An Exploratory Mission Into Deepest, Darkest Essex, Prested Hall and Chelmsford, 27 & 28 June 2017

It seemed like a brilliant idea when I/we arranged the trip.

Middlesex were playing Essex in the first ever round of day/night county championship cricket matches.  I’d drive out to Prested Hall on the Tuesday morning, drop my bags, have a real tennis lesson, join Charley “The Gent” at Chelmsford for cricket on the Tuesday afternoon, return to Prested after stumps at night, check out/play real tennis the next morning, drive back to Chelmsford for at least a couple of sessions play Wednesday, then head back to London in reasonable time towards the end of that day.

Indeed, it was a pretty brilliant idea, confounded in part only by the weather “turning Charley on us” (as it were) and Middlesex’s dismal performance. Of course the latter was no disappointment to Charley “The Gent” Malloy, who is enjoying watching his team ride high in the county championship this season.

The weather forecast for Tuesday was changing on an almost hourly basis. Charley at one point Monday messaged me to see if I still wanted to give it a go, but when I explained that I was coming out to deepest Essex anyway, we agreed to meet at the ground Tuesday come what may.

In the morning, at Prested, I had the honour (and pleasant surprise) of getting my real tennis lesson from Rob Fahey, the former and longest-reigning world champion. I doubt if I was utilising even a tiny fraction of his skills and knowledge, but I learnt a great deal and he was a thoroughly delightful coach for that hour. He filled my head with all sorts of stuff that will probably come in handy down stream but which I have so far been utterly unable to put into practice. A few simple tips on placement of shots and serves are already coming in handy.

Then to my apartment room in the health centre area. Comfortable-looking and very large – there would even be room for Janie, Benjy the Baritone Uke and all of our attendant paraphernalia in one of those, I noted for future reference.

Then a very dingy drive to Chelmsford, but it wasn’t raining and the forecast suggested that we might get a few hours of play before the rain set in for the evening. But five minutes before play was due to start, an unscheduled, sharp shower put paid to the prospects of play for a while.

Chas and I braved the pavilion while all that was going on, which gave us a chance to catch up on news and gossip over coffee (not bad stuff and just one nicker per shot) plus some headway into Mrs Malloy’s splendid bap sandwiches.

The weather looked reasonably promising again for a while; they even announced a 16:25 start and the Middlesex players came out to warm up. But almost inevitably it started to rain again at 16:20. Looking at the forecast and the rain radar, Chas and I agreed that the prospects of play now were close to zero and that we had cunningly focused most of our attention on the more perishable elements of the picnic, allowing the less perishable elements to return the next day.

I returned in the driving rain to Prested Hall, where I was able to catch up on my reading and blogging (as well as sleep) in that comfortable appartment/room during the evening and into the next morning. I had a very tasty light bistro meal in the evening there, again noting that this would more than do the job for me and Daisy on a future visit.

In the morning, after checking out of my room, I played real tennis against a very charming gentleman who managed to capitalise well on all the new ideas drifting around my head (but not onto my racket) from yesterday’s lesson. Why I should suddenly start over-hitting and mistiming my shots in these circumstances is beyond me.

I tried a bit of bestial roaring when stretching for difficult gets and my opponent responded in kind, less often as I was making him stretch less. We were on the Prested Glass court – across the other side of the galleries is the Prested Far court, where a far finer exponent of bestial roaring than either of us was playing that hour.

The upshot was, I just couldn’t get any sort of rhythm going and my opponent played really well for his handicap. Still, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer chap, who celebrated his win by buying me a coffee in the bistro afterwards. This was good timing, as once he had gone and I had done some warm-down stretches and showered, I was ready to say goodbye to the friendly, helpful Prested team and head back to Chelmsford.

Chelmsford was once again well gloomy; I even drove through some drizzle as I approached town. But the cricket ground itself was dry and the forecast was far more promising than Tuesday’s.

Indeed, although we got the occasional tiny bit of drizzle (perhaps merely mizzle) during the day, it mostly stayed dry; just seriously dark and gloomy throughout the day. Just as well this was a floodlit match, as I doubt if there would have been much if any play with a conventional red ball and no floodlights.

Even though we had spent some time together the previous day, Charley The Gent and I had no difficulty filling several more hours with chat. Tales of derring do from playing and watching matches in years gone by. A bit more news and gossip. Bants, although it is hard to bant too much when the match is so one -sided – click here for scorecard. The locals who were sitting around us seemed to enjoy some of our chirp, so it can’t have been too bad.

We were in Charley’s favourite position at the front of the Tom Pearce stand. At times we both felt a bit chilly and took turns taking a brisk stroll to get coffees from the pavilion.

There was a reasonably sized crowd but I’m sure it would have been so much better had the weather played ball; especially as Essex were doing so well.

Dot (Mrs Malloy) did us proud with the bap/sarnies yet again; corned beef, ham and cheese for me – I think Chas had some egg; we each got personalised sandwich boxes with kind notes from Dot; Chas’s note was signed off “wifey” which seemed rather quaint to me.

I wanted to get home in reasonable time, so when Essex declared soon after 20:30, that seemed the perfect moment for me to bow out after my very first taste of pink ball cricket. We’d had a really enjoyable couple of days.

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