DJ Taylor: Eager beaver Nigel Festing-Jones is kept spiritually afloat on dreams of bygone sporting glory

 

It is a slack morning at the barristers' chambers overlooking Lincoln's Inn Fields and Nigel Festing-Jones, a copy of Hutchinson on Torts propped up against his computer as camouflage, is hard at work on some private correspondence.

Nothing less, in fact, than a circular email ripe for despatch to a couple of dozen cronies very like himself – red-faced, run-to-seed ex-public schoolboys in their late forties, long enmired in solicitors' offices in Cheapside or perched in the tower blocks of City accountancy firms, but kept spiritually afloat on dreams of bygone sporting glory.

"Dear Fellow Beaver," Nigel now types, his stubby forefingers playing havoc with the keyboard, "Although the summer is some way off I thought you'd be pleased to be reminded that, once again, the greensward beckons and an entertaining fixture list is taking shape. In particular, your diligent secretary has managed to revive the game with Little Netherton – rather a trip for those of us unfamiliar with the Somersetshire back-lanes, but worth it for the splendid hospitality at the Goat and Crocus in Upper Castleton…"

The Beavers have been going for a quarter of a century now, ever since Nigel and his chums came down from Oxford, and are, as their ornaments frequently assert, something of an institution: not quite as celebrated an amateur side as, say, the Captain Scott Invitation XI or the Old Talbotians, but distinguished enough to have had a book written about them and to have featured in a Radio Four comedy programme. Hugh Grant once turned out for them in the early 1990s as a promising off-break bowler and the record for the last-wicket stand is held by two of the regular panel members from QI.

Both these statistics – and many hundreds more – are contained in "Records of the Beavers", a Wisden-style booklet whose annual compilation is one of the chief delights of Nigel's existence. Alas, there is a problem about the Beavers and their boozy afternoons amid the Home Counties verdure. Several of the founders are hitting 50 now; cartilages are not what they were; poor old Jonty absolutely had a coronary on the pitch last season.

Still, if anything distinguishes the remaining members, it is their politeness; and the fact that the team is kept going almost entirely to avoid offending its enthusiastic secretary is carefully concealed from him, on the not-unreasonable grounds that such a revelation would break his heart.

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