I went to an all-day beer and junk food festival in south London yesterday. Coincidentally, a cricket game between England and Australia was taking place at the same time.
It's quite a while since I've been to watch cricket: my interest in the game rose and fell like a meteor with the fortunes of the great Lancashire side of the late Sixties and early Seventies. In fact, the last time I visited The Oval, Kia cars hadn't even been invented (we are now persuaded at every turn to call it the Kia Oval) and the game was very different: less gaudy and commercial, and played to the accompaniment of Tuppaware containers being prised open and corks being removed from wine bottles. It's now plastic beer glasses, Dominos pizza boxes and ice cream cornets at three quid a pop. The pungent smell of chicken tikka drifts across the stands like a one-day-old belch.
The action itself, on a day Australian batsmen were largely successful in throttling the life out of the game, seemed to be of limited interest to a large proportion of the 25,000 spectators. Instead, they were up and down from their seats, bringing back industrial quantities of lager, and then passing them down the rows like they did with buckets of water to fight a fire in old Western movies.
I was invited by a very good friend, who missed the day's main excitement - a comprehensive dismantling of England's debutant spin bowler by an Aussie batsman - because he was waiting for me at the gate. He didn't seem too upset, because he was just as happy talking about it as actually observing it. And then it occurred to me that herein lies one of the intrinsic differences between football and cricket. People hardly ever leave their seat at football, because they don't want to miss something. People leave their seat at cricket, hoping that something is going to happen. And what generally happens is that they return with an overpriced item from a fast food outlet, and meanwhile the scoreboard has ticked on a few notches.
My memory may be playing tricks with me, but I seem to recall looking around me in wonder come the lunch interval at the variety of home-made picnics that were being unveiled. Pork pies with little jars of mustard. Scotch eggs. Salads. Cheese and pickle sandwiches. And that was just me! Lunch at The Oval was commonly a pizza that looked like the Quatermass Experiment.
My friend was most discomfited by the fact that he had overlooked the small print on his ticket that warned spectators not to bring alcohol into the ground and had turned up in the morning with a bottle of 1988 Chateau Talbot. This was promptly confiscated (don't fret: it was returned to him at close of play) so he had to rely on the company for his stimulation. He had also invited a mutual friend of ours, and for six hours or so the three of us covered the conversational waterfront, which must have been lovely for those with the misfortune of sitting in front of us. Feminism, literature, declining standards (in everything) and, occasionally, cricket were discusssed. At the close, Australia were 307 for 4.