A sunlit Friday lunchtime in the City of London on the first day of June was the starting point for a whirlwind 3-day tour that took in the delights of Folkestone, Calais, La Defense, Le Marais, Meudon, Porte de Saint Cloud, Versailles, Bailly-Fontenay and Le Quartier Latin. All of these destinations were reached courtesy of a 2.7L Mercedes-Benz Sprinter CDI 612 and an extremely dedicated and tolerant driver called Russell whose only other defining characteristic was that he is the only upright, sentient human being to possess an IQ of zero.
Zed Jameson – our keenest player and official Tour photographer – was delivered to the rendez-vous by car two hours early, by a glamorous blonde companion who seemed quite besotted with him, until the point came where he had to introduce her to the captain and promptly forgot what her name was. By contrast Shaks, who arrived at the rendez-vous by private jet from Dubai, was still half an hour late, having bafflingly chosen to walk from the airport to save money on a taxi. A first Tour photo in the bag (taken outside Julien‘s office to the amusement of his colleagues) and we were gone.
The collective excitement made the trip down to Folkestone fly by. The Headingley test match was playing on the laptop and England were doing well against Pakistan, much to Shaks‘ poorly-concealed annoyance. The first can of beer was cracked around about Spitalfields market, five minutes into the Tour. Word came through that Alan Synnott, who had spent the last three days in the white-hot belly of Hell (Disneyland Paris) was going to get to our hotel well ahead of us. Archie Marr had, shall we say, an incident involving an altercation between his bladder and Russell’s refusal to stop on the hard shoulder. The incident was resolved with an empty bottle of Proper Job, a couple of rolls of kitchen paper and much ribaldry all round.
a) the budget ice box (two black bin bags full of bags of ice from Tesco and fifty beers) melting then leaking all over the bus, thereby soaking upwards through Julien‘s canvas bag, drenching his clean change of underwear, and
b) a bit of business with an old lady at the border who just wanted an excuse to come aboard and personally search all the occupants,
things ran smoothly and before long we found ourselves on the train.
Zed – who seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that this was a cricket tour – would be the person who consistently suggested we play cricket at any given opportunity and in every location. His first choice was inspired, as the “track” in the Eurotunnel behind our bus provided plenty of help for the seamers. Tom Leach, who had netted before the Tour, was particularly adept at finding the enormous crack on the left-hand side of the central steel corridor on a regular basis, making the ball bite and spit, thereby proving a handful for all the batsmen.
Notable was the bizarrely flattering effect of batting with an indoor ball on a 100mph train 40 metres below the sea bed of the English Channel. Chris Lawson showed himself an impeccable stylist with a range of front and back foot shots, wristy flicks and Caribbean flourishes which led to his being described in advanced despatches by one somewhat optmistic observer as “comedy good”; Gerald Waterfall, whose penchant for hunting shooting and fishing had previously been sufficient to sum up the entirety of his cricket technique, suddenly unleashed immaculately-timed lofted-driven straight sixes over the minibus and into the back wall of the carriage (one such shot travelled 300m, if you take into account the speed of the train at the time). Hopes were high for the real cricket the next day.
Between Calais and Paris, as the realisation kicked in that we were actually driving 300 miles to play cricket, we settled in for:
a) more test match and beer;
b) some wine (Australian Chardonnay, stopping short of bringing French wine to France);
c) a civilized debate about who would share hotel rooms with whom (or rather who had earned the right not to share with Gerald – this turned out to be everyone, so absent Synno got the red pill);
d) a startling view of the misty blood-soaked killing fields of WW1, and
e) a brutally explicit Whatsapp narrative of Alan Synnott‘s private activities as he waited patiently for us in his hotel room at the Ibis La Defense.
Getting into the Ibis La Defense itself was no picnic and Julien had to be somewhat firm with Russell as he prepared himself to cross the river (just to come back on himself) for the fourth time, only to realize that we were circling the wrong Ibis anyway. Once at the place, we wasted no time setting off into the night. 3 Uber drivers, 3 separate attempts at mangling conversations about the French football team’s match against Italy*. We flew past The Arc de Triomphe, Concorde, The Tuileries and The Louvre, all beautifully lit up. Julien had been given a great tip for the best late night eating in Paris, in the hottest, hippest area: Le Marais. We got there at 10pm to find it buzzing…
*(this match ended 3-1 to France and by the time you read this one more time for nostalgia value, France will have won the 2018 World Cup)
Aaaaanyway, we all had a really nice time, the cocktails were good, the burgers interestingly shaped and the waiters were very accommodating. Julien decided it might be time to delegate some of the social aspects of the tour to a young and eager Zed, who had loads of good ideas, the main one being leading us on a wild goose chase through the streets of Paris at midnight and then stopping at a totally random bar, which turned out to be very pleasant. They set up a table for us outside. Archie ordered a G&T served with the tonic on the side in what looked – surprisingly appropriately – like a hospital urinal bottle. Shaks had two Mojitos which he says nearly killed him. Julien also had two Mojitos and both were completely different. The waiters were clearly making it up as they went along.
The decision as to whether to head to something called the “Licking Lizard Lounge” or something else called – equally ominously – “The Jazz Club” was taken for us by our most experienced tourist, Alan Synnott, who made clear that we were not going “annywhere” which required us to pay for entry. As we were a morass of hopeless, gibbering idiots by then, we owe Alan‘s wise head a strong debt of gratitude. I would hate to think how the next day’s cricket would have gone if we’d stayed out any longer. We were in bed by 4am.
For some reason – no doubt anxiety at having forgotten something – Julien woke at 7am and hastily found the nearest supermarket to obtain some supplies for the evening’s festivities which were to be held at our new digs: an AirBnB in Bailly-Fontenay, near Versailles. Now this factlet is important, because Julien‘s waking-time meant he had only 3 hours sleep, which at 47 with a heart condition and anger issues, is not enough. This decisively affected two things:
- his eyesight and judgement as regards the type – and quantum – of supplies to buy for 10 grown men in need of a consoling drink, and
- his ability to captain a cricket side, make proper decisions about declarations, keep wicket, bowl and generally keep his head together on the field.
And after breakfast and table football in the hotel (Gerald was 8-0 up against Shaks, then lost 10-8, to the immense consternation of the Indian betting authorities) we were off around Paris to Meudon, a posh suburb of South-West Paris (think Richmond-on-Thames) to pick up our 11th man: Ali Kashif, a Pakistani “batting all-rounder” who spoke Urdu, French and Spanish but very little English. [We are greatly indebted to Ali for his efforts on our behalf.]
Walking about in our smart blue tour shirts in Meudon, we were spotted by numerous locals and wished “bonne chance” as well as by some giggling girls (I really don’t see what’s so funny) and a contingent from the opposition driving past in a Renault Clio, whose first thought was apparently “these guys look a bit young”. Zed took a few snaps of Meudon then at midday we were off to the game.
The Standard Athletic Club is a 130 year old cricket club set up by English expatriates in 1890. In the 1900 Summer Olympic Games in Paris, France lost to Great Britain in the final of the cricket (the only time cricket has featured in the Games) and 15 of the people on the field were from the Standard Athletic Club. We were honoured to be playing them, and their facility – recently opened to French members and featuring clay court tennis – was stunning. Things were looking up even further when Joe arrived, having Eurostarred it from London, not just on time, but before the start of play.
Match report – morning session: Arkadin won the toss and batted first. Shaks and Ali opened the batting and looked comfortable but boundaries were hard to come by, owing to the pitch having been mowed on Tuesday and the outfield’s grass being long and wet. Ali departed swinging and Joe came to the crease, playing immaculately but hitting only singles as the outfield claimed all solid strikes for itself (and Shaks wasn’t running twos, let alone threes). Chris – another stylist – came in at 4 after Shaks had departed for 28 and he played some beautiful looking drives and cuts, not one of which made contact with the ball. He reverted to just hitting it after that and duly got going. Early season rustiness was apparent in everyone. Gerald tried to take his pads off so he wouldn’t have to bat before lunch, but Chris duly jinxed that idea by succumbing with three balls to go and the umpire didn’t take the players off, so Gerald had to go in and extravagantly leave half an over of spin. 92 for 3 at lunch. Slow going, but we were ready for our fillet of salmon and tagliatelle lunch with oodles of rosé wine.
Match report – post-lunch session: There was a significant rosé-driven uptick in the scoring rate as Gerald blazed away, Joe found his slogging straps, Tom injected a bit of speed and energy then Paul, Archie and Zed (all of whom were disgruntled at being shoved down the order, presumably believing that the top nine people could all bat at number 3) came in and smote a few very valuable boundaries, including sixes from Archie and Gerald and a huge, potentially litigious six over mid-wicket by Zed which bounced just sort of a French family playing tennis with their children on the lawn. Julien and Alan never bothered to get changed into their whites, as the overs were elapsing (we took nearly 45 of them to get to 177). A declaration seemed polite as the grass wasn’t going to get any shorter and we would be leaving the opposition less than 40 overs to bat (and more to the point, less than 40 overs to dismiss them). Had skipper Julien known only two of the SAC team would ever actually bat, he would have left them 15 overs to get 250. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Here are some superb long lens photos by Zed of the Arkadin batsmen (except Shaks and Paul, because Zed was umpiring when Shaks was batting and later decided to take no photos of Paul batting as he secretly despises him).
The Arkadin fielding performance was skilful and enthusiastic, especially Tom Leach, who scampered and scurried like a sex panther (see tours passim) and the bowling attack (which consisted of everyone except Joe and Tom) was brave, dedicated, resourceful, hungry, relentlessly committed and almost wholly ineffective. Julien grew dildo hands, missed a stumping and a catch in one over from Shaks then took Shaks off in disgust, telling him he was “posing no threat to the batsmen”; then he threw what’s known as a “wicketeeping strop”, hurling the gloves and pads to the ground, ordering Joe to put them on, in the wholly mistaken belief that this would improve matters.
There was some general disgruntledness from players who were bowled against their will, or weren’t bowled enough, or had to watch others bowling who were terrible, or were told to keep wicket when they wanted to bowl, or thought they were better than everyone else (despite the book showing that in terms of the team’s requirement of getting ten wickets, it was very hard to make any meaningful distinction between them). Generally nothing much went right because – in stark contrast to almost everything else that happened on Tour – when it came to the cricket, we didn’t have one scintilla of good fortune.
SAC scored 178 for 0 with 4 overs to spare, one of them (Todhi) got a ton to a ripple of muted applause from his team mates who had spent all afternoon watching him instead of batting themselves and at the end of the day we had been well and truly stuffed. Only an al fresco barbecue meal in a rose garden laced with rosé, followed by a wild trip to Porte de Saint Cloud to score 4000 bottles of beer and 250 bottles of wine and then an entire night spent bonding (ostensibly over the exhumation and autopsy of the cricketing calamity that had just occurred) would suffice to compensate for our distress. Luckily, this is exactly what the next twelve hours had in store.
Just the thought of what happened next is making me exhausted, so I will let Zed’s instamatic tell some of the story as best it can….
Do do, l’enfant do, l’enfant dormira bien vite…