V&A v The Invalids
20th May 2017
Sir Alistair Horne CBE (1925-2017)
2nd June 2017
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V&A v The Hermits


V&A PLAYERS: Nicky Bird (Captain), Lachlan Nieboer, Tom Bird, Christiaan Jonkers, Adam Jacot, Sunil Julka, Nick P-G, Tom P-G, Dario Simpson, Andrew Wayland, Tom Ayling, Reese Simpson 

THE HEMMINGFORD HERMITS were founded a year after us by a ragged lot who had mostly been to Exeter University or Radley. They met at the Hemmingford Arms in North London. They included my brother-in-law Tim Squires, who was a fuck-up merchant until he made a mint in peddling bottled water.

Most of the old stagers like Tim, (Big) Dave Odgers, Rob Kir, Tony ‘The Snail’ Waters (who scored at 0.01 an over) have quite rightly hung up their box and bat; only Terry Blake, their urbane captain (ex-marketing manager of the ECB), Jerry Bevan and Euan Ramsay still turn out. Terry was once a beautiful batsman and used to bowl (very) slow tweakers for light relief. Older V&A men may recall Jerry Bevan as a man who could start a spat in a nunnery, but he has mellowed unfortunately and doesn’t offer the spectacle of yesteryear.

They found a replacement in a chap called Mark Palmer who has all the emotional commitment of Adam Jacot without the irony. Two years ago he went berserk on the pitch, no-one knows why. He shouted that he would never play ‘this bunch of c*nts’ [the V&A CC] AGAIN!’ Fair description and fair point, but not true. He turned up last year. Some errant V&A chaps wound him up and he combusted, but not to the same degree. This year he was looking to return to form, and was helped by Tom Bird’s umpiring. Tom called a wide which Mark disputed, vocally. Tom then failed to call a wide which was also disputed, perversely. Terry Blake tried to soothe Mark but he complained bitterly that the V&A were ‘cheating’. It is fair to call me or Tom incompetent but we are incapable of cheating as that implies subtlety. Let me add that Mark is not only the heart of the Hermits, organising nets and so on, but a very decent bloke indeed, gracious and erudite. Off the pitch.

I was skip and won the toss. Terry preferred to field because the Hermits were a) uncertain of their batting pedigree and b) had chaps who needed to leave early. We opened with the P-Gs, father and son. Tom executed a perfect forward defensive off the first ball and looked every inch the opener until the second ball, which he flashed at. He was out to a nothing shot, caught by Andrew Wayland, substitute fielding. Reese Simpson, Dario’s elder brother came in, and, adjusting eventually to the vagaries of the pitch, showed what a good batsman he is with some fine – if uppish – drives to the boundary. Nick P-G kept up a steady flow of runs at the other end and when finally out (30) had scored at the faster rate.  Just before lunch Lachlan ‘Wild Man’ Nieboer had a few awkward overs to survive, and did. Terry told me during the week that he had ‘three good bowlers and not much batting’. Three good bowlers was a teeny bit of an exaggeration.

The Official V&A Tea Lady, Sarah Jenkins, outshone even her lunch last week. Excellent roast beef and exotic salads (but the paté looked bought, although I didn’t mention it). My support was moral. A little garnish, a pat on the bottom. As an aside I should mention Mrs Jenkins’ opinion of my Match Reports. ‘Your portrait of yourself as a failed Lothario is too true to be funny. Not even my dog returns your calls.’ Mrs P-G, who looked fetching in a décolleté dress, seemed to think my offer of sharing a bath was flippant. One other aside: last week Nick Emley complained that I didn’t do him justice in the Match Report. I failed to mention his agile run-out when fielding at point – ‘A lightning-quick stoop and throw (in one fluent motion) to the top of the stumps where Jago whipped off the bails.’ Emley’s words. When this rare event occurred I was impressing Laura of The Invalids with my conversation about dental hygiene.

We were 100 for 2 at lunch off 20 overs. Afterwards the run rate was swiftly upped; Reese and Lachlan scored freely, mindful there was plenty of batting to come. Some indifferent bowling was punished, poor Mark Palmer most of all. Reese was out just 4 short of his 50, but Lachlan went on to make a chanceless 62 until bowled. Jonkers smote a few (9), and then Tom Bird (12*) and Adam (4*) saw us to the close (209) with proper batting. Tom eschewed his cross-bat swipe which so appals Stephanie.

There were complaints about the multiplying rabbit holes in the outfield. The groundsman says no sooner does he fill a hole then the bunnies dig it out again. It’s a game they play. Stonor men come out at night and whack a few but the buggers breed voraciously (bunnies, not Stonor chaps). At least someone’s getting it. A female bunny can have 12 litters a year of 10 babies. Their girl babies breed when 6 months old. And Mrs Bunny starts rebonking minutes after giving birth. Now you begin to get the picture. I was at the pavilion last Monday and spotted 57 rabbits on the outfield, many enjoying both the evening sun and each other. I expected to find the feral Lachlan cavorting with them, but no. Rabbits do possess a sense of decorum however, and although they shagged shamelessly in the nude and outdoors, they did not stray onto the wicket.

We opened our bowling with Lachlan and Andrew Wayland. Nick P-G was behind the sticks but succumbed almost immediately to ligament trouble and came back only to umpire. Reese took the gloves, and a fine keeper he is. Pity he’s going to the States for 2 years. The key to the Hermits’ chances was Terry Blake. If he could stay they had a chance, despite our depth of bowling. But they started badly. Andrew trapped their opener LBW, then caught and bowled Luke Jacob, a good bat. In came Mr Palmer. Lachlan asked for another over to see if he could dislodge Terry. He did. Caught by Christiaan, diving spectacularly to his left at third slip. And for icing Lachlan bowled Palmer, who then advanced down the pitch as if to wallop Lachlan but instead gallantly offered congratulations on such a fine delivery. At least that’s how I interpreted his expression.

In came the great Jerry Bevan who has scored many a 50 on our pitch. After some swipes he hit a full toss off Sunil towards cow corner. Tom Bird ran gazelle-like to his right and caught the fucker (I mean the ball, not Jerry). Dario Simpson bowled their No. 6, and Tom Ayling, who works at Jonkers’ second-hand bookstall, bowled their No. 7. All hope of a Hermits’ victory had now disappeared, but for some reason they continued to scratch around for 12 overs, batting practice that delayed my pint and whisky. In the end we used eight bowlers. Their innings petered out on 84. But the afternoon was dry and fresh and sunny, the company convivial and the tea cakes scrumptious; we had lots of young people to do the proper fielding and Adam Jacot entertained us with his witty impersonation of an incompetent fielder.

In the Golden Ball we sat in the garden and mused on fate that made us follow trades that we are untrained for. Jonkers is a mathematician who flogs books, his assistant, Ayling, studied International Relations, Nick P-G seems to be a cider-maker turned rat-catcher, I studied art history and now lecture on Passchendaele. Incidentally Jonkers was asked to come on one of my battlefield tours. He seemed to say he’d consider it if I’d promise not to bang on, do card tricks and forget punchlines of old jokes. Can no do. There was a brief discussion of what JONKERS RARE BOOKS actually peddles because no-one would strut around in Christiaan’s fancy cords on the profits of a few used books. The shop is some sort of front, but what? Not a brothel because Christiaan is too unworldly to know what that is, and the population of Henley is too old and mean to pay for sex.

QUIZ CORNER: I quoted Mencken last week. Here are some Mencken quotes and one that is somebody else’s – can you guess which and who said it?

‘Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.’

‘A fool and his money are soon elected.’

‘Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.’

‘When somebody says it ain’t about the money, it’s about the money.’