Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 11 July 2009

Mystery play

Once a year I turn out for Peter Oborne’s cricket team, the White City All-Stars, for their annual cricket weekend at Horningsham, a ludicrously pretty village next to Longleat House in Wiltshire. I can’t bowl, I’m hopeless with a bat, I can’t catch or throw. I try to make myself useful, however, by offering around cigarettes, helping to look for the ball when it’s been smashed into the long grass, pouring the teas and clapping when required. But I always come away afterwards with an uncomfortable feeling that, even in the game of cricket, conscientiousness and conviviality will never quite atone for ignorance of the rules and uselessness on the field of play. So why Peter rings me up each year and asks me to play I can’t fathom. This year I had a false excuse prepared. But his call came in the middle of the night when I was lying intoxicated in a backpackers’ hostel in Sydney and I couldn’t remember what it was. 

We played against the Groucho Club on Saturday and the Horningsham village side on Sunday. The cricket pitch sits in countryside as dreamy as an Alfred Bestall illustration in a Rupert book. Near and far, shimmering in the heat haze, are low, kindly hills. Framed by a gap in the trees is a stout medieval parish church. And you can’t see it, but right at the top of the highest hill is a Roman temple. The scenery reverberated with birdsong and the mellifluous notes of not one but three cuckoos.

The Groucho Club, as befitting a Soho-based cricket team, arrived late. They were so late that when the match finally started, the White City All-Stars had consumed too many pints of the local ale. We were soundly beaten.

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