The event started with a Champagne reception on the Mound Stand Terrace – a wonderful location for a bright (albeit slightly showery) noontime gathering.
Then round to the Nursery Pavilion, which was set up for 400 or so guests to dine and hear tales of derring-do told by the actual derring-doers.
We sat with Chris and Shilpa, Richard and Tina, Alvin and Rowena plus Westy and Bridget, making a very pleasent table indeed.
The MCC staff were playing their annual end of season knockabout match on the Nursery Ground, as if to entertain us with some live cricket. That backdrop gave the whole event that sense of “cricket making all well with the world” that makes so many of us cricket lovers tick.
Amusingly, though, several of the big screens (where highlights were periodically shown) were on that window side, making people turn towards the Nursery Ground, perhaps fooling the MCC staff/players into thinking that they were more of an attraction than was actually the case. I did pop out on one occasion to lend moral support to Adam, who manages the real tennis and squash courts.
As always with Lord’s catering, the meal was remarkably good for a large-scale catered thing. The wine was plentiful. The mood was, understandably, relentlessly upbeat.
I’d left my real tennis stuff at the real tennis court, so once the event was over we wandered back round that way to get my kit. We ran into Adam again on the academy steps, enjoying a post match drink. Then when we got to the court ran into one of the real tennis regulars who had messed up his knee, so Janie proffered some sage advice.
By the time we got out of the court area, we ran into David Kendix who was taking the trophy back to the office for safe-keeping…at least that’s what he said he was doing. David and I were the only men at the dinner who had dared to wear celebratory light-coloured suits and loud-coloured shirts for the occasion; David could probably explain why that was less statistically unlikely than one might imagine. Anyway, we thought a joint photo with the trophy was in order in the circumstances.
David also very kindly allowed me a solo moment of glory with the prize.
In short, Janie and I had a very enjoyable day at Lord’s.
Well, in truth, what happened was, this production was tagged on to the end of an almost year-long season booking list almost a year ago, then was re-promoted a few months ago and I didn’t realise that I had already booked it. The Royal Court very kindly took the second set of tickets back; they seem to treat the term “Friend Of” as a reciprocal thing more than most theatres these days – respect.
Truth is, this play/production did not really float my boat; nor did it float Janie’s. The subject matter should have kept us rapt and engaged; a young woman confronting her family with complicity in the racial and sexual abuse she suffered as a child and youngster, especially at the hands of her step-father.
Yet it all came across as a rather shouty, soap-opera style drama workshop exercise; the latter part of which description is presumably where this play and production started its life. Fine actors, but somewhat untrammelled in/by this play/production.
When Alex Ferguson coined the term “squeaky bum time” he was probably referring to a brief period, perhaps several minutes, while a really tight, crucial (in his case, football) game unfolds.
In Middlesex’s case at the end of the 2016 county championship season, squeaky bum time lasted several days during the last match; arguably several weeks during the last few matches. Personally, I was fortunate enough to take in a good deal of that squeaky last quarter of Middlesex’s county championship:
a fair chunk of the final match, at Lord’s against Yorkshire, covered below.
Tuesday 20 September
Charles (Charley “The Gent” Malloy) Bartlett joined me for the first day’s play; a more or less traditional meet for a day of the last Lord’s match of the season. Janie was to join us later in the day and all three of us were to attend the sponsors’ evening that night. Janie was hoping that Dot would join us too, but she really doesn’t care much for the longer form or that sort of party, apparently.
Chas let me know that he was running a little late, but I soldiered on as planned to ensure that I was on death row before the start of play, securing a couple of good seats. We stuck to those excellent seats all day, much against the better judgement of our aching backs and limbs. I made a scaled down version of Chas’s favourite picnic, with smoked Alaskan salmon bagels as the centrepiece. We went dry during the hours of play, as Chas had a medical appointment the next day. Shame, as I had tracked down his favourite Villa Wolf Riesling.
Middlesex had been inserted under leaden skies and I thought did pretty well to avert disaster. Nick Gubbins in particular batted like the emerging star he undoubtedly is, surviving the day.
Janie (Daisy) turned up a few minutes after tea, but only got to see 10 or 12 overs before it got gloomy, so an hour or so of play was lost to bad light. Many eyes were on the Somerset match (the third team still in contention for the trophy), which initially had looked like it was going the maximum points route for Somerset until they collapsed late in the day.
After watching some of the interviews on the outfield…
…we sauntered over to the party, which was a very jolly wine and cheese affair. Ryan Higgins, who was our sponsored player this year, took the trouble to seek us out and chatted with us quite a bit. I also got a chance to chat with quite a few of the regular Middlesex folk, all of whom seemed to be feeling as squeaky as me. Surprise surprise.
Wednesday 21 September
I don’t know what sort of idiot organised a Z/Yen Board meeting and lunch on such a crucial day of the County Championship. I tried to keep an eye on the score discreetly and as many brain cells as possible focused on the business at hand.
When I finally got away, soon after three, I guessed that I’d catch most of the last session, as the weather/light looked much better today. So it proved. I enjoyed that two hours or so in the Committee Room. Middlesex had taken several early wickets, but were finding it increasingly hard to take more. I witnessed a couple that evening and/but we were all hoping for more. The game seemed poised at stumps, perhaps starting to tilt Yorkshire’s way. Somerset were on the way to a 23 point win, so Yorkshire would need to score 350 or more runs in their first innings to stay in the hunt.
I walked home and made a light supper of smoked trout, prawns and salad. One or more of the prawns sought revenge overnight; more leaky than squeaky…with hives thrown in. Yuk.
Thursday 22 September
I thought best to rest off my condition in the morning, getting some work out of the way gently while following the match from home. I was due to play tennis at 14:00.
The morning went worse for Middlesex than the night had gone for my guts; Yorkshire edging towards that 350. I set off for Lord’s during the luncheon interval, intending to watch for about half an hour before changing for tennis. Yorkshire continued edging towards that 350 mark as I watched from the Upper Allen.
I needed to change – surely it would be on the TV in the dressing room anyway. It was. My opponent was also interested. With the score tantalisingly poised at 349/9 both of us left the dressing room with some reluctance. I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted Yorkshire to score that extra run or not. Earlier in the day, of course, I had hoped for them to subside below Middlesex’s score of 270. But now they had gone that far past, it seemed Middlesex’s only chance of a win would be for Yorkshire to still be in the hunt needing to chase runs on the last day.
We had plenty of time to think about it. Soon after we started playing tennis, we heard rain on the roof and soon quite a crowd gathered in the dedans gallery. “Is the score still 349/9?” I asked. Several people nodded.
Our tennis must have been quite stunningly excellent, as most of our crowd sat in stoney silence throughout the hour. I spotted Ed Griffiths in the dedans gallery too, although mercifully he seemed more interested in his conversation than observing the finer details of my sporting talent.
We came off the court to see (on the TV) that the score was still 349/9 and that play had just resumed. Ryan Sidebottom duly hit the run that kept Yorkshire in the hunt and then helped take them yet further beyond the Middlesex score.
I was feeling quite drained, so decided to walk/tube it home and catch the end of the play on the TV. I ran into Angela Broad on the tube, so I was able to show her in actual use the marvellous tennis racket bag she handed down to me when I took up real tennis.
Closing the day just two wickets down and getting closer to parity, I felt that the final day could still turn out to be a corker, as long as Middlesex were to bat well in the morning.
I had a rest, then went out again to Holborn for an Ivan Shakespeare Memorial dinner with the old NewsRevue crowd. Only about half-a-dozen of us this time, but great to meet up as always. I decided to stay dry and eat a simple, chicken meal. A very light, cautious supper by Ivan Shakespeare Dinner standards. I probably looked and seemed both peaky and distracted. I was.
Friday 23 September
What a day.
I was scheduled to play tennis at 10:00. I made a bit of a mess of getting away in timely fashion and the tube wasn’t at its best that morning, so I jumped in a cab at Edgware Road and cabbed it the last mile to be sure not to be rushing.
Now in good time, I had a chat with Joe on reception, who was quite gloomy about Middlesex’s prospects and seemed surprised that I really thought we still had a reasonable chance, albeit an outside one.
I played a really good game of tennis today; my opponent (whom I had played a few times before) correspondingly had a poor match; we’ll rematch soon I’m sure, as we now play level and it is normally a very good match when you play people whose handicap is level (or all-but level) with one’s own.
Anyway, after changing, I felt like superman and went to try and find a seat on death row for a while. I spotted Westy, who was able to make room for me, just about, with thanks also to the very pleasent vicar from Skipton who also made space for me and interesting conversation with me.
Westy pressed me to join him and others in the Committee Room just before lunch; due to the match position they had (uncharacteristically for the last day) ordered a heap of lunches and probably now had fewer takers than lunches.
So, I quite unexpectedly enjoyed a splendid Committee Dining Room lunch. We saw Messrs Gale and Franklin in conversation outside the doors of those official dining rooms; clearly keen to make sure that any negotiations they were undertaking were visible and reported to the authorities.
We had a grandstand view of the large crowd perambulating before we sat down:
Very pleasant company at lunch, both Yorkshire and Middlesex. Then an opportunity to see some cracking good cricket from that wonderful vantage point, just above the away dressing room. What an honour and privilege on such an auspicious day :
Then the declaration bowling, then an early tea with the season set up as a 240/40 run chase. If Yorkshire got the runs, they would be county champions, if Middlesex bowled them out, Middlesex would be champions, if the game ended as a draw (the light might have seen to that) then Somerset would be champions.
Perhaps a final 150 minutes or so of squeakiness ahead of us.
We returned to the Committee Room itself to watch events unfold from there.
I had texted Janie about 14:00 to suggest that she leg it to Lord’s. She demurred, something about banking her cheques. I tried to persuade her that just occasionally there are more important things in life than doing one’s bankings.
Events unfolded. Middlesex seemed to be chipping away at the wickets, but we knew as the ball got older it would be harder to force wickets. Still, the consensus among the Middlesex folk was that the declaration had been very generous; among the Yorkshire folk that it had been mean and very challenging. I entertained the possibility, in those circumstances, that the captains might pretty much have got it right.
After what seemed like hours while still four down, I decided to take a strategic “leg stretch” and was delighted to hear a massive cheer just as I came up the stairs to return through the Long Room to the Committee Room; Tim Bresnan was out LBW. “Why didn’t you go earlier?”, asked one Middlesex notable. “Go again”, suggested another.
I started to get occasional texts from Janie saying she was on her way, looking for somewhere to park etc.
Then the flurry of wickets to end the season. I knew Middlesex had taken three wickets in three balls at the very end (Finn, then two for Roland-Jones) but none of us at the time realised that the denouement was also a hat trick for Toby Roland-Jones.
In any case, we were in a euphoric state. Celebrations on the outfield. Players coming through the Long Room to uproarious applause and cheers. Players going back out again.
Janie turned up, took some photos and joined in the celebrations.
It’s a bit difficult to explain how this all felt and feels. I’ve left it nearly a week before writing up this piece, but there’s no sense of distance from the extraordinary events yet in my mind. As much as anything else, we have the end of season lunch (tomorrow at the time of writing) and members’ forum (Monday) to look forward to, so it still feels alive.
Then back to the reality of trying to see through the Middlesex strategy and build that medium to long term future for the club. Success should, of course, make some aspects of the strategy easier to implement, as long as we can avoid the complacency that sometimes comes with success. I think we have a good chance of going from strength to strength; there are enough wise heads around and the club seems hungry for more success.
For pity’s sake, Ged, live in the now for once. What a day. What a week. What a month. What a season.
We had so much fun last time John and Mandy came over with John’s cajón, we thought we must do it again this time. Between-times, I procured (at enormous expense) a tambourine and a pair of maracas, which I thought might work better than the spoons and ashtray percussion the girls provided last time.
I also had an exchange of correspondence with John, asking him to make some song choices for me to prepare.
Any Leonard. Ruby Tuesday by Melanie. Going to a go go by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…
I especially liked that final idea. Very easy chords for me, too. Ruby Tuesday’s a bit slow for percussion, as is most Leonard (Cohen, John means). For some reason, I thought we might be able to speed up Sisters Of Mercy with its waltz rhythm. I also recalled that John knows all the words to Suzanne, so mugged up on that one too.
I prepared a few others, not least Give Peace a Chance, which Janie and I had seen at the Revolution Exhibition the previous week and which I had twigged was simple and very percussive. That worked very well.
As it turned out, Janie decided after a couple of the slower ones, to put on the 60s Tropical/Latin/Jazz set from the party for us to accompany, so for a while I had to try to work out keys, chords, words and rhythms without preparation and at speed. I didn’t do well at that, but it didn’t really matter; those lively tunes certainly suited the percussion instruments and at times I simply used Benjy the Baritone Ukulele as a percussion instrument myself.
Soon we realised that this music making was quite a workout; indeed John and Mandy jokingly complained that they were all dressed up for the evening but now wanted to shower and change.
But they didn’t do that; instead we all went off in John’s motor to Kensington, towards Babylon at the Roof Gardens. Bit risky booking that place in mid September, as a great deal of the charm was the idea of pre dinner drinks and post dinner digestifs on the balcony/terrace overlooking that beautiful garden. But we needn’t have worried, because the autumn weather smiled on us wonderfully that night.
Strangely, despite the gloriously mild evening and the fairly heaving place, not so many people chose to use the balcony/terrace, so we were able to chat and enjoy the atmosphere and the stunning view in relative peace. The restaurant itself was quite noisy. The food was good without being in any way exceptional. The staff were friendly and attentive; much better than most such gastrodome-type places.
We didn’t stay on too late; John and Mandy needed to get back to Saffron Walden, otherwise we might have all tried the club. But I’m pretty sure that club wouldn’t have been our scene. Bring back the old Town and Country.
In short, we had a great time – what else is there to say? We always enjoy spending time with John and Mandy; we’re already looking forward to doing so again.
This was my last away trip of the cricket season. Possibly because this was to be Middlesex’s last away match of the season. I decided to take in pretty much the whole match, driving up to Manchester on the first morning, staying three nights and returning to London on the final evening of the match.
Knowing Manchester reasonably well from business trips, I found TheHeart Serviced Apartments, a suitably located (MediaCityUK) facility, getting a late booking deal there; a two bedroom apartment for the price of a studio. Not a spacious apartment as it turned out, but plenty of room for just me and Benjy the baritone ukulele.
I set off early from the house, hoping to avoid the rush hour; I largely succeeded, taking the M6 toll road to avoid the Birmingham crush. I expected to miss some of the first session with the September 10:30 starts and was pleased to arrive at Emirates Old Trafford (Old Trafford) around 11:00, thus missing little cricket.
Keith Hayhurst, Lancashire’s historian, was our wonderful host for all four days. I thought the instructions said to go to the Committee Board Room, but when I got there the only person to be found in there was Paul Allott, just finishing a phone call. Paul kindly took me to the suite on the opposite side of that floor, where Keith was hosting a small group of us.
Lancashire had won the toss and inserted Middlesex, much to the surprise of most observers. Middlesex batted well all day.
The tennis club building is quite extraordinary. Darren welcomed me and gave me a guided tour. A rackets and a squash court as well as real tennis. There is even an old-fashioned skittles alley behind the dedans gallery of the real tennis court.
The tennis court surface differs considerably from that at Lord’s; slower and far more sit-up bounce – perhaps as different as playing modern tennis on clay when you are used to fast hard courts. Still, I won my match and then headed off to find my apartment in Salford Quays, running into a few strolling Middlesex players along the way.
After checking in, a quick stroll to the Booths supermarket myself so I could snack and have a quiet drink while I strummed for a while to end the evening.
Tuesday 13 September
I had arranged to play tennis again at 7:30 and to meet Richard Goatley before the start of play at Old Trafford 10:00/10:15, so it was an early and well planned start to the day. I drove from Salford Quays to Salford proper for my game of tennis this morning, a truly excellent match which was as close as close could be: 5/6, 6/5, both of those deciding games going to 40-40 deciding points. Despite the dead heat scoreline, I was credited with a win for that match as I received fewer handicap points than my handicap entitlement. I felt I had done well winning both days on that beautiful but “alien court surface”.
After a juice, kindly provided by my opponent, I changed, dropped the car back at TheHeart and walked, across the bridge and along the canal, to Old Trafford.
Richard and I met just before play started and found a quiet place in the stands to have a chat about the proposed new City-based T20 tournament in the context of our strategy work. It was an unusual conversation, as Richard was bound by an NDA, so could say little, but I could still float ideas and make suggestions based on rumours/leaks that had found their way into The Telegraph and Times by then. Both prospect theory and game theory came into it, much as they did, coincidentally, in a different context, on the final day of the season 10 days later.
When Richard and I returned from our chat, Keith Hayhurst offered us a tour of The Point, the new conference/exhibition facility at Old Trafford. There was a food fair going on in there that day, heaving with people entirely unconnected with and oblivious to the cricket. Richard and I agreed that we were witnessing something very different from our imaginings and expectations. The facility is enormous and is flexible space for all manner of commercial activities; it was very interesting to see it for sure.
Lancashire played much better today and the ball seemed to be doing quite a lot more, in the hands of both sides’ bowlers. I had hoped to see young Hameed bat, as everyone is talking about him and I missed him at Lord’s this season, but he got a nine-ball blob. Young Rob Jones, his opening partner (whom I’d seen bat at Radlett a few weeks’ before), did much better and was not out overnight.
I indulged a little bit more in the hospitality today (and why not?), so after stumps, having walked back to my apartment and strummed for a while, a very light snack of fruit and nuts was enough; I went to bed early and happy.
Wednesday 14 September
Not such an early start required on Wednesday; time for a morning strum. The walk across the bridge and along the canal from TheHeart takes about 30 minutes door to door. I timed it to arrive just before the start of play.
Lancashire batted better today, working hard to make the game safe. Rob Jones hitting a six to score his maiden first class/first team century was the highlight; his joyous celebration really was a sight to see and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – click here for a 30 second YouTube clip of that big moment.
It was a glorious evening and we worked out that I would have more than enough time to walk in to central Manchester while Alex commuted in from Macclesfield. I had told him that I had plenty of reading matter with me. Then a text from Alex:
Train’s half an hour late …hope that reading matter’s more than a pamphlet.
We had a very enjoyable evening in the end; both the food and the drink in Sam’s is reliable and not ridiculously priced. Far more character to that place than the modern but sterile-looking places around MediaCityUK. We strolled to Piccadilly together, where Alex got his train and I grabbed a taxi back to Salford Quays.
Thursday 15th September
Early start again today, as I arranged to check out and then pay a final visit to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club (MTRC), where I had a very useful lesson with Darren at 8:30. We focused especially on picking up the low ball off the back wall, with some drills that perhaps work on that bouncier surface in ways that wouldn’t work at Lord’s, but taught me some useful techniques that I most certainly can now deploy at Lord’s.
I really was made to feel most welcome at MTRC and am very grateful to Darren, Stella and Steve for looking after me so nicely that week. I hope to get the opportunity to play again there on future visits to Manchester.
Straight on to Old Trafford, where they parked me up very conveniently and I was able to time my arrival almost perfectly for the start of play.
It seemed unlikely that this match could catch light on the last day; Lancashire had managed to blunt Middlesex’s attack and take enough early wickets to keep Middlesex cautious; much as Middlesex would have loved a win from this match, the draw points might just prove to be a useful buffer to assist in the final round. Lancashire had seemed most interested in a draw throughout.
By tea it was clear that the match was petering out to a draw, so I (along with others) decided to bail out and miss the Manchester/Cheshire rush hour. The hospitality at Old Trafford really had been first rate, although again I didn’t take full advantage on a driving day, especially after eating and drinking lunch and dinner the day before.
Coincidentally I ran into Harry Latchman and Blossom at the service station on the M6 Toll Road on the way home – what were the odds on that? I got home in good time – around 8:30 pm and took an early night ahead of a busy working Friday.
Janie and I spent a most enjoyable day at Lord’s, where I played my first representative match for the MCC against visiting Australians, The Wanderers.
I explained the circumstances in which I learnt of my selection in my piece on my journey to the Edgbaston test match – here. Janie was up for coming along to support and it was a happy coincidence that Janie’s friend, Toni, was also available to come and cheer her hubby. Toni also took some excellent pictures,including the two shown below.
The match mostly comprised doubles fixtures; mine being third up, around lunchtime. The first two matches were very good viewing. I’m sure ours must have been too, as there was quite a bit of crowd noise and I don’t mean just munching.
Lord’s puts on a super spread for this type of event and there was plenty of grub left for our quartet to tuck into once we had finished playing and showered, despite the late hour.
The MCC won the match by three rubbers to one. Everyone seemed to be having a really good time. Most of the visiting Australians were travelling and/or playing en famille, which added to the convivial nature of the fixture and made Janie and Toni feel at home.
After the competition was over, a few of us knocked around for a while; one of the Australian players, his son, me and Janie, getting her first taste of real tennis. She quite liked it and looked rather good at it for a total rookie, but I don’t think she’ll be taking up the game.
I don’t suppose the MCC very often has a need for a player of my humble handicap for representative matches, so I’ll have to keep getting better and bring that handicap down if I am to play some more of these. It was a really memorable and enjoyable day.
Still, you could be forgiven for thinking that the V&A curator might have been hanging out at our groovy happening taking notes ahead of the exhibition.
They used a similar mind-blowing sound-bleed technique as the one we used at the party in the themed rooms.
The penultimate room in the exhibition is a sixties festivals room, with festival memorabilia, Woodstock (the movie) on a loop and AstroTurf on the ground so you can chill in a sixties-rock-fest-stylee.
It is a great show. If you read this posting in time (I think it runs to February 2017) get thee a ticket to the V&A show and surry down to South Kensington to see the show. You won’t be disappointed.
We’ve known Simon for a very long time. He runs the book stall at the Royal Court while “quietly” (surely he tells everyone who’ll listen, not just us) nurturing an avocation as a writer/director. We’ve been to see a couple of his plays over the years.
He’s been talking about this collection of poetry for a long while; indeed I seem to recall that the original date he had set for the launch/performance was due to be in February while we were in Nicaragua.
We arrived in good time for the 19:00 start, although in fact the performers were rehearsing/warming up at that hour and the performance didn’t really start until 20:00ish. Towards the end of that waiting hour, a very talented singer sang to us for a while. Simon mingled and sold me a copy of the book. We spoke with one or two people and saw the backs of several others as the place got quite crowded.
One or two of the poems were very well performed. Beyond the Bank, for example, by a very eloquent actress. Some might have worked better had they been read rather than performed, especially as the performers were sometimes struggling for their lines. It was, after all, a book launch, so reading rather than performing would have seemed reasonable.
During the interval Janie and I went upstairs to the mezzanine, where it was less crowded and from whence we could make a discreet exit ahead of the pack if we so chose.
A couple of men in suits saw me checking in with Luke the Baroq-ulele and suggested that I provide some musical entertainment for the evening. I told them that they would need to ply me with plenty of drinks before I’d attempt that, the idea of which didn’t seem to put them off. Mercifully, though, I managed to avoid them while I took dinner and saw them briefly enough on exit merely to wish them goodnight as I returned to my room for a little solo jam and reading before bedtime.
I used the gym and leisure facilities of the hotel first thing. After breakfast, a very pleasant short walk to the ground. We were hosted in hospitality suites at the Radcliffe Road end today, a very good view, similar to the pavilion but which made a nice change of aspect.
Quite a large group of people; many of the usual suspects plus an expert on American rural history, Mark Friedberger, who originally hails from England and mostly follows cricket over in the USA via the internet. Mark and I had a long chat about various subjects, including professors, e.g. Ronnie Frankenberg, whom we both knew. The outcome of that encounter was a long list of stuff for me to follow up as homework. That’s academics for you.
Cracking cricket, with Middlesex bowling out Notts for 241, probably below par, but then succumbing to a Jake Ball hat trick to be 0/3 off five balls. First time I had ever seen a professional hat trick live.
The Trent Bridge hospitality is very generous, so I wanted little in the evening and spent my time reading, writing and playing Luke the Uke.
I used the gym again this morning and then drove to the ground after breakfast and check out.
We were in the pavilion today; a slightly smaller group. David Kendix, Chris Lowe and Shilpa Patel joined the usual suspects from the Middlesex side; we had some interesting chats.
At lunch, we were entertained at table by Bill “Wild Bill” Taylor with tales of his exploits, not least his cavalier match-winning performance against Sussex in 1975, retold in John Barclay’s excellent book, Life Beyond The Airing Cupboard…
“pages 72 to 73,don’t forget to look it up when you get home”
…I didn’t forget to look it up.
Middlesex bettered Nottinghamshire’s first innings score, just, but then failed to make any inroads in the few remaining overs.
I had a pretty clear run home, getting back to the flat not much after 20:30.