the benefit of a helmet To this day I cringe every time I see a fielder do the what comes naturally and expose the soft area behind the ear. The recent death of Phil Hughes is a classic example of the need for coaching of all players to avoid doing what is ones first reaction to the threat of being hit. Today with helmet, box and shin pads there is no doubt remaining face on and tucking the chin into the chest is so much safer. In Memory of Niel

  4. George azevedo says:

    Grand tribute to what must’ve been a great friendship,so sorry for the tragic ending to a beautiful,well written story.

  5. a great tribute to a fine bloke and good friend Spook. On this Memorial Day in the States I will add him to my list of those we shall remember. Thank you for sharing. All the very best.

  6. Liz McCartney Morgan says:

    Thank you for the memories – Norton being a special place for me and Neil a special person.

  7. Sarah says:

    Beautiful post. Neil was my uncle and although I never got the chance to actually meet him, from all the amazing stories I have heard he certainly made such a big impact on the world before he left it. Such a special soul, thanks for sharing this!

    • spookmoor says:

      Delighted to see you here Sarah and thank you for the lovely comment. I grew up with your Mum and also knew your Dad, wonderful people.

  8. Caroline says:

    Ivor often speaks fondly of his Norton and Gwebi days and his best mate Neil. This was a terrible incident that will never leave him nor the one when you turned up at the gate for dinner unexpectedly – a very close call indeed!

    • spookmoor says:

      Delighted to see you here Caroline and for the lovely comment and tell old Ivor I didn’t arrive for dinner unexpectedly,but, he had forgotten he had invited me over that night.

  9. Robyn Sumpter (nee Beghin) formerly from Selous says:

    Neil was in my class at Norton, right up until Std. 4 when he left to go to Springvale, that was the end of 1963. I didn’t see him again to speak to until the Friday night before he was injured, I will never forget – he was the first person I bumped into outside the bar in Meikles Hotel. You are so right Kevin, he was extremely good looking. We chatted for ages, and I have thought it was quite surreal that we hadn’t seen each other for such a long time, and then bump into each other just 2 days before he passed away. That was a great piece you wrote Kevin, I will look for more of your writing.

    • spookmoor says:

      Delighted to read this Robyn and thank you so much for visit. Selous eh? Had some great times there and I remember you.

      • Robyn Sumpter (nee Beghin) formerly from Selous says:

        Yes, good old Selous! Kevin, your teacher(s) – Norton or Plumtree – would be very satisfied to see that their efforts in teaching you the written word, were not in vain….you have a very readable style. Having only discovered your blog last night, I have a fair few stories to get through, can’t wait!

      • spookmoor says:

        Thank you so much and what a lovely thing to say. My indigenous manager always called it Seloose.

  10. Thanks for the memories Spook and the sad ending to a young and promising life. Wonderful times we had playing country districts cricket. Dave Wrench and I were at Plumtree together and I suspect he may be Neil’s brother. You and I have many cricketing similarities as I also went to SA with Mashonaland Districts ( remember John Hick? ) and played for Police in Salisbury.

  11. A sad ending to a great story- You wouldn’t expect someone to die in such a way. So young and talented.
    Life does never seem fair, does it?
    Thank you for writing about your special friend and his family- keeping the memory of Neil alive.
    Appropriate song you posted : Thats the way God planned it.

    • spookmoor says:

      Really, really, delighted with your comment Annemarie. Glad you liked the song as I was thinking of changing it to Louis Armstrong’s, what a wonderful world?

  12. Judy Hatty says:

    Thank you, Kevin… A very sad day remembered… Bless you! Judy x x

    Judy Hatty Sent from my iPad

    >

  13. Leon varley says:

    Another thing about Neil he was part of a Police Anti Terrorist Unit that was the most successful unit in the whole country.

  14. Margie Duckworth says:

    I remember so well playing sport at the rural country clubs. I say rural because people may think it’s one of those snobby country clubs that they have now. Being a Matabeleland girl myself…and still here…it was such fun playing on the dusty fields in Nyamandhlovu. Bother brothers played cricket for the club and the three of us played tennis. Thank you for reminding me of those days. Neil would have been proud of you. Ian tells me you were an excellent cricketer at Plumtree.

    • spookmoor says:

      Delighted to see you here Margie and thanks for the wonderful comment, those were the days eh? Actually I wasn’t to bad at cricket at Plumtree if I can say so myself.

    • Peter Green says:

      Would this be Margie Duckworth whose father was a doctor and spent some time hanging around with BSAP men in Bulawayo around 1977-78 ?

  15. craig says:

    Lovely piece old mate!

  16. Another flower cut down right at its bloom. It is hard to lose our young friends, especially when it is something so fun as playing cricket. No doubt he would appreciate the impact he made on you, enough to remember him in such a kind manner.

  17. frankiekay says:

    So sad – losing a child at that age must be one of the hardest things to have to bear. I always also spare a thought for the bowler or batsman – after all, they were al just playing a game…

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