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

No, not bageled at tennis

Monday 18 September 

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

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

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

Tuesday 19 September

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 20 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 21 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the plan…

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

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

A light sprinkling and covering before the deluge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say “halloumi cheese”: Ian, Helen and Donna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or were they?…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Z/Yen Team Outing To See Middlesex Hammered By Hampshire At Lord’s, 3 August 2017

Lord’s Resplendent Early Evening, Photograph by Alexandra Karathodorou

For several years, the traditional fixture for the annual Z/Yen visit to Lord’s has been a Middlesex v Surrey match, ever since the Z/Yen Awayday during which Garry Sobers watched the Z/Yen team play cricket – click here for that story; most years the T20 game.

But this year, several key people were unavailable for the Middlesex v Surrey T20 fixture whereas, unusually, most people were available on 3 August for the Middlesex v Hampshire game.

Our Z/Yen contingent contained representatives from across the globe, ranging from “home of cricket” places such as India and Middlesex, through moderately-cricketing places such as Nepal to places where cricket is a rarity, such as the USA, Greece, Germany and Surrey. (I couldn’t help myself).

On this occasion, pretty much everyone got behind Middlesex (why not) although Linda, with her Southampton F.C. connection, felt torn between the two sides.

But we had to forgive Linda, because she had brought the food. Loads of it. Following the success of Xueyi’s Chinese picnic choices last year, Linda had returned to Xueyi’s recommended place and mostly stocked up with delicious Chinese nibbles.

Linda Likes Her Food Choices, Photograph By Alexandra Karathodorou

There was a good crowd at the match and a very jolly atmosphere. Unlike last year’s good close match, Middlesex, a depleted side by this stage of the tournament this year, didn’t put up much of a fight – click here for scorecard.

Possibly the most interesting moment on the field of play was towards the end, when a fox invaded the pitch. How it got through Lord’s security without a ticket and (worse) entered a hallowed part of Lord’s inappropriately attired is anybody’s guess.

Z/Yen At Lord’s Under Lights, Photograph By Alexandra Karathodorou

But in many ways these outings are as much about being convivial team picnic outings as they are about the cricket. The weather smiled on us; a mixture of sun and clouds, but no rain. The Lord’s experience is always charming and special – and because we chose to come a bit later in the season than usual, Z/Yen people got to see Lord’s properly under lights when it got dark, which is differently special.

Sussex Sojourn Part Two: Monk’s House, Berwick Church and Cricket At 1st Central County Ground Hove, 28 July 2017

It’s a small miracle that I could still sit…

Janie was inspired to see some more of the Blooomsbury trail Day Two, although we hadn’t planned it, following our very pleasurable afternoon at Charleston Day One. Specifically, Monk’s House (Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Sussex home), found its way onto Janie’s radar.

Actually, when we rose at the Hotel Una that morning, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to do anything that day; the mattress had been so soft and uncomfortable that my back and neck felt well crocked. Possibly the worst hostelry mattress I have encountered since my 2006 nightmare experience in a half way house posing as a hotel on The Bristol Road, Edgbaston.

Janie was not well pleased with the deep-stained bed linen either, so got to task with the sweet staff, who swapped our mattress over and adorned the better mattress with clean linen ahead of our second night.

I heaped praise on my former geography teacher, Mike Jones, for helping us to find the Hotel Una a couple of years ago, so now he needs to share the blame for the Una’s apparent decline since then. A reputable former geography teacher should be able to predict the timing of a hostelry’s decline and forewarn you, no?

Monk’s House doesn’t open until lunchtime, which unfortunately coincided with the weather forecast’s prediction of heavy showers in Sussex. Still, showers can be dodged on a visit to a house and garden, so we resolved to follow the test match in the morning and go off towards Lewes as soon as lunch was called at The Oval.

Monk’s House is very different from Charleston. It must have been a far more orderly place back in the day and is now a National Trust run place. However, unlike Charleston, we were allowed to take pictures inside…

Is that a baroq-ulele I see in the tapestry?

…but understandably there are rules, such as “no food and drink inside” and “don’t touch things or place stuff on things”.

One couple who entered just after us seemed hell bent on breaking every one of the rules within 30 seconds of arrival, sending the charming but bossy volunteer/guide lady into fits of polite reprimand.

Leonard Woolf looks on disapprovingly

On chatting with that same lady later, Janie and I were also reprimanded, but in our case for going to Charleston without visiting the Berwick Church, which the lady swore was the very best example of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s work. “You simply MUST go”, she said.

“Is that an instruction?”, I asked.  “Yes, absolutely”, she said, “even if you say on TripAdvisor that I am the most terrible bossy-boots…I’m telling you, you really MUST see that Church”.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’s house-minder? Me. I thought we’d better conform and go to church. Initially I  thought maybe tomorrow on the way home, but actually Monk’s House is quite small, so I started quietly plotting a reasonably rapid exit from Monk’s, after seeing the garden; we should still have plenty of time to go back out Charleston way to the church and then back to Brighton/Hove for the cricket match.

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Lodge in the Garden at Monk’s House
The Woolfs (Wolves?) played bowls regularly in their garden, apparently
Leonard Woolf remembered in the garden
Monk’s House as seen from the garden

We did a good job of dodging the showers while in the Monk’s Garden and worried less about those as we headed off to Berwick Church – click here for the church website, pictures of and information on all the murals.

I must say, the charming but bossy guide lady at Monk’s House was absolutely right – the Berwick Church murals are wonderful and well worth seeing.

Just a few examples

In particular, I thought Duncan Grant’s work in this church is extraordinarily powerful and well done.

Well worth the visit

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

We got back to the hotel in good time to get ready to go out to the cricket. The weather improved and we were both chuffed to bits to discover that Toby Roland-Jones had taken three wickets in his first spell on test match debut at the Oval, while we were driving…and then a fourth which we saw on the TV when we got back to the hotel.

The weather improved enough for us to brave the walk from the hotel to the Hove cricket ground; a very pleasant walk it was too.

The Hove Pavilion Board Room

The Sussex CCC hospitality was warm, friendly and informal; ideal for a T20 match. To make matters better, the match even started on time:

But the weather forecast was iffy to say the least and after a while the brollies went up…Middlesex were not doing so well at that point.

Not the late July weather we had been hoping for
At least we can stay dry in here

The match resumed for a while and Middlesex’s fortunes improved after the resumption, with fours and sixes punctuated with flames,which Janie took great pains to capture on camera:

But then the rain returned and remained until the match was abandoned. Then it stopped raining again so Janie and I could walk back to the hotel.

We hadn’t seen much cricket, but we had enjoyed a very convivial evening in good company.

We were both in very good spirits; we’d had two very enjoyable days sojourning in Sussex.

A Visit To Edgbaston, Mostly For Warwickshire v Middlesex, 3 to 5 July 2017

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…

Step never on the cracks, No only on the squares, Or else we’d be abducted by the bears.

…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.

Here is how the match panned out in the end – Thursday – click here.

On the Monday night I went to Stourbridge for a music lesson – long story – now Ogblogged separately – click here.

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.

Dumbo behaving well at Boston Manor, in the good old days when the car park was open

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

It seemed like a brilliant idea when I/we arranged the trip.

Middlesex were playing Essex in the first ever round of day/night county championship cricket matches.  I’d drive out to Prested Hall on the Tuesday morning, drop my bags, have a real tennis lesson, join Charley “The Gent” at Chelmsford for cricket on the Tuesday afternoon, return to Prested after stumps at night, check out/play real tennis the next morning, drive back to Chelmsford for at least a couple of sessions play Wednesday, then head back to London in reasonable time towards the end of that day.

Indeed, it was a pretty brilliant idea, confounded in part only by the weather “turning Charley on us” (as it were) and Middlesex’s dismal performance. Of course the latter was no disappointment to Charley “The Gent” Malloy, who is enjoying watching his team ride high in the county championship this season.

The weather forecast for Tuesday was changing on an almost hourly basis. Charley at one point Monday messaged me to see if I still wanted to give it a go, but when I explained that I was coming out to deepest Essex anyway, we agreed to meet at the ground Tuesday come what may.

In the morning, at Prested, I had the honour (and pleasant surprise) of getting my real tennis lesson from Rob Fahey, the former and longest-reigning world champion. I doubt if I was utilising even a tiny fraction of his skills and knowledge, but I learnt a great deal and he was a thoroughly delightful coach for that hour. He filled my head with all sorts of stuff that will probably come in handy down stream but which I have so far been utterly unable to put into practice. A few simple tips on placement of shots and serves are already coming in handy.

Then to my apartment room in the health centre area. Comfortable-looking and very large – there would even be room for Janie, Benjy the Baritone Uke and all of our attendant paraphernalia in one of those, I noted for future reference.

Then a very dingy drive to Chelmsford, but it wasn’t raining and the forecast suggested that we might get a few hours of play before the rain set in for the evening. But five minutes before play was due to start, an unscheduled, sharp shower put paid to the prospects of play for a while.

Chas and I braved the pavilion while all that was going on, which gave us a chance to catch up on news and gossip over coffee (not bad stuff and just one nicker per shot) plus some headway into Mrs Malloy’s splendid bap sandwiches.

The weather looked reasonably promising again for a while; they even announced a 16:25 start and the Middlesex players came out to warm up. But almost inevitably it started to rain again at 16:20. Looking at the forecast and the rain radar, Chas and I agreed that the prospects of play now were close to zero and that we had cunningly focused most of our attention on the more perishable elements of the picnic, allowing the less perishable elements to return the next day.

I returned in the driving rain to Prested Hall, where I was able to catch up on my reading and blogging (as well as sleep) in that comfortable appartment/room during the evening and into the next morning. I had a very tasty light bistro meal in the evening there, again noting that this would more than do the job for me and Daisy on a future visit.

In the morning, after checking out of my room, I played real tennis against a very charming gentleman who managed to capitalise well on all the new ideas drifting around my head (but not onto my racket) from yesterday’s lesson. Why I should suddenly start over-hitting and mistiming my shots in these circumstances is beyond me.

I tried a bit of bestial roaring when stretching for difficult gets and my opponent responded in kind, less often as I was making him stretch less. We were on the Prested Glass court – across the other side of the galleries is the Prested Far court, where a far finer exponent of bestial roaring than either of us was playing that hour.

The upshot was, I just couldn’t get any sort of rhythm going and my opponent played really well for his handicap. Still, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer chap, who celebrated his win by buying me a coffee in the bistro afterwards. This was good timing, as once he had gone and I had done some warm-down stretches and showered, I was ready to say goodbye to the friendly, helpful Prested team and head back to Chelmsford.

Chelmsford was once again well gloomy; I even drove through some drizzle as I approached town. But the cricket ground itself was dry and the forecast was far more promising than Tuesday’s.

Indeed, although we got the occasional tiny bit of drizzle (perhaps merely mizzle) during the day, it mostly stayed dry; just seriously dark and gloomy throughout the day. Just as well this was a floodlit match, as I doubt if there would have been much if any play with a conventional red ball and no floodlights.

Even though we had spent some time together the previous day, Charley The Gent and I had no difficulty filling several more hours with chat. Tales of derring do from playing and watching matches in years gone by. A bit more news and gossip. Bants, although it is hard to bant too much when the match is so one -sided – click here for scorecard. The locals who were sitting around us seemed to enjoy some of our chirp, so it can’t have been too bad.

We were in Charley’s favourite position at the front of the Tom Pearce stand. At times we both felt a bit chilly and took turns taking a brisk stroll to get coffees from the pavilion.

There was a reasonably sized crowd but I’m sure it would have been so much better had the weather played ball; especially as Essex were doing so well.

Dot (Mrs Malloy) did us proud with the bap/sarnies yet again; corned beef, ham and cheese for me – I think Chas had some egg; we each got personalised sandwich boxes with kind notes from Dot; Chas’s note was signed off “wifey” which seemed rather quaint to me.

I wanted to get home in reasonable time, so when Essex declared soon after 20:30, that seemed the perfect moment for me to bow out after my very first taste of pink ball cricket. We’d had a really enjoyable couple of days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cricket En Famille – But Who Is The Third Man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool – more front than Blackpool?

“What’s Blackpool like?” asked Daisy.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you SURE we weren’t in Blackpool?

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

Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Heaving Hospitality Tent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…to be continued.