David Mitchell on his football, cricket and gardening skills

During the past 12 months the nation’s back gardens have been used for a wide variety of intriguing and ingenious activities as we have been encouraged to stay at home.
No matter how large or small the area, the human being’s capacity for improvisation has shone through.
A black-and-white picture of me sitting in our modest plot on High Hill Grove in Settle, pictured right, took me back to many happy hours of play in childhood.
In the days before youngsters found their pleasures indoors on Xbox, we were more likely to be found outside.
The back road, the cricket field, Watery Lane and Bond Lane playing fields all provided me with hours of rich entertainment with friends but, if not, I was likely to be found on my own little patch of land, ever-resourceful and independent.
Near the back door was the small concrete yard which was the scene of a dramatic late penalty.
Roy of the Rovers had nothing on me that Sunday afternoon.
I was facing my friend and namesake Stephen Mitchell, who guarded the goal in front of our back room window.
I struck my small plastic ball cleanly and watched it rise past Steve’s right shoulder, heading for the top corner.
A moment later, hundreds of shards of glass crashed onto the table inside as the window caved in under the weight of the shot. It had just been set for afternoon tea with Grandma and Grandad Bancroft.
My every move was closely monitored for some time after that.
There was concern expressed about the effect that my tennis ball-catching practice was having on the pebbledash wall adjoining next door.
The ball came off at unexpected angles, which was good for me but chipped away at the stonework, and there would often be an admonishing rap on the kitchen window from Mum.
Windy conditions, a sliced effort or over-exuberant play could mean a “head-down, quick as you can” dart into an adjoining garden for my football, but this was as nothing compared to visits made to reclaim balls from cricket games.

The straight path that ran up to the back gate was my pitch. I stood at the house end, hitting a ball repeatedly up and down. I would work through a whole team, usually Yorkshire, mimicking traits and batting in a style reminiscent of each player, left hand and right alike.
Once out, I walked back to the kitchen “pavilion” before re-emerging as the next player. From time to time I was joined by Mum and Dad.
This time I took guard, with the back gate as my wicket.
Mum was a former team member at Johnson and Johnson, Gargrave, and bowled a tricky medium pace.
Dad was a lively left-arm bowler with a matchbox permanently rattling in his trouser pocket as he ran in.
Nearby was a cracked area of paving which these days might loosely be described as a patio.
It backed on to the coal shed and I was often asked to sit there and watch as the coal men brought the full bags down the path with effortless ease, making sure that I counted them in.
I played in and among stone, soil and gravel with model soldiers and launched Airfix aeroplanes from the back bedroom window on to the yard runway.
I was never short of an idea, always happy to amuse myself. I even received an award.
Under the back wall was a tiny rectangle of soil, rarely in the sun, which somehow provided enough support to see me through my Gardener proficiency badge at Cubs. It remains my finest green-fingered achievement. M

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