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.
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.
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.
…but this was a day/night test match, so instead I arranged to have a music lesson with Ian Pittaway in Stourbridge. It bucketed down with rain on the way to Stourbridge, which made me wonder whether Edgbaston would be fit for cricket by 14:00, but I needn’t have worried. Day/Night One of the match turned out to be a very sunny although slightly chilly affair.
Daisy and I walked to the ground in dry, improving weather. Security was tight but well organised this year, so we joined the others at about 13:40. The others were Charley The Gent Malloy, The Boy Malloy, Nigel “Father Barry” White and Harsha Goble.
Mrs Malloy had made a splendid picnic for us all, consisting mostly of an extremely plentiful supply of big bap sandwiches. Chas went into major-domo mode, insisting that we tuck in at regular intervals, saying:
“I cannot report back to Dot that any of these sandwiches remained uneaten.”
The weather forecast for Day Two was not so special – indeed it was obvious that the weather would close in sometime between 19:00 and 20:00 and there would then be no further play that day.
Daisy, Nigel and I went over to Chas and Nick’s hotel on that Day two morning, hatching a plan that we should eat relatively light at the ground that day with a view to eating a good meal together in Colbeh to make up for the session of cricket that we looked likely to lose. If the weather by chance relented, we could always stay at the ground and eat from the selection of increasingly interesting and decent food outlets at Edgbaston these days.
Harsha had, unfortunately, needed to return to London for a funeral on the Friday, but was expecting to arrive back at Edgbaston around 19:00.
The rain arrived as expected around 19:30. We had redirected Harsha towards the “dining at Colbeh rather than watching the rain come down” plan.
In truth, it was great to have the opportunity to have a meal together and “chew the fat” after the cricket – this aspect (which would normally be absent for a day/night match) is the biggest down side to such match timing…the colder evenings being less of an issue, although…
…Day Three did turn out to be a chilly day.
Daisy and I walked to the ground all three days; Day Three being the most pleasant walking conditions of the three – sunny but a tad cooler than Day One.
We saw an interesting sight on the way to the ground:
Back in October 2016, when the Women’s World Cup dates and venues were announced, I mentioned to Janie that we should book out 23 July for that match and also suggested that we ask Chas and Dot (aka Charley the Gent and Mrs Malloy).
“Don’t put me and Dot through the embarrassment of her constructing excuses for not coming to the cricket”, said Janie, “she really doesn’t like cricket”.
“But I know they enjoy watching women’s cricket together; they often go to Chelmsford to watch it…let’s leave it for now”, I replied.
Less than 48 hours later, I received an e-mail from Chas:
…I know this may sound a strange ask, but Dot likes the English ladies cricket, she has seem them play at Essex for a number of years and really enjoys watching them.
I mentioned the women’s world cup final at Lord’s next year and she expressed an interest to go!…
…My favour to ask, do you have any influence in getting reasonable seats?
I called Janie to have a gloat, knowing that she would make me suffer for it at some stage, but still Janie expressed delight at the idea and instructed me to get tickets for all four of us.
My reply to Chas:
Really funny that you wrote to me about this today, because I mentioned it as an idea to Janie over the weekend. Janie said that she’d be up for it but as Dot had said no to the pavilion the other week and to Edgbaston in August, Janie was sure that Dot would be uninterested and that we should stop putting pressure on her to do things she doesn’t want to do blah blah.
Anyway, members’ area seats will go on sale in a private December mailing after the ICC public sale. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble snapping up enough tickets to enable all four of us to go, as long as I leap in quick for the initial members’ sale, which I shall of course do.
And so I did.
There was much doubt about the weather in the run up to finals day; every time I looked at the weather forecast it changed, but the nearer we got to the day the more ominous the “risk of showers” sounded. On the morning itself, it looked as though the afternoon rain might be so bad that the match would be rain reduced or even held over to Monday, which would have been such a shame.
As it turned out, apart from a couple of sudden but blustery/blow-over type showers, which did not even interrupt play, the weather smiled on Lord’s for the whole match.
We had managed to persuade Chas and Dot to accept our hospitality picnic-wise, not least because I had enjoyed their picnic hospitality at Chelmsford recently and would enjoy it again for the start of the Edgbaston test in August.
Daisy and I brought a jolly Provencal rose wine to grace the turkey and a bold southern hemisphere Cabernet Sauvignon to support the beef. Plus various small nibbles, vegetables and fruit – not least pears for Chas – although all the pears came home with us. Chas and Dot also brought a bottle of fruity Riesling, lots of nibbles and plenty of sweet stuff, most of which went home with them again. Plus soft drinks and waters, most of which didn’t make it home.
As the England innings went on, we reduced our estimates of what a par score might be. In the end Chas reckoned 225 and I reckoned 240, so when the England innings closed at 228, we agreed that we should have a good match on our hands.
The interval entertainment was a gospel choir singing some soul and gospel standards at high volume and with great intensity. Far more to our taste than the usual test match fare of marching bands, bagpipe bands or Yorkshire Tea folk with tea mugs on their heads and brass instruments in their mouths.
Easier said than done, this selfie business, especially the double-selfie. After about five attempts I was getting a little exasperated, although I’m sure it didn’t show on my face…
…and soon we were both seeing the funny side of it:
Strangely, I chose the above photo (from a batch of many) without noticing the blue-shirted gentleman and his daughter behind us in just that one picture.
About five minutes after Janie took that photo, when she popped out briefly and just before Chas and Dot returned, I heard someone bellow, “IAN” at high volume. I turned around and saw the blue-shirted gentleman waving at me.
“Hello Ian,” he said as I wandered up to speak with him, “I’m Jeff Tye’s son”.
“Chris!”, I said, “it’s been years and years. How did you recognise me?”
“I wasn’t 100% sure, but I knew that, if it was you, you’d turn around if I shouted out your name loud enough.”
Chris was very pleased to learn that Chas was also with us, so we all spent a few minutes chatting at the end of the interval. Chris’s daughter (Jeff’s grand-daughter) must have wondered what all the fuss was about.
The second half of the match was so exciting yet it seemed to pass so quickly. An early wicket, then a good stand, then a smart run-out, then another good stand…
…India looked as though they had the match in the bag at 190-odd for three. Just before that point, Chas had said game over. I said it looked grim but one wicket could change the whole thing and I still gave England a one-in-three chance around that point.
Daisy kept telling us that we weren’t getting behind the team enough and was yelling, “come on England” at high volume as only she can.
Then a wicket…no, two wickets…no, a flurry of wickets…then some incredibly tense cricket…then an England win.
When Anya Shrubsole took her fifth wicket, the little boy who was sitting with his mum next to us, scoring the whole match carefully in a big red scorebook, told Chas proudly that Anya Shrubsole’s dad was his PE teacher. That was a bit of an “oh, wow!” moment for all of us. Soon after that, Anya took her sixth wicket and quite rightly won the player of the match. The little boy looked incredibly happy.
It had been a great day for us; everything had gone our way.
But more importantly, I think it had been a great tournament and a great day for women’s cricket. The standard of women’s cricket is improving so quickly now; this was genuinely entertaining sport at a very high level of skill. This year’s women’s world cup has shown off that improvement in the best possible way, with several high quality and nail-biting matches at the conclusion of the tournament, not least the high-profile final which we had just witnessed.
Lord’s had been a sell-out, with a really good vibe all day – a far cry from the corporate Champagne-swilling of the tests or the muscular beer-swilling of the T20 sell-outs – a different style crowd enjoying the cricket and many people enjoying seeing cricket at Lord’s for the first time.
As the interval gospel choir had put it, “Oh Happy Day”.
This will probably be my last day of cricket at Lord’s with Alastair “Big Al DeLarge” Little, as he is due to emigrate to Australia in a few week’s time, as explained in my recent piece, Tragedy of Epicurean Proportions, click here.
Given that Al is temporarily a chef without a proper kitchen, I realised that this request might discombobulate him. I emphasised that it needn’t be anything special, just easy-eating grub for the two of us at the cricket. Al doesn’t exactly need to prove to me that he can cook, does he? But a week before the outing I got a text from Al:
…does lamb cutlets sound like something to eat at the cricket?…”
…it does now!
So Al turns up with a wonderful centrepiece picnic meal of delicious lamb cutlets with a top notch potato salad and cold Keralan-style beans. Also some fine Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and crackers. Plus a lightly-chilled Valpolicella.
My contribution was a very jolly Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, a selection of fresh fruit and lots of water. The latter came in especially handy as this particular day was hot, hot, hot and our front row seats in the Lower Compton were in the sun all day.
We chatted at times with a couple of charming chaps who were sitting next to us…”irredeemably posh” as Al described them, although they spent most of the day elsewhere – drinking Pimms and eating posh nosh by their description.
Al and I discussed foody subjects rather a lot throughout the day. Why were we there? Oh yes, cricket. We also talked about cricket.
England had a poor morning, from which they extricated themselves as the day went on.
I had some difficulty concentrating on the match until after tea, as I was also following the denouement of the Warwickshire v Middlesex match. I tried to be disciplined and only look once every half hour. But at one point I was providing a county cricket score service for MCC stewards, who aren’t allowed to look, so my “look rate” increased a little towards the end.
But the long last session had my undivided attention and in fact it was an excellent day of test cricket throughout, with England turning a poor position into a very good one by the end of the day.
Al and I walked together to Warwick Avenue, from whence Al tubed home and I walked.
A super day out.
Day Two – Friday 7th July
Today my guest was Charles “Charley The Gent Malloy” Bartlett. This time it was my job to do the picnic and Charley did the sweet stuff, wine and water. We agreed in advance that one bottle of wine would be enough for the two of us, not least after Charley’s wobbly denouement last time we met at Lord’s.
I went for a “Charley The Gent traditional” picnic, all of which I procured or ordered before I went to Brum; smoked Alaskan salmon bagels, prosciutto and manchego English muffins, selection of fruit (naturally including pears) and nuts.
Chas had arrived at Lord’s even earlier than me to avoid the gate crush and get through security in good time.
We were hoping to see the boy Root get a double-hundred and break records and stuff, but it wasn’t to be. Still, England built on its good position throughout the day.
Again the Lower Compton front row, again very pleasant, chatty neighbours. Posh, but not as irredeemably posh as the previous day’s neighbours.
Chas and I chatted about all manner of things, not least plans for the women’s world cup final and Edgbaston.
The day flew by. It was another very hot day in the sun, but not quite as hot as Thursday had been. The smaller quantity of drink helped.
Chas and I walked together to Warwick Avenue, but today I also took the tube, as I was going straight to Noddyland. Chas and I parted company at Oxford Circus, but not before Chas had made a joke about Janie probably waiting to hose me down before I’d be allowed into the house.
When I got to Noddyland, next door neighbour Marcie was in her front garden watering; I wondered (briefly) whether she has been stationed there to hose me down on arrival.
Day Four – Sunday 9th July
Daisy and I had a quiet day on the Saturday (playing tennis, massage, following the Lord’s cricket and the Wimbledon tennis). Daisy did much of the picnic preparation the night before. We had some very tasty roast pork that evening and Daisy cooked, along with the Saturday joint, a stash of very yummy mini sausages for our picnic.
The remainder of the picnic comprised of simple but tasty stuff; dips (mostly fishy ones – too many – we brought a few home), sourdough crispbread bites, carrots, tomatoes, grapes and some yummy thin biscuits. We took a fruity little Chardonnay-Viognier with us, plus a tiny bottle of Rioja for “just in case”/sun-downer purposes.
An easy, mostly pre-prepared picnic. So we were able to set off nice and early Sunday to secure decent seats in the new Warner Stand. The top level was full by the time we got there at 9:30 – it was full by 9:15, but in fact the seats we got on the lower level in row 9 were probably even better for us – sun until about 11:30, shady thereafter.
Very pleasant people all around us, including a family behind us I am sure were behind us the previous time we sat around that section of the Warner.
At teatime Daisy and I took a stroll to meet Alan and Alex briefly. They were sitting in the same stand as us, but on the pavilion side rather than the Grandstand side.
England collapsed early in the day but I always felt that they had enough runs and that the Saffers would follow suit on that pitch, although not quite as dramatically as it turned out.
On leaving the ground, Daisy and I ran into Mr Johnny Friendly. I had already run into him on the Friday by the Tavern Stand loos – I always seem to run into him there – but this time gave us a chance to walk a while, chat and wait with Mr Johnny Friendly until his carriage (aka the No 414) arrived. Daisy and I then strolled a while before hailing a Hackney carriage.
When we got home, I found a message from Fran to say that she’d seen me and Daisy on the TV – she’d even confirmed same by winding back her Sky thingie – but she hadn’t thought to record or screen-grab us, so we’ll just have to take her word for it.
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.
At last, the new season proper, i.e. a day of live cricket at Lord’s with Charley “The Gent” Malloy.
I made something close to our traditional picnic, with Alaskan salmon bagels, plus some variations on a theme, using Brunswick ham and some soft cheese with chives for a slightly more smokey-flavoured afternoon roll.
A bottle of Gewurtztraminer to help the salmon go down – I might have gone Gewurtz rather than Riesling before, but tend to go Riesling for Chas (who likes that stuff) but thought that today was the day to broaden his horizons just a tad. Thanks to Edwardian over on King Cricket for recently tweaking my memory on that idea.
The white wine aspect worked for sure; Chas was so convinced that Mrs Malloy would like the Gewurtztraminer, he even photographed the label so he could hunt down the wine.
Chas’s desire to please his good lady was a charming and endearing theme, until his ulterior motive was revealed. This Monday is Mrs Malloy’s birthday and also day four of this Lord’s match. Chas was hoping (I think more than expecting) that Mrs Malloy might enjoy part of her birthday treat being a visit to Lord’s. Given the match position, the weather forecast and Mrs Malloy’s predisposition towards the shorter forms of the game, I’d offer long odds on seeing the Malloys at Lord’s this Monday.
We sat in our traditional, back-breaking death row seats (front row of the pavilion terrace) for the first session and quite deep into the second; unable to move until Sam Robson had secured his hundred.
A charming brand new Middlesex member, named Barry (not Father Barry I hasten to add), joined us on death row for a while, towards the end of the morning session – he really seemed to be delighting in the benefits of his new membership.
When Chas and I finally moved, we went for the further reaches of the Grandstand, to which we had to walk the long way round while workmen are putting the finishing touches on the new Warner Stand. We found a nice quiet spot at the front of the Grandstand, wonderfully close to the action, as the pitch in use for this match is well to the north of the square.
Shortly after tea, play was suspended for bad light. I was hopeful that some slightly better looking light might be on its way but only the umpires returned periodically to test the light and shake their heads.
It started to get quite cold, but Chas and I naturally braved it until the umpires bowed to the inevitable.
In the meantime, we made some more headway into the delicious bottle of Rioja Chas had brought. This was ideal for the Brunswick ham and soft cheese rolls; it also warmed us up as the afternoon got cooler.
I was being a little careful with my wine intake – my limits are lowering as the years go on – but Chas was keen neither to waste any nor take any of the red home with him, so he polished off the Rioja before we went our separate ways home.
As Chas said in his e-mail to me the next day:
I must have seen the Red off too quickly as I was a little wobbly on the way home!!
When Alex Ferguson coined the term “squeaky bum time” he was probably referring to a brief period, perhaps several minutes, while a really tight, crucial (in his case, football) game unfolds.
In Middlesex’s case at the end of the 2016 county championship season, squeaky bum time lasted several days during the last match; arguably several weeks during the last few matches. Personally, I was fortunate enough to take in a good deal of that squeaky last quarter of Middlesex’s county championship:
a fair chunk of the final match, at Lord’s against Yorkshire, covered below.
Tuesday 20 September
Charles (Charley “The Gent” Malloy) Bartlett joined me for the first day’s play; a more or less traditional meet for a day of the last Lord’s match of the season. Janie was to join us later in the day and all three of us were to attend the sponsors’ evening that night. Janie was hoping that Dot would join us too, but she really doesn’t care much for the longer form or that sort of party, apparently.
Chas let me know that he was running a little late, but I soldiered on as planned to ensure that I was on death row before the start of play, securing a couple of good seats. We stuck to those excellent seats all day, much against the better judgement of our aching backs and limbs. I made a scaled down version of Chas’s favourite picnic, with smoked Alaskan salmon bagels as the centrepiece. We went dry during the hours of play, as Chas had a medical appointment the next day. Shame, as I had tracked down his favourite Villa Wolf Riesling.
Middlesex had been inserted under leaden skies and I thought did pretty well to avert disaster. Nick Gubbins in particular batted like the emerging star he undoubtedly is, surviving the day.
Janie (Daisy) turned up a few minutes after tea, but only got to see 10 or 12 overs before it got gloomy, so an hour or so of play was lost to bad light. Many eyes were on the Somerset match (the third team still in contention for the trophy), which initially had looked like it was going the maximum points route for Somerset until they collapsed late in the day.
After watching some of the interviews on the outfield…
…we sauntered over to the party, which was a very jolly wine and cheese affair. Ryan Higgins, who was our sponsored player this year, took the trouble to seek us out and chatted with us quite a bit. I also got a chance to chat with quite a few of the regular Middlesex folk, all of whom seemed to be feeling as squeaky as me. Surprise surprise.
Wednesday 21 September
I don’t know what sort of idiot organised a Z/Yen Board meeting and lunch on such a crucial day of the County Championship. I tried to keep an eye on the score discreetly and as many brain cells as possible focused on the business at hand.
When I finally got away, soon after three, I guessed that I’d catch most of the last session, as the weather/light looked much better today. So it proved. I enjoyed that two hours or so in the Committee Room. Middlesex had taken several early wickets, but were finding it increasingly hard to take more. I witnessed a couple that evening and/but we were all hoping for more. The game seemed poised at stumps, perhaps starting to tilt Yorkshire’s way. Somerset were on the way to a 23 point win, so Yorkshire would need to score 350 or more runs in their first innings to stay in the hunt.
I walked home and made a light supper of smoked trout, prawns and salad. One or more of the prawns sought revenge overnight; more leaky than squeaky…with hives thrown in. Yuk.
Thursday 22 September
I thought best to rest off my condition in the morning, getting some work out of the way gently while following the match from home. I was due to play tennis at 14:00.
The morning went worse for Middlesex than the night had gone for my guts; Yorkshire edging towards that 350. I set off for Lord’s during the luncheon interval, intending to watch for about half an hour before changing for tennis. Yorkshire continued edging towards that 350 mark as I watched from the Upper Allen.
I needed to change – surely it would be on the TV in the dressing room anyway. It was. My opponent was also interested. With the score tantalisingly poised at 349/9 both of us left the dressing room with some reluctance. I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted Yorkshire to score that extra run or not. Earlier in the day, of course, I had hoped for them to subside below Middlesex’s score of 270. But now they had gone that far past, it seemed Middlesex’s only chance of a win would be for Yorkshire to still be in the hunt needing to chase runs on the last day.
We had plenty of time to think about it. Soon after we started playing tennis, we heard rain on the roof and soon quite a crowd gathered in the dedans gallery. “Is the score still 349/9?” I asked. Several people nodded.
Our tennis must have been quite stunningly excellent, as most of our crowd sat in stoney silence throughout the hour. I spotted Ed Griffiths in the dedans gallery too, although mercifully he seemed more interested in his conversation than observing the finer details of my sporting talent.
We came off the court to see (on the TV) that the score was still 349/9 and that play had just resumed. Ryan Sidebottom duly hit the run that kept Yorkshire in the hunt and then helped take them yet further beyond the Middlesex score.
I was feeling quite drained, so decided to walk/tube it home and catch the end of the play on the TV. I ran into Angela Broad on the tube, so I was able to show her in actual use the marvellous tennis racket bag she handed down to me when I took up real tennis.
Closing the day just two wickets down and getting closer to parity, I felt that the final day could still turn out to be a corker, as long as Middlesex were to bat well in the morning.
I had a rest, then went out again to Holborn for an Ivan Shakespeare Memorial dinner with the old NewsRevue crowd. Only about half-a-dozen of us this time, but great to meet up as always. I decided to stay dry and eat a simple, chicken meal. A very light, cautious supper by Ivan Shakespeare Dinner standards. I probably looked and seemed both peaky and distracted. I was.
Friday 23 September
What a day.
I was scheduled to play tennis at 10:00. I made a bit of a mess of getting away in timely fashion and the tube wasn’t at its best that morning, so I jumped in a cab at Edgware Road and cabbed it the last mile to be sure not to be rushing.
Now in good time, I had a chat with Joe on reception, who was quite gloomy about Middlesex’s prospects and seemed surprised that I really thought we still had a reasonable chance, albeit an outside one.
I played a really good game of tennis today; my opponent (whom I had played a few times before) correspondingly had a poor match; we’ll rematch soon I’m sure, as we now play level and it is normally a very good match when you play people whose handicap is level (or all-but level) with one’s own.
Anyway, after changing, I felt like superman and went to try and find a seat on death row for a while. I spotted Westy, who was able to make room for me, just about, with thanks also to the very pleasent vicar from Skipton who also made space for me and interesting conversation with me.
Westy pressed me to join him and others in the Committee Room just before lunch; due to the match position they had (uncharacteristically for the last day) ordered a heap of lunches and probably now had fewer takers than lunches.
So, I quite unexpectedly enjoyed a splendid Committee Dining Room lunch. We saw Messrs Gale and Franklin in conversation outside the doors of those official dining rooms; clearly keen to make sure that any negotiations they were undertaking were visible and reported to the authorities.
We had a grandstand view of the large crowd perambulating before we sat down:
Very pleasant company at lunch, both Yorkshire and Middlesex. Then an opportunity to see some cracking good cricket from that wonderful vantage point, just above the away dressing room. What an honour and privilege on such an auspicious day :
Then the declaration bowling, then an early tea with the season set up as a 240/40 run chase. If Yorkshire got the runs, they would be county champions, if Middlesex bowled them out, Middlesex would be champions, if the game ended as a draw (the light might have seen to that) then Somerset would be champions.
Perhaps a final 150 minutes or so of squeakiness ahead of us.
We returned to the Committee Room itself to watch events unfold from there.
I had texted Janie about 14:00 to suggest that she leg it to Lord’s. She demurred, something about banking her cheques. I tried to persuade her that just occasionally there are more important things in life than doing one’s bankings.
Events unfolded. Middlesex seemed to be chipping away at the wickets, but we knew as the ball got older it would be harder to force wickets. Still, the consensus among the Middlesex folk was that the declaration had been very generous; among the Yorkshire folk that it had been mean and very challenging. I entertained the possibility, in those circumstances, that the captains might pretty much have got it right.
After what seemed like hours while still four down, I decided to take a strategic “leg stretch” and was delighted to hear a massive cheer just as I came up the stairs to return through the Long Room to the Committee Room; Tim Bresnan was out LBW. “Why didn’t you go earlier?”, asked one Middlesex notable. “Go again”, suggested another.
I started to get occasional texts from Janie saying she was on her way, looking for somewhere to park etc.
Then the flurry of wickets to end the season. I knew Middlesex had taken three wickets in three balls at the very end (Finn, then two for Roland-Jones) but none of us at the time realised that the denouement was also a hat trick for Toby Roland-Jones.
In any case, we were in a euphoric state. Celebrations on the outfield. Players coming through the Long Room to uproarious applause and cheers. Players going back out again.
Janie turned up, took some photos and joined in the celebrations.
It’s a bit difficult to explain how this all felt and feels. I’ve left it nearly a week before writing up this piece, but there’s no sense of distance from the extraordinary events yet in my mind. As much as anything else, we have the end of season lunch (tomorrow at the time of writing) and members’ forum (Monday) to look forward to, so it still feels alive.
Then back to the reality of trying to see through the Middlesex strategy and build that medium to long term future for the club. Success should, of course, make some aspects of the strategy easier to implement, as long as we can avoid the complacency that sometimes comes with success. I think we have a good chance of going from strength to strength; there are enough wise heads around and the club seems hungry for more success.
For pity’s sake, Ged, live in the now for once. What a day. What a week. What a month. What a season.
I started to suspect that all would in fact be well when Chas wrote, 10 days or so before the event:
“I need to see how my first car drive goes on Saturday, I also need to talk to ‘Razor’ and ‘Knuckles’ both Essex members as they offered to take my tickets off me…if I didn’t recover in time – let me see how the drive goes over the weekend and how they respond to the disappointment.”
Razor and Knuckles sound like absolutely delightful company; indeed possibly preferable to the original candidates for the roles…
A week later, it became clear that Razor and Knuckles were set to remain in their Essex lairs; Chas again:
To confirm I’ll be bringing some 1st day food up with me on Wednesday. Dot’s happy to provide some sandwiches – corn beef and mustard on soft white and egg mayonnaise on soft white. I have some other stuff (old favourites) and some (new stuff) that looks ok, too!
In fact, Dot’s first day sandwich feast also included heaps of ham on brown and cheese on brown too. We struggled…in a good way, saving most of the other less perishable delicacies (Harish and I had also brought quite a few of those) for the later days.
We were all at the ground in time for the toss. Nigel was smarting a bit, in part because the walk was perhaps a bit much for his knees, in part through the indignity of having his minimally-concealed Shiraz-in-a-flask seized at the gate.
I had determined in any case to enjoy the Edgbaston cricket dry during the day again this year, making space for a glass or two in the evening.
The three days of cricket were wonderful. At the end of day one we were all unsure whether England had scored enough runs. At the end of day two we were sure they hadn’t and that Pakistan were close to total control. At the end of day three we knew that England had all-but wrested control back from Pakistan.
We played our traditional sweepstake game all three days; this year, unusually, Harish swept the board, especially on one of the days. I wanted him tested for performance enhancing substances but Harish mysteriously failed to turn up for the tests.
Harish and I were keen to walk to and from the hotel each morning and evening. After that first morning, Nigel bowed out of the walk until the Friday evening. On one of our walks, I think it was Friday morning, Harish and I had a very interesting chat about music. We schemed a tabla/ukulele jam for next time but struggled to work out whether some of Harish’s favourite tabla rhythms could possibly work with western tunes, which are usually relentlessly 4/4 or occasionally 3/4 time signatures.
I tried the slow-cooked lamb shank this time, while Nigel and Chas shared the full works of grills. Harish tried one of the vegetarian stews. Again, all the trimmings were wonderful, not least the amazing aubergine and mango sauce (not really a chutney, or at least not a sour chutney), which was new to me because, as we were proudly informed by the (other) son who looked after us this time, that sauce is his mother’s own recipe. To paraphrase Nigel’s eloquent recollection in the comments section from our previous visit, that makes it our sort of place.
On the Friday, all of us but Nigel headed home after the day’s play; in Harish’s and my case via the hotel, which had kindly offered safe custody to our vehicles, baggage and (in my case) Benjy the Baritone Ukulele. Nigel swore on the way home that he wouldn’t eat a thing that evening after three days of feasting and it seems he kept his word – Nigel’s subsequent e-mail report:
My plans for a quiet evening on Friday were ruined by Sharon and Kev’s engagement celebration in the hotel function suite, that really did feel like it was taking place in the next room. After the three day grazing, I took the unsolicited advice barely audible from a Ukulele shaped bag suggesting it wouldn’t harm that big bloke to miss a meal or two. That thing does have attitude.
In short, the whole trip was a great success. It’s a bit difficult to explain how or why spending several days with old friends doing so little can be so satisfying and relaxing, but it is. I guess the whole idea of five day cricket is hard to explain to the uninitiated. Nigel again, writing on the Sunday morning, just before the start of Day Five:
We have once again enjoyed a fascinating Test match, which only really began to be resolved during the last session. Into the fifth day and it is still compelling. It would be impossible to explain that to the Georgian Cabbie, seen to register disbelief at Charles’ response to “who won?” at the end of day one.
I’d baked the Lord’s Throdkins and prepared the glazed drunken prawns (recipe to follow on the King Cricket site at some point way in the future) the night before. Still, an early start for me that day to get the picnic ready.
In particular, the dance music, it turns out that Al was really into that Motown and Stax stuff back then – he even saw the Stax/Volt tour in Nelson, 1967 – lucky chap. It also turns out, when I mentioned that the lists had Joe Boyd’s blessing, that Al knows him well; another peculiar coincidence.
Just one other point to add. When I took Alex round to see the real tennis court, I deposited a small packet of the Lord’s Throdkins with Rachel on the reception desk. The following day I deposited a few more with Adam. If all goes according to plan, the Lord’s Throdkin really will become “a thing” at Lord’s.
‘Twas the second day of Middlesex’s cricket season and my first glimpse of live cricket for far too long. Charley “the Gent” Malloy was my guest for the day.
I went to the gym first thing, then on to the bakers for fresh bread and then the flat to prepare the picnic. Cray fish breakfast muffins and wild Alaskan salmon in poppy-seed bagels formed the highlight of the feast. A fruity little Kiwi Riesling was the highlight beverage.
Charley was waiting for me at the Grace Gate and looked at his watch as I arrived, as if to say “where have you been?” In fact, we had both arrived some minutes ahead of the appointed hour, which was probably just as well, as Charley wasn’t moving too quickly. “Done me knee,” said Charley.
In accordance with our tradition, Charley and I sat on death row; the front row of the lower tier of the pavilion. Normally, our backs can only tolerate death row for a while, but as it turned out, our knee problems probably served to mask any back pain. Further, with Charley’s limited mobility and no chance of sun that day anywhere in the ground, we ended up staying put on death row for the whole day.
I described to Charley my correspondence with King Cricket on the matter of match reports henceforward. Charley liked my ideas about writing book reviews and recipes for King Cricket, while posting reports of this kind on Ogblog. I wondered whether I should revert to real names here on Ogblog, but Charley felt that the characters’ names were a tradition and allowed me a bit more poetic licence. (Little does Charley realise that I write with reckless abandon, at least in the matter of creative licence, regardless of naming conventions).
It was seriously chilly but Charley and I had both wrapped up warm and were chatting eagerly; the start of the season holds so many exciting possibilities. So the day passed very quickly. With just over an hour left to play, the umpires decided that the slight gloom which had pervaded for much of the day had become a little too gloomy, so off came the players and that was that for the day. Charley and I stuck around for a while, partly in hope more than expectation and partly to warm up with some coffee inside the pavilion before heading home. We’d had a very good day.
I returned to Lord’s the next day, primarily for meetings, but with the hope and expectation that I’d get to see some cricket too. Indeed, as a couple of the meetings got postponed, I got to see much of the day’s cricket and get some good reading done.
It was a much sunnier day, so I decided to take up position on the north side of the middle tier balcony. As soon as I plonked myself down, I sensed that I might be blocking Dougie Brown’s view. So the moment I heard “excuse me”, in that unmistakable Scottish accent, I started to shift along the row and checked that all now had a clear view. Dougie was chatting with Peter Such and soon Graham Thorpe joined them, but my mind was firmly on my book, A Confederacy of Dunces (read nothing into the juxtaposition, folks) and of course I was taking in the cricket.
Despite the sun, it still wasn’t warm and I hadn’t donned my thermals on the Tuesday. Also, I was quite peckish by about 12:30, as Charley and I had picnicked sensibly the day before and/but I had only snacked in the evening. So I went to the upstairs bar and bought a nice chunky sandwich and a hot cup of coffee for my lunch, both of which I downed with great pleasure. The bar was mostly populated with Warwickshire 1882 Club members talking exclusively about soccer football.
After my lunch, I retired to the writing room, where I thought I’d get some quiet and a decent view of the cricket protected from the cold. To some extent, my plan worked, especially the matter of getting some reading done and shield myself from the cold.
But my attempts to make headway with this Ogblog piece were continually thwarted. Initially, for a few brief minutes, I was distracted by the arms of Morpheus. Then when play resumed, there were interruptions and enough going on in the cricket to tear me away repeatedly from my little Kindle Fire gadget. No matter.
The interruptions came primarily in two forms:
unpleasant aerial noise from a plethora of helicopters overhead;
After the helicopter crescendo and witnessing Trott complete his double-hundred (they seem to be like double-decker buses, these double-hundreds), I then had an interesting chat with a couple of the remaining writing room gentlemen. The younger of the two had been a teacher at Highbury Grove School when Rhodes Boyson was the head, which made for an interesting chat. I said that I remembered protesting against Boyson’s cuts when he was an Education Minister and I was a student. The older of the two gentlemen suggested that they might be in the company of a dangerous leftist, to which I countered that the chap who had been teaching in an Islington Comprehensive in the 1970s had, by definition, more “dangerous leftist credentials” than me.
I did not share with those gentlemen the clear memory, which popped into my head, of an anti-cuts protest we staged in the early 1980s outside the UGC Building in Bloomsbury. I’ll need to go through my diaries to write that one up properly and no doubt Simon Jacobs will again deny all memory of the business. Suffice it to say here that a similarly garbed non-violent protest stunt, staged these days, might be inadvisable to say the very least.
I was spotted by one or two other friends and associates at that writing room table, who stopped by for an early season hello and quick chat. Richard Goatley arrived to whisk me away soon after those interludes, so I had a quick drink with Richard and a few other people in the Bowlers’ Bar, then headed for home a few overs before stumps.