Two Forms Of Soaking And Two Friendly Gatherings In One Day, Uxbridge and Southwark, 13 September 2017

I’m not sure I’d seen Fran Erdunast (formerly Weingott) since the build up to my somewhat eventful house party in 1979, but we have been reconnected through Facebook for some time and discovered that we share an enthusiasm for cricket, not least Middlesex.

Fran likes to go to Middlesex out-ground matches, so we hatched a quasi-plan to meet up at the four-day game between Middlesex & Hampshire at Uxbridge CC late season.

Both the weather and my work commitments seemed to be conspiring against this idea, but the forecast for the afternoon of 13 September was, in the end, rather encouraging (sunny with a small chance of showers) and I realised that we should get to see a few hours of cricket at Uxbridge between my morning meeting and the early evening wine tasting in Southwark.

That was the plan…

…and the early part of the plan worked. I got to Uxbridge just before the start of play after lunch and saw a figure who was unmistakably Fran sitting conveniently near to the Gatting Way entrance. She introduced me to Simon, who turns out to be equally keen on county cricket, albeit a Yorkshire supporter (he hails from Leeds). They had arrived about 5 minutes ahead of me and were sorting out some well-appointed seats for the three of us.

After two or three overs, we felt a few spots of rain, which seemed to send the umpires into a tizzy and the players all came off, much to the disgust of the tiny crowd.

A light sprinkling and covering before the deluge

“I think the umpires and ground staff must know something we don’t”, I said, suggesting that we head for the pavilion before the deluge.

Deluge it was. Lashings of proper, wet rain, for about 20 minutes or so.

In an intriguing echo of the “Ian turning up over-dressed” story from 1980, which emerges from my other recent BBYO reunion with Mark Lewis, I realised that I was ludicrously overdressed for the Uxbridge pavilion in my business suit.

I was even more ludicrously dressed for slogging through the sludge of Uxbridge CC after the rain. I rolled up my trousers to avoid mud on suit misery. Jeff Coleman threatened to take my picture for the Middlesex or MTWD website, which I actively encouraged, as I thought it must look very funny, but Jeff kindly relented in the interests of my dignity.

On the way back to the slightly less soggy patch where our seats were now drying in the sun, I decided to have my one “Thatcher” 99 Whippy ice cream of the year, offering to treat Fran and Simon, who both declined politely.

Fran described the intricacies of the dental work she does while I ate the ice cream, presumably to ensure that I was not tempted to try any further sweet treats that day. Simon tried to avoid fainting during this conversation. I tried to put Simon at his ease by admitting to being squeamish when Janie talks about some of the intricacies of her podiatry work, at which point Fran demonstrated her considerable medical knowledge by explaining the difference between mouths and feet. When Simon and I both showed signs of imminent fainting, Fran stopped talking about medical procedures.

Ice cream at Uxbridge on a cold day brought to mind my previous visit to that ground, which Dumbo (my Suzuki Jimny) reported on King Cricket – here.

We watched the ground staff try to remove ludicrous quantities of surface water from the pitch, ably assisted by Angus Fraser and even some of the players. The efforts looked futile and indeed after about 30 minutes of sunshine and hard labour, the umpires came out and concluded that it would be impossible to get anything going again today.

Fran kindly invited me back to her place in Pinner along with Simon for some tea. It would be a chance to continue our chat about the good old days, cricket and cricket in the good old days, which is exactly what we did.

Fran hardly seemed to have changed in the decades since we last met. I am consistently surprised when I reconnect with friends from my teenage years how little they have changed in essence. Fran articulated it well in a note later that day:

…bemused by the surreal vision of grown up Ian Harris sitting on my sofa…[t]he 16-17 year old version I last saw kept reappearing ghost-like during the afternoon.

Fran displayed Essex beating up Warwickshire as background entertainment on the TV; it was clear that both Simon and Fran follow county cricket avidly and know a lot about it. Simon mentioned that Jack Simmons was one of his favourite cricketers; coincidentally Janie had spent a long time chatting with Simon’s hero when we were at Southport earlier in the season. I forgot to ask Simon why, as a Yorkshire supporter, his hero was a Lancastrian. Perhaps Simon will chime in with the answer to that conundrum.

16:30 came around ever so quickly and Fran very kindly insisted on taking me to Pinner station, worrying that I might otherwise be late for my 18:00 wine tasting. Indeed, by the time she had picked a couple of pears from her garden for Charley The Gent Malloy to sample next week (I’ll report back on how the Pinner Conferences go down with pear specialist Charley), even I thought I might have cut it a bit fine for Southwark.

I had forgotten how quick the Metropolitan Line is and hadn’t thought about Southwark, on the Jubilee Line, being a simple hop of a change from the Met line. Once I entered Pinner Station, of course, my brain went back onto automatic from all those visits out that way in my youth, to see Simon, Caroline and others at the Pinner club.

Still, I was surprised when I emerged into the Southwark sunshine at 17:20, a full forty minutes early. Time for a coffee and (sorry Fran) another somewhat sweet treat for fortification (pain au raisin).

Then to the Mousse wine tasting, which this time was on Lebanese wines. Janie arrived only a tiny bit late…

…but much earlier than this photo which Janie took quite a bit later in the evening:

Say “halloumi cheese”: Ian, Helen and Donna

We got to try a few different wines; Chateau Musar (naturally), a top notch wine from Chateau Kefraya plus several excellent wines from Massaya, with which Janie and I were unfamiliar. Helen also served a couple of French examples by way of comparison.

Massaya is less than 20 years old, so didn’t even exist when Janie and I visited Lebanon, tried Musar and Kefraya wines aplenty and also went to the Ksara caves to taste wine:

Tasting Wine at Ksara, Lebanon in 1997
He’s at Ksara…not the Massaya, he’s a very naughty boy

If you want to see the full stack of photos from our 1997 sojourn to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Eilat, click here.

My favourite wines from the Mousse wine tasting evening were a couple of the Massaya ones; Le Colombier (entry level but very gluggable) and the Silver Selection wine which I thought was cracking good. I also really liked the Marsanne-based Hermitage white which Helen served by way of comparison. I have never been much taken with the Lebanese whites, whereas Leb red can hit the spot more often than not.

Janie asked us all to look natural, so of course…

Janie’s attempts to photograph several of us by asking us to look natural were naturally more likely to fail than succeed. The picture above was the best of the bunch. If you want a laugh at the rest, feel free to click through here.

Helen always gathers an interesting, eclectic crowd for her wine tastings, so you don’t just learn a lot about wine, you do so in very agreeable company.

Janie and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening, which we rounded off with Maroush shawarmas and a bottle of Asti Spumante.  (OK, I made up that last bit).

Birthday Dinner With John and Mandy At Chelsea Physic Garden, 29 August 2017

There was a time when John White and I (together with Mandy and Janie) would celebrate our birthdays together quite regularly. I am was born 28 August and John was born a day later, 29 August.

This age difference (of one day) entitles me to describe John as “young John” and say things like, “when you get to my age, John…”

Anyway, this year the stars aligned well for us to celebrate the birthdays together for the first time in years.

Janie’s membership of Chelsea Physic Garden had already come in mighty handy three week’s before, 8 August 2017, when she and I went there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first meeting.

Actually this day, 29 August, was also the 25th anniversary; in this case of our first proper date. So it was, in a way, a triple celebration; two birthdays and an anniversary.

John and Mandy had arranged to stay with us in Noddyland after dinner, so they came to the house first.

Noddyland Garden could easily be mistaken for the Chelsea Physic Garden

The above photo, btw, was the very first picture I took with my new Snap Polaroid camera, a birthday gift from Kim.

Then off to the Chelsea Physic Garden. The tale of the evening is best told mostly in pictures.

The full deck of pictures can be found on Flickr in this album – here.

Highlight pictures tell the story below.

On arrival, we have a drink and a stroll around the garden
Janie asked us to look animated – there are several attempts at this one
Then we sat down to these starters
Three of us went for this excellent Ligurian fish stew
While Mandy went for the contrarian confit of duck
I couldn’t get the Snap to flash in fading light…
…so Janie let me use her smart phone instead!
The birthday boys…
…with illuminated death by chocolate birthday desserts

After dinner, back to Noddyland for a baritone ukulele recital and some more chat before bedtime.

We also had a rare opportunity to chat some more in the morning before John and Mandy set off on their way. It had been a really enjoyable get together – let’s hope we can do something along these lines again quite soon.

A generous gift of flowers and chocolates arrived before the end of the week.

A Day With The Deacons, Music Exchange & Lord’s, 8 August 2017

Paul Deacon got in touch to say that he and his family would be over from Canada about this time and that he quite fancied a visit to Record & Tape Exchange for old time’s sake – click here for insight into those days of yore – as one element of a meet up. Some cricket at Lord’s wouldn’t go amiss either.

We concluded that 8 August would be the best day for this – my timings were completely flexible (apart from a hot date with the Mrs in the evening) and it was Day 3 of the county match between Middlesex & Warwickshire; that seemed a good bet.

With the Deacons scheduled to arrive at the flat at 12:00, I had time to write up the events of 25 years ago – the day Janie and I met – click here – and also get to the gym for a decent work out.

I hadn’t met Christine or Anya before, but it almost felt as though we all knew each other from the outset. We had some tea and a chat at the flat, while Paul studied my singles collection – there are indeed a few dozen singles yet to digitise from those old Slipped Disc visits and my dad’s serendipitous purchases – another autumn/winter task.

The girls fancied a bite of lunch, so we dropped them off at Paul Rhodes while Paul and I strolled down a few doors further and down memory lane at Music Exchange.

Paul, game face on, studies singles, while I browse albums – just like the old days

We had a look upstairs and in the bargain basement, but Paul only bought a handful from the ground level selection:

Unlike the old days, only Paul purchases anything and only a few discs

There are some more Music Exchange photos on Flickr – click here.

After a quick reviving snack in Paul Rhodes with the girls, we then hot-footed it to Lord’s.

I hadn’t kept up with cricket events at all during the day, but knew from my visit to Lord’s and the Meet The Players Party the previous day, that the pitch had flattened out quite a lot. So my fears from Day One, when 20 wickets fell, that there might not be much/any play on Tuesday afternoon were surely unfounded…

…or were they?…

…I tapped in to Cricinfo on the way to the ground and exclaimed, “oh no! Middlesex have collapsed. We’re nine down. We probably won’t see any cricket at all.”

But we were only 10 minutes from the ground and we managed to navigate the formalities to get The Deacons in the Allen Stand gap to see some cricket. Between overs, we even got into the pavilion for the last few overs before the inevitable ending came. So the Deacons were actually in the Long Room to witness the end of the match and the traditional end of match civilities. In many ways, that made it an extra special treat for the Deacons. It would have been more special for me had it been a Middlesex win.

Still, that meant we had plenty of time and less distraction for an informal tour of Lord’s, starting with the grand tour of the pavilion itself.

I didn’t realise when we arranged the day, but Anya plays cricket at school in Canada – I imagined that she’s be largely unfamiliar with the game – so the Lord’s visit was quite special for her.

Paul and Anya on the Pavilion terrace, “borrowed” with thanks from Paul’s Facebook photo stack

Janie arrived just a few minutes after the match had finished – she seems to make a bit of a habit of doing that for county championship matches – we finally tracked her down after some comedy business where Janie must have sort of been following us around the pavilion without us actually meeting up.

Me, Christine and Anya just before Janie tracked us down, pushing the “no photos in the pavilion” rule to its limits, “borrowed” with thanks from Paul’s Facebook photo stack

With Janie, we went and looked at the Lord’s Shop and the Cricket Academy, walked back round the ground making a full circuit, had a quick look at the real tennis court and then retired to the Bowler’s Bar in the pavilion for a well-deserved drink.

Paul’s words and more pictures can be found on Paul’s Facebook posting – here.

The afternoon had gone so quickly. We all had evening events to get to; Anya had arranged to see some old pals south of the river, Paul and Christine were meeting some friends for an evening at Ronnie Scott’s, while Janie and I had our hot anniversary date to get to.

A multi-serlfie by Paul, back at the flat, using shelf and timer, “borrowed” with thanks from Paul’s Facebook photo stack

It was a really enjoyable day; one of those special gatherings that will live long in the memory and which brought back plenty of other memories too.

Sussex Sojourn Part One: Charleston Farmhouse, Then Dinner With Sidney & Joan Pizan At The Jetty, 27 July 2017

The Charleston Farmhouse – That Well-Known Den Of Iniquity

Janie and I arranged a short trip to Sussex, primarily to visit cousin Sidney & Joan Pizan, but cunningly co-ordinated with Janie’s desire to see the Charleston Farmhouse and my desire to see Middlesex’s only game at Sussex-by-the-sea this season; a Friday evening T20 fixture.

The cricket and some other interesting touring will be written up in Part Two of this piece.

All the photographs for the trip, including those shown in the blog pieces and many more besides, can be found on the Flickr album here.

So, we stopped off at Charleston, a short detour on the way to Brighton. The sun shone that afternoon, which was good news for the visit as the place comprises beautiful gardens as well as the fascinating house.

The house was the home of Vanessa Bell and her entourage and has been restored/preserved in its Bloomsbury artists form. In the modern parlance, the whole house is a kind of installation art work, with many of the walls, furnishings, artefacts etc. having been decorated by one of the many artists who lived or hung out at the house over the years.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but Janie did buy a book with lots of pictures (as well as words), so if you ask her nicely she can show you pictures of the interiors.

We took lots of pictures in the lovely gardens – see Flickr album. A few of the best of them follow.

Daisy Resplendent In Charleston Garden
Ged Looking Eeyoreishly At Thistles In Charleston Garden
For Reasons Unexplained, Daisy Poses As A Documentary Narrator
Vanessa Bell Didn’t Bath Much, But She Did Jump In This Pond Occasionally

After Charleston, we checked in to the Hotel Una again, as we did on our last visit to Brighton in 2016

…and indeed the time before in 2015.

Then on to see Sidney and Joan at The Jetty Restaurant at The Brighton Harbour Hotel.

Left To Right: Janie, Joan, Sidney, Ian

It is always a pleasure to see Sidney and Joan. The Jetty seemed to be a good choice of restaurant for this gathering; interesting dishes aplenty but not overly fussy food. Sparing Sidney the cooking job (which was his original plan) allowed the four of us to concentrate on catching up on each other’s news and chatting about all sorts.

Considering That Janie Was In Strident Chat Mode, Sidney And I Look Surprisingly Serene

Sidney and Joan cabbed it back to Hove while Janie and I chose to walk off a bit of our dinner. It had been a really pleasant evening, which had passed all too quickly.

Southport Day Three: County Cricket En Famille Plus A Blast From My Keele Past, 11 June 2017

It has to be said that, up until this day, our attempts over the years, with Lavender and Escamillo Escapillo, to watch Middlesex and Lancashire play cricket, had been soggy experiences to say the least.

I wrote up our first attempt, in a light-hearted-stylee, back in 2009, for King Cricket – click here.  (That day is also Ogblogged – here).

Indeed, previous attempts by just me and Escamillo Escapillo to watch our respective counties play each other had been thwarted for one reason or another until last season, where we managed to squeeze in a half day – Ogblogged here.

So after yesterday’s washout – delightfully filled with activities in Liverpool instead – it was a joy to see blue skies on the Sunday morning and a forecast that suggested little or no interruptions to play.

We aimed to get to the ground in time for the start, but hadn’t counted on the local Sunday trading laws, so although M&S (other sources of sandwiches, crisps and water are available) opens at 10:30, it doesn’t actually open the tills until 11:00.

Shopping is not something I like to do; I like to buy things I want/need, I don’t like to shop. So 10:35 to 11:00 that morning was not the most enjoyable/memorable part of the day. I won’t be making that mistake again on a Sunday morning.

Still, we had the Escamillo-mobile on stand-by, so we were still inside the ground and wandering around by 11:20.

Cricket En Famille – But Who Is The Third Man?

We took up good front row seats in our chosen position quite quickly. Soon after that, Daisy got quite shirty with me because I didn’t want to start drinking at 12:00 on a Sunday. Escamillo Escapillo was driving anyway and I knew what was coming later, so we left it to the girls to start drinking that early in the day.

There were quite a few Middlesex supporters around on the Sunday – some came and sat quite close to us. Soon after lunch was called by the umpires, Barmy Kev came and joined us for a while.

Barmy Kev didn’t take it upon himself to remind me that I owe him a drink or three and I don’t need reminding. But I didn’t want to drink that early in the day; I knew what was coming later, plus I didn’t want to reciprocate Barmy Kev’s generous hospitality at Lord’s with the less salubrious (I really mean less expensive) offerings at the Trafalgar Ground.

Meanwhile Escamillo Escapillo and Lavender were both as happy as Larry; the former because Lancashire were doing well in the match, the latter because EE was as happy as Larry and she was getting a bit merry with Daisy on the fermented grape juice.

“So who is the third man?” I hear readers up and down the land asking, as we are now several paragraphs on from me setting that puzzle.

The third man is Frank Dillon, a good friend from the Keele days who lives in Merseyside. The reason for his appearance is partially explained in an Ogblog piece I wrote a few weeks ago about an old school-friends gathering – click here.

If that makes no sense to you, click the blithering link where the strangeness is explained. The long and short of it is that John Easom at Keele Alumni Central put me and Frank back in touch with each other and when I told Frank that we would be coming to Southport for the cricket in a couple of week’s time, he responded by saying that he had been half-planning to show up at that match anyway.

We’d bought plenty of sandwiches for everyone, while Frank wanted us to know unequivocally that, while we were visitors on his patch, he was going to buy the drinks aplenty.  Perhaps there is some sort of by-law about this for Merseyside.

Escamillo Escapillo was becoming even happier than Larry, despite sticking strictly to driver’s lemonade, as Lancashire’s position went from good to seemingly impregnable. Lavender likewise for both of the reasons expressed earlier.

As tea came round, so the young couple said their goodbyes to us, as planned; they were heading home that afternoon/evening, whereas Daisy and I were staying on the extra night.

Frank said that he too would only stick around for another hour or so after the young couple left, but that was plenty of time for us to finish catching up with some of our news, swap some old stories and discuss the current political maelstrom.

Cricket, wine, water, memories, news, political maelstrom…

In addition to his generosity with the drinks, Frank seems to have decided that I should be the curator of his Keele picture memorabilia, handing me an envelope with a few photographs, all of which will find their way onto Ogblog when I write up the relevant stories but can now all (all seven) be seen on Flickr, click here.

The picture of 1980/81 committee members (including Frank)  with Robert Plant I have already added to my Ogblog piece on that story – here.

It was a really lovely day – at last Daisy and I have spent some time actually watching cricket with Lavender and Escamillo Escapillo – indeed it had been a lovely weekend with them. The years just fell away chatting with Frank; I do hope to see him again soon, probably in London next time.

After Frank left, Daisy and I stuck around for a few more minutes until it started to get a bit chilly again. We wandered round to the hospitality tent and got a chance to say goodbye to Keith Hayhurst and one or two others who hadn’t been around when we said our goodbyes there on Friday – click here to read about election day and Day One of this match.

Southport Day Two: A Day Out In Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, International Slavery Museum, The Cavern Club and More, 10 June 2017

On the evening of 9 June, when Daisy and I returned from the Trafalgar Ground, Southport, we had an excellent dinner with Charlotte and Chris (Lavender and Escamillo Escapillo) in The Bold Hotel restaurant.

We agreed that the weather forecast for Saturday looked shocking and (I thought) agreed that a day out in Liverpool would be a good substitute for sitting around in (probably) vain hope of any cricket. We also agreed to liaise in the morning.

About 9:00 a.m. Daisy received a text from Lavender to say that, as the weather was so poor, they had decided to take the train to Blackpool for the day.

Liverpool – more front than Blackpool?

“What’s Blackpool like?” asked Daisy.

“I’ve never been on a wet June day and I’m not about to either,” was my reply, “what the hell was wrong with the Liverpool idea; I thought we’d all agreed a plan last night?”

Daisy phoned Lavender to ascertain that she had, in fact, confused the names Blackpool and Liverpool. The whole of the north of England is just one huge swathe of vaguely-named towns and cities to some people.

So we were as one with the plans and headed off to Southport railway station. For the princely sum of £5.10 each we were awarded the freedom of the Wirral and Northern Lines for the day.

We ran into some Middlesex supporters as we went to board our train. They seemed to think there might be play from 11:30 and wondered why we were fleeing town. The truth will have dawned on them as the day panned out – there was no cricket at all that day.

From Liverpool Central, we headed towards Albert Docks; our first stop being the Tate Liverpool. Daisy took some photos along the way.

Are you SURE we weren’t in Blackpool?

We were really impressed with the Tate Liverpool and spent quite some time there.

Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock

We started with the Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus exhibition. I’m not 100% sure about the connection between Blake and Emin – this seemed to me more a marketing ploy than a genuine connection – but I had never actually seen the Tracey Emin bed before, nor had I ever seen so many William Blake pictures gathered in one place. Well worthwhile.

We then went through the upper floor (i.e. same level as the Emin/Blake) of Constellations – which is the main regular exhibition at Tate Liverpool. We all enjoyed that enormously but felt in need of a sit down and some refreshment at that stage, so we went to the cafe for a while and then looked at the rest of Constellations.

Buoyed by our refreshments, we wandered round the block to the Beatles Experience, where there were long queues and a rather touristic look to the place, so we decided to go to the Cavern Club instead but, before leaving the docks area, to take Mike O’Farrell’s advice and visit the International Slavery Museum . I’m really glad we did.

I find it hard to try and articulate how that International Slavery Museum made me/us feel. It is very interesting. Some of it is shocking, not least the matter-of-fact inventories and documentation that makes it so clear that people were seen as commercial commodities. But much of first section of the museum is a wealth of information on the African culture from which so many of the slaves came and much of the last section is a celebration of the modern culture that has emerged through the descendants of former slaves.

One especially thought-provoking section is about modern slavery – in particular sex workers – which reminded me that slavery in all its horrible forms has not entirely gone.

Between the museums and the Cavern Club, we wanted to see Judy Chicago’s Fixing A Hole mural, at Stanley Dock near the Titanic Hotel. We took a cab there, on the advice of some helpful police-folk:

Judy Chicago’s Beatles-Inspired Mural “Fixing A Hole”

We didn’t hang around in the plush Titanic Hotel, nor the Stanley Dock. We were told we’d have no trouble getting a cab to the Cavern up on Great Howard Street, but we walked 5 minutes or more along that road without a sniff of a cab.

Chris cleverly suggested that we try Regent Road (along the side of the Mersey) instead. That worked rapidly…and we landed up with a Scouse cabby from central casting who told us his life story, how many he smokes and yet how far he walks, tales of seeing John Lennon’s ghost, everything he thought we ought to see in Liverpool…you get the picture. He was great.

That late afternoon slot on a Saturday at The Cavern Club turns out to be great fun. We saw The Shakers – one of the house bands.

Yes, it is possible for Ged to look this spaced out after just a few sips of wine and no narcotics, honestly, officer.

As always, Janie was keen to demonstrate her skills at Sixties-style dancing in a hippy-hippy-shake-stylee:

These pictures look even better in the iPhone mini vid mode, but you should get the idea from the still. Escamillo Escapillo feigns not being with Daisy.
As we leave, Daisy chats with security but does not have her collar felt.

You can see all the photos from the Southport/Liverpool trip, including a couple of Daisy’s well dodgy vids, by linking through to Flickr, here.

We decided to head for a train between 18:00 and 18:15 to get us back to Southport in time to freshen up before dinner.

Dinner was at a family-run Italian restaurant named Volare, about 30 seconds crawl on hands and knees (not that we did it that way) from the hotel. The food was excellent and the staff helpful/friendly. The highlight (or perhaps low-light) of the evening was towards the end, when the staff with great fanfare played “Happy Birthday To You” at full volume over the sound system and presented a rather embarrassed-looking lady at the table behind me with a candle-lit tiramisu.

Unbeknown to me, Daisy signalled to the staff that it was also my birthday (which of course it wasn’t), so five minutes later they went through the rigmarole again for me, much to my discomfort and the glee of the other three. I shall exact my revenge; don’t know where, don’t know when, but the dish will be served cold.

In truth, we’d done many interesting things and had a lot of fun that day, despite most of it being distinctly “Plan B” activity.

Election Day Plus The Start Of Our Long Weekend In Southport, 8 & 9 June 2017

Escape To Southport – Sounds Like The Title Of A Superb Movie

Last time there was a general election, in 2015, Janie and I escaped to the North-West after voting, reaching North Wales overnight and reaching Dublin by noon the next day – Ogblogged here.

This time our escape on election day was coincidental – we had planned this trip to Southport weeks before the election was called.

The main purpose was to spend the weekend at the county cricket match between Lancashire and Middlesex, with Charlotte and Chris (Lavender and Escamillo Escapillo). Daisy and I decided to take advantage of my/our honoured guest status and go up to Southport a day earlier, to take in Day One of the cricket that way on the Friday.

On Thursday morning I got a wave of memories from my first ever election day, which I Ogblogged – click here.

I linked that Ogblog through Facebook and kicked off a wave of memories from old friends – here.

Little did I realise that morning, holding my nose and voting in Notting Hill (soon to be renamed The Kensington Keele-like Kremlin On The Hill) what a momentous election it was going to be.

I then went to the gym and did some thorough exercise before loading up Dumbo and heading off to the house in Noddyland (otherwise known as The Egalitarian Enclave Of Ealing).

To the extent that any faffing about on this occasion was anyone’s fault, it was mine, as Janie was sort-of ready by 11:00 but we didn’t get away until just before 12:30. Traffic was awful around Birmingham and then again as soon as we got past Keele, so the journey ended up taking us over 6 hours including pit stop at that Toll Road service station.

We had booked into The Bold Hotel in Southport and were soon put at our ease thanks to the friendly staff there, not least Kathy who helped us to sort out all those little things that need sorting out on check-in.

When investigating Southport, I had liked the look of The Vincent Hotel, although I felt that the smaller Bold might be more to our taste as a residence. Still, I had liked the look of The Vincent for dining and suggested to Daisy that we dine there on the first night. This was a good idea.

We dined in The Vincent Pacific – a newly themed restaurant in that hotel specialising in Asian/Fusion cuisine. The chef seems to specialise in subtle marinades that make meat ultra tender and an unusual (some might say excessive) liking for raspberries. What it lacks in authenticity it more than made up for with quality ingredients, superb presentation, very tasty food and a very warm atmosphere (staff and ambience). One of the better meals we’ve had in the UK outside London. Expensive by North of England standards but, compared with Leftie-London prices, very good value.

Of course we didn’t realise that we were from Leftie-London while we dined, except that, towards the end of the meal, I felt a buzz from my mobile phone and saw that the BBC exit poll was predicting a hung parliament.

By the time we got back to our hotel room, I had received an e-mail from John White saying, “I can’t believe the exit polls!”. As I am a well-known sceptic on pre-election opinion polls but equally a well-known believer in the veracity of modern exit polls, I sent John a one word reply: “believe!”.

9 June 2017

So we woke up to find our once-great nation in political turmoil but never mind, we were off to the cricket, so nothing much matters on such a day.

It is a 40 minute or so walk from The Bold Hotel to the Trafalgar Road Ground – roughly the same length of walk as the walk from my flat to Lord’s. A very pleasant walk it was too.

Keith Hayhurst, who looked after me so well and kindly at Old Trafford last year – Ogblogged here – is also the host at Lancashire out-grounds. He took a shine to Daisy, who got the Lancashire CCC history in more detail in one session than I got in four days at Old Trafford, together with a generous copy of Keith’s book. She also got some fascinating snippets of Keith’s own life story, which were new to me and should really find their way into another book, if only Keith could be persuaded to realise what an unusual and interesting life he has led.

There were quite a lot of visitors from the Middlesex Committee at the ground on the Friday – I imagined that this fixture might not be so well attended but had underestimated the travelling tenacity of our dedicated Board.

The hospitality tent was heaving, not so much with Lancashire/Middlesex dignitaries but with an impressive number of corporate and individual hospitality customers. The Trafalgar Ground is a delightful setting for out-ground cricket; perhaps the envy of the county circuit for its setting and ability to stage a first rate (as well as first class) event.

Heaving Hospitality Tent

At lunch we sat next to David Kendix, who was concerned that anything he might say could be used in evidence against him on Ogblog. I promised faithfully not to breach any confidences on Ogblog, which (obviously) makes it very difficult for me to think of anything at all about that conversation that I can divulge.

One interesting and disclose-able fact came up in that conversation; the last time Middlesex had played Lancashire at the Trafalgar Road Ground was in 1981, including the day of the Royal Wedding between Charles and Di – scorecard here. Quite a contrast with the match that was starting to unfold in 2017 – scorecard link with trigger warning for Middlesex supporters of a nervous disposition.

I always enjoy chatting with David, who is a mine of information about cricket but wears his profound knowledge lightly and with great humour in conversation.

So before we knew it (Middlesex collapsing to allow an early tea at the innings break didn’t help) it was tea and we hadn’t really watched all that much cricket.

So after tea, Janie (Daisy) and I did a circuit of the ground, taking in some cricket from various vantage points and working out where might be the best place to sit with the youngsters over the weekend.

Will That Big Fella Please Sit Down Or At Least Move To Stop Blocking My View?

We decided that the area near the scoreboard mound was probably ideal for our weekend purposes, although Daisy particularly had big eyes on a little viewing deck that one of the neighbouring houses has built at the edge of their garden. Apparently they have done an informal deal with the club to allow the scoreboard to use their electricity in exchange for some of the best seats in (or I should say “just outside”) the ground.

After a couple of hours of that last (probably to be three hour) session, we started to feel a bit chilly and thought we should stroll back to the hotel, not least because Lavender and Escamillo Escapillo had texted us to announce their arrival. So we went back to the hospitality tent to say our goodbyes, then enjoyed the 40 minute walk back to The Bold.

The weather forecast for the next day was shocking, but we had a cunning plan…

…to be continued.

A Winning Day, Culminating At Bill’s For A BBYO Youth Club Regathering, 1 June 2017

Al-Karak and the Moabite Hills

The day started well, with Michael (my business partner) letting me know some good business news; it’ll mean some work for me over the coming days but this is the sort of work/news I want to do/hear. I had also managed to get a lot done in the morning.

So I went off to Lord’s at lunchtime, for my first ever real tennis tournament singles match, with a spring in my step and hope (more than expectation) springing eternal.

As it turned out, my opponent had not had a good morning at all and so was not at his best for the match. 6-0, 6-1 does not reflect our respective abilities, but I did think I played well for my part and stayed focused on the task. So I’m through to the round of 16.

I suggested to the professionals that I should write the score on the tournament scoreboard in blood, “pour encourager les autres”. But for some silly reason they laughed, seeming to think I was joking. I explained that I wanted my subsequent opponent…or if things go well opponents…to fear me. The professionals laughed louder.

I was able to half-follow Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund win their modern tennis matches that afternoon (although, frankly, with far more fuss and less convincing scorelines than mine). I was also able to half-follow England beating Bangladesh at cricket, so very much a winning day.

I had also been very much looking forward to the evening; a traditional (if traditions can be established after three or four years) regathering of our old Streatham BBYO youth club clan at Bill’s, Covent Garden.

We were a little depleted in numbers this year. Natalie had originally said yes to the date, but when we got closer to the date realised that the date was the second day of Shavuot.

Natalie is latterly religious, whereas the rest of us have either lost most of it or never had it much in the first place.

In truth, I had to look up Shavuot, to remind myself what it was. Having done so, I discovered that eating dairy was part of the festive deal, as was The Book of Ruth. Realising that I knew as little about The Book of Ruth as I did about Shavuot, I looked that up too. I discovered that Ruth was a Moabite who converted to Judaism and went on to become King David’s great-grandma…

…so naturally I also had to look up what a Moabite was…and from whence the Moabites hailed.

At this point I was on slightly more familiar turf, as I realised that Janie and I had visited Moab briefly, betwixt Amman and Petra in 1997 – hence the picture above and below – all of our Jordan pictures from that Middle-Eastern visit can be seen here.

Moabite Girl With Kid near Al Karak

But I digress big time.

We were further depleted, as Martin had a late call to a shoot (photographic, not weapon-based). The date also clashed with Wendy’s son’s birthday; I got an e-mail from Wendy the day before explaining this and asking me if we could avoid 1 June next year. I observed that 1 June next year is a Friday night and that even I am sufficiently familiar with the ethnic mores to avoid Friday night.

Anyway, when I got to Bill’s, Linda, Sandra and Mark were already there. Lisa soon joined us and Andrea arrived fashionably late, as expected.

Reunited with each other and reacquainted (well, frankly for most of us, belatedly acquainted) with the traditions of Shavuot, we all made sure that we chose something dairy with our meals; in several cases regardless of other aspects of dietary laws and traditions.

The wine flowed, sufficiently to lubricate the chat but not so much as to render me useless the next day.

I really enjoy these gatherings. I like this group of people a lot. We did a fair chunk of our growing up together and I feel very comfortable with the gang. We have a remarkable amount in common still, despite our lives going in various directions and despite the fact that our youth was such a long time ago.

Ivor wasn’t there this year, sadly, but three out of four ain’t bad

It’s simply a great bunch of people who are good company; I’m looking forward to the next gathering already.

A winning day and a super evening.

Gather Ye Old School Buds While Ye May, 23 May 2017

What a splendid turnout of the old school gang on a Tuesday evening at relatively short notice, just a few weeks after the previous gathering – click here for the juicy details on that one.

Perhaps this illustrates the popularity of Rich “The Rock” Davis, who was visiting from Canada for the first time in a while and around whom the event was planned. Organised by Johnny Eltham – who else? – based on an original idea by David Wellbrook.

Or perhaps the high turnout was simply relief that, for once, our guest of honour visiting from the great dominions was not Sir Nigel Godfrey.

The plan was…the usual.  7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter, 8.30pm Rajasthan curry shop. I was fashionably late again this time, arriving just before 8.00, with no real excuse other than getting bogged down in whatever forgettable thing I was doing late afternoon.

Another glorious weather evening so everyone was drinking outside the Walrus and Carpenter. I got a chance to chat with Rich on arrival; also Paul Driscoll and Perry Harley. The conversation soon got to Brexit and how Britain is increasingly starting to resemble Weimar Germany. Soon after that I was tapped up for the drinks float.

A small, ℛℳ500,000,000 contribution to the drinks float?

The drinks float is a great idea. It discourages late arrival – the price is fixed – £20, not ℛℳ500,000,000 in case you were wondering – and if those arriving late, like me, don’t drink their portion, the remainder of the drinks float becomes a bodmin-avoiding contribution towards the dinner. You can tell that some fine economic brains have got to work on this one over the years.

I also chatted for a while with Rohan Candappa, who sadly was unable to stay for the dinner, as his mum is not well at the moment and he needed to get away. He and I had caught up properly over lunch together only two or three weeks previously; still I was sorry he couldn’t stay, especially given the circumstances.

Soon enough, Johnny Eltham commandeered two or three of us to form an advanced party to seize vital territory in Rajasthan. This we were able to secure without bloodshed or unpleasantness. In fact, the Rajasthanis greeted Johnny like an old friend and welcomed us to the downstairs area, which to all intents and purposes became our private room for the rest of the evening.

By my reckoning fifteen of us sat down for dinner; Chris Grant, David Wellbrook, Ben Clarkson, Martin Cook, Simon Ryan, David French, John Eltham, Ollie Goodwin, Paul Driscoll, Rich “The Rock” Davis, Paul Spence, Nigel Boatswain, Perry Harley, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth…and me.

If you are struggling to imagine what this gaggle might look and sound like, struggle no more. David Wellbrook shot a nifty ninety second vid while no-one was looking and posted it on Facebook – it is embedded and viewable below:

I had no idea that I wave my arms around quite as much as that. It’s a miracle that I don’t send food and drink flying.

Very sadly, we recently lost one of our great schoolmates (indeed our centre forward); Paul Hayes.  Steve Butterworth gave us a touching short eulogy and report from the funeral, before we all drank a toast to Paul. Not Paul’s beloved Montrachet, more’s the pity, but the Rajasthan Valpolicella and Cobra did a good job as substitutes.

As fortune would have it, I was sitting near Steve Butterworth, Perry Harley, Paul Spence and David French – all of whom are people I either haven’t seen in ages or didn’t get to speak with properly on previous occasions. It was really good to catch up with them properly after all this time. I had a brief conversation with Paul Spence about nuclear power, which led to this recollection and Ogblog post about Ringroad revue – click here.

Returning briefly to earlier in the evening…although I was late, I was not the last to arrive. Chris Grant and Nigel Boatswain turned up after me. Soon after their arrival, Johnny Eltham came up to me and said, “have you seen what Nigel is wearing? That jacket…those trousers…they look like a pyjama suit…you’ve got to write about it on your blog”.

I explained to Johnny that I don’t notice what anyone is wearing, so any sartorial references on the Ogblog would, to the regular reader, e.g. Janie, quite obviously not be mine.

“Oh that’s easy”, said Johnny, “it was David Wellbrook who spotted it and asked me to tap you up”.

“Ah yes,” I said, “as long as I make that point, all will be explained. I’ll need to take a photo of the outfit with my iPhone, though, it almost defies description.”

As the evening wore on, I was surreptitiously asked a couple of times when I was going to take the photo. Johnny even offered to provide cover, pretending that I was taking a group photo while in fact taking a photo of just Nigel and his pyjama suit.

I quietly suggested to Johnny that Nigel, as an Apple bigwig, would probably have the savvy to know what sort of photo was being taken with an iPhone (other brands of smart phone with camera are available) and in any case I would only blog a photo with Nigel’s explicit consent; I certainly don’t want the full weight of Apple’s legal department on my case.

“Just leave it with me”, I said.

So late in the evening, I told Nigel he had won a sartorial award for the evening and asked if I could take a photo for Ogblog. He giggled and said yes.

Sartorial elegance

A few minutes later, as Nigel and I parted company at South Kensington tube, I thanked him once again for the photo and assured him that he would enjoy the blog piece.  “Oh gawd, what have I done?” was Nigel’s reply.

For those readers who cannot remember what a real pyjama suit might look like, here is a photo of me only a few months ago sporting my Eva Air pyjamas, after being menaced into wearing them by the lovely stewardess – as reported in my bizarre yet (mostly) true story here.

Kung Fu Pandaman or Tai Chi Pyjamaman

But the last word (on the evening, perhaps not on sartorial elegance) should really go to guest of honour Rich “The Rock” Davis, who started a wonderful thread on Facebook with words and photos about the evening – click here.

I particularly liked Clarissa’s comment:

glad u had a good time with old high school buds.

I commented:

I’ve been called a lot of things in my time…goodness knows, this mob in particular can attest to that fact…but I’ve never been described as an “old high school bud” before.

So, gather ye old high school buds while ye may. These are precious times we share at these gatherings. This one was top notch. As Rich put it on Facebook:

A great feeling with great friends…a night I’ll never forget.

A Tragedy Of Epicurean Proportions, Saying Goodbye To Tavola, 25 April 2017

Goodbye, Tavola

When I popped in to Tavola on Westbourne Grove a few days ago, I expected simply to buy a few provisions.

I did not expect Al to exclaim, “ah, here’s someone else we need to tell” and announce to me that they would be shutting up shop and emigrating en famille to Sydney, Australia.

“Oh dear”, I said, “when should I start panic buying?”

“I wouldn’t leave it any later than Wednesday,” said Al, “Friday will be our last day”.

Given my timetable the following week, Tuesday was my only slot for panic buying so Tuesday it had to be for the final few purchases (a bit of freezer stocking) and fond goodbyes.

I shall miss the place of course. It must be…sorry, it must have been one of the finest delicatessen’s ever anywhere. It is very rare for a top, top chef (in this case, Alastair Little) to decide to run a deli rather than a restaurant. Here is a scratch or three from the now defunct Tavola website:

But more, I shall miss the Tavola people. Al and I became friends. We’d chat about food and cuisine. Al’s great strength is Italian cuisine and I found that, strangely, he could pick my brains for a tip or two on Chinese and South-East Asian cuisine. We also share a love for cricket, so we’d often chat about that too.

Alastair (in the guise of Big Al DeLarge) became one of the people/characters I write about in my occasional pieces for King Cricket. Much of the story of Al, me and cricket can be traced through the King Cricket pieces that mention him:

Last but most certainly not least, is King Cricket’s own wonderful match report from 2016, in which Alastair finally did get to Lord’s with me and got to meet King Cricket himself and got to try The Lord’s Throdkin.

But returning to Tavola, I shall miss the whole Tavola team. Sharon (Al’s lovely wife), Sue (the perennial member of staff) and the friendly young folk who served in the shop from time to time. Also I shall miss the sense of community in that shop; the regular customers and that local vibe.

Of course, it is becoming nigh-on impossible for a place like Tavola to exist commercially in a street like Westbourne Grove any more. I understand it but I don’t like what that means for our community. I also realise that Alastair and Sharon’s reasons for taking their young family to Australia go beyond commerce; I wish them all well and respect the decision…

…although why anyone would go half way round the world to be a stone’s throw from the Sydney Cricket Ground when they are already merely a stone’s throw from Lord’s is a mystery to me.

So farewell then, Tavola