Friday, 18 May 2012
"Don't suppose you can get to lords for this afternoon? Just got a couple of extra tickets?????"
Hell yes. I requested a slightly earlier departure than usual from the office and set about trying to get hold of my wife.
Permission granted, favours owed. By way of car, cab, train and tube, I made it to the Grace gate at Lord's just in time for lunch. How terribly civilised, my dear old thing.
Our seats in the Allen stand gave us the view you can see in the photo above. Matt is a member at Lord's and had brought a works party along, two of whom had to drop out at the last moment, hence the spare tickets.
I have been to Lord's two or three times before, but only in the cheap seats on the fifth day of a test match. This was slightly different.
The members and friends areas (of which the Allen stand is one) positively vibrate with respectful bonhomie, and the people-watching provides as much fun as the cricket.
Lord's takes a relaxed view of spectators importing reasonable quantities of food and drink into the ground, so many bring a day's supply of nibbles (grapes and olives are very popular) and booze.
We were impressed by the gentleman sitting in the front row of our stand with a wine box perched in front of him on a piece of brickwork.
"I think he's been here before." said one of Matt's colleagues.
The atmosphere was almost tangibly courteous. Everyone was being as polite as possible to everyone around them. The stewards seemed to know the members by name. The bar staff were chatty, service was swift and the beer was cheaper than a pint in my local in Walton on Thames. And the dress code, thank goodness, was relaxed - there were plenty of suits, but just as many jeans and fleeces.
The overall impression (and I don't want this to sound remotely perjorative) was that of a genteel private members club, which just happened to have an international sporting event ticking along on the lawn.
Why not? It was the first day of a five day game, the pace of play was steady ("old-fashioned" according to TMS) and for many of the people around me, this was not a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity. If you're a member at Lord's you can pop in to watch any game you want, any day, for free.
We watched Stuart Broad take six wickets, Matt explained to me the genius behind Chanderpaul's batting action and I spent five hours in the company of a dear friend I rarely get to see.
The first day of the first test of the summer at Lord's isn't just about what happens in the middle. It's an opportunity to greet old friends, make new ones and quietly celebrate the passing of the years, getting older and having fun.
Oh, and it's the first place in London I've found that does chips and gravy. So there.