I got a phone call the other day from Craig, who lives in the same village as I do.
"Miles!" said Craig, in the voice of someone who is about to ask a favour but intends to disguise it as a treat being offered. "How would you like to play cricket?"
"Not at all," I said. "I don't play anymore. I can no longer move fast or easily enough for it to be fun or safe. Besides..."
Besides, I knew how easy it was to get involved in these things. My friend Peter once told me about the time his father retired and moved to the country.
"He settled in a little village," he said, "and the first summer weekend they were there, he wandered down to the village green to watch the cricket. Pretty soon, someone wandered over from the pavilion to chat to him. 'Are you interested in cricket?' and all that. Yes, dad was interested. 'You ought to become a member,' said the chap. Dad thought he should do his stuff as a newcomer and went over to the pavilion to join up. Within a fortnight he was the secretary of the club."
A grim story. It reminded me of the time I was on the staff of Punch, and we kept talking about how we should revive the tradition of Punch having a cricket XI. One day I mentioned this to Mike Wynne-Jones, the journalist husband of Delia Smith, and he said that his village in Suffolk was always looking for opponents. So I asked around among the staff to see if anyone was in favour, and not only was everyone in favour, but it was automatically assumed that I would organise it all, fix the transport, be captain and find enough players...
"I'm recruiting players for the Limpley Stoke team against Freshford," said Craig.
Bit of a needle match, Limpley Stoke against Freshford. We are neighbouring villages, which means we are friendly rivals to start with. But the county boundary runs between us, so it's not just us against them; it's Wiltshire (us) against Somerset (them).
"I was just asked to get a couple of extra players to begin with," said Craig, "and now it seems I'm picking the whole team and organising everything..."
I could have told him. It was a nightmare getting enough players for the Punch XI against Delia Smith's village, even though she was doing the teas. I rang every freelance I could think of. Clive James, for instance. Great idea! Australian! Bound to be keen.
"Not a chance," said Clive James on the phone. "If you are in the public eye at all, you should never expose yourself to the risk of injury. Think of Mark Boxer's thumb. Think of Hunter Davies's arm. Think of Melvyn Bragg's knee..."
It so happened that in Bond Street, a week later, I encountered Melvyn Bragg, also a Punch regular.
"Melvyn!" I said. "What's this about your knee?"
A look of weary pain crossed his face.
"I really shouldn't be playing football at my age," he said.
I was finally reduced to getting good players who had no connection with Punch at all. A fast bowler who worked for the nearby Sun, for instance, called Kit Miller. I was glad he was on our side. Unfortunately, the village side had an equally fast bowler, a young ferocious ginger-haired lad.
"He has had a bit of a drink problem," confided Mike Wynne-Jones to me. "He's over it now, though. Thanks to cricket, actually. All the rage he used to put into drinking now goes into his fast bowling."
Thanks, Mike. I wonder if Craig can find a local lad with a drink problem...? If it's any comfort to him, I was in Freshford the other day and I saw a poster saying: "Wanted! Cricketers to play for Freshford team against Limpley Stoke!", so he's not the only one reduced to trying to recruit people like me. Actually, I am mightily tempted to pop along on Saturday to see the game. I'll just wear a false moustache and take my walking stick. Anything to ensure I'm not drafted in at the last moment.Reuse content