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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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’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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The away fixture list has not been quite as kind to me this year as it was last year – fixtures not perfectly timed for my other commitments.
Indeed I almost let this match go, as I had booked out time for the Lord’s Test later in the week, but nearer the time I saw sense and booked the whole week off work and a couple of nights at The Eaton Hotel for this fixture – as last year.
So, on Monday morning off I set from Noddyland towards Edgbaston. I did the journey door to door in just under two hours without breaking any speed limits or records – just a low traffic journey which ought to be straightforward most times.
The hospitality and company at Edgbaston was cracking good, as usual. On this occasion, though, there were very few of us from Middlesex, probably because of the match’s proximity to/overlap with the Lord’s test.
On the second day, I was, in fact, the only Middlesex guest in the Chairman’s lounge. I explained that, as an only child, I was quite used to being the centre of attention, which I am sure put the burghers of Birmingham/Warwickshire at their ease.
But it was on the first day that, unusually, some of the Warwickshire folk came for a walking circuit with me and showed me some fascinating sights around the ground.
One of those sights was Barmy Kev and some of the Middlesex travelling band, over at the Birmingham end. This encounter was more revealing for my Warwickshire hosts than it was for me. Barmy Kev asked me to write a Day 5 match report for the MTWD web site, which might have confused my Warwickshire hosts even more than the sight of Barmy Kev.
Another interesting sight was a collection of bears, due to be exhibited the next day, presumably to promote the T20 tournament…
…or perhaps their role is to abduct a few county match attendees, e.g. those foolish enough to set foot on the cracks.
In cricket terms, the match felt utterly poised throughout my stay – two-and-a-half days. Whenever one side seemed to be nudging ahead, the other side would rally with a partnership or wickets.
To add to that sense of poise, Middlesex ended Day 2 on 302/6 exactly the same number of runs Warwickshire had scored on Day 1 (302/7). The scores were tied at the end of the first innings, quite early on Day 3. It nearly ended as a double tie – i.e. tied at the end of both the first and second innings, which I think would have been a first class cricket first, at least with completed innings.
On the Tuesday night I practised my baritone ukulele and read in the hotel.
On the Wednesday I left Edgbaston at about 14:45, after a chance encounter with Chris Woakes who was having a sneak peak at the match from the tunnel. I needed to be at Lord’s for tennis at 19:00. The heavy traffic made me wonder whether I’d make it on time, but in the end I had a reasonable amount of time to get to Lord’s…
…but boy was I buttock-weary, after two-and-a-half days of cricket and three-and-a-half hours in the saddle.
At Lord’s, Dumbo was thoroughly searched (the night before a big match day) but then allowed to park in the Allen Stand gap, where he had a perfect view of the pitch. When I emerged from two hours of tennis, Dumbo threatened to stay there for the duration of the test match, but he relented when I mumbled to him about car scrappage schemes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!!
The event started with a Champagne reception on the Mound Stand Terrace – a wonderful location for a bright (albeit slightly showery) noontime gathering.
Then round to the Nursery Pavilion, which was set up for 400 or so guests to dine and hear tales of derring-do told by the actual derring-doers.
We sat with Chris and Shilpa, Richard and Tina, Alvin and Rowena plus Westy and Bridget, making a very pleasent table indeed.
The MCC staff were playing their annual end of season knockabout match on the Nursery Ground, as if to entertain us with some live cricket. That backdrop gave the whole event that sense of “cricket making all well with the world” that makes so many of us cricket lovers tick.
Amusingly, though, several of the big screens (where highlights were periodically shown) were on that window side, making people turn towards the Nursery Ground, perhaps fooling the MCC staff/players into thinking that they were more of an attraction than was actually the case. I did pop out on one occasion to lend moral support to Adam, who manages the real tennis and squash courts.
As always with Lord’s catering, the meal was remarkably good for a large-scale catered thing. The wine was plentiful. The mood was, understandably, relentlessly upbeat.
I’d left my real tennis stuff at the real tennis court, so once the event was over we wandered back round that way to get my kit. We ran into Adam again on the academy steps, enjoying a post match drink. Then when we got to the court ran into one of the real tennis regulars who had messed up his knee, so Janie proffered some sage advice.
By the time we got out of the court area, we ran into David Kendix who was taking the trophy back to the office for safe-keeping…at least that’s what he said he was doing. David and I were the only men at the dinner who had dared to wear celebratory light-coloured suits and loud-coloured shirts for the occasion; David could probably explain why that was less statistically unlikely than one might imagine. Anyway, we thought a joint photo with the trophy was in order in the circumstances.
David also very kindly allowed me a solo moment of glory with the prize.
In short, Janie and I had a very enjoyable day at Lord’s.
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.
This was my last away trip of the cricket season. Possibly because this was to be Middlesex’s last away match of the season. I decided to take in pretty much the whole match, driving up to Manchester on the first morning, staying three nights and returning to London on the final evening of the match.
Knowing Manchester reasonably well from business trips, I found TheHeart Serviced Apartments, a suitably located (MediaCityUK) facility, getting a late booking deal there; a two bedroom apartment for the price of a studio. Not a spacious apartment as it turned out, but plenty of room for just me and Benjy the baritone ukulele.
I set off early from the house, hoping to avoid the rush hour; I largely succeeded, taking the M6 toll road to avoid the Birmingham crush. I expected to miss some of the first session with the September 10:30 starts and was pleased to arrive at Emirates Old Trafford (Old Trafford) around 11:00, thus missing little cricket.
Keith Hayhurst, Lancashire’s historian, was our wonderful host for all four days. I thought the instructions said to go to the Committee Board Room, but when I got there the only person to be found in there was Paul Allott, just finishing a phone call. Paul kindly took me to the suite on the opposite side of that floor, where Keith was hosting a small group of us.
Lancashire had won the toss and inserted Middlesex, much to the surprise of most observers. Middlesex batted well all day.
The tennis club building is quite extraordinary. Darren welcomed me and gave me a guided tour. A rackets and a squash court as well as real tennis. There is even an old-fashioned skittles alley behind the dedans gallery of the real tennis court.
The tennis court surface differs considerably from that at Lord’s; slower and far more sit-up bounce – perhaps as different as playing modern tennis on clay when you are used to fast hard courts. Still, I won my match and then headed off to find my apartment in Salford Quays, running into a few strolling Middlesex players along the way.
After checking in, a quick stroll to the Booths supermarket myself so I could snack and have a quiet drink while I strummed for a while to end the evening.
Tuesday 13 September
I had arranged to play tennis again at 7:30 and to meet Richard Goatley before the start of play at Old Trafford 10:00/10:15, so it was an early and well planned start to the day. I drove from Salford Quays to Salford proper for my game of tennis this morning, a truly excellent match which was as close as close could be: 5/6, 6/5, both of those deciding games going to 40-40 deciding points. Despite the dead heat scoreline, I was credited with a win for that match as I received fewer handicap points than my handicap entitlement. I felt I had done well winning both days on that beautiful but “alien court surface”.
After a juice, kindly provided by my opponent, I changed, dropped the car back at TheHeart and walked, across the bridge and along the canal, to Old Trafford.
Richard and I met just before play started and found a quiet place in the stands to have a chat about the proposed new City-based T20 tournament in the context of our strategy work. It was an unusual conversation, as Richard was bound by an NDA, so could say little, but I could still float ideas and make suggestions based on rumours/leaks that had found their way into The Telegraph and Times by then. Both prospect theory and game theory came into it, much as they did, coincidentally, in a different context, on the final day of the season 10 days later.
When Richard and I returned from our chat, Keith Hayhurst offered us a tour of The Point, the new conference/exhibition facility at Old Trafford. There was a food fair going on in there that day, heaving with people entirely unconnected with and oblivious to the cricket. Richard and I agreed that we were witnessing something very different from our imaginings and expectations. The facility is enormous and is flexible space for all manner of commercial activities; it was very interesting to see it for sure.
Lancashire played much better today and the ball seemed to be doing quite a lot more, in the hands of both sides’ bowlers. I had hoped to see young Hameed bat, as everyone is talking about him and I missed him at Lord’s this season, but he got a nine-ball blob. Young Rob Jones, his opening partner (whom I’d seen bat at Radlett a few weeks’ before), did much better and was not out overnight.
I indulged a little bit more in the hospitality today (and why not?), so after stumps, having walked back to my apartment and strummed for a while, a very light snack of fruit and nuts was enough; I went to bed early and happy.
Wednesday 14 September
Not such an early start required on Wednesday; time for a morning strum. The walk across the bridge and along the canal from TheHeart takes about 30 minutes door to door. I timed it to arrive just before the start of play.
Lancashire batted better today, working hard to make the game safe. Rob Jones hitting a six to score his maiden first class/first team century was the highlight; his joyous celebration really was a sight to see and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – click here for a 30 second YouTube clip of that big moment.
It was a glorious evening and we worked out that I would have more than enough time to walk in to central Manchester while Alex commuted in from Macclesfield. I had told him that I had plenty of reading matter with me. Then a text from Alex:
Train’s half an hour late …hope that reading matter’s more than a pamphlet.
We had a very enjoyable evening in the end; both the food and the drink in Sam’s is reliable and not ridiculously priced. Far more character to that place than the modern but sterile-looking places around MediaCityUK. We strolled to Piccadilly together, where Alex got his train and I grabbed a taxi back to Salford Quays.
Thursday 15th September
Early start again today, as I arranged to check out and then pay a final visit to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club (MTRC), where I had a very useful lesson with Darren at 8:30. We focused especially on picking up the low ball off the back wall, with some drills that perhaps work on that bouncier surface in ways that wouldn’t work at Lord’s, but taught me some useful techniques that I most certainly can now deploy at Lord’s.
I really was made to feel most welcome at MTRC and am very grateful to Darren, Stella and Steve for looking after me so nicely that week. I hope to get the opportunity to play again there on future visits to Manchester.
Straight on to Old Trafford, where they parked me up very conveniently and I was able to time my arrival almost perfectly for the start of play.
It seemed unlikely that this match could catch light on the last day; Lancashire had managed to blunt Middlesex’s attack and take enough early wickets to keep Middlesex cautious; much as Middlesex would have loved a win from this match, the draw points might just prove to be a useful buffer to assist in the final round. Lancashire had seemed most interested in a draw throughout.
By tea it was clear that the match was petering out to a draw, so I (along with others) decided to bail out and miss the Manchester/Cheshire rush hour. The hospitality at Old Trafford really had been first rate, although again I didn’t take full advantage on a driving day, especially after eating and drinking lunch and dinner the day before.
Coincidentally I ran into Harry Latchman and Blossom at the service station on the M6 Toll Road on the way home – what were the odds on that? I got home in good time – around 8:30 pm and took an early night ahead of a busy working Friday.