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

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

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

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

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

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

…as usual…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing spiritually for the big match against the Dedanists

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example:

Somehow it seemed to work out…

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

…even my volley worked a bit better than usual…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Time In Noddyland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll just provide one picture-based clue:


Real tennis was the winner, along with conviviality.

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

Them and Us, Thanks To Sidney Yankson For The Pictures

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

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

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

Early and late arrivals at the MCC real tennis ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MCC won the fixture 4-1.

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

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

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

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

Three Courts In One Day, 29 April 2017

I was a slightly reluctant conscript to represent the MCC against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club (MURTC) today.

Much as I love playing real tennis, my weekend routine is to play modern tennis with Daisy in the morning and we had theatre tickets booked for the evening.

But this match was the reverse fixture of a match I played back in the autumn, mentioned en passant in this piece – click here

…and it was after all just down the road in Hendon on a long weekend…so I told the skipper that I would play only if needed.

I got the “yes, you are needed” message a couple of weeks before the match.

Still, I was selected to play the last (doubles) rubber, mid afternoon, so I thought there was no need to dispense with the traditional Boston Manor modern tennis fixture with Janie first thing.

Lawners at Boston Manor – court one of three

I played a cracking good game of lawners, though I say so myself. Janie later claimed that she let me win by a large margin to help build my confidence for the big match. I don’t think so.

Went home, showered, switched from pyjamas to whites and off to Middlesex University for lunch and the match. By the time I got there the MCC were one rubber down and while I was eating lunch we went 2-0 down with two rubbers to go.

Then we watched a very exciting game of doubles, which looked as though it would go MURTC’s way but ended up going MCC’s way.

“No pressure, but it’s all down to you two”, said one of my team mates, helpfully, as my partner and I went on court for the deciding rubber. Court two of three.

We’d never played with each other before and I have only played a handful of doubles at real tennis, so asked my partner to do the calling. He seemed reluctant to do that at first, but when I called a couple of times, reminding him that I really wasn’t sure whether to go for the ball on not, he said he’d call himself, which he started doing and I started to work out quite quickly what he wanted to play or leave.

The handicapping system did us some favours, as my limited doubles experience means that my doubles handicap lags behind that of my singles. On the other hand, the MURTC court is very different from that at Lord’s – much bouncier, it reminded me a bit of the one I tried in Manchester last autumn – click here, adding to the novelty of the situation. Yet, that extra bounce sometimes gives the player just a smidgen of extra time to adjust and hit a better shot – at my stage of real tennis, I rather like the extra bounce.

Anyway, the upshot of all that, I’m delighted to report, is that we won our rubber and thus the match was drawn. My partner and I were metaphorically carried aloft with garlands in our hair, before everyone said fond goodbyes and went their separate ways.

These real tennis matches are very enjoyable, friendly affairs. A good way of getting to know some of the MCC players better. Also a good way to meet some really interesting and pleasant people from other clubs, in this case MURTC.

No photos from our match but here is a little promo video from MURTC that they made only a few weeks ago, which gives a pretty good idea about the place, not least its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. You can even see a couple of the people I met in the still below – the professional and the male student (left of picture).

“Three courts in one day…so what about the third court?” I hear you cry. Well, that was The Ferryman at The Royal Court, which I have written up separately – click here.

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

With thanks to Toni Friend for the picture, taken during the famous match between MCC and the visiting Australians in September 2016

I took some real tennis lessons in January 2016 and started playing tentatively in March, perhaps in earnest since April when I started playing twice a week.

I wrote a reflective piece with links on my first six months or so of real tennis in July – click here for that piece. For a cursory explanation of the game and links to sites that explain it well, I commend that July piece as a useful starting point.

This end of year piece builds on that July piece and reflects on my whole first calendar year playing this intriguing game, including some astonishing statistics.


August to December 2016 News Update And Ogblog Links

Strangely, just a week after writing my July 2016 reflective piece, I was selected to play my first competitive match for the MCC, against a party of visiting Australians in September.

I had in any case decided to have a few more lessons in August, once I had played about 50 competitive hours on court.

I also spent some time in Manchester in September, getting a chance to play a couple of times and have a lesson at the Manchester Real Tennis Club in Salford, which I enjoyed enormously.

Here are some links to pieces I wrote August through October – please note that the pieces might not be exclusively about real tennis:

You might observe that I was having a great time playing real tennis during those months, but there was one small problem. Between early July and late October my handicap signally failed to come down; it simply hovered around the rather inauspicious mark of 67.3 – better than my early mark in the mid-seventies, but certainly not the steady improvement towards 60 and beyond that I had been hoping for.

Apparently, this tendency to plateau at times is quite normal, although I think my first plateau was a little lowly and lengthy for someone of my age and stage.

Anyway, I got a good win the afternoon after the House of Lords (27 October – see the last link in the above list of links) and since then the progress has been relentless for a couple of months, ending the year at a more impressive 64.1 – still a long way to go but definitely back on the improvement curve.

Winning team: David, Tony Friend and me.

My progress was assisted (psychologically only, there’s no direct impact on the handicap) by an unexpected win in a skills tournament in early November – click here for a link to a write up of that one.

I did also play one more tournament this year, against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, mentioned en passant in an Ogblog piece – click here.


Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Real tennis is quite a good game for a stats geek – not least because the real tennis on-line system is full of stats and tools through which you can measure yourself and weigh up your opponents. Not that I am even faintly at the stage (if indeed I ever shall be) that such tools would do much for me personally.

Still, for those who might be interested, here is an extract from the system (I have suitably redacted my opponents’ names) showing all of the handicap-contributing matches I have played so far in my so-called career – click here.

Digging deeper into the system, I can see how I have got on against each opponent and how those opponents have got on against other opponents – hours of fun to be had if/when I can be bothered.

However, one set of general stats has caught my eye, as this real tennis on-line system, including the handicapping, is used by every real tennis club in the world. I can see my handicap against pools of other players on various measures.

For example, if I look at my handicap compared with the current handicap of everyone who has ever had their handicap recorded on the system (about 15 years worth of data), I am ranked around 6,300 out of the 10,300 or so people who have ever been ranked.  That puts me somewhere around the 62nd percentile. Not bad for a beginner.

To be more accurate for playing purposes, it is probably better to restrict my search to active players – i.e. everyone who has played in the last year. On that basis, I am around the 3,000 mark out of 4,100 or so people who have played in 2016. That is around the 74th percentile or “bottom of the third quartile” mark. Still not too bad for a beginner.

But returning to the larger data set, I am intrigued by this 6,300 figure. Because that really is close to the sum total of people on the planet who could possibly stand a chance of beating me at this game. The game is so unlike other racket sports, it would be virtually impossible for anyone, even an elite sportsperson, to simply pick up a real tennis racket and beat someone who knows how to play, without having a lesson or two and a few goes first.

Given that there are somewhere between 7.4 and 7.5 billion people on the planet right now, that means, approximately speaking, that fewer than one in a million people are better at real tennis than I am.

Think about that statistic for just a moment. If an alien being from another planet were to come to planet earth and select a human being at random to play me at real tennis, there is only a one in a million chance that the other person would win.

I admit that this one-in-a-million stat is not a very useful statistic in practice, of course, but it is a rather awe-inspiring one in theory.

Just look at my technique again in the light of my impressive stats

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

Me and "Snitch" on court, as seen from the dedans gallery
Me and “Snitch” on court, as seen from the dedans gallery. Thanks to Janie for this picture.

Janie and I spent a most enjoyable day at Lord’s, where I played my first representative match for the MCC against visiting Australians, The Wanderers.

I explained the circumstances in which I learnt of my selection in my piece on my journey to the Edgbaston test match – here. Janie was up for coming along to support and it was a happy coincidence that Janie’s friend, Toni, was also available to come and cheer her hubby. Toni also took some excellent pictures,including the two shown below.

Doesn’t look too bad for a novice but plenty to work on still. Thanks to Toni for the picture.

The match mostly comprised doubles fixtures; mine being third up, around lunchtime. The first two matches were very good viewing. I’m sure ours must have been too, as there was quite a bit of crowd noise and I don’t mean just munching.

Janie (Daisy) was clearly rapt with attention. Who wouldn't be in such circumstances? Thanks again to Toni for the pictures.
Janie (Daisy) was clearly rapt with attention. Who wouldn’t be in such circumstances? Thanks again to Toni for this picture.

Lord’s puts on a super spread for this type of event and there was plenty of grub left for our quartet to tuck into once we had finished playing and showered, despite the late hour.

The MCC won the match by three rubbers to one. Everyone seemed to be having a really good time. Most of the visiting Australians were travelling and/or playing en famille, which added to the convivial nature of the fixture and made Janie and Toni feel at home.

After the competition was over, a few of us knocked around for a while; one of the Australian players, his son, me and Janie, getting her first taste of real tennis. She quite liked it and looked rather good at it for a total rookie, but I don’t think she’ll be taking up the game.

I don’t suppose the MCC very often has a need for a player of my humble handicap for representative matches, so I’ll have to keep getting better and bring that handicap down if I am to play some more of these. It was a really memorable and enjoyable day.


A Miscellaneous, Mostly Middlesex, Day At Lord’s, 7 April 2016

I’m using some of my own time to help Middlesex CCC with its strategic planning. Richard Goatley, the new Chief Executive thought that AGM day would be a good opportunity to see lots of people, so I blocked out the whole day for Lord’s, starting there at 9:30, after clearing my e-mails and going to the gym.

I could describe the detailed conversations that morning with the MCC and ECB, but they are probably covered by the “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. (Unless you, dear reader, are Richard Goatley himself, in which case you wouldn’t need to read it here because you already have notes.)

After a pleasant lunch in The Lord’s Tavern, which Richard spent mostly signing forms for Dawid Malan, we met with Martin Hadland. Martin is doing a closely related piece of work around membership satisfaction and finding ways to boost membership. We went through the results of a members survey and discussed his impending focus groups with members. It all looks very well done so far and promises interesting ideas for improving the membership propositions.

I then had a pesky 90 minutes or so interval before the AGM. I had been expecting that interval, so had brought some reading matter with me. I went to the real tennis dedans viewing gallery. I shall eventually write up my new experience of learning to play real tennis. Suffice it to say here that I thought that I’d both get some reading done and also get my head into the game a little more.

I watched some very good players locked into a tight match. Then, just before 17:00, in walks a familiar face; Chris Stanton. He was in John Random’s Spring 1992 NewsRevue cast and was the lead performer on the first songs of mine that were ever performed there, two of which I have today blogged in honour of the chance encounter:

Chris and I had a very pleasant but brief chat, as his opponent turned up shortly after. I watched Chris play for a while, then left the viewing gallery to whizz through my e-mails before going to the meeting. Strangely, John Random had e-mailed one of his “Where Are They Now” messages to his NewsRevue alumni circle earlier in the day (Sarah Moyle spotted on the TV), so I e-mailed back to let everyone know that I had just seen Chris Stanton face-to-face!

Doubly ironic happenings, as real tennis is such a weird game, the rules could easily have emanated from a John Random sketch describing a fictitious game of John’s imagining. Richard Goatley doesn’t even believe that the game exists, despite the proximity of the Lord’s real tennis court to Richard’s office – like, next door!

I subsequently received the following missive from Random:

What a great idea. Real tennis is presumably the one where you don’t use the same prescriptions as Maria Sharapova.


My reply:

Absolutely not the same meds as Maria – she took Meldonium.  The performance enhancing drug of choice for real tennis is Sanatogen.

As a novice, I am sometimes asked to play with some of the more senior members – one pair I was up against when learning doubles had a combined age of around 178 and they are determined to still be playing next year as the world’s first ever nonagenarian tennis pair. Their secret simply has to be Sanatogen.

Next stop, the AGM. The formal part is covered by the aforementioned “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. Believe me, the substance of a Middlesex AGM is not worth dying for, nor even worth the effort to attend were it not for the subsequent elements to the evening.

Suffice it to say that new Chair, Mike O’Farrell, while not as funny as outgoing Chair, Ian Lovett, ran a tight ship for the AGM, getting through the meeting with all business thoroughly covered and in record time. One type of gem replacing another type of gem in the chair; that’s my view.

The AGM is always followed by a very interesting pre-season forum; this year Angus Fraser, Dawid Malan and Richard Scott joined Richard Goatley on the panel for a very interesting discussion about cricket. Apparently Middlesex is a cricket club. I wish I’d realised that when I started work on the Middlesex strategy. Oh well.

Then a very enjoyable party for those members willing to stump up an ayrton for wine, cheese and a convivial opportunity to catch up with friends, grandees and friendly grandees. After the party, the conviviality was set to continue in the Tavern. Tired, I attempted to make my apologies, keen not to become both tired AND emotional. I explained that the metaphorical umpire’s finger had been raised, so I had no option but to go. It is very hard for cricket lovers to object to you going, when you put it like that.

A fruitful day, a lovely chance encounter and a most enjoyable evening.


An Afternoon At Lord’s, Followed By The Seaxe Club AGM and Panel, 30 March 2016

Janie and I have booked a series of wine tastings this spring, the first of which was due to be this evening, so I was disappointed when the Seaxe Club papers came through with 30 March as the AGM/panel date; I always look forward to this event.

Then a fortunate change to the schedule for the wine tastings; the 30 March one has had to be postponed. Equally fortunate was the opportunity to play real tennis that afternoon; originally a one hour gig which in fact turned into a double-header. I shall write more about my experience learning to play real tennis in the fullness of time.

On this occasion, the big thing I learnt about real (or indeed probably any form of) tennis was that two hours on the trot is an exertion too far for me nowadays. It didn’t help falling over on that hard slate floor half-an-hour into the session in a most inglorious fashion – while clearing balls from the net gully into the ball basket. Both knees and my left shoulder are still bruised 10 days later. But in any case, I’m no longer the lad who could play five-setters of modern tennis against the Great Yorkshire Pudding (for example) for hours on end with seemingly no adverse effects.

When I started my two-hour court session, England looked to be on the wrong-end of the ICC World Twenty20 semi-final, with the Kiwis only one down, with 60 or 70 on the board in about 8 overs. But when I emerged after two hours, England looked to be cruising on 100/1 or so off 10 with only 154 to chase. I resolved to change slowly and follow the end of the match on the wonderfully well-positioned TV in the changing room.

While following the end of England’s successful semi-final, I chatted briefly with a visiting squash player from the West Midlands and latterly with Paul Cattermull, a friend and colleague from many years gone by. I had no idea that Paul was a real tennis aficionado or even an MCC member until he entered that changing room. Paul and I had time both to catch up and for him to give me some useful tips about the game.

I also had time to watch Paul play real tennis for about 15 minutes before I needed to hobble round to the President’s Box for the Seaxe Club AGM.

The sun shone on that early evening meeting, making the field of play look an absolute picture and making that President’s Box the ideal setting for appetite-whetting for the new season.

Of course, the AGM bit of the evening is not the main draw for me; indeed I am slightly allergic to those sorts of meetings. There are two reasons why I really look forward to the Seaxe Club AGM evening.

Firstly, it is an early opportunity to see some of the lovely people who work tirelessly for Middlesex cricket in some of the less glamorous roles. Seaxe Club folk are a really nice bunch of people.

Secondly, the Seaxe Club always arranges a really interesting cricket panel for the second half of the evening. This second half should really be described as a symposium, as wine is available between the two sessions (and therefore during the panel) to help lubricate the discussions. I think of this Seaxe Club annual event as one of the best kept secrets in Middlesex, despite the fact that it is always well publicised. I have no idea why it isn’t better attended as it is always so interesting and enjoyable.

On this occasion, there was a slightly depleted panel, as the two younger players scheduled to attend with Angus Fraser were both a bit poorly that day.  Gus had press-ganged Dawid Malan into attending in their place, which was a coup. I chatted with Dawid during the “drinks interval” before the panel. He had no idea that he was about to sit on a panel – he thought he had just been asked along to show his face and have a drink with us. I warned him that the Seaxe Club audience was the toughest gig in Middlesex and that he might get some really challenging questions. But just looking around the room, he knew I was kidding him.

The panel discussion, as always, was interesting. It is usually oriented towards the younger players, as one of the Seaxe Club’s key roles is to help develop the next generation of players. This year the discussion was less youth oriented but still it was interesting to hear Gus and Dawid’s take on the preparatory work the squad has done for the new season and some more general thoughts about county cricket.

Given my exertions earlier in the afternoon, my gammy knees and my bags of kit, I decided for once to tube-it home rather than my usual method, to walk-it.



Two Evenings At Lord’s In One Week, 7 April and 9 April 2015

Stephen Potter, of Gamesmanship and Oneupmanship fame, wrote a lovely piece for the original Boundary Book entitled Lord’smanship.

“I am a member of the MCCC” is a phrase in which “MCCC” the initials, are indistinguishable, after two gin and tonics, from “MCC”.

This lack of distinction came in handy that week, as I ventured to Lord’s on the Tuesday for the Middlesex County Cricket Club (MCCC) AGM, forum and party, then on the Thursday for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) new associates evening.

I went with some trepidation for the former meeting, as I was very supportive of the new commercial agreement between MCCC and MCC. I had agreed in advance to put up my hand and say so, at the post AGM forum.

Which I did.

To some useful effect, I believe.

The party afterwards was great, as always. Reuniting with good folk and salivating at the prospect of a new season about to begin. Such joy.

Then to Lord’s again on the Thursday evening, for the MCC initiation evening. Good wine, good grub, very pleasant. Also a sort-of Freshers Fair where the different bits of the MCC displayed their wares.

I believe I first encountered Mark Ryan that evening and made a mental note to give real tennis a try, once I had a bit more time on my hands. It took me best part of a year, but I saw that resolution through.

No gin and tonic that Thursday evening, just wine, but by the end of the evening I think I indeed was making the phrase “MCC” sound indistinguishable from “MCCC”.