MCC v The Dedanists’ Society, Lord’s, 10 February 2018

About a month earlier, Mr Thirlwell and I entered the Lord’s dedans a few minutes before our scheduled gladiatorial hour, quite by chance to encounter Messrs Snitcher and Leigh planning the teams for the MCC v The Dedanists’ Society.

“Would either of you gentlemen possibly be available to represent the club on 10 February?” we were asked.

Both of us replied that we would check our heaving social calendars, but, each of us coincidentally suspected that the afternoon of 10 February might just be a tiny window of opportunity for the club to co-opt our services.

Mr Thirlwell relaxing in the dedans gallery after doing battle – with thanks to Janie for all of the photos and the videos

An hour later, as Mr Thirlwell and I were dragged off the court kicking, biting, punching and yelling at each other…

…as usual…

…yet another draw for the real tennis on-line score book…

…Messrs Snitcher and Leigh looked at each other and exclaimed in unison, “yes indeed, these two will be ideal canon fodder for our friendly match with The Dedanists’ Society.”

The Dedanists’ Society is a group of real tennis enthusiasts who raise money for good works in the sport – click here for further details.

Janie and I had enjoyed a Dedanists’ Society evening event only a few months earlier – click here or below for the story of that evening:

Drinks and Nibbles With The Dedanists’ Society, The Estorick Collection, Islington, 5 September 2017

So Janie needed only a little persuasion to join us on 10 February for lunch and to watch her boy (me) in action. By then we knew that I was scheduled to partner Mr Snitcher himself, for the first time in a match since my very first attempt at a doubles match some 18 months previously – click here or below for that tale of derring-do:

MCC v The Wanderers, Real Tennis Match, Lord’s, 10 September 2016

Janie and I planned, on the morning of 10 February, to play an hour of modern tennis before heading to Lord’s for lunch. But as there was still frost on the cars when we planned to set off to play, we postponed that fixture. All dressed up with no place to go for physical preparation, I resorted instead to psychological methods:

Preparing spiritually for the big match against the Dedanists

Janie and I arrived in good time for lunch; getting to see the end of the second rubber and chat with a few people before the all important business of chowing down.

The grub was good. The centrepiece was a very tasty chilli-con-carne with rice and vegetables, supplemented with some tasty nibbles, a brightly-coloured soup (carrot and tomato I should imagine) and an elegant cheese platter. Washed down with plentiful wine for those who had already done battle and a thimble-full of wine for a combatant-to-be, like me.

In truth, this particular fixture must be one of the friendliest matches in the whole of the global real tennis calendar. Most MCC members who play in the fixture are also members of The Dedanists’ Society. Most of the players on the day were members of both clubs; so much so that, at times, during play, we were struggling to work out which team was which.

Mark (the nominative deterministic gentleman who marks the matches), Mr Snitcher and yours-truly – let the battle commence

Soon enough it was our chance to play. The last rubber of the match – surely the highlight of the fixture. So much so that some of the people who had done battle earlier in the day simply couldn’t take the tension and left Lord’s before the game. Still, there were a  good dozen or so people left, hardly any of whom were having an afternoon snooze.

Mr Snitcher and I had spent many seconds preparing our tactics for the match. We agreed that I would do most of the running, so I should not expect to hear the call “yours”, I should only expect to hear the shout “mine”, at which point I should leave the ball.

Here’s an example:

Somehow it seemed to work out…

…as did my serve on the day; most but not all of the time:

…even my volley worked a bit better than usual…

…as one kind gentleman pointed out to Janie, I was in the zone…

…which is a polite way of saying that I was not really keeping track of the score, much as some people struggle to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Tony and Mr Devlin watched with rapt attention – it was that sort of match

Even Tony seemed full of glee at the end of the match. He told me and Mr Snitcher that we had excelled ourselves on court. He also said that we should be delighted with the progress we are making…

…at least I think that’s what Tony said. To be honest I wasn’t listening; apparently none of us ever do.

Joking apart, all the participants had spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at Lord’s and raised a few bob for The Dedanists’ Society in the process.

The Lords, Then Lord’s, Plus A Coincidental Segue Between The Two, 1 February 2018

Just before Christmas , I received an invitation from the House of Lords to give some follow-up evidence to the evidence I gave on Brexit back in October 2016 – click here or below to read about that first occasion:

Two Visits To Two Different Lord Places In One Day, 27 October 2016

You can also read the report that came out in March 2017, which (I was pleased to discover) cited me several times – click here.

Anyway, I decided to make it a Lords/Lord’s day again, so booked to play real tennis late afternoon.

On this second occasion, the chair of the committee, Lord Witty, was away, so Lord Aberdare took the chair. I have embedded the vid below.

You can judge for yourselves how it went. If you are a Facebookista, you can see how my Facebook friends reacted by clicking here.

I think my key moment was at c10:36 (about 30 minutes in) when I made the topical West London analogy of the slightly leaky pipe c/w the major burst water main. Much of West London had been without water pretty much all day on the day before the hearing – which I found rather nerve-wracking while I prepared, but it did lend me a useful analogy.

I did say some other stuff too, so it is certainly worth getting a bucket of popcorn and hunkering down for an hour of viewing.

16 months deeper into my real tennis career (and into Brexit of course), I kept thinking during the hearing that the name “Lord Aberdare” was familiar to me in a tennis context…then wondered whether I was getting confused.

When I got to Lord’s later, I saw that, as I had half remembered, the name “Lord Aberdare” was all over the real tennis Gold and Silver Racket honours board.

It transpires that our man, the current (fifth) Baron Aberdare‘s, grandfather, who was the third Baron Aberdare – click here or picture below for bio – had a twenty-or-so year cricket playing career for Middlesex County Cricket Club before and after the First World War and also went on to dominate amateur real tennis between the wars; probably one of the greatest amateur real tennis players ever.

by Walter Stoneman, bromide print, 1930.  From – see there for full details of non-free use rationale, which also applies to my use.

You’d have thought that this wonderful coincidence would have inspired me to a great victory on the tennis court that evening…but you’d be wrong. The 3rd Baron would not have been impressed by my performance on the court…

…I wonder what he would have made of Brexit and or my performance before the Peers? Would he have yelled “better than half a yard” or “hazard the door” to mark the end of my pivotal speech?

Brexit, Middlesex cricket and real tennis…the story of a fair chunk of my life at the moment, I suppose.

24 Hours Of (Mostly) Real Tennis Excess Plus Reflections On 365 Days Of Reasonable Success, 21 and 22 December 2017

I mentioned my occasional role as a last minute substitute in my real tennis reflections at the end of 2016:

One In A Million: Reflections On Real Tennis At The End Of My First Calendar Year, 25 December 2016

…on the last two playing days of the 2017 year that role went into overdrive. I had booked to play at 11:00 on Friday 22nd, which was doubles – not what I would normally book but I think it was the only available slot on that last day of 2017 when I booked it.

In the end, though, I was asked if I could fill in at 16:00 on Thursday, then if I could play doubles for 90 minutes before that Thursday singles, then if I could stay on for an hour of “senior” doubles after my Friday booking, which had been switched from doubles back to singles.

In short, it isn’t just my clients who book up too much to do in the run up to Christmas and then cancel at the last minute. The real tennis community are masters at it.

Also, in short, that meant four-and-a-half hours of real tennis in 24 hours. That was a bit mad of me. But strangely it all went OK. In fact I improved my singles handicap by a good few notches during that 24 hours.

The 150 minute marathon on Thursday was a very exhausting idea, especially as the doubles as well as the singles was high grade, above my handicap stuff.

I drove home, then wandered round to the Ladbroke Arms to meet Kristof, whom I had met at Brian Eno’s economics shindig a few week’s earlier:

An Evening Of Economics With Eno Comics, Economy, 20 November 2017

Kristof is a very interesting chap of Hungarian origin who is a fund manager by profession, yet reads books and had even read The Price Of Fish since we last met.

When he arrived at the Ladbroke Arms, Kristof immediately apologised for his appearance. He was wearing a leather jacket, jeans and a dark-coloured beanie hat. Kristof explained that he was going to a punk party after our drink. I explained that his appearance was not entirely dissimilar to mine, which I consider to be normal attire for meeting a friend in a local pub. Here is a  reconstruction of the look, taken by Daisy a couple of days later in Victoria:

Me, outside the Albert in Victoria a couple of days later, modelling “that” look

We talked about life, the universe and just about everything. Topics (beyond The Price Of Fish) ranged from Brexit to the writings of George Mikes to our life stories & therefore (naturally) Ogblog.

But, sadly, Kristof and I failed to solve the world’s most wicked problems over a couple of small glasses of wine before Kristof went off in his “costume”. Must have been that extra 90 minutes or so of real tennis doubles that dulled my thinking that evening. Hopefully we’ll try again some time soon.

Back to Lord’s the next morning for a couple of hours more tennis. Bizarrely, the MCC now live streams and saves the games some days, so if you want a quick (or slow) butchers hook at this stuff, here is the stream of my Friday marathon – just the two hours from c2:02 (warming up for singles) until c4:05. The “senior doubles” after our hour of singles (we both stayed on) is with gentlemen who are both just over or approaching 90 years of age.

Unfortunately, the sound stream wasn’t working that day. so you can’t hear all the moaning and groaning – mostly from my opponents, naturally:

As for reflections on my 2017 progress; numerically it all looks and feels a bit strange. I got my handicap down to 60.9 by June, then it flew back up again for three months and then I whittled it back down to that 60.9 figure by the end of the year.

Apparently this pendulum thing happens; partly natural volatility, partly (I suspect) a bit of a seasonal effect but mostly because performance actually does plateau or even go backwards while you try to progress to playing “proper” shots rather than simply getting the ball back.

More importantly, I’d had lots of fun and continue to really enjoy my real tennis. Ogblog highlights of the year include the following, the first two of which have some very short video clips with sound. If you persevere you’ll encounter some real stars, including Rob Fahey (real tennis’s equivalent of Rod Laver) and even Paul McCartney:

Tie Me Boomerang Down, Preparing The MCC Team For The Boomerang Cup, Lord’s, 10 December 2017

An Active Day Off – Pole Dancing And Real Tennis, 27 November 2017

Big Match Weekend At Lord’s Part One: MCC v HAC Real Tennis Match, 21 July 2017

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

Here, There and Everywhere: Rather A Lot Of Real Tennis In Two Days and A Star-Struck Encounter, 14 & 15 June 2017

Three Courts In One Day, 29 April 2017

Anyway, here is a link to my 2017 singles results sheets with the names redacted.

I am now in the 53rd percentile of all players worldwide who have ever been logged on the system (over 10,800 of them). More realistically, I am now in the 67th percentile of those who play regularly. That makes me about one standard deviation from the norm. Let’s hope no-one latches on to “Standard Deviation” as my nickname. I think I’d sooner be the Galloping Bard or the Flying Ferret.

Tie Me Boomerang Down, Preparing The MCC Team For The Boomerang Cup, Lord’s, 10 December 2017

Janie (Daisy) and I normally play (modern) tennis every Saturday and Sunday morning, so my response to requests to fill in for late cancellations on the real tennis court at the weekends normally contains the answer “no”.

The Galloping Bard And The Mighty Snitch Take On the Boomerang Boys

But I had noticed that the weather was set utterly foul for Sunday, so when Chris Swallow asked me on Friday if I could possibly do a couple of hours doubles to help the MCC Team prepare for the Boomerang Cup in Melbourne – click here to learn about that premier international sporting event, I thought Janie probably would sooner watch me play “realers” in a good cause than watch the rain wash out any hope of us playing “lawners”. I asked; Janie said yes.

Actually the weather forecast was wrong. It didn’t rain.

It snowed. Noddyland looked resplendent as we set off for Lord’s.

Snow Time In Noddyland

We allowed plenty of time to get to Lord’s in the snow, but actually the roads were empty yet perfectly passable so we got there in a record 20 minutes from Noddyland.

The wise doctor, Doctor Wyse, who was to be the third of the Boomerang Cup team in practice on the day, was not so lucky with the weather and phoned in snowed in. Iain Harvey and Oliver Wise were the two Boomerang Team stalwarts there for some match practice ahead of the antipodean batttle.

Carl Snitcher very kindly stayed on for a valiant extra 70-80 minutes after his hour of singles, to help make up the four.

Initially I partnered Iain against Oliver and Carl. Iain took pains to point out at one stage that he was bringing an extra “I” to our partnership…while I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t been using both of my eyes to watch the ball enough.

After one Boomerang set in the above permutation, Oliver and Iain felt that they should get used to partnering each other, so I then partnered The Mighty Snitch for a while (see above photo).

Once Carl had to leave, Chris Swallow took over as my partner for just under an hour, immediately bringing better performance out of me through some form of coachy-osmosis or something.

The Boomerang Cup has slightly different rules. Boomerang sets are “first to eight” (best of 15 games) rather than the regular “first to six” real tennis sets. Games are decided on “one point” at 40-40, even when there is no handicap to play. Also, if the receivers are three or more games behind, they can do a switch during the set (just the once) to try catch up by each facing the alternative opposing server. (In regular rules, the receiving pair decides who will receive against whom at the start of each set).

Janie (Daisy) enjoyed Rose Harvey’s company while watching and while taking some photos and vids. Three short clips below – the first is me serving and playing well:

…the second is what happens when that serve, the demi-piquet, goes slightly awry against a good player…

…the third shows me playing quite well again – this time from the grille side of the hazard end (I’m not making these names up as I go along, honest):

Believe it or not, the whole darned thing is streamed these days, albeit silently, so you can watch the lot if you wish, by clicking the embedded link below. We start at 2:04:45 and only play for a couple of hours – it is riveting viewing:

It is terrific experience for me to play doubles with better players like this; somehow I manage to lift my performance (at least a bit) when I play in these circumstances, which must be good for my game. In any case, it was a great fun morning of tennis.

An Active Day Off – Pole Dancing And Real Tennis, 27 November 2017

Janie, tiring of hearing all about my new yet ancient hobbies of baroq-ulele and real tennis playing, has decided to take up a new hobby of her own; pole dancing.

Today was her fourth lesson. As we had arranged a day off, I thought I would have a relatively light day of exercise, taking advantage of the studio where Janie was having her lesson to do half an hour of stretches and abs before hunkering down for an hour with my Economist.

This photo was taken at the end of Janie’s second lesson

I kept up with Janie and her teacher, Lana, for the first couple of minutes of stretching, before they went off into the stratosphere of stretching and I reverted to the gentle, safe stuff I do regularly in the gym.

I was still doing my clams when Janie and Lana started working through some pole routines.

This picture was taken at the end of Janie’s third lesson

I was about five minutes into my Economist reading when my phone rang. Chris from Lord’s. Could I possibly help out and cover for a last minute drop out at 17:00 today.

I realised that I could, instead of reading the Economist and watching Janie up a pole, trundle over to the flat and pick up some kit, enabling me to help Chris out.

So I did, missing out on Janie’s further improvement in lesson four:

Janie towards the end of lesson four

Lana assured me that Janie is a natural at this sport and I must say that her progress in such a short time looks quite remarkable to my untrained eyes…

…which is more than can be said for my slow but relentless progress at real tennis.

I did have time to drop Janie at home after her lesson but she said she’d like to watch me play, as she hasn’t seen it for a good few months.

Action shot

I asked Janie to put some energy into putting my opponent off while she watched, but she signally failed to do that.

Janie did take a few pictures, though, plus a couple of short vids, one of which, remarkably, shows me landing a chase of half-a-yard on the return…

…which is a pretty good shot. I’d like to assert that I land half yard chases with some regularity, but that wouldn’t be true. Still, please invest 8 seconds in the vid below and you’ll see how it’s done:

We’d both had fun and we’d both enjoyed following each other’s hobbies. That’s a good day off.

MCC v Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, Lord’s, 16 November 2017

I was delighted to be selected to represent the MCC again against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club. This was to be my third go in that fixture – click here to read about the previous go.

Even more delighted, because I saw that our captain, Josh Farrall, had picked me to partner Chris Stanton. I have known Chris for over 25 years – he was the first professional actor to perform one of my silly songs. In NewsRevue, spring 1992.

So I thought it was to be comedy doubles. Ideally with me writing the script and Chris doing all the work.

John Random, who directed that 1992 show, on learning that Chris and I had been reunited through this strange game, had expressed a desire to see real tennis. So I had the idea to invite John to watch Chris and me play in this match.

Initially John said yes to that idea, but the weekend before the match, he was selected for a Compare The Meerkat advert and had to pull out of the Lord’s tennis spectating role. It transpires that John has previous in the matter of phoney slavic accents and extremely dodgy fur:

Win a one-way ticket to the Gulag if you even think about markets-dot-com

In the end John’s inability to show up at Lord’s was probably just as well. For a start, that Trotsky beard would not have gone down well at The Grace Gate. Further, in any case, Chris Stanton was also a no show on the day – surely not another one summoned to perform with an anthropomorphic gang from the mongoose family?

So, captain my captain Josh Farrall partnered me in the first match. Sadly there are no photos from this match, but there is a stock photo of me playing in a previous match – that isn’t Josh watching me hit the ball all wrong.

A perfect shot of an ever so slightly imperfect shot – photo by Sidney Yankson

Exhausted by our endeavours, I nevertheless volunteered to relieve our captain from multiple duties by taking his slot in the later match he was scheduled to play.

This gave me the chance to partner Nick Evans, who is even more of a novice than me and against whom I was scheduled to play singles the next day, against a delightful Middlesex couple (including the MURTC team captain) who are also more novice than me, although not by much.

The whole fixture was great fun; a lot of people who hadn’t (or had only very occasionally) played matches before, plus a few regulars of old and the odd turncoat, as was the experience in the match against the HAC a few months ago.

It was a superb success as a social evening, with the traditional Lord’s curry going down a treat, washed down with some very jolly wines.

“What was the score?”, I hear the more competitive readers cry. Come on now, I’ve told you before, what happens on the MCC tennis court stays on the MCC tennis court.

I’ll just provide one picture-based clue:


Real tennis was the winner, along with conviviality.

Four Days In A Row At Lord’s For Either Tennis, Cricket Or Both, 18 to 21 September 2017

No, not bageled at tennis

Monday 18 September 

After work, I went to Lord’s for my long-awaited round of 16 tournament fixture, tennis racket and baroq-ulele in hand.

The least said about my performance at tennis the better. I wasn’t bageled in either set is about as far as “the positives” will go. Perhaps I would have played better tennis with my baroq-ulele than with my racket.

Afterwards I went on to DJs place for a very enjoyable guitar/baroq-ulele jam.

Tuesday 19 September

A day of county cricket between Middlesex and Lancashire at Lord’s with Escamillo Escapillo. After an early visit to the gym, I got to Lord’s a few minutes after play had started. Middlesex were batting and had lost two early wickets by the time I got to HQ. Things didn’t improve for Middlesex that first hour, with four early wickets going down.

We had an excellent lunch of roast beef baps and salad from the Long Room bar; Escamillo’s idea and treat to spare me the picnic preparation. A superb idea it was too.

It was an excellent day of company and cricket, the latter of which got better, then worse, then better again for Middlesex. Escamillo seemed a little conflicted, as a Lancashire supporter who nevertheless wanted to see Middlesex survive in the first division.

At the end of the day, Escamillo Escapillo joined me as a guest at the sponsors’ party in the Thomas Lord Suite, which was very pleasant. I scored a half case of wine in the raffle, which put paid to any thoughts of walking home after the party.

Wednesday 20 September

Early start, as I had agreed to play the real tennis equivalent of a “naughty boy net” at 9:00 (a doubles partnering Mark Ryan) and needed to prepare my share of the Charley The Gent Malloy picnic before heading to Lord’s. Charley and I had agreed to share the picnic duties.

The above photograph shows my share of the picnic, which includes several food items which were to be the subject of foodie debates which, I hope, will form future King Cricket pieces, which will be linked here if/when published.

I performed well in my naughty-boy doubles and got changed in time to secure good seats for me and Chas before Chas arrived, a few minutes after the start of play. Middlesex took a wicket while I was signing Chas into the pavilion.

Charley, being an Essex supporter, was able to give his full support to Middlesex today, as Essex had already won the county championship last week.

We nibbled little during the morning, as I had a tennis singles at 13:00. Chas came and watched some of that match, which went very well for me.

When I returned to the pavilion, the sides were off for bad light and Chas was chatting with a blind member who was visiting with a partially-sighted pal who was enjoying a day at Lord’s for the first time. Delightful company, those two were.

Much like my day with Escamillo yesterday, Chas and I retired to the Warner Stand for the second half of the day. More comfortable seating than the pavilion and a similar view. Nice coffee available in that new stand too.

The centrepiece of my share of the picnic is there to be seen in the above photo; the centrepiece of Chas’s picnic was a plentiful supply Dot’s speciality corned beef baps.

Colin, who used to be on the Warwickshire committee and who acted as my guide at Edgbaston earlier in the season, joined us for a while, enabling some good chat including reminiscence of many Edgbaston visits passim.

Middlesex got into a good position but then subsided in the second innings to leave the match tantalisingly poised overnight.

How quickly the season has been and gone, Chas and I agreed, as we parted company at cricket for the last time in 2017.

I supped on a couple of Dot’s corned beef baps with salad.

Thursday 21 September

Working at home today, while following the latter stages of the Middlesex v Lancashire match. I went to the gym mid morning and heard some of the match on the radio; a couple of early wickets for Middlesex not quite settling my nerves, but improving my outlook for the match. It was a tight finish, but Middlesex were ahead of the curve in taking wickets for most of the day.

Here is a link to the scorecard and Cricinfo resource on the match.

Soon after Middlesex won the match, it started to rain. Not long after that, I set off for Lord’s to play in the quarter-finals of the doubles tournament.

My good performances from the day before did not translate into performance in the big match that mattered. It was a tough fixture, especially as my doubles partner had been on holiday and therefore not played for a few weeks. We fought hard but came second, so that is the end of the internal tournament season for me.

As I left Lord’s that evening, I ran into several members of the Lord’s staff who had clearly been in end of season goodbyes mode for the last few hours with members leaving the ground after the last professional cricket match of the season.  “Winter well”, “see you next year”, that sort of tone.

“See you Tuesday”. I responded. That’s when I’ll be back at Lord’s, picking up again on the fragments of my so-called real tennis career.

Big Match Weekend At Lord’s Part One: MCC v HAC Real Tennis Match, 21 July 2017

Them and Us, Thanks To Sidney Yankson For The Pictures

Not content with the idea of attending one heck of a big match at Lord’s on Sunday, I found myself selected to represent the MCC at real tennis there on the preceding Friday evening,

I arrived early for my rubber, keen to see a bit of the earlier action. In fact I arrived at the same time as our non-playing captain, Brian. As soon as we arrived, Sidney exclaimed, “oh great, we’re all here; let’s have a team photo right now”. Hence my appearance on court sporting weekend casuals rather than whites.

In fact we weren’t all here; Tony Friend (my team mate from battles gone by) was between his singles and double rubber, while neither his partner, Oliver, nor my partner to be, “Dangerous Deane”, nor indeed our opponents to be had arrived yet.

Early and late arrivals at the MCC real tennis ball

Sidney was captaining the Honourable Artillery Company team and had organised the whole fixture. He (mercifully) had some flexibility in deciding who should play whom, as several of the players are eligible to play for either or both organisations, as is often the case with real tennis matches and there had been a few late changes to the dramatis personae, as is equally often the case.

“We’ve been around since 15:37″, said Sidney, which didn’t seem unreasonable to me for a match that was scheduled to start at 4:00 pm…”the HAC is probably the oldest active real tennis team in the world.”

Ah, he meant, 1537. Back in Henry VIII’s time. Some of us suggested that one or two of our more senior but still active MCC players might precede the date of HAC’s foundation.

When it was my turn to play, Sidney risked life and limb to take photos of our warm up, shouting, “please don’t hit me” as he scurried around the court in search of the perfect shot of a perfect shot:

A perfect shot of a slightly imperfect shot, bravely snapped by Sidney Yankson

Once the game was in progress, Sidney took more pictures from the relative safety of the dedans:

I was strategically stationed to guard the side galleries, while “Dangerous Deane” soaked up most of the pressure; Deane had one opponent so well covered you cannot even see him in this picture, which was safely snapped by Sidney Yankson

“So what was the result of the match?”, I hear readers cry.

MCC won the fixture 4-1.

“May we have more specific details about what happened in the match, such as the individual scores of the rubbers therein and tales of derring-do that led to those scores?”, the readers’ cries continue.

Now, now; what happens on the MCC tennis court stays on the MCC tennis court.

Suffice it to say that, as usual, the match was highly convivial, enabling me to meet several more realists and get to know some others a bit better than before.

A few dedicated souls retired to a local hostelry (The Lord’s Tavern) for dinner and libations after the match, but I retreated to Noddyland, where preparations for Sunday’s other big match at Lord’s were in full sway. That big fillet of dry-aged beef was not going to carve and partially eat itself, now was it?

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.

Here, There and Everywhere: Rather A Lot Of Real Tennis In Two Days and A Star-Struck Encounter, 14 & 15 June 2017

I’m not easily star struck these days; I see quite a lot of reasonably well-known people on my regular rounds.

But I did get a little star-struck on Thursday morning.

I drove to Lord’s to play real tennis, but needed to park in the North Gate side of the ground as it was an MCC match day – the Universities Match.

Once through the gate, I drove along the narrow driveway from the North Gate to the Lord’s Academy car park. There, I was held up for a few moments by a strolling couple; they stopped and the man was taking photographs of the woman for a short while. This is a common scene at Lord’s, especially on that sort of match day, with many visitors who rarely visit Lord’s treating it as a touristic day out.

The man must have realised that he was holding me up, because, once he’d taken his photographs, he turned around, gave me a thumbs up and said thank you to me for waiting…

…that man was Paul McCartney.

I waved, said “good morning” and drove on to the car park.

The event brought to mind Paul Deacon’s famous (infamous) 1990s Paul McCartney videoing incident at the BBC, immortalised a few years ago on Facebook – click here.

Indeed, I wondered afterwards whether I should have said to McCartney, “would you like to take some photographs? Would you like it if someone came round your place blocking your driveway taking photographs?”  But then, he might not have got the reference. Indeed it might have seemed rude and threatening, especially as his driveway is only a few hundred yards away from the Lord’s North Gate. Besides, you often see tourists blocking Paul McCartney’s driveway, taking photographs of his house.

In any case, Paul McCartney hadn’t exactly put me out; in fact he had given me a pleasant surprise that morning – especially as I was fresh from a lot of Beatles-oriented activity in Liverpool the weekend just gone – it was in truth a nice coincidence.

That Lord’s visit was for the third of four singles matches I ended up playing in just over 24 hours, that Wednesday and Thursday. I wasn’t supposed to play at all on Wednesday, but events, not least the Grenfell Tower tragedy, left the club short of people (staff and members) who could get in to play, while others were travelling further and getting in for their slots just fine. I was glad to be able to help.

So I played at very short notice Wednesday morning, then again that evening, then my planned Thursday morning slot (including the unexpected former Beatle sighting).

At my Thursday morning slot, I was asked if I could stick around and play again early afternoon. I did have work and reading to do, but of course in the modern era you can get a lot of those things done wherever you are…

…and sitting in the sunshine half-watching a bit of cricket at Lord’s, even if it is a universities match, is a fine place to catch up on your e-mails and read The Economist.

The Player’s Peeling Name Reads Ladd-Gibbon

The young man fielding in front of me, at one point, was named Ladd-Gibbon, which seemed ironic in the circumstances. Ged Ladd is my cricket nom de plume and I reckon that after three or four hours of real tennis in just over 24 hours, I was probably walking with a bit of a “funky gibbon” posture.

Still, as I stomped back round from the Grandstand to the real tennis court for my fourth hour, some kids, who were playing with mini bat and ball on the Warner/Grandstand concourse, stopped playing and asked me if I had just finished batting in the match. I often describe Lord’s as one of the few places on earth where I am still addressed as “young man”. I think it might be the only place on earth where I might be mistaken for a university student cricketer.