OMG Lord’s

So scratch this item off Ye Olde Buckette Lyst. Yes, I went to watch England play South Africa on Day 2 of the First Test match. Here’s the Grace entrance (named after the 19th-century cricketer, W.G. Grace, sometimes called the father of cricket).

Here’s the view from my seat in the Edrich stand. The Members’ Pavilion is the brick building on the right.

I’m not going to describe the action on the field, because it would be incomprehensible to most of my Loyal Readers (and the Brit Readers would have seen the highlights already anyway).

Some impressions of Lord’s.

1.) The ground was full to the brim, but for some reason, Lord’s has not worked out how to manage crowds. Lines into the several (not many) pubs, restaurants and snack bars were long and service was slow. Given that most of the people are there to watch cricket, and the breaks in play are short, this means that a huge number of people are going to miss parts of the match, and they did.
2.) The seats are all padded, and very comfortable. Compared to most all-metal seats in U.S. baseball grounds, at Lord’s you sit in comfort (a huge plus when the game starts at 11am and finishes after 6pm).
3.) With the exception of some visiting fans (Seffricans, ’nuff said), the crowd are fairly well-behaved, despite an astonishing amount of booze served. (Seriously; you may buy champagne by the magnum, and take it back to your seat.)

On this specific day, my fears of rain interrupting or even ending play were completely unfounded. It was sunny, and searingly hot (temps around 95F). I got sunburned — blisters-on-my-skin sunburned. Not to put too fine a point on it, I burned like a British person. My Afrikaner dad is doubtless spinning in his grave that my neck is in fact red.

Here’s one thing I noticed: the women who go to cricket are, with the exception of the Seffrican chicks, all impeccably upper-class. How did I know? By the way they looked. I did not see a single tattoo on a woman, all day — and in the heat, let me tell you, there was a lot of womanflesh on display. Here’s a representative sample:

When I later commented on the non-tattooed women to Mrs. Free Market, she remarked dryly, “Well, cricket’s a sensible game, isn’t it?”

My kinda people.

Despite the heat, despite the loud Seffrican spectators, despite the long lines to the service areas and despite the lousy play of the South African team, I was at Lord’s.

Words cannot express my pleasure, and my gratitude to the Free Markets for making it possible.

Bucket List Entry #6: Monaco Grand Prix

Today sees the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monaco, and while I’ve seen a couple of Grands Prix before (at the old Kyalami track in South Africa, back when SA was still on the F1 calendar), this one is #6 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

So why Monaco, you ask?

For pretty much the same reasons as to why I would want to watch cricket at Lord’s: because Monaco is one of the oldest racing venues — hell, they were racing at Monaco (1929) before there was Formula 1 — and unlike most of the other F1 venues, it takes place inside a city, on city streets. It is one of the crown jewels of motor racing (Le Mans and the Indy 500 being the other two), and it’s one of the few times I can be swayed by that awful word “prestige” when applied to an event.

Besides, it’s Monaco, FFS, itself the crown jewel of of the Midi.

But enough about the place. The race itself is impossibly difficult: winding through narrow city streets, there are no gravel runoffs, very few cushioned buffers (mostly, they’re stern, unforgiving Armco barriers), and if it starts to rain… oy.

Pole position in qualifying the day before almost guarantees victory the next day, so difficult it is to overtake someone. Here’s the famous Fairmont Hotel hairpin (taken at 30mph):

But let there be a slip-up in the pits, a bad tire decision or even a millisecond’s inattention by a driver during the race, and everything can change in a heartbeat.

Fortunately, I can get in to watch the race from a decent location (at time of writing, good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise) because Longtime Friend and Bandmate “Knob” lives in Monaco, and I have a standing invitation to visit and stay with him for the occasion. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t make it to Monaco this year — e.g. poverty, bad timing etc. — but next year, Rodders [obscure British TV show reference]

Bucket List Entry #5: Cricket At Lord’s

To most Americans, “Cricket” is a darts game, or else a stupefyingly-boring sport played by Brits, or something.

To me, and to millions of people around the world, cricket is the ultimate gentleman’s sport: leisurely, subtle, with occasional moments of great excitement and still-more periods of escalating, gut-wrenching tension made all the more so by the quiet  hours that led up to them.

I’m not going to bother to explain the mechanics of the game: either you know how cricket is played or you don’t, and that’s it. Suffice it to say that there are essentially two kinds of cricket: first, there’s a quick slogfest that takes just a little longer than the average baseball game, but wherein over three hundred runs can be scored by each batting side (as opposed to the average winning baseball score of only four or five runs… talk about boring). It’s called “limited overs” cricket, and as the name suggests, each side gets a set number of “balls” (pitches) to get the highest possible score, the winner getting the higher score. I don’t much care for limited-overs cricket, because it’s just a slogfest (and therefore more popular with hoi polloi, go figure).

The second type of cricket is called “Test” cricket and is played between different nations — mostly, it should be said, by England and the former British colonies: Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies. (Other nations also play cricket, e.g. Scotland, Holland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and even the United States, but those are considered lower-class competitions, not Test matches per se.)

Test cricket is played over a much longer period of five days, and each side gets two innings to bat and field. (Unlike baseball, in which only three batters play per innings, cricket has all eleven players bat consecutively in a single innings.) If you think that a game which takes five days is going to be unbearably dull, well, it sometimes is. But that very dullness is not dull for the players, as each side attempts to penetrate the defenses of its opponent whether by bat or by ball, and dullness can be turned into heart-pounding excitement in a matter of seconds, let alone minutes. Over those five days, well over a thousand runs will likely be scored by the two sides — unless of course it rains (something which happens from time to time in England) and the match becomes shortened. It is also possible that five days will yield a draw rather than victory for one side.

Anyway, having not explained cricket to people who aren’t familiar with it, allow me, then, to introduce you all to #5 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

5. I want to watch a cricket match, and preferably a Test match at the Lord’s ground in St. John’s Wood, London.

Lord’s is rightly called the “home of cricket”, and cricket has been played there since 1787 (admittedly, in three different locations, but the current ground had its 200th anniversary in 2014).

Currently, South Africa is touring England, and the first Test will be played at Lord’s on July 6-10 — and Mr. Free Market has informed me that he’s trying to get tickets for at least one of the days. (It’s a difficult task because both England and South Africa have very powerful teams at the moment, the rivalry goes back well over a century, and interest is therefore keen among the sport’s many followers.)

I’m holding thumbs on this one, but I have to say that if he’s unsuccessful, I’ll settle for watching a county match (between the home team and any other county side). It’s Lord’s, FFS, and it’s my personal haj (if you’ll excuse the cultural appropriation).

(Some people may comment on the unsightly colored advertising splodges on the otherwise-emerald-green turf. Don’t get me started.)

And about that rain business:

Colloquially, that’s known as Pub Time. And yes, I’ll be taking my brolly and wellies, just in case.


Incidentally, the darts game known as “Cricket” in the U.S. is called “Killer” everywhere else in the world. Just thought I’d clear that up.

Bucket List Entry #4: Old Battlefields

Back when I still lived in South Africa, a couple of my jobs required car trips to small towns to check on stores or visit cooperating agencies. Several of these out-of-the-way places happened to be near old battlefields of the Boer War, so I’d try to set aside a day or two to visit them and “touch history” (my shorthand expression for such activities). Over time, I visited Spion Kop, Paardeburg, Ladysmith, Mafeking and Majuba. I also got to see a couple from the earlier Zulu Wars, Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift (described in the movie Zulu) . I wrote about my trip to the last one years ago, but it’s buried in the archives and if I can find the thing, I’ll re-publish it sometime.

Anyway, one week from today is Memorial Day, and as always, it’s the day I remember my late grandfather Charles Loxton, who fought and was badly wounded at the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. As the saying goes, it’s “where 25,000 men marched in; and one week later 2,500 marched out.” Here’s Delville Wood now:

..and as my grandfather probably saw it in 1916:

After battle for Delville Wood France

So #4 on my Bucket List is to visit not just Delville Wood, but as many old WWI battlefields as I can. Time permitting, it’s one of the activities I’d like to get done during my upcoming sabbatical in Britishland, because to see most of them would require a trip of only a few days across the Channel.

Mr. Free Market suggests that I do my pilgrimage during late November or early December, “…when the weather is foul and one can appreciate the absolute misery — the cold, the rain and the mud — that the poor infantry had to deal with.”

Sounds like a plan.

Bucket List Entry #3: Spa Francorchamps

I’ve never been a racing driver, nor wanted to be one. However, I do like driving sports cars hard, ever since a buddy let me cane his Alfa Romeo Montreal over a newly-opened freeway outside Johannesburg. I haven’t had much opportunity, however, so on my bucket list here’s a simple entry: drive a sports car around a race track — and the track of choice would be Spa Francorchamps, in the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium.

…and I have to tell you, a large part of my desire for Spa is that the countryside surrounding it is just gorgeous. Ditto the Circuit Paul Ricard, because it’s in Provence, fer goshsakes (but Spa still wins it every time, for me).

The car? I don’t really care, as long as it doesn’t break down in mid-circuit. Modern sports cars are too clinical, too perfect with all the mechanical and electronic doodads they bring to the party — not that I’d say “no” to a flip around Spa in a Ferrari California, though:

But I’m an old fashioned kinda guy, and I’d prefer to drive something a little more… elemental, something which captures the spirit of a bygone era. Something like a Caterham Seven 360, which is based on the old Lotus Seven of the 1960s:

Six-speed manual gearbox, 2.0-liter Duratec engine (yeah, from a Ford Mondeo) which puts out 180hp — on a chassis that weighs less than I do — all in a car that seats my ass but six inches off the ground and can out-drag a Kawasaki.

Sounds like fun, dunnit? Which is why it’s on the old Bucket List.

 

Bucket List Entry #2: High Birds

I get this letter from the foul Mr. Free Market, who torments me with visions of shotgunning Over There:

So tomorrow afternoon I will be driving down to Exmoor – it’s a 3 to 4 hour drive depending on traffic & we will be staying at Morebath Manor near Tiverton. “Set in 21 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland in a sporting area renowned for its highflying birds, the grand, nine-bedroom manor house dates from Domesday, but was rebuilt between 1892 and 1894 for Charles Digby Harrod, founder of the landmark Knightsbridge store, following his retirement in 1891”

& then on Tuesday & Wednesday we have two big days at Haddeo, which is generally regarded as one of the best game shoots in the country – stick it into Google & see what pops up. So, double gunning with loaders it is ! My Berettas will be glowing…

Here’s what Haddeo is all about:

HADDEO & LOYTON
Entry in the Field’s Top 50 Shoots, 2012
In perfect partnership, the Loyton shoot joined with the prestigious Haddeo ground. Entering its fourth united season and covering some 6,000 acres, the pairing offers an outstanding spectrum of high-bird drives situated around the magnificent Exe Valley. Haddeo has for many years been cited as an epitome of Exe Valley shooting, alongside its near neighbour Milton’s. Brought to fame by the legendary Ned Goschen in the days when it was shot as ‘Pixton’, with an interim period in syndicated hands, Angus was thrilled to be given the opportunity to take the shoot on in 2011.
The Loyton shoot was set up by the late Alick Barnes in the 1960s as a low-key family affair and, over the years, developed into an impressive and competitive Exmoor ‘great’. Its proximity to the more famous Haddeo made it the natural partner and has been successfully managed as one for the past four years.
Covering some truly beautiful terrain, it is easy to feel the essence of old Exmoor uniting these two shoots, enriched by a distinguished heritage and family presence. Many of the drives are set along the Haddeo River – you cross the ford at the old village of Bury – and the Exe, a setting which is both spectacular and daunting at once! Famous drives such as St Paul’s will stay in memory for a lifetime, presenting a ‘leisurely’ flow of incredibly high, soaring birds, to be seen way over the treetops – an unforgettable sight for spectator and participating sportsman alike!
There are many key drives between Haddeo & Loyton but be prepared for Brookside, Lloyd’s, Swine’s Cleave, Beech Cover, Buckley’s, Woodcock Corner etc. Predominantly pheasant, they also release partridge on five of the drives.
Quarry: Pheasant and partridge from early October to the end of January.
NOURISHMENT
Lunch is most usually served in the Shoot Tent, set in the grounds of Loyton Lodge. This is a large and hugely comfortable safari-style affair, views of the surrounding countryside and offering the best of both worlds: Bask in the sunshine early on in the season or warm yourself sitting by the log burner on the colder, later days. Whatever the weather, this is a highly enjoyable experience and something a little bit different. In keeping with years of family tradition, expect an irresistible interpretation of the more traditional shooting lunch: delectable pies, roast chicken or our famous curry. A converted Land Rover Series 90 is used to serve celebrated mid-morning breaks with home-reared pork sausages, soups and pies from a luxurious purpose-built bar.

Are you getting the idea yet? No? Then spend a little time with ace shotgunner Dave Carrie at another beautiful shoot, Warter Priory (about 15 minutes — don’t bother trying to understand what he’s saying, even other Yorkshiremen have trouble — just enjoy the atmosphere and marvel at the difficulty of the sport). Happy dogs, good shooters, Range- and Land Rovers… the list goes on and on. Note too that the shooters are wearing ties and waistcoats — my kind of dress altogether. Yeah, it’s all a bit old-fashioned… like me.

All jokes aside, I want to do this so badly, it makes my trigger finger itch like it’s been bitten by a mosquito. And then there’s Mulgrave, which makes me want to hitch-hike across the Atlantic.

And here’s the gun I want to use: an AyA No.4 (Bournbrook) in 20ga but to be honest, I’d take just about any old shotgun in any chambering, as long as it has side-by-side barrels — because as any fule kno, shotguns barrels belong side-by-side, like a man and his dog; not over-and-under, like a man and his mistress. And double triggers, please.

Mr. Free Market’s original letter was entitled: “This Is Why You Hate Me”, and it is. One day, Rodders… [obscure British reference].