Considering that this was to be my first day of cricket in the new season, the day did not start well. The day actually started very badly. Around 5.30 in the morning we took a call from the Duchess of Castlebar, Daisy’s mum, who had been hyperventilating for several minutes and had, in distress, called an ambulance. My first thought was that my day of cricket might be at serious risk. My second thought was that the Duchess might be at serious risk.
In fact, neither of the disaster scenarios came to pass. By the time we got to the Duchess’s residence, 15 minutes after she called us, the wonderful ambulance crew were already there assessing her condition. After a thorough examination, the conclusion was that it was actually a minor turn and that she need not go to hospital unless she wanted to. She didn’t want to.
I was off the hook and soon on my way, albeit an hour or more behind schedule at the end of all that. I decided to abandon my planned session at the gym before Lord’s, instead resolving to walk rather than part-tube it. I got the bread and bagels from the bakers, made up the picnic, including the Richie Benaud-inspired Alaskan salmon, grabbed a fine bottle of Austrian Riesling from the fridge and set off on Shanks’s pony to meet Charley “The Gent” Malloy at the Grace Gate.
“I’ve not had a good start to the day,” said Charley.
“What happened?” I asked. “Considering that you are here and in one piece, I find it hard to believe that your start was worse than mine.”
“I got out a really nice bottle of red wine, as promised… and forgot to put it in my bag. I realised my mistake when I was halfway here.”
“No matter, Chas,” I said. “We can get by with one bottle. I don’t want to drink too much today, in any case.”
“I was thinking, I can buy us both a glass of red in the pavilion at the end of the day,” said Chas.
“Even better!” said I.
We took up position in Chas’s favourite spot for the start of play; death row – right at the front of the pavilion. I told Chas what had befallen me that morning, which made him feel even worse, as I had made the picnic, forgotten nothing and even got to HQ pretty much at the appointed time.
Perhaps it was the psychological discomfort, or the ongoing pain from his recent tumble, or a combination of those and the regular physical torture from sitting on those infernal pavilion benches, regardless of any other cause… but Chas was soon keen to move to more comfy seating.
We followed the sun around the ground, eating our picnic in stages and eking out the sole bottle of wine. In the Grandstand, Chas asked: “So have you got me a ticket for the Thursday or Friday of the New Zealand test?”
“Afraid not, Chas,” I said. “Daisy and I are off on holiday to Ireland, as you know. When the forms came around, I thought we might be still be away that week. Although we are actually now coming back on the Tuesday before the Test. Don’t suppose there’s anything worth buying at this stage for day one or two.”
“Humph,” said Chas. “I don’t feel so bad about the wine now.”
Although very early in the season, it was a gloriously sunny day. It was the kind of April day that makes your mouth water at the thought of a whole summer of cricket ahead. Even though you know that on your next visit you will be probably be wrapped up in woollies, with a hat, scarf and gloves. But in that moment, the whole summer is surely to be that kind of sunny day.
Yet the sun loses its strength early in the day, April time, so we started to feel cold and ventured back to the pavilion before stumps. The Bowler’s Bar was the obvious place to take sanctuary. The Test match was on the TV and the County Championship match was out the window. “Glass of Rioja please, Chas, thanks very much”. Bliss.
“Crikey,” said Chas, carrying two glasses of Rioja and a fist full of change. “I handed over a score, expecting at least an Ayrton and some back.” [Translation note: the gentleman proffered a £20 note, expecting the change to include at least a £10 note]
“Six pounds eighty a glass,” said Chas, to make sure I understood his point. “You can get a whole bottle of wine for that.”
“Indeed yes,” I said. “Lidl Claret is said to change hands for as little as £5.99 a bottle. But that isn’t fine MCC Rioja and it isn’t served at the home of cricket with live first class cricket out the window and the Test match on yon telly.”
“You are right,” said Charley. “This is bliss.”
There was a pause.
“…but six pounds eighty a glass.”