Time and Fruit: Further reading

“From Street Urchin to Gold Medal: A Barrow Boy’s Story”  

Michael Rolls (Picador, 1966)

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Dominic Nozahic (@domnozahic)

 

The best books, I find, are ones that provoke you to dig deeper.  The great thing about great books is that not only will the surface level reading entice you and hold you in its spell, but it also compels you to look further.  Every sentence is re-contextualised by the sentence that follows it, offering a whole new light on the text’s events.

Such is the case with Michael “Mickey” Rolls’ From Street Urchin to Gold Medal.  On the surface it’s an autobiographical account of Rolls’ life, and that in itself offers little by way of intrigue.  Born to an average, well-to-do family, Mickey coasted through the early years of his life.  That is, of course, until he found Time and Fruit, the now universally popular and critically acclaimed sport of kings and queens.  The rest of the autobiography charts his meteoric rise: from his early experiences of the sport (regretfully noting down his 5-a-day explorations in the shed of his back garden; his obvious talent oblivious to his parents) to the legendary status he now holds in the Time and Fruit society.  His hometown is now, somewhat questionably, called Strawberry 515 after his landmark 5th World Championship victory, secured with a 5:15am consumption of strawberries.

But it is what is in between the success that marks this as such an intriguing book.  It is the story of the Great British Hero and the underdog.  This is not simply an account of a man with outstanding talent, it’s a tale of recognising your strengths and overcoming your fears (in a now infamous anecdote, the book recalls how Rolls actually once thought it he was allergic to fruit after he had eaten the pips of an apple).  Rolls’s story transcends sport and there is something for everyone in this rags to relative riches tale.

Rolls is not the only hero of the story.  Time and Fruit has a story to be told here, and its symbolic importance to our society is accessible to the reader throughout.  In many ways it mirrors Rolls’s own mediocrity to magnificence timeline; struggling for attention, funding and credibility after the war years, Rolls’s uncertain adolescent identity on the playground finds a metaphoric double in Time and Fruit’s own journey for acclaim, as mainstream sports such as Football and Chess began to dominate the sporting scenes.  Through the lens of this brilliant book, Time and Fruit stops being a trivial sport, and takes its rightful place as a bastion of overcoming adversity.

These are not the only points of interest here, though, and the book’s scope and breadth as it follows the trials and tribulations of our prodigal son Mickey is laden with excellent stories.  In one of its most gripping passages, Mickey summarises the intensity of his early David versus Goliath rivalry with Trevor St. McGoodbody: “Some people believe Time and Fruit is a matter of life and death… It is much more important than that.”  The book comes alive when Rolls reminisces on his Time and Fruit career, and the result is a truly astounding text.  As I read and reread the final words, I was left to wonder whether there was a better man, a better autobiography and a better sport than Mickey Rolls, From Street Urchin to Gold Medal and Time and Fruit respectively.  As I sit here eating my midnight kiwi, I’m convinced there are not.

 

Dominic Nozahic is as well-read as he is tall but only half as clever as he is handsome. 

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