But in the week leading up to that historic match, it felt as though I had more runs than England’s record runs. You know what I mean. It started with, I thought, indigestion in the early hours of the previous Tuesday and built from there. I’ll spare you the details, dear reader.
Not a good idea ahead of a bank holiday/birthday weekend; especially one where you are due to go to Lord’s on the Saturday.
On the morning of Lord’s itself, around 8:00, at the flat, Janie and I more or less gave up the idea of venturing to Lord’s at all. But I didn’t feel poorly over the next hour or so, therefore we hatched a plan to get a limited form of the picnic ready at a gentle pace, watch the first hour or so on the TV at the flat and see how I feel.
Indeed, by 11:30 I felt that England were very well placed and that we’d be able to cab it and just stroll in to Lord’s without queues or stress. I was grateful to myself for having impulse bought those front row seats I spotted on the on-line system, as the rover/membership pass route might have been a bit awkward in terms of getting half-decent seats at that hour.
To be honest, the match/crowd lacked atmosphere to a greater extent than I can remember at Lord’s for a long time. A sense of inevitability and the cricket being secondary. Very different crowd sitting near us, compared with the test crowd in the same seats. Unfriendly to say the least.
King Cricket readers straying here might, due to KC’s obsession with the champagne corks at Lord’s – for context click here – be interested in my cork report. Just one lone cork sitting on the patch of grass in front of us where, just a few months before, there had been a veritable sea of corks. The MCC instructs its members and customers not to project their corks onto the pitch; those members and customers obey. That’s what stewardship of the laws and spirit of cricket can achieve. Makes me feel proud that Lord’s is my local.
We met up with The Friends for a while in the Coronation Garden towards the end of the innings interval, which was a very pleasant interlude for us. They asked us to join them for the second half of the match – they had a spare rover for Janie, but we thought better of it, especially as I wasn’t sure that I could cope with much more and I sensed that Janie wasn’t desperate to stay much longer.
So, we went back to our seats, watched for another hour or so, convinced ourselves that the Root/Morgan partnership was a winning one and so chose to leave once Morgan was out.
Despite eating little and drinking nothing but water, I still felt pretty rough the next day, which is a bit of a bummer on your birthday but these things happen.
Janie’s healing skills got me better by bank holiday Monday, much of which we spent in the Brent Cross Apple Store trying to heal Janie’s very sickly iPhone. Apple chose to replace said phone, which was a good result, but frankly this was a bank holiday/birthday weekend to forget.
For my visit to Birmingham to see best part of three days of the Warwickshire v Middlesex match at Edgbaston (early September 2015) and to get some business visits in to boot, I decided to go for short versions of the same story told from four different perspectives, starting with Benjy the Baritone Ukulele and ending with Ged himself.
A short debate ensued, with most people siding with me and Kim. Janie was pretty sure it was Julie Andrews. Kim was absolutely sure it was Shirley MacLaine. Kim and Janie wagered a future meal on the outcome.
Kim and I were surprised. I was pretty sure I could visualise Shirley MacLaine in the movie, whereas I just couldn’t envisage Julie Andrews in the part. Kim similarly. I suggested that, in our subjective realities, it really was Shirley MacLaine. So at the very least MacLaine, not Andrews, was the star of our movie, Thoroughly Post-Modern Millie.
With the 2016 Olympic Games drawing to a close that evening, the conversation reminded me of a little thought experiment I put to some friends at the end of the London 2012 Olympics. An event named the modern pentathlon (fencing, show-jumping, swimming, running and shooting) was pretty much the last thing playing out. Loads of people (me and Janie included) watched it for the first time ever; we didn’t want the 2012 olympics to end.
My thought experiment was the post-modern pentathlon. I quote myself:
The post-modern pentathlon is all about subjective reality, so you may choose your own events. MY post-modern pentathlon events are pinball, table football, playing tennis with the wrong hand and payroll giving.
I know what you are thinking. That’s only four events; a pentathlon has five events. But in the subjective reality of MY post-modern pentathlon, four events is plenty.
In the post-modern pentathlon, of course, the scoring is down to oneself (subjective reality again). I am pleased to inform you that I won the bronze medal. You might have expected me to award myself gold, but I am surely not competitive enough to get the very highest score. I would naturally aspire to best-of-the-rest; silver, but my record in competitive sports has always been to disappoint myself to some extent, so at best I think I would achieve bronze. A little disappointing, but I gave my all for Team GB, did my best and left it all out there on the fields of play. That was all I could ask of myself.
On reflection, I think Janie would make an excellent Thoroughly Post-Modern Millie – see photo above – even more than Shirley MacLaine.
And with subjective hindsight, perhaps I should have a fifth event in my post-modern pentathlon after all; marathon ogblogging.
The connection is a bit tenuous, or at least idiosyncratic. Kim invited me and Janie at relatively short notice to join her groupie-fest to see Never The Bride. I explained that Middlesex were in line to be at T20 Finals Day this year and that I would only join the gig outing if Middlesex were eliminated before finals day.
As it happens, Kim and Janie were still enjoying a meal together when I started my drive back from that ill-fated evening in Northampton. I called Janie to let her know that Middlesex had lost. Both girls cheered at the thought that I would therefore join the gang for Never The Bride. Hopeless at understanding priorities and sensibilities, both of them.
So Kim was up for this gig big time; which meant the full works. Gang of eight: Kim, Micky, Alan, Janie, me, Joanna, Becky and Millie. Stretch limo with magna of bubbly (see photo above) and a rather OCD timetable which required us to leave NW11 at 16:00 just to be sure of arriving at a venue outside Milton Keynes in time to eat at the venue and take our reserved seats at 20:00.
We ended up with a lot of time to kill. Not that most of the entourage would have noticed; several of them were blotto by meal time. Some had started drinking before we left London. Meal time was 18:15 at the earliest and we arrived in the grounds at 17:00. I didn’t want to drink anything before eating and felt mighty uncomfy in that stretch limo, so I got out and had a good walk around the grounds.
The place is basically Cleo Laine’s house, together with the venue she and the late John Dankworth established in the old stable. The house itself is very beautiful and Cleo Laine is clearly happy for visitors to wander up the drive to see the beautiful ivy-clad front of the house and to have a peek through a locked gate at the very beautiful, well-maintained back garden.
The meal in the Stables Cafe was very bland but also therefore inoffensive. The concert was delayed by about an hour due to some technical sound problems, which must have been beyond fixing, in fact, because the band was already there sorting out sound checks and stuff at 17:00 when we arrived and continued to signal disapproval throughout the gig.
Kim is not the only fan of this band – indeed Whispering Bob Harris is an outspoken fan and was due to present the band that night. Instead, he sent a video introduction due to slight ill health. Or perhaps he knew something about the current state of The Stables sound system that neither we nor Never The Bride knew.
I felt sorry for the band really. They had recorded a live album and video at this venue some years ago and were recording (or at least trying to do so) that night. I suspect that things had changed at the venue somewhat in between visits. Not least the nature of the audience for this gig as promoted – click here; not very rock’n’roll; more Wigmore Hall or Lord’s on a members’ night.
The band had lined up some terrific guest performers (see photo captions above). You don’t get to see much of Been, “because she hides behind that mass of hair” according to Janie, but she is a super keyboard player and also played two other instruments just to show off.
I don’t think the band were that fussed about an entourage turning up from London in a limo. Nikki only mentioned it two or three times during the show; the last time she mentioned it she also suggested a post-show tequila party in the limo.
Kim insisted on hanging around for an hour or so after the gig – she didn’t want her groupie day to be over (or perhaps she fancied that tequila party), but in the end was persuaded by the others that it was time to go home.
No M1 roadworks that night, thank goodness. Not that I would have noticed. Three glasses of wine over the evening and the clock nearing midnight – I was “gonnnnnnne”.
Not sure I ever was very rock’n’roll. Am absolutely sure that I’m not rock’n’roll now. Janie went with the flow of the evening more readily than I did, although in truth she also drank little and was, like me, pleased for a nice quiet day on the Sunday.
Having played at least 40 hours of real tennis, I decided that I need a couple more lessons now just to try and come to terms with some basics such as playing off the back wall and volleying from the back of the court.
I arranged one of those lessons for 12:00 on this day. The weekend before, Chris Swallow phoned me and asked if I minded staying on to make up the numbers for the “senior doubles” hour, after my lesson. This seemed to me to be a good way of consolidating my learning.
I planned, therefore, to get all my work out of the way early and head straight from Lord’s to Wantage Road for the T20 quarter final between Northamptonshire and Middlesex.
The real tennis lesson with Chris went fine. We concentrated on playing off the back wall, which I think I can now do with more confidence.
After the lesson, Chris went off to find one of the senior gentlemen for the doubles while two of us knocked up and then started playing some singles while we waited. The senior gentleman was nearly half an hour late due to some traffic problems. We played the senior doubles until 14:00, then Chris said that he needed to stop but that the court was free for a further 30 minutes if we wanted to play on.
So, as the clock ticked into the start of a third continuous hour on court (I realise in retrospect that this is not a good idea), the three of us who remained started playing a form of rotating (Australian) Canadian Doubles, which works quite well for real tennis. On one occasion, I served a sitter to the more senior gentleman who sent the ball back towards the far (forehand) corner.
Keen to show off my new “off the back wall” skills, I hurtled towards the ball and then realised (a little too late) that the ball would land far too close to the corner for me to do anything other than break myself and/or my racket. On pulling out of the shot in a muddle, I caught my own face with the racket between my eyebrow and my eye.
The senior gentleman in question seemed far more concerned to ascertain whether he had won the point or laid a chase before finding out whether I was OK. Quite a lot of blood, but in truth a small wound. We soldiered on until the next match arrived at half-past.
Mercifully for you, dear reader, I didn’t take a selfie of my injury, neither at the time nor the next day when the bruise/shiner went through a particularly vivid multi-coloured set of hues.
After my 150 minutes on court, I decompressed for a few minutes and ascertained that the swelling was so slight and far enough away from the eye as to leave my vision entirely unimpeded. I therefore soldiered on as planned to Northampton for the cricket match.
T20 Cricket – Northamptonshire v Middlesex Quarter-Final
I found myself in the appropriate hospitality suite well before the match, after navigating the Northamptonshire CCC stewards. Most of them seemed temporary and unable to help much/at all, whereas the regular ones (if you could find them) were incredibly helpful. Sadly the regulars were indiscernible from the temporary ones, unless you knew who to look for.
Quite a few of the Middlesex regulars were there, of course. I learnt that this was to be the first ever T20 match between our two counties. I met a few really pleasant and interesting people. Northamptonshire put on a very tasty spread for us all. Much of the time I sat next to Keith Mein (Middlesex Committee) and Roy Virgin (former Northamptonshire player).
I was hoping for an easy drive home, but that wasn’t to be. Unscheduled roadworks between a couple of the junctions near Luton/Dunstable (aren’t there nearly always unscheduled roadworks there?) timed perfectly to maximise my discomfort, led to a tailback and diversions that the sat nav could only warn me about in retrospect. More than two-and-a-half hours after setting off from Northampton I got home.
It was a day for 150 minute marathons. Not my best day of the summer.
I started to suspect that all would in fact be well when Chas wrote, 10 days or so before the event:
“I need to see how my first car drive goes on Saturday, I also need to talk to ‘Razor’ and ‘Knuckles’ both Essex members as they offered to take my tickets off me…if I didn’t recover in time – let me see how the drive goes over the weekend and how they respond to the disappointment.”
Razor and Knuckles sound like absolutely delightful company; indeed possibly preferable to the original candidates for the roles…
A week later, it became clear that Razor and Knuckles were set to remain in their Essex lairs; Chas again:
To confirm I’ll be bringing some 1st day food up with me on Wednesday. Dot’s happy to provide some sandwiches – corn beef and mustard on soft white and egg mayonnaise on soft white. I have some other stuff (old favourites) and some (new stuff) that looks ok, too!
In fact, Dot’s first day sandwich feast also included heaps of ham on brown and cheese on brown too. We struggled…in a good way, saving most of the other less perishable delicacies (Harish and I had also brought quite a few of those) for the later days.
We were all at the ground in time for the toss. Nigel was smarting a bit, in part because the walk was perhaps a bit much for his knees, in part through the indignity of having his minimally-concealed Shiraz-in-a-flask seized at the gate.
I had determined in any case to enjoy the Edgbaston cricket dry during the day again this year, making space for a glass or two in the evening.
The three days of cricket were wonderful. At the end of day one we were all unsure whether England had scored enough runs. At the end of day two we were sure they hadn’t and that Pakistan were close to total control. At the end of day three we knew that England had all-but wrested control back from Pakistan.
We played our traditional sweepstake game all three days; this year, unusually, Harish swept the board, especially on one of the days. I wanted him tested for performance enhancing substances but Harish mysteriously failed to turn up for the tests.
Harish and I were keen to walk to and from the hotel each morning and evening. After that first morning, Nigel bowed out of the walk until the Friday evening. On one of our walks, I think it was Friday morning, Harish and I had a very interesting chat about music. We schemed a tabla/ukulele jam for next time but struggled to work out whether some of Harish’s favourite tabla rhythms could possibly work with western tunes, which are usually relentlessly 4/4 or occasionally 3/4 time signatures.
I tried the slow-cooked lamb shank this time, while Nigel and Chas shared the full works of grills. Harish tried one of the vegetarian stews. Again, all the trimmings were wonderful, not least the amazing aubergine and mango sauce (not really a chutney, or at least not a sour chutney), which was new to me because, as we were proudly informed by the (other) son who looked after us this time, that sauce is his mother’s own recipe. To paraphrase Nigel’s eloquent recollection in the comments section from our previous visit, that makes it our sort of place.
On the Friday, all of us but Nigel headed home after the day’s play; in Harish’s and my case via the hotel, which had kindly offered safe custody to our vehicles, baggage and (in my case) Benjy the Baritone Ukulele. Nigel swore on the way home that he wouldn’t eat a thing that evening after three days of feasting and it seems he kept his word – Nigel’s subsequent e-mail report:
My plans for a quiet evening on Friday were ruined by Sharon and Kev’s engagement celebration in the hotel function suite, that really did feel like it was taking place in the next room. After the three day grazing, I took the unsolicited advice barely audible from a Ukulele shaped bag suggesting it wouldn’t harm that big bloke to miss a meal or two. That thing does have attitude.
In short, the whole trip was a great success. It’s a bit difficult to explain how or why spending several days with old friends doing so little can be so satisfying and relaxing, but it is. I guess the whole idea of five day cricket is hard to explain to the uninitiated. Nigel again, writing on the Sunday morning, just before the start of Day Five:
We have once again enjoyed a fascinating Test match, which only really began to be resolved during the last session. Into the fifth day and it is still compelling. It would be impossible to explain that to the Georgian Cabbie, seen to register disbelief at Charles’ response to “who won?” at the end of day one.
One aspect of real tennis at Lord’s that I omitted to mention in my piece last week – click here for that piece – is the propensity for one of the players to cancel at the last minute or even simply fail to turn up at the appointed hour. There is a strict rule that people must pay for such lapses, but some seem unconcerned about money. It almost always causes inconvenience to the staff (who then need to find a last minute opponent or in extremis play an unscheduled hour themselves) and sometimes disappointment to the other player(s), who had turned up expecting one thing and end up with another…or occasionally, if out of hours, with nothing.
However, the fairly regular scurrying around for a last-minute replacement does afford a fairly local newbie, such as myself, to benefit from quite a few free (i.e. funded by the offender) gigs.
On the evening of 1 August, for example, I had arranged to play at 19:00, after work: I had an excellent hour. One gentleman was waiting for his 20:00 match – his opponent didn’t turn up. Initially I offered to warm him up while he waited, but in the end we played a match. The handicapping system is a great help, up to a point, but he was a very sporty, experienced player – 30 handicap points ahead of me, which is out of range, really. It was great experience for me to play against such a player and I got better enough as the hour progressed for us to have some very good wrests (rallies in modern terms) in the end.
I was pretty worn out by the time I got home (I had also been to the gym that morning) and was wondering how I might get on playing again the next morning – a “pre-Edgbaston” idea. Actually, the body had calmed down by morning and I didn’t do too badly in my 10:00 hour. At the end of that hour, Chris Swallow asked if one of us could stay to help make up a doubles where one had dropped out at the last minute. My opponent couldn’t; I was in no rush, having demobilised the afternoon before, so did another two-hours-on-the-trot. Great fun, but 4 hours on court in the space of 17 hours is probably not ideal for an old git like me.
Half way to Edgbaston, when I stopped for comfort/petrol, I skimmed my e-mails and saw one from the MCC which read:
“you have caught the eyes of the selectors…would you be available to play real tennis for the MCC against the visiting Australians, The Wanderers, on 10 September?”
A very pleasing surprise. My reply:
The only criterion I can imagine might have caught the selectors’ eyes was my avoiding the need for a stretcher after two consecutive days of unexpected two hour slots.
Or perhaps it helps the handicapping to have a novice in the squad.
Still, I am flattered and absolutely delighted to accept the invitation to play that day.
I met up with Nigel at the Eaton Hotel and we went out for dinner quite early, both hungry and quite tired. We intended to go to Bengal Delight again, as we had enjoyed that place so much last year. We walked along the Hagley Road, got so far we realised we must have passed it or that it had gone. Checked on the smart phone and discovered that 207 Hagley Road is now a new Persian Kitchen and Bar, Colbeh (unrelated to the Bayswater Persian of that name).
I shall review the meal in full on TripAdvisor when I get home and add a link. Suffice it to say here that the food was really excellent; outstanding in fact. We were well looked after by a proud new proprietor and we really do wish him and the place well. In any case, it was great to catch up with Nigel over a meal again the night before the match.
So the headline is a little deceptive; it was a surprising, good meal because we set off for an Indian meal, which we expected to be good, but instead ended up enjoying Persian cuisine at that location, which was truly excellent. One of the joys of life.