As dreams of winning the Ashes became, well, the only word is ash, for 4-0 is not a number even I would minimise, there is a place — a restaurant actually — where you can hold the Ashes in your hands. Calm down. What, as I imagine myself telling Chris Grayling all the time, would your cardiologist say? They may not be the real Ashes — the person looking after them was vague, like a parent telling a child that Father Christmas would probably come down the chimney on Christmas Eve, they couldn’t really say, but it’s quite likely. This restaurant is the Long Room at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the home of Maryle-bone Cricket Club. I don’t have a sport — just arguing — but if I make mistakes, please write in like angry birds. It will cheer you up. Throw a ball at me, made of words.
I always saw Lord’s, which was opposite my synagogue — the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, which has two lady rabbis and is, to the orthodox, about as Jewish as a pet shop — as a friendly alien space, with an alien ship (the press centre, which looks like a squashed golf ball in the sky) atop its mystery. It seemed to be everything this outsider loved about England: England the stage set, and self-gilding fantasy; it sure beats a pogrom on Twitter, or back in the old country. I passed Lord’s every day when I lived in London, and marvelled that something so English could exist in St John’s Wood without an army to defend it, but then I realised it does have an army. My husband’s uncle comes from Devon to London to serve, after queuing for 200 years.
I have never been inside before; I am a hack, and hacks don’t queue for 200 years for anything. We did hold the party for our son’s naming ceremony inside the Lord’s Tavern next door though. It seemed to express his heritage (Devizes/Lodz) better than anything Stefan Zweig, or I, could write.
I didn’t know you could eat at Lord’s without queuing for 200 years, and I have nothing like that kind of time to spare. But then my husband’s sister sent us tickets for tea in November, when there would be no cricket on, and so there would be space for us.
And so we stood, my husband and I, outside the W.G. Grace gates with other married couples, all dressed up for the occasion in suits and tea dresses and hats like country cousins on a road trip to the House of Fraser sale. The women wore tolerant expressions; the men looked like infants do when they are happy.
And what is inside? A cricket pitch, of course, as fine as an Oxford college lawn; and a museum featuring knee-pads and photographs of handsome West Indians throwing balls at other people; and a tea-room — the Long Room. It is pale blue, with shining chandeliers and gaping ceilings and some very good art (for England), all of dead men and boys playing cricket in a long, speechless conversation. It is not my dream, but I admire it anyway.
We have a view of the empty ground. I prefer ghostly places; places that bear witness; places that just are. The food, served by waiters who act like nannies — they are soothing, as if we are babies in a ball pit — is a perfect English tea: scones, jam, cream, delicate, fleeting sandwiches. My husband looks as happy as I have ever seen him, and when a woman brings a tiny urn — accompanied by a photographer! — he mutters ‘The Ashes!’ and poses for a photograph holding them, with glazed eyes. Not a restaurant then, but something better, something more — a drug.